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OneCommunity's Middle Way - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 135

OneCommunity is a nonprofit organization in northeastern Ohio that has connected thousands of community anchor institutions with high capacity connections. Created as OneCleveland before expanding, it has remained a rather unique approach to expanding high quality Internet access. This week, CEO Lev Gonick joins us to talk about OneCommunity and its contributions to the region.

As neither a private company nor a local government, Lev believes that OneCommunity offers a third way, something they often call a "community-driven" approach. We discuss how a big city like Cleveland needs to think about solving the problem of expanding Internet access broadly.

OneCommunity has just announced the recipients of its Big Gig Challenge and Lev shares some of the lessons they learned in evaluating proposals and working with the communities that competed for the prize.

Lev and I will be on a panel together again with some other great folks in Austin for Broadband Communities in the middle of April. Great deal to attend here.

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

This show is 23 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Los Angeles Times Supports Local Authority

President Obama's recent appearance in Cedar Falls infused adrenaline into the debate about local authority for telecommunications decisions. As a result, some of the media outlets from large cities are now coming out in support of local authority. The Editorial Board of the LA Times published an opinion on January 21st supporting the notion of restoring local authority in states where laws prevent community decision making.

The Times recognizes that rural areas will benefit most from reversing these restrictions, that the restrictions need to be removed for us to compete globally, and that there are numerous municipal networks that are up to the challenge of improving connectivity. The LA Times also recognizes the value of public-private partnerships in New York and in other places where local government has forged productive relationships with the private sector.

Editors at the LA Times boil it down to one tenet:

Regardless, the decision about whether a local agency should get into the broadband business should be left to the people who bear the risk — local officials and the people who elect them.

Ting Delivering FTTH Is Great News for Community Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Episode 134

In recent weeks, we have been excited to see announcements from Ting, a company long known for being a great wireless provider (both Lisa and I are customers), that is now getting into FTTH deployments. The first announcement was from Charlottesville where it acquired another company. Last week they announced a partnership with Westminster, Maryland.

This week we interview Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, which is the parent of Ting. Elliot has long been active in preserving and expanding the open Internet.

We discuss many issues from Ting's success in wireless to cities dealing with permitting and access in rights-of-way to Ting's willingness and enthusiasm to operate on municipal fiber open access networks. We finish with some musings on upcoming over the top video technologies like SlingTV from Dish.

Both Elliot and I are presenting at the upcoming Freedom to Connect event in New York City on March 2 and 3rd.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

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

This show is 27 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

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. 

Gigabit Muni Fiber Partnership: Westminster and Ting

Westminster's city council just voted unanimously to establish a partnership with Ting, reports the Carroll County Times. Known primarily as a mobile service provider, Ting wants to offer Internet services via the new municipal fiber optic network. Ting announced earlier this month that it would soon begin offering Internet service in Charlottesville, Virginia as well.

In their own announcement about the partnership, CTC Technology & Energy's Joanne Hovis described the arrangement:

The City will fund, own, and maintain the fiber; Ting will lease the fiber and provide all equipment and services. Ting will pay the City to use the fiber—reducing the City’s risk while enabling Ting to offer Gigabit Internet in Westminster without having to build a fiber network from scratch.

CTC has worked with Westminster since the beginning to analyze the community's situation, assets, and challenges. 

We have watched Westminster's idea blossom into a pilot project and then go full bloom to a planned 60-mile network when demand dictated nothing less. The project has been community driven and community minded. It comes to no surprise to us that a straight shooting, consumer minded provider such as Ting would be the partner Westminster would choose.

Dr. Robert Wack, city council member and local project leader told the Times:

"From the very beginning, it was obvious that they [Ting] understood what we were trying to do," said Council President Robert Wack. "We got a lot of feedback from other responses that was questioning to flat-out skeptical."

Ting considers the arrangement an organic step for them. From the press release:

It all feels like a really nice model for how this stuff should work. The city of Westminster builds a fiber network underneath the streets, driveways, hills and valleys they know best and ultimately owns their own future. We do pretty much exactly what we have been doing for our mobile customers for three years. Most importantly, the people of Westminster, Maryland will join the ranks of Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Chattanooga and, soon, Charlottesville, Virginia with blazing fast, video streaming, photo uploading, economy driving, job creating Internet to boast and enjoy.

For more on the project, listen to Chris's interview with Dr. Wack in Episode #100 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We will feature Ting in an upcoming episode of Community Broadband Bits.

Update: Motherboard has a story with a great quote from Dr. Robert Wack: 

"We want to blow this thing up, and we want disruptive services at disruptive pricing," Robert Wack, Westminster's city council president, told me. "We've got Comcast and its usual suite of services, Verizon DSL, with its patchy service areas, and dish and satellite services. Nobody is happy with any of it, and none of it has the capacity we need to take this city into the future."

Error - we previously wrote North Carolina rather than Virginia. This is Charlottesville, Virginia.

All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access

Publication Date: 
September 23, 2014
Author(s): 
Lisa Gonzalez
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

Minneapolis, MN —In 2010 the Minnesota legislature set a goal: universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state by 2015. It is now 2015 and large parts of Greater Minnesota will not achieve that goal, even as technological advances make the original benchmarks increasingly obsolete.

But some Minnesota communities are significantly exceeding those goals. Why? The activism of local governments.

A new report by ILSR, widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable organizations on municipal broadband networks, details the many ways Minnesota’s local governments have stepped up. “All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access” includes case studies of 12 Minnesota cities and counties striving to bring their citizens 21st century telecommunications.

 

  • Windom, which is one of the most advanced networks in the state, built their own network after their telephone company refused to invest in their community.
  • Dakota County showed how a coordinated excavation policy can reduce by more than 90 percent the cost of installing fiber.
  • Lac qui Parle County partnered with a telephone cooperative to bring high speed broadband to its most sparsely population communities.

Read how these and other communities took control of their own connectivity and their community vitality. Some did it alone while others established partnerships; each chose the path they considered the best for their own community.

 

CTgig Effort in Connecticut Now Backed By 46 Communities

Last fall, three Connecticut communities banded together to form what has now become a statewide effort to improve connectivity across the state. The CTgig Project has since blossomed to include 46 municipalities, or 50% of the state's population according to a recent press release.

The initiative began when Stamford, New Haven, and West Hartford issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) [PDF] to open up dialogue with potential private sector partners. The goal was described as an open access gigabit fiber network for residents, businesses, and community anchor institutions.

State officials traveled to various communities to share information on the project in a series of community meetings. We interviewed Connecticut Consumer Counsel Elin Katz and Broadband Policy Coordinator Bill Vallee about the project in Episode 118 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

As an increasing number of Connecticut communities joined the initiative, others followed suit. In part because they recognized the need for better connectivity to improve the quality of life, but also because they recognized their perilous economic position if they chose to remain behind.

Southington's Town Council, debated whether or not to join the collaboration in early December. From a recent MyRecordJournal.com article:

“The way industry and business is moving these days, they all require a high level of Internet speed and access," [Rod] Philips [Southington’s director of planning and community development] said. “If we don’t do something, we’re going to be at a disadvantage.”

Southington voted to participate in the RFQ.

In the press release, Bill Vallee provided more details about what state leaders hoped to see from RFQ responses:

"The RFQ expressly seeks financing to be invested by the potential fiber network builders and Internet service providers expected to respond to the RFQ on January 13, 2015.  Neither the state nor the municipalities will be investing funds in the networks or Internet service provisioning, but the municipalities will contribute in-kind assets and support.”   Vallee stated that “the RFQ seeks to increase competition in the Internet access market to boost the currently low levels of access speeds available in Connecticut and reduce the exceedingly high rates compared to peer states and other nations charged by the incumbents.  That said, incumbent telephone and cable operators are logical respondents since they are already providing Internet service across the state, and they are, of course, encouraged to respond to the RFP.” 

 

DubLINK Network Supports Economic Development, Health Care, and Supercomputing

Award-winning supercomputing apps, medical research, economic development, and quantum computing advances. What do they all have in common? They all depend on the DubLINK network running underneath Dublin, Ohio, a suburb on the Northwest edge of Columbus. The city of 43,000 people has 125 miles of fiber optics in the ground, both within its own boundaries and in the form of fiber purchased by the city within metro and regional networks. 

DubLINK began in 1999 as a public private partnership with the Fishel company to build an institutional network. In the wake of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Dublin worried that a recent massive investment of $70 million in streetscaping would be undone as competing providers dug up newly paved streets to install fiber optics. To avoid this, the City signed a franchise agreement with Fishel to install a multi-conduit system, with the city receiving some conduit for its own use.  

Using 1.25” conduits installed in the city’s existing sewer system, the network runs for 25 miles underneath Dublin’s business district and connects six city buildings, who use their own lit fiber for data and voice services, eliminating expense leased line fees. This has allowed the city to save approximately $400,000 per year for the last 12 years in connectivity and information technology expenses.

In 2004, Dublin spent $3.5 million to purchase 96 strands running 100 additional miles through Columbus FiberNet, bringing the total length of the DubLink network to its current 125 miles. FiberNet is a duct system that runs throughout a significant portion of central Ohio, including Columbus and its surrounding suburbs.

The following year, the City of Dublin struck a deal with the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet). OARnet is a 1,600 mile statewide fiber backbone connecting K-12 schools, colleges, universities, federal research labs, and other institutions. A $500,000 grant from the Ohio Board of Regents allowed DubLINK to make its connection with OARnet, and the city gave OARnet an indefeasible right to use 4 of its 96 fiber strands throughout its entire 125 mile network. They called their partnership CORN, for the Central Ohio Research Network. Earlier this year, the Ohio State Legislature awarded DubLink $300,000, which along with a $250,000 National Science Foundation grant and a $328,000 local contribution, will allow DubLINK to match OARnet’s 100 Gbps speeds throughout its entire network.

Seal - Dublin, Ohio

According to Dana McDaniels, Dublin's Director of Development, the city has spent approximately $5.5 million over the years in building, purchasing, and upgrading DubLINK. For this investment, he estimates that the city has received at least a $35 million return on investment already. This includes avoided costs around $4.8 million ($400,000 per year over 12 years), leases to telecoms and other entities of about one third of the city's dark fiber that amount to $3.2 million, and the much more significant gains in employment and thus tax revenue that have resulted from companies expanding or relocating in Dublin to take advantage of its incredible connectivity.

Dublin has a two percent income tax, one quarter of which is dedicated to a wide variety of capital improvement projects. It also uses a small part of this revenue as collateral for tax-increment financing bonds, which it has used to fund some of its share of network construction costs, with the rest of the $5.5 million in total network investments coming from the regular capital improvements budget.

The network is currently being used by a wide variety of public, private, and nonprofit institutions, including National Mutual Insurance, Nestle, Dublin Methodist Hospital, and online reference catalogue company OCLC Inc. OCLC connects to 70,000 libraries around the world, but relies on DubLINK to secure its data by connecting to backup data centers throughout the region.

Rather than narrowly focusing on network revenue, Dublin takes a broader economic development approach to its fiber resources. Development Director McDaniels uses fiber connectivity to lure businesses to locate or expand in Dublin the way other cities use tax credits or land giveaways. Ohio Health, which runs six hospitals in the state and has various other facilities, was granted 4 strands of DubLINK's fiber, which helped them decide to headquarter in the city. They now light and manage the fiber themselves, using it connect to all of their facilities throughout the region. Because they are able to so easily run their operations from Dublin, they have expanded their employment in the city from 300 to 1,200 people.

This September, one of DubLINK’s institutional anchors announced that they would be using DubLink to test new applications for quantum computing. Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit applied science and technology company, signed a five-year deal with DubLINK to use the city’s fiber for their Quantum Key Distribution network, the first commercially-funded network to use quantum computing to encrypt information. Using subatomic particles instead of binary code to transmit information, Battelle claims they have created a form of encryption that will be hack-proof even if quantum computers make traditional encryption techniques obsolete. 

DubLINK proved its usefulness in 2013 as well, when a collaborative including representatives from the City of Dublin, the University of Missouri, and The Ohio State University were recognized for creating the “Best Application for Advanced Manufacturing” at the Next Generation Application Summit in Chicago. The team developed an app called Simulation-as-a-Service, which allows small businesses and labs to remotely access supercomputing capability. Small manufacturers would be able to use the app (in combination with a robust fiber optic connection) to run design simulations through supercomputers on the Ohio State campus, as well as trade design information in massive data files. 

According to Prasad Calyam, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Missouri and the leader of the team developing the app: 

“The app really requires the infrastructure,” said Calyam. “The infrastructure is not the end goal of the project. It’s really the app. But we couldn’t build the app without the infrastructure.”

“Our work on Simulation-as-a-Service is one example where having a city invest in broadband infrastructure will help economic development,” said Calyam. “It helps companies to move there, to use the infrastructure, and essentially build new kinds of collaborations.”

Expedient Logo

The combination of DubLINK’s fiber infrastructure and proximity to The Ohio State University has also helped attract a growing number of data centers and medical research operations. Dublin-based Cardinal Health opened a research center in the city earlier this year, and Expedient Data Centers recently announced plans for a $52 million data center.

An even bigger fish is on the line for Dublin, which is competing with neighboring suburb Hilliard to be the location for a new $1.1 billion Amazon data center. Amazon has been secretive about its plans, but Ohio Governor John Kasich recently confirmed earlier leaks that the center would be located in the Columbus area. 

Dublin is pushing ahead with the expansion of DubLINK in the coming months and years. In conjunction with the upgrade to 100 Gbps speeds, the network is also beginning to move towards an open access Fiber-to-the-Premise model for major office and multitenant buildings in the city. Rather than bringing fiber to the curb and waiting for building owners to take advantage, the city will be bringing the fiber directly into at least 20 buildings this year and about 10 each year thereafter, with the option to increase the pace if it incents businesses to locate or expand in Dublin.

DubLINK has also struck a deal with a local data center that will serve as a "meet me" room and is in talks with ISPs, which will allow those intitutions using DubLINK fiber to connect to whatever ISP they wish over the publicly owned fiber. It will also allow them to connect to OARnet, the National Science Foundation's GENI rack, and the Ohio State University's supercomputer remotely - all at 100 Gbps. 

The local schools are on the docket for connections as well, with the three city high schools and administration building at the head of the line. They all stand to gain 100 Gbps network connections, and will also benefit from the nearly limitless educational resources of Ohio's universities and research organizations available through OARnet.

Whether or not Dublin successfully woos Amazon, its fiber optic network has proven to be a valuable community asset. It has allowed the city to partner with a local provider to launch a city-wide Wi-Fi system over 24 square miles, which uses DubLINK for backhaul and in return allocates 25% of its bandwidth to the city for its own uses, such as police communication and logistical support for large public events. It has supported medical and computing research, creating good jobs in the process. For all these achievements, Dublin has twice been named a Top 7 Community by the Intelligent Communities Forum, and last year Dana McDaniels, who oversaw DubLINK's development, was given ICF's Lifetime Achievement Award.  

Burlington Sells Burlington Telecom, Continues to Operate the Network

In November, Burlington's City Council approved the much anticipated settlement with Citibank. Burlington Telecom, a nearly citywide gigabit FTTH network owned by the city, was run into the ground by a previous mayor. That Mayor's Administration hid major cost overruns from the public for years, resulting in a challenging situation for the community. In the the world of municipal broadband, this is a significant anomaly.

The City found itself owing CitiBank some $33 million with no clear path on how to pay it. After years of arguing in court, the situation is largely resolved. Early in 2014, Citibank and Burlington reached a settlement [PDF] in which the the city would pay $10.5 million and a share of BT's future value in exchange for Citibank to drop its $33 million lawsuit. The obligation will include funds contributed by the city's codefendant, McNeil, Leddy & Sheahan P.C. law firm.

BT revenues, net cash flow, and the city's insurance carrier will contribute to the city's obligation, but the lion's share will be paid for with bridge financing from a local source. Trey Pecor, a Burlington business owner, has secured funding and created Blue Water LLC. The city will transfer ownership of the network to Blue Water in exchange for $6 million and will continue to lease the network from Blue Water at about $558,500 per year for a maximum period of five years. The goal is to find a partner to purchase the network. At that time, Blue Water and the city will divide any proceeds from the sale. 

As part of the agreement, the City Council and the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) needed to approve the terms. The PSB is the state entity tasked with regulating utility rates and related financial matters in Vermont. On November 3rd, the PSB approved the transaction unanimously [PDF of the Order].

A Vermont Digger article reported that several organizations, including the Center for Media and Democracy, the Regional Educational Television Network and Vermont Community Access Media, requested a six month public engagement process before the deal be approved. The groups, known as Burlington Access Management Organizations (BAMOs) were concerned that a distant corporate owner that may purchase network, will not be community-minded in its decisions. The BAMOs also requested that three to five people with experience in telecom, alternative corporate structures, and public engagement, be added to the Advisory Board. From the VTDigger article:

The Public Service Board did not agree to the request. The board said it would be premature to impose conditions on a prospective sale, and that any future owner will be expected to comply with the same public access obligations the city must meet now.

“While the conditions requested by BAMOs may provide a useful mechanism to explore issues in connection with a prospective future sale of BT’s Assets, the Board declines to impose such conditions,” the PSB wrote.

Unfortunately, the PSB missed the fundamental point - the required public access obligations are quite small. Burlington Telecom, like most municipal fiber networks, went above and beyond the bare minimum required by law. The only way to ensure Burlington continues providing great customer service, high quality connections, and additional services to the community is by making it sure it is accountable to the community, not distant shareholders.

We cannot help but be disappointed at the continued pain caused by the failure of Mayor Kiss's administration to be honest with the people of Burlington - a reminder of how important transparency is for local governments.

We strongly support the efforts of local groups to ensure that when the network is next sold, it is to a locally rooted entity that will ensure the high level of service BT has delivered will continue.

The PSB did grant the city's requested reprieve from a condition that the network connect every address in Burlington. There are still approximately 3,250 addresses that BT does not reach, often in areas with underground utilities or condos where the owner is not cooperative. In order to make the system more enticing to potential buyers, the PSB removed the obligation from the utility's certificate of public good.

On November 17th, the City Council approved the settlement along with bridge financing documents, which will allow the process to move forward. The Council also decided to expand the BTAB and approved operating guidelines. WPTZ reported that there were local residents attending the council meeting who spoke out against the sale, but the Council voted to approve unanimously. From WPTZ:

"Given the circumstances that we were faced with over the past five years, this settlement is the best solution, the best possible outcome from our saga with Burlington Telecom," said Karen Paul, a Burlington city council member.

Local coverage on the City Council settlemet approval from WPTZ:

Video: 
See video

Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Video and Materials Now Available from Blandin

Our friends at the Blandin Foundation recently sponsored another Minnesota Border to Border Broadband conference. Video and materials are now available

In addition to the archived video of the November 19th event in Brainerd, Minnesota, Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy provides links to summaries of each session, some of which also have PowerPoint presentations or video available for viewing:

Interest in rural broadband projects has risen sharply in the past two years. In 2013, the state legislature set aside $20 million in grant funding for rural broadband projects; applications have recently come due.

A Star Tribune article reports that entities seek approximately $44.2 million in total for Minnesota projects. Sen. Matt Schmit, the lead author on the grant funding bill also spoke at the conference and told attendees:

“Above all, I think what we wanted to do was prove there was interest out there — that there’s a need."