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Community Broadband Media Roundup - December 19

This was a big year for local governments and many year-end discussions have noted the role of cities in expanding high quality Internet access. Among them, The Free Press' Timothy Karr:

The rise of homegrown Internet infrastructure has prompted industry lobbyists to introduce state-level legislation to smother such efforts. There are at least 20 such statutes on the books. But in June, the FCC stepped in with a plan to preempt these state laws, giving communities the support they need to affordably connect more people.

and Broadband Breakfast's Drew Clark:

...viewed from the vantage point of the future, the far more significant development will be the emergence of opportunities outside of Washington for high-capacity broadband networks. It’s a world in which cities and municipalities are playing the leadership role...

The most direct crystallization of our municipal broadband moment is the new non-profit coalition dubbed Next Century Cities. Launched less than two months ago in Santa Monica, it now boasts membership from 50 cities, representing 25 states. From Los Angeles to communities along the Pacific Northwest, from Lafayette in Cajun country to Chattanooga, and from patrician Boston to a city that got its start as a cow town, Kansas City, each of these 50 cities have different motivations and approaches to Gigabit Networks.

Almost 60% of the United States has access to 100 Mbps Internet connections, but only 3% can get a gig. Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin and Anne L. Kim from Roll Call both take a look at a new report from the Department of Commerce this week. 

The ESA report titled, “Competition Among U.S. Broadband Service Providers,” finds that far more competition exists at slower speeds than at higher speeds (only 8% can choose from at least two 100 Mbps providers.) 

"This report gives policymakers a deeper understanding of what is occurring in the ISP marketplace," says U.S. Commerce Department Chief Economist Sue Helper. “We know that competition typically drives down prices. And we also know that increasingly, higher Internet speeds are required for optimal functionality of popular, high-bandwidth computing applications. As more and more commerce and information move online, we risk further widening the digital divide if access to affordable, higher speed Internet doesn’t keep pace.”  

Anders Bylund with Motley Fool posted an article this week about why AT&T might nervous about the days to come. Bylund asks whether municipal broadband projects like those in Chanute, Kansas, and Google Fiber’s entry into the market are rendering AT&T obsolete. 

“You might think that AT&T would shrug its shoulders over new competition in such a laughably small market. But the company sees this as the beginnings of a much larger threat: Allow one high-sped service at incredibly low prices, and other cities will surely follow. Soon enough, this tiny insurgent will have turned into a nationwide trend, putting enormous pressure on AT&T's existing business model.”

Small towns, larger cities, counties and cooperatives all over the United States are catching on. 

In Renville, Nicollet and Sibley Counties in rural Minnesota, residents have a lot to look forward to in 2015. Cassandra Sepeda with KEYC Mankato reported on RS Fiber’s growing momentum. The fiber-to-the-home initiative could reach more than 6,000 residents by 2016. The groups financial planner, and local business man, Phil Keithahn works from home and is definitely on-board:

"...That's what this does. It levels the playing field for people who live and work in rural America with people who are in the twin cities. So it's an economic development tool for south central Minnesota."

In Virginia’s rural Bedford County— a cooperative partnership could soon connect thousands of homes. Last week the county’s board announced they would collaborate with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative to get high speed Internet in the area.

“[Internet infrastructure] is a public utility build-out — the biggest one so far in this century — and it’s pretty much equal to the rural electrification that happened at the turn of the last century,” said Allen Boaz, who presented the advisory proposal to the supervisors.

“That’s how important I believe it is, and a whole lot of other people are with me.”

The county’s economic development director says that residents might be connected within six months.

And, speaking of development, 10 Connecticut communities are rolling forward with high speed Internet goals in mind. According to Brian Fung with the Washington Post, half of the state's population could some day be wired for high-speed, fiber-optic Internet. Stephen Singer with the Associated Press writes that while the cities have committed to wanting businesses to build and finance Internet service, they don't want to get into the business themselves: 

Among the goals are to create a gigabit-capable network for targeted businesses and residential areas with a "demonstrated demand" to drive job creation and stimulate economic growth. The call [out to a business or partner] also seeks to provide free or heavily discounted Internet service of between 10 and 100 megabits to underserved and disadvantaged residential areas and deliver gigabit Internet service at prices comparable to other gigabit fiber networks in the United States.

Students in South Bend, Indiana are now fiber-connected. Metronet's grant program helped pay for the high-performing school to connect to Metronet's dark fiber network. Before the upgrade, students often had to do their Internet research from their own homes. 

McHenry County’s Northwest Herald, and Charleston, South Carolina’s The Post and Courier, put their support behind competitive Internet this week. In Charleston, the paper threw down on South Carolina’s 2012 law that prohibits public networks, saying that the state cannot afford to continue to be left behind in terms of speed and connectivity: 

“South Carolina communities with limited or inadequate bandwidth access stand virtually no chance of attracting industries that increasingly rely on high speed Internet connections to do business. Gov. Nikki Haley's record on job creation is strong, but her decision to sign the 2012 bill dealt a serious blow to the state's ability to attract investments.

Perhaps regulating the Internet under a labyrinthine federal communications code would indeed slow innovation and hurt the economy. But preventing competition - the inevitable effect of South Carolina's law - can be equally harmful.

Companies like Comcast, Time Warner and AT&T operate like monopolies in too many markets, and monopolies require rules to prevent actions that harm consumers and other businesses.”

The Star Tribune and MSP Business Journal are reporting that Chaska’s city-owned Internet service will be switched off next year. The city opted out of the wireless Internet offerings rather than pay the $3 million to upgrade. Since it launched in 2004, the city has seen a rise in competition, with more providers offering service. 

“We never wanted to compete with the private sector,” Podhrasky said. “We just wanted to make sure our residents had access to [wireless Internet] until there were more options out there.” He said the city concluded the time has come, with people now having a variety of choices, including bundled services at high speeds through cable modems at prices close to chaska.net’s."

The city will continue to provide its fiber service to the school district and one data center.

And Susan Crawford came out another good piece: “The 3 Big Myths that are holding back America’s Internet.”

TING!

Charlottesville, Virginia could soon be home to what one alternative wireless carrier calls, “Google Fiber lite.” Ting announced this week they will build their own 1Gbps fiber-to-the-premises when they purchase Blue Ridge InternetWorks to serve Charlottesville customers— and, as Sean Buckley with Fierce Telecom reports, they don’t plan to stop there. 

"We'll be on the lookout for the next town or city in which we can lay down roots," wrote [Andrew] Moore-Crispin, [senior content manager at Ting.] “Roots made of fiber optic cable and ultimately leading right to the home. If you'd like to see Ting Internet in your town, let us know on the Ting Internet page… We admire what Google is doing with and for gigabit fiber Internet access, but for the Internet giant, access is more of a side project," wrote Moore-Crispin. "Also, Google is a lot of great things but human scale isn't one of them."

Jason Koebler with Motherboard covered the story as well

"When we got into mobile, we just took the same business processing and billing and applied them to mobile, which was suffering from incredibly high pricing and a low level of service," he added. "We thought, where else can we take these things we've gotten good and apply them to?"

Hypocrisy Department

And Time Warner Cable is fighting to keep its Broadband expansion projects private.

"'As outlined in our appeal, disclosure of Time Warner Cable build-out plans, including details like completion dates and the areas and number of potential customers served, would clearly harm our competitive position,' Time Warner Cable spokesman Scott Pryzwansky said Monday."

Time Warner Cable and other private providers regularly demand this information from local government providers. This is a frank admission that local governments operate from a position of disadvantage relative to private sector providers.

Chattanooga Profiled in Al Jazeera America

“There are companies that do what we do, but we can do it in hours, and they can take weeks,” said Posey. “Anywhere else, it would take a lot more time and a lot more money ... Chattanooga is essential to our business model.”

Al Jazeera America's Peter Moskowitz recently spoke with Clay Posey, one of the entrepreneurs flocking to Chattanooga for the network. Posey works in one of the startup incubators there, Co.Lab, developing his idea for pre-operative models that allow surgeons to prepare before operating on patients.

While Chattanooga may not be the norm and may not be an easy venture for every municipality, it lifts the bar. From the article:

“Whenever a corporation like Comcast wants to do something like raise prices, we can point at Chattanooga and say, ‘Why can’t we have something like that?’” said Christopher Mitchell, head of the community broadband networks initiative at the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “It establishes a baseline or at least an aspirational standard.”

The article describes lobbying efforts by large corporate providers designed to stop the municipal networks model. Another Chattanooga entrepreneur told Moskowitz:

“Having public or quasi-public Internet service providers is a good solution to consolidation because they most likely won’t be sold,” said Daniel Ryan, a local Web developer who helped run the digital operation of Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign. “Do I think if every city did this, Comcast would go out of business? No. But it means there will always be competition.”

Moskowitz included a brief historical summary of the network, its contribution to the electric utility, and the challenges created by state barriers. He included our Community Broadband Networks map.

For more detail on Chattanooga's fiber network, download our case study Broadband at the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. The case study also covers the communities of Bristol, Virginia and Lafayette, Louisiana. We also spoke with EPBFiber's Danna Bailey on episode #59 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Connecting Arlington, From Anchors to Businesses - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #97

Located just outside Washington DC, Arlington is the dense, high tech county that houses the Pentagon. This week's Community Broadband Bits podcast features Arlington County CIO Jack Belcher. Having already built a top-notch fiber network to connect community anchor institutions, the County is now preparing to improve connectivity for local businesses.

We discuss a range of topics from how local governments can take advantage of all kinds of capital projects to expand conduit and fiber assets to how Arlington County responded to 9/11 as it happened.

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 30 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."

ConnectArlington to Offer Dark Fiber Services to Local Businesses in Virginia

We last reported on Arlington County, Virginia, in the summer of 2012 when they were into phase II of their publicly owned fiber network deployment. At the time, the community planned to use the dark fiber network for public schools, traffic management, and public safety. That plan will now include local businesses.

ARLnow reports that ConnectArlington will work with a third-party consultant to manage dark fiber leasing to multiple service providers. They will also dedicate a portion of the dark fiber for government use. The County expects the project to be complete by early 2015. From the press release:

Additionally, the County will work directly with property owners and various businesses to ensure they have the opportunity for this high-speed and secure fiber line via direct access to buildings. Arlington universities, research centers, government buildings and Federal agencies will also be connected – providing additional collaboration opportunities at unprecedented levels of speed and security.

When the Arlington County government developed the network, they installed additional conduit for future use. A public safety initiative to connect several radio towers allowed ConnectArlington to expand the anticipated footprint. An Intelligent Traffic System (ITS), funded with a federal grant, required street excavation so the county installed additional conduit and fiber. Arlington County also took advantage of an electric power grid upgrade, co-locating dark fiber along the grid placed by the local electric provider.

Other communities have taken a multi-faceted long-term approach, considering their own needs with an eye on economic development. Capitalizing on unique opportunites can reduce costs, speed up a deployment, and allow the local community to better manage their projects.

Sandy, Oregon and Mount Vernon, Washington have maintained smart conduit policies for years. Developers are required to install conduit to reduce later costs. In Santa Monica, City Net began as a way to meet the needs of government and now offer lit and dark fiber to businesses. (Learn more about Santa Monica in Chris' interview on episode 90 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast or download our report.)

As smart communities realize broadband's increasing role in economic vitality, they explore local options. Arlington County takes a gigantic step forward as it opens up ConnectArlington to the business community. Also from the press release:

"World class cities are not only creating fiber networks to meet their own enterprise needs, but are also making dark fiber available to high technology companies to keep or attract these companies to their communities,” said Professor Joseph Pelton, Chair of the Arlington County IT Advisory Commission.

Jack Belcher, CIO of Arlington County's Department of Technology Services Leadership Team, sums it up:

Video: 
See video

Will Alexandria Consider A Municipal Network?

Alexandria, Virginia's City Council is talking about broadband. In a recent DelRay Patch article, Drew Hansen reported that Councilman Justin Wilson recently addressed the Del Ray Citizen's Association to advocate for a plan to improve local connectivity. From the article:

“We’re still dealing with severe budget issues and dropping $300 million on a huge broadband system is not a reality,” he said. “But the first thing we need is a plan.”

According to the article, Alexandria has traveled down this path before with attempts to work with private providers:

In the late 2000s, the city saw a deal with EarthLink to bring free municipal Wi-Fi and competitive service to consumers fall through when the CEO suddenly passed away. Then Verizon made a decision not to build any new FiOS networks as Alexandria was looking for a provider, leaving the city in the lurch.

As is often the case, Verizon is not convinced Alexandria is worth the investment:

“I reached out to Verizon a few months ago and they didn’t even want to meet,” Wilson said. “I think that shows where we are. The city is going to have to be more aggressive. I think we’ve reached the end of big infrastructure build and we’re seeing some new models.”

Wilson raised the possibility of conduit installation in Alexandria in preparation for fiber installation. The community will soon be updating sewers in parts of town. 

“We have a responsibility to our residents to create competition,” Wilson said. “If the private sector doesn’t do it, there are some things we can do.”

The Wired Road Now A Gigabit Network

The Wired Road, a community-owned open access network, provides affordable fiber connectivity in rural Virginia. The network recently upgraded and now offers Gigabit commercial service in the Blue Ridge Crossroads region. From the press release:

“America only has a few networks offering 1 Gigabit Broadband Services; it’s awesome that we have that technology here in our backyard,” Stated Scarlett McGrady with The Wired Road Authority. "Availability of technologies like this is vital for this area to grow," said McGrady.

The network still offers fiber and wireless services at basic speeds to private and business customers in Carroll and Grayson Counties. The Wired Road encourages competitive rates for the region with its open access model. Lingo Networks, 1Point Communications, and LSNet all offer Internet access to Wired Road customers. 

For more on The Wired Road story, listen to Christopher interview McGrady in Episode 31 of the Broadband Bits Podcast.

Congrats to the people and businesses in The Wired Road service area!

Danville Continues to Attract Jobs to Region After Building Fiber Network

Danville's open access network has fueled economic development in the Virginia community's resurgence after tobacco’s demise and job losses from a once thriving textile industry put a hurt on the local economy. Danville’s technological prowess is now attracting companies from China, in addition to other economic development gains we covered previously.

Jason Grey, nDanville’s Network Manager, told us that Zeyuan Flooring International, a Chinese wood floor manufacturer, is locating its first U.S. facility in Danville. Zeyuan CEO, Sindy Cui, said the company initially thought about locating in Los Angeles, but was eventually swayed by the hospitality and resources available in Danville. Zeyuan plans to invest $15-million in a 40,000 square foot manufacturing plant that will employ 100 people within three years.

Zeyuan is the second Chinese company to locate in Danville in the past year. Last September, Chinese furniture assembler GOK International announced it will invest $12.5-million to establish its U.S. headquarters and showroom in Danville. GOK International plans to employ 300 people within three years.

Not coincidentally, both companies are locating in Cane Creek Centre, one of Danville’s five industrial parks connected to nDanville’s fiber network. Serving businesses was a high priority in building the network. As the first fully automated open-access network in the country, nDanville passes more than 1,000 businesses including every parcel in each of the industrial parks. Many businesses take 100-Mbps fiber connections, some take advantage of 1-Gbps connections. 

These recent additions to Danville’s thriving commercial sector are just the latest in a steady string of economic development successes for the area that include the likes of Goodyear and IKEA. And it’s not just manufacturing. 

Danville is home to one of the first non-government sponsored next generation Cray supercomputers. The Cray XMT2 supercomputer is part of the Noblis Center for Applied High Performance Computing which is located in a former tobacco processing plant in Danville's River District. Noblis uses the computer to crunch data for clients in fields such as computational biology, DNA sequencing, air traffic management, fraud detection, and counterterrorism. "This [center] screams loudly and clearly that we are making a transition from the old to the new economy," said Danville Mayor Sherman Saunders at the 2012 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Perhaps one drawback of Danville’s economic development success is that nDanville’s residential rollout has been slower than expected due to overwhelming demand from the commercial sector. Network Manager Jason Grey revealed there is a waiting list of businesses eager to connect to the network which is pushing residential connections back. Grey says it’s a problem he’s more than happy to deal with.

Bristol Virginia Utilities to Offer Home Management Services

BVU in Bristol is now offering Quantum Home, a security and home management system that uses the community's publicly owned fiber network. The system allows home owners to also manage lights, temperature, and appliances from anywhere using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. For a quick video demo, check out the BVU website.

Installation costs range between $200 to $2,000 for installation and monthly charges are $39.95 - $49.95. Comcast offers a similar service, Xfinity Home, and requires installation fees to be paid in full when the system is installed. BVU plans to allow customers to amortize the installation fees over 12 months if they wish.

BVU launched OptiNet in 2001 and offers reliable triple-play at affordable prices in Bristol and surrounding areas. We talked with Jim Baller about the history of publicly owned networks in Episode #57 and Episode #63 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. BVU's OpiNet played a prominent role as one of the first publicly owned completely fiber triple-play networks.

Tricities.com reporter David McGee recently attended a BVU Board of Directors meeting where management described the new service.

“This is an exciting new service that is actually in the market and we’ve already been selling it,” [Authority interim CEO Mike] Bundy told the board... "It will be not just home security but home automation. It’s cutting-edge technology.”

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Takes Shape

The Star reports that the Roanoke City Council unanimously voted to work with surrounding communities to form a broadband coalition. We reported Roanoke County,  Botetourt County, Salem and the town of Roanoke were in the process forming the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. Local community leaders took the first step in Roanoke, where the community has already set $1 million aside for the venture.

The Authority is starting out with support from the local media. A Roanoke Times editorial addressed the situation in the Valley and stressed the importance to act quickly:

There is no time to waste in building a broadband Internet structure that will keep the Roanoke Valley competitive. Without it, the region will wither and watch futilely while others whiz by. They already are.

The board will need to make many decisions with little time to tarry since the region’s capabilities are lagging. Businesses already are encountering hiccups when overloading the existing network. And other regions beckon with faster speeds. The Roanoke Valley is too large and well off economically to have qualified for federal funds and tobacco-relief funds that have brought broadband to rural and struggling areas in Southside and far Southwest Virginia. But it isn’t large enough to attract providers that would build bigger, better networks in order to compete for customers.

...

The region has no choice but to build its own network. An authority charged specifically with that task should best be able to hire the experts and vet the options so that Roanoke Valley accelerates to warp speed.

Roanoke Valley map from Foundation For Roanoke Valley

Roanoke Valley in Virginia Pondering Municipal Network

The Roanoke Valley, nestled in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, grapples with the same connectivity problems facing many communities in rural Virginia. Private providers have few incentives to invest in next-generation Internet networks because the low density population promises too little profit. 

Like Danville, Bristol, and the Rockbridge area, communities in the Roanoke Valley are taking matters into their own hands. A February 2013 Roanoke Times news article reported that local businesses and regional governments collaborated to fund a $50,000 study. The study recommended creating a broadband authority to investigate the possibility of building an open access network. The Roanoke Times has more recently reported that public hearings are on the schedule for August:

Public hearings are coming up next month in the city and county of Roanoke, Salem and Botetourt County on a plan for local governments to band together to form a Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. It could work with the private sector to create a regional open-access, fiber-optic Internet network that would allow large and small service providers to compete on a level playing field. [A PDF of the schedule includes the proposed resolution and Articles of Incorporation for the Authority.]

Roanoke Valley Map

According to a June report from WSLS channel 10, the Roanoke City Council has already set aside $2 million to direct toward broadband in the Valley. For years, the local economy relied on manufacturing and textiles but outsourcing eliminated jobs and sent young people elsewhere looking for work. Local leaders now look for other footholds for economic development. Fortunately, they recognize the importance of broadband as they transition. From the WLSL report:

These community leaders say they're invested in making the area a technology-hub to bring in more businesses.

"The public just needs to know local governments are working together to resolve a regional issue to increase our Internet speed and availability and keep us competitive in economic development," economic development director, Wayne Bowers says.

Roanoke Valley map from Foundation For Roanoke Valley