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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:

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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

Rockbridge Area Network Authority Close to Launch in Virginia

The Rockbridge Area Network Authority (RANA) is almost ready to launch its open access network in north central Virginia, home to about 22,000 people. A recipient of the BTOP stimulus program, the main focus is connecting community anchor institutions and spurring economic development. However, it has been built to allow service providers to also offer DSL to some residents in the area.

Dan Grim, GIS Manager for Rockbridge County, and one of the driving forces behind the network was kind enough to walk us through the project. In early 2007, the cities of Buena Vista, Lexington, and the County joined forces to commission a study to determine the need for a county wide broadband network. The three jurisdictions matched funding from the state Department of Housing and Community Development to pay for the study, completed in 2008.

Grim had already consulted with local provider, Rockbridge Global Village, about using a regional network to improve public safety mapping. Rockbridge Global Village President, Dusan Janjic, suggested a bigger project and that the three entities apply together for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding. 

Richard Peterson, Chief Technology Officer from nearby W&L determined that the school needed a new and updated data center. In 2009, RANA was officially formed as a collaboration between the local governments and Washington & Lee. The University joined the group and contributed $2.5 million toward a $3 million grant fund match. With the grant fund match to improve their chances, RANA applied for a $10 million BTOP award and received $6.9 million in funding through round two in 2010.

Peterson passed away in 2011. Grim notes that without Peterson, the network would never have expanded so far and may not have become a reality. The data center was later named after him to honor his memory. Network construction started in February 2012.

RANA Map

Grim described several challenges RANA encountered during construction and planning. The planned network was scaled back from the original 130 miles because construction bids came back higher than expected. RANA still plans on expanding to these locations in the near future.

The Authority also ran into a unique complication when deciding where to bury conduit. The original planned route included one mile of National Forest Service Route and RANA Board Members worried the permitting process would take too long. As an alternative and to allow for more residential connections, they decided on secondary roads. Unfortunately, this led to yet another complication because property lines in Virginia go all the way to the road center line; RANA had to secure easements from property owners.

Land owners were concerned about trenches disturbing trees on their property or what trenching would do to landscaping. RANA secured most of the easements, but in places where they did not get cooperation, the route was moved across the road. The solution increased the cost of installation and set back the launch timeline. Grim recalled old articles reprinted in a local newspaper that described the same issue in 1910 when crews tried to install telephone lines. RANA Board Members went door to door to explain the process to property owners (watch the video below for local coverage).

The network will connect 53 community anchor institutions, including the Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad facilities, K-12 schools and all the local colleges and universities. Public libraries and city and county government offices will also connect to the network. As an open access network, RANA will lease connections to independent providers that will connect end users. In addition to making connections up to 10 Gbps available, the network is leasing dark fiber as well.

The 63 mile fiber backbone consists of about 75% underground with a total network length of 80 miles. RANA is installing 29 DSL cabinets with fiber backhaul in an effort to encourage development to rural residential areas. Grim tells us the DSL cabinets are cross connected with CenturyLink DSL. RANA is currently providing backhaul to six DSL cabinets and Local Competitive Exchange Carrier Virginia Global Communications Systems (parent company to Rockbridge Global Village) is cross connecting into the CenturyLink telephone remotes to provide DSL service over the CenturyLink copper landlines. CenturyLink's T1 provides backhaul for the remaining DSL cabinets. Unless we have misunderstood, this will allow ISPs to use the CenturyLink last mile copper but will not rely entirely on backhaul from the teleco giant. It could also allow later expansion for FTTH by RANA.

In an effort to expand economic development with the network, RANA is offering 84 free business drops. A variety of businesses are lined up for the drops, including attorneys, healthcare clinics, CPAs, coffee roasters, and real estate offices. Two providers, BlueRidge InternetWorks and Rockbridge Global Village, have committed to provide service on the open access network. 

Recently, RANA and Washington & Lee University (W&L) celebrated the Richard A. Peterson Center, a 4,500 square foot data center that will serve the college and the network. The data center will offer service providers the opportunity to co-locate equipment for the open access network. 

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