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Lake Oswego Seeks Out Expert Advice: Video

Lake Oswego, Oregon, was pegged as a potential target for Google Fiber in 2014 but this town of 35,000 may not wait for the tech giant to bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. They may just do it themselves.

In order to get more information about municipal fiber networks, our Chris Mitchell visited during an October City Council meeting at the request of community leaders. The Lake Oswego Review covered the meeting.

According to the Review, the northwest community issued an RFP in June and received two responses. City leaders are still pondering the responses and feelings are mixed over whether or not to make the investment.

City Manager Scott Lazenby told the Council:

Just getting this network would put Lake Oswego on the map…I think increasing that level of service, especially for the demographics we have here — highly educated, many tech-oriented folks in our community — that would be a real service to make available.

Chris pointed out that the area is ripe with a number of high-tech companies and other entities that will find a fiber network attractive. “Not everyone has that regional connectivity that you have here,” he told the Council.

He also asked them to consider all the long term possibilities if Google does eventually enter into the market in Lake Oswego:

“When I think about relying on Google, if Google decides to get out of this business, the community has no say about who takes it over,” he said.

After discussion, the Council voted to negotiate an agreement with one of the RFP respondents for further review, contingent on a market study.

To view Chris's entire presentation to the Lake Oswego City Council, watch the video below: 

Grand Junction Asks "Fiber? Where?"

While other communities in Colorado are just starting to reclaim local control over their broadband futures, the city of Grand Junction has moved forward. In April, the people overwhelmingly overturned SB 152 – the state law that prohibited them from pursuing the best broadband solution for their community. Now Grand Junction is investigating its options.

The city council and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) are in the process of hiring a consulting firm to develop a broadband strategic plan for the city of 60,000 and seat of Mesa County. One of the main tasks is to determine where to locate the fiber backbone of the proposed municipal network.

Where Will the Fiber Go?

In September, months after the vote, the city agreed to enter into a contract with the consulting firm. The city will pay for the majority of the cost – up to $83,000. According to DDA meeting minutes from September, the Authority will pitch in up to $16,000 [pdf].

The study will take two or three months and will look specifically at the pros and cons of a fiber backbone deployment through downtown Grand Junction. The downtown area houses many banks and businesses, as well as both city and county government buildings. Fiber would provide much needed high-speed connectivity for those facilities, reports the Daily Sentinel. Available office space, ideal real estate for tech firms, is also plentiful in downtown Grand Junction.

Next Steps

After the consultants complete the study, the city may choose to issue bids for Requests For Proposals (RFPs) from contractors interested in constructing the network. The DDA has a $1 million line of credit backed by the city and will take responsibility for the cost of installing fiber in the downtown area.

The hope is to encourage tech start-ups to come to Grand Junction, as the DDA Board Chairman Jason Farrington explained

“Any company that needed to play in that (world wide web) sandbox would have Grand Junction as a place to relocate.”

RFP in Erie County Means Big Broadband Plans in Upstate New York

In October 2015, government officials in Erie County, New York announced the release of a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking an organization to study the feasibility of building a county-wide broadband network. Located in upstate New York and home to over 900,000 people, Erie County stretches over 1,200 square feet; the county seat is Buffalo.

Legislator Patrick Burke notes that community broadband projects have become a rare kind of government-led initiative that appeals to people across all political divides:

“It covers all grounds and sort of goes beyond political ideology. It’s a quality service. It could provide revenues that the county desperately needs, it could attract business, it could spark economic development and it could create jobs. So, there’s a little bit in this for everybody,” said Burke.

Pursuing Governor Cuomo's "Broadband for All" Mission

The effort to pursue the option to build the network in Erie County comes after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released his “Broadband for All” plan earlier this year. The plan offers matching state funds up to $500 million to private companies that agree to help build broadband networks in underserved areas of the state. The governor’s initiative led the Erie County broadband committee and a group of industry experts to write an exploratory white paper considering ideas for expanding broadband in the region.

According to an article in The Public, Burke credits the white paper as the tool that convinced county leaders to issue the RFP to be ready when private partners come calling:

“Whichever municipalities or governments, or even private entities, are prepared and are in line to be competitive with this, they’re the ones who are likely to see the funds that are available,” Burke said.

Exploring Early Stages of Building Municipal Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Episode 174

When communities consider building their own network, they are often venturing outside their areas of expertise and have to get advice from consultants and industry experts. This week, we talk with two guests from Vantage Point, an employee owned engineering and consulting firm that works with a variety of clients, from private companies to municipalities on telecommunications matters.

President Chad Glanzer and Assistant Director of Engineering Carmen O'Neill explain the early stages of planning around community fiber networks and some of the trade-offs that can be made. For instance, paying more in upfront planning can lower the costs and uncertainty of future construction.

We talk about the importance of financial forecasts and how those estimates interact with the network design process. We hope this discussion helps local officials and activists better understand what early stages look like if they want to build a community fiber 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 20 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 other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

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

Albany, NY Proposes Feasibility Study for Municipal Broadband Service

In July, the city of Albany, NY released a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking qualified consulting firms to conduct a feasibility study for a municipal broadband service. As the RFP states, the study will look to develop strategies, find gaps in service and adoption, and develop a business plan to explore partnerships between the city and private ISPs.

According to Broadband Communities magazine, a working group comprised of several important community organizations and business groups in Albany will help to steer plans for the possible municipal broadband initiative. Jeff Mirel, a technology professional in Albany and a member of the working group, explains the group’s goals for the feasibility study:

“The first step is asking the right questions, which is what we want this study to do. What are the real broadband needs and issues that both businesses and residents experience here? Is it infrastructure, technology, education, affordability? How do we address the gaps to not only keep and attract companies, but bring these employers and a connected local workforce together? By taking a deep, comprehensive look at broadband access and usability, along with best practices, we can move towards meaningful, actionable strategies.”

This news out of Albany, a city of about 100,000 people, comes as major gaps persist in high speed broadband access in many parts of the state. FreeNet, Albany’s free wireless network, received a $625K state grant in 2009 earmarked to expand its service. But neither FreeNet nor Time Warner Cable and Verizon, the two biggest providers of broadband service in Albany, provides the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity a municipal fiber-based network could provide

At recent hearings in front of the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) in the New York cities of Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, and Bethlehem, political leaders and consumers expressed particular frustration with Verizon’s unwillingness to build its FIOS fiber service out to underserved parts of New York. In some cases they are asking the state’s Public Service Commission to strengthen regulations and require private companies to bring better Internet service statewide.

We warned in 2012 that Verizon would never bring FIOS to Albany and many other cities in the state. Then, as now, it’s clear that Albany’s feasibility study offers a way forward towards the only certain strategy for bringing the fast fiber-based broadband to Albany: taking matters into their own hands.

Bald Head Island Reopens RFP to Find The Right Partner

After searching for a suitable partner, the Village of Bald Head Island in North Carolina has reopened its RFP for a gigabit fiber network. Apparently, the community received four responses but no proposal provided the level of detail they require. 

In order to give respondents another opportunity and to offer new candidates a chance, Bald Head Island leaders chose to release the RFP a second time with additional questions and a responsibility matrix. No response will be considered without answers to these new appendices. All three documents are available on the Village website.

The Village of Bald Head Island is home to approximately 160 year-round residents, but numbers swell to 7,000 during the busy tourist season. Vacation homes and part-time residents bring the potential fiber service area up to 2,500 but incumbents AT&T and Tele-Media don't see the value of bringing fiber to such an environment. The StarNews Online described community leadership's frustration and decision to move forward:

"Broadband is not available on Bald Head Island," said Calvin Peck, the village's manager. "It just isn't, and none of the current providers have plans to invest the money to make it available, so the village council feels it's an important enough issue to spend village resources to make it happen."

While Bald Head Island looks for a partner it also plans to ask voters if they agree to pursue better broadband. Voters will decide on November 3rd if they support a $10 million bond issue. Community leaders will focus on revenue bonds, one of the most common ways to finance municipal network deployment. This mechanism shifts repayment to those who use the network, reducing financial risk to the community at large.

Clearly community leaders understand that the time to act is now:

"We are losing people who would build, buy or rent property on the island because they do not have Internet service," said Gene Douglas, the village's mayor pro tempore. "Many executives of major companies' office is wherever they are as long as they have access to the Internet, and we simply don't have that."

As we have noted in the past, good partners are difficult to find; municipalities must always move forward with caution. We applaud Bald Head Island for being thorough and insisting on the details before choosing a partner. Kudos to them also for taking a bifurcated approach and asking voters for funding approval now so all pieces are in place when they find the right partner.

Boulder Releases RFP For Broadband Feasibility Study

In June, Boulder released a Request for Proposals (RFP) as it seeks a consultant to conduct a broadband feasibility study. A PDF of the RFP is available online.

The city currently has 179 miles of fiber in place serving 60 city facilities; there is an additional 36 miles of empty conduit. This network interfaces with the Boulder Valley School District's network within the city and in other areas of Boulder County. It also connects to Longmont's network and to a colocation facility in Denver. 

The city is also home to BRAN -  the Boulder Research and Administration Network. The city, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Department of Commerce Laboratories share ownership of the BRAN fiber network which interconnects their facilities.

Last fall, Boulder joined a number of other Colorado communities whose voters chose to reclaim local telecommunications authority, revoked in 2005 under Colorado State Bill 152.

The city established a Broadband Working Group earlier this year to investigate ways to bring better connectivity to Boulder. They created a draft vision, included in the RFP:

Draft Vision: Gigabit Broadband to Boulder Homes and Businesses

(May 21, 2015)

Our vision is to provide a world-class community telecommunications infrastructure to Boulder for the 21st century and beyond, facilitated by new access to the public’s local telecommunications assets. We acknowledge that broadband is a critical service for quality of life, as is the case with roads, water, sewer, and electricity. Every home, business, non-profit organization, government entity, and place of education should have the opportunity to connect affordably, easily, and securely. Boulder’s broadband services will be shaped by the values of the community.

We intend to empower our citizens and local businesses to be network economy producers, not just consumers of network information and data services. We realize that doing so requires access to gigabit-class broadband infrastructure to support these needed services and capabilities:

1. Broadband Infrastructure: Provide the infrastructure to enable every Boulder home, business, visitor, and public or private institution the opportunity to access affordable high speed broadband connections to the Internet, and other networks.

2. Open Access: Demonstrate, support, and build a non-discriminatory, open-access infrastructure that should, to the maximum extent possible, be open to all users, service providers, content providers, and application providers and be usable via all standard commercial devices.

3. Competitive Marketplace: Facilitate a local broadband marketplace that is as competitive as reasonably possible. 

4. Compete Globally: Provide stakeholders with the broadband capacity, affordability and local, regional and national connectivity they need to compete successfully in the global marketplace. 

We envision significant progress toward an operational network in 1-2 years with commitments from providers, community stakeholders, regional partners, and a common, shared vision to make gigabit-class bandwidth available to all residents, businesses and workers in Boulder.

As mentioned in the RFP, Boulder is currently in the process of municipalizing its electric utility services. The city mentions that the firm selected for the electric utility project is available to provide information about infrastructure or related issues for a more accurate study.

Last summer, Chris spoke with Don Ingle, Director of Information Technology from Boulder, for episode #108 of the Commnity Broadband Bits podcast. Don shared information about the city's policies that helped develop their existing fiber and conduit assets. Chris and Don also discussed ways Boulder has benefitted from its existing network.

The city is already offering free Wi-Fi in the downtown Civic Area. They have produced a video on the service:

City launches free public WiFi in Civic Area from City of Boulder on Vimeo.

In NC, Bald Head Island Releases RFP for Gigabit Network

The Village of Bald Head Island, North Carolina, recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP), in its search for an FTTP network. The Village, home to about 160 year-round residents, is accessible only by ferry. Transportation on the island is limited to feet, bikes, and electric golf carts. While they may choose slower transportation methods, the people of the island want speed when it comes to Internet access.

Members of the community began working on the idea in the summer of 2013 as part of an initiative that involved several challenges facing this quiet community. They determined that the economic health of local businesses and quality of life depended on improving access, traditionally provided by AT&T and Tele-Media.

Real estate professionals on the island noted that lack of broadband interfered with the housing market. According to the RFP:

Adequate broadband service is at such a premium that current real estate transactions require conveyance of current Internet service. Otherwise, new installations can take a very long time. Inadequate broadband is a known and aggravating hindrance to daily operations of local businesses. There is very strong demand from prospective real estate buyers for high-speed broadband. Current services are of inadequate quality, and worsen in bad weather and during peak usage.

After reaching out to incumbents and potential new providers, Bald Head Island's Village Council chose to open up the possibilities and issue an RFP.

While the number of year round residents is small, part-time housing, vacation rentals, and local businesses catering to tourists are plentiful. As a result, a fiber network could reach approximately 2,500 premises. The population of the island varies based on holidays, with the number of people as high as 7,000. Community leaders expect it to increase significantly when fiber comes to the island.

We reached out to Calvin Peck, Village Manager:

"We are looking for a partner. We think fiber to the home is the way to do it. At this point there is no broadband on the island that fits the FCC's definition."

The community's main industries are real estate and tourism. While we often think of "getting away from it all" as a vacation gold standard, a number of visitors have told Peck they will vacation elsewhere until the island can get its connectivity up to speed. In addition to professionals who need to remain in touch electronically, children and grandchildren still want to stream Netflix or play games online while on vacation.

We saw similar problems in Cook County, Minnesota, where the community is engaged in a BTOP funded fiber deployment. The tourist industry in the woods also needed access to high-speed Internet to remain viable.

Even though the FCC recently struck down North Carolina laws that prevent municipalities from investing in broadband networks (or engaging in certain types of partnerships), leaders in Bald Head Island choose to move forward carefully. They know that the state challenge to the FCC's Order could restore the state restrictions based on judicial interpretation. The original bill was pushed through by then Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (now in the U.S. Senate), who is hostile to municipal networks.

Peck and village officials in Bald Head Island expect Tillis to strongly defend his bill at the federal level. They also don't know if the state general assembly will simply pass another law that could create another barrier. As a result, says Peck, they are approaching the project from a "worst case scenario" perspective. 

They hope that by the time they are operating, there will be no question, allowing them to move forward without the onerous state law requirements that stifle broadband development.

It is unfortunate that industry dollars so control North Carolina leadership that a place like Bald Head Island, with less than 200 full time residents, must develop a contingency plan to protect itself from its own state government. If the Village of Bald Head Island is willing to take on the task themselves for its own future and its right to do so has been recognized at the federal level, state decision makers should step aside and let the community proceed.

Responses to the RFP are due by June 20, 2015. View a PDF of the entire document at the Village website.

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Issues RFP

The Roanoke Valley in Virginia has taken a deliberate pace on the road to improving local connectivity. On December 10th, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) released an RFP for proposals for an open access fiber optic network.

The RVBA is seeking a partner to build the network that will remain a publicly owned asset but will be managed by a private partner. According to the RFP, the City of Salem Electric Department has fiber in place that will be integrated into the the network. The RVBA has already invested in design, engineering, and permitting of 42 miles of a fiber network to jumpstart the process. Construction should begin this year.

In November, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:

The valley is often described as being caught in a “doughnut hole” for broadband service because it’s not a large enough area for the marketplace to drive creation of a truly high-speed network, but it’s too large to qualify for grants available to more rural locales.

The Times-Dispatch reports the estimated cost for the project is $4 million. 

Columbia Takes Next Step Toward Municipal Network Infrastructure

A consultant report recommends the City of Columbia tap into its existing fiber resources to develop an open access municipal telecommunications network. The City recently issued a request for proposals for a business plan to press forward with the recommendation, reports the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Last year the City, Boone County, and the University of Missouri jointly hired a firm to conduct a survey and analyze existing connectivity. An August Tribune article by Andrew Denney reported that the the community was found lacking in reliable connectivity. The survey indicated that 84% of businesses reported "moderate, severe, or total disruption of their business from Internet problems related to reliability or speed." The survey also revealed 84% of businesses contend with Internet speeds "insufficient for their business needs due to reliability and speed issues." The reasonable conclusion is that commercial Internet access in Columbia is too expensive, too slow, and too unreliable for local businesses.

The Columbia Water and Light Department (W & L) now leases its dark fiber to approximately 30 entities, reports the Tribune. The leases bring in approximately $876,000 per year. The consultant recommends expanding existing resources in order to entice more providers who want to serve last-mile customers.

The report also examined continuing the W & L dark fiber leasing program without significant changes and expanding the dark fiber leasing program by adding last-mile deployment. Maintaining the current dark fiber program will not require capital but won't stimulate the area's economic development possibilities either.

Expanding the dark fiber program would improve the broadband infrastructure situation because providers would be able to offer leases to customer premises rather than only within the middle-mile network. This type of change would not improve affordability because it would not increase competition.

The August Tribune article reported:

[The consultant] suggests if the city decides to light up its fiber network, it would be able to enter into public-private partnerships with service providers but remain a neutral party to providers. The network would increase competition by allowing users to access multiple providers over the city’s network, the consultants’ report said.

More recently, the Tribune reported:

[The consultant] estimates that the city would be able to develop a broadband network to serve businesses and organizations based in the “downtown core” for a price ranging between $2.5 million and $3.5 million, which the firm suggested could be paid through debt instruments like loans and bond sales.

At an August 18th City Council meeting, CenturyLink area operations manager Kevin Czaicki addressed the Council before they voted to instruct staff to move forward. In true incumbent fashion, Czaicki told the Council that a network would create financial challenges for the city. The Tribune reported:

Czaicki also said that, if the city proceeded with the idea, it would amount to a taxpayer-subsidized entity wading into competition with private business. “This violates the spirit of the law, if not the rule,” Czaicki said.

Last August, CenturyLink announced some properties in Columbia and Jefferson City would obtain access to gigabit service. Once again, the prospect of a municipal network appears to inspire private investment.

“We would be paving a road that currently, in our opinion, does not exist now,” [W & L Assistant Director Ryan] Williams said.

Read the PDF of the report Executive Summary online for more details.