Tag: "muni"

Posted March 24, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

John Lester, General Manager of Clarksville Connected Utilities (CCU) in Clarksville, Arkansas, knows a thing or two about the value of a municipal broadband network.

“Just keeping the dollars in Clarksville is gonna have a big impact. Do you have a calculator handy?” Lester asked me, when I called him earlier this month to learn more about the city’s planned foray into residential broadband services.

“Let me talk you through something,” he replied, after I said I did. “Let’s say we’ve got 4,500 potential customers and 75 percent of them get high-speed Internet, in some fashion. What’s that number?”

From there, he ran through a handful of calculations to illustrate the economic benefit of Clarksville’s new Fiber-to-the-Home network. Assuming residents save about $20 per month and the savings continue to circulate locally, the network could grow the city’s economy by $4 million every year.

“That stays in our consumers’ pockets right here in Clarksville, Arkansas,” Lester explained. “There is an economic impact today and every year going forward.”

Residential broadband service is only the most recent evolution for Clarksville’s municipal fiber network, which already connects utility infrastructure as well as area businesses and community anchor institutions in the city of nearly 10,000. Home installations are due to start soon, depending on delays caused by the global Covid-19 outbreak.

Starting With a Plan

CCU logoClarksville’s fiber journey began in 2016 when the city utilities department (which rebranded last year to Clarksville Connected Utilities) deployed a SCADA system to connect its electric, water, and wastewater systems. At the time, Lester was already thinking about how the rest of Clarksville could benefit from the utility’s fiber network, drawing on his prior experience as the city manager of Chanute, Kansas. “We absolutely needed a communications system for our utility infrastructure,” he explained, “but we leaned strongly on one of Stephen Covey’s...

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Posted March 17, 2020 by lgonzalez

When Paul Revere rode through Concord, Massachusetts, to warn the Colonists about the Red Coats, horseback was the fastest way to move information. More than 240 years later, the community that was so instrumental to founding of the United States as we know it now sends information via their own fast, affordable, reliable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal network. This week, Concord's former CIO Mark Howell joins Christopher to talk about the community and their investment.

Mark discusses the community's history and the story of the network, which includes their reasons for investing in the infrastructure. He talks about the local citizens' enthusiasm for the project and what it was like to go from operating an electric utility to adding Internet access for the public. Mark also discusses the funding mechanism that Concord used to pay for the project and shares a few of the many benefits that the network has brought to Concord and its people.

Christopher and Mark review the reasoning behind the different service offerings available to subscribers and the rationale behind choosing these tiers. They also talk about some of the challenges Concord has faced and Mark gets into the possibilities of regional efforts in order to maximize the possibility of reaching more households.

Read more about the network in the 2017 report published by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, ...

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Posted March 10, 2020 by lgonzalez

Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, provides traditional cable TV service, Internet access, and phone service to the community through its utility, Shrewsbury Electric & Cable Operations (SELCO). As the utilities board consults with their subscribers and looks forward, they've come to the conclusion that it's time to invest in fiber optic upgrades to improve operations and remain competitive.

From 1907 to 1983

The community launched SELCO in 1907 as a "Street Lighting Committee" which, after negotiations with a local electric company, led to a local election. The local company had offered to supply power to the community if they would build their own "plant" — poles, wires, and lines. Both first and second town votes in support of the measure and the authorization to borrow $16,000 for construction of the plant led to what would become SELCO. 

While community leaders first considered the possibility of developing a publicly owned cable television network in the mid 1960s, significant steps toward implementing the plan didn't happen until 1982. By then, the town had already been operating an electric utility for 75 years, had conducted a feasibility study, and knew they wanted to pursue the cable TV project. According to SELCO History: The First Hundred Years [PDF], "confusion and disarm of the cable industry at the time" made community leaders delay their decision to move forward in 1970. The project was shelved until 1982 when the Board of Selectmen created Shrewsbury Community Cablevision (SCC) with strong support from people in the community.

The community faced interference from incumbent cable providers, which required a court challenge. Eventually, the town received a CATV license and activated their first subscriber on September 9, 1983. They served 5,600 households by the end of 1984.

logo-SELCO-ma.jpeg By 1999, SELCO was offering Internet access to subscribers. At the time, the community invested $6.3 million into the system in order to offer their service dubbed "TownISP." In 2006, SELCO started offering voice services through a partnership with Sprint/Nextel...

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Posted February 11, 2020 by lgonzalez

Auburn Essential Service (AES) is one of those networks that has been serving the community for years with a steady presence and a strong commitment to the community. This week, Christopher talks with AES General Manager Chris Schweitzer about their fiber optic network, how they're innovating, and their recipe for consistent growth.

AES began with fiber infrastructure for their electric utility. They entered the broadband business first for municipal facilities, and later for businesses when the incumbent providers couldn't deliver necessary connectivity to one of the city's prominent employers. The company was ready to relocate until AES stepped in. Rather than face the economic impact of substantial job losses, AES connected the company and never looked back.

That was in the early 2000s and now AES offers Internet access to large segments of residents and businesses. Christopher and his guest talk about the way AES has taken a deliberate approach to expanding the network citywide and how they're implementing new technologies as they refresh the infrastructure. They discuss the network’s financial health (hint: it’s doing great) and how AES seeks grant funding to aid in further expansion.

Chris describes the new partnership that AES and nearby Garrett, Indiana, have developed to bring fiber broadband to the residents in the small community of about 6,300 people. The utility has a philosophy that other munis also embrace — straightforward pricing and customer-centered services — that have helped drive their success in the residential market.

Check out our first interview with...

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Posted February 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

Almost six years ago, we told readers about Ottawa, Kansas, where the community of around 13,000 people had invested in publicly owned fiber optic connectivity for local businesses. We recently touched base with IT Director Paul Sommer, who updated us on the progress of their broadband utility and how it has impacted the community.

Steady as it Grows

When we first met Ottawa, they had worked with the local school district and Franklin County to capitalize on existing fiber infrastructure and expand to more locations. Local leaders had learned from Ottawa businesses that the best options available from incumbent AT&T were T1 lines for approximately $600. Higher capacity connections were scarce and financially out of reach for local establishments, and AT&T could not be convinced to upgrade their infrastructure. As Bigham put it, AT&T was "milking the cow."

Once the city, school district, and Franklin County established a partnership, Ottawa began to expand fiber to other municipal facilities and businesses as requested. Sommers, who has taken over as IT Director, says that now all 10 city buildings are on the network. In addition to an industrial park on the original infrastructure on the north end of town, the network now reaches an industrial park to the south.

The electric utility has trained their own staff rather than hiring external fiber deployment personnel. In addition to enriching skills, their employees are able to respond quickly if there are downed cables or other maintenance issues. Sommers recalls an instance when a car, which had caught fire, sent shrapnel flying into the air. By a twist of fate, one piece severed the fiber optic cable hanging some distance away. His team was able to rehang and splice the cable that same day and get the subscriber back online.

By using electric utility staff, Ottawa has reduced the cost of their incremental build over the years. They typically budget around $100,000 each year for expansion of the network, have never gone over, and often don’t spend the entire allotment. Sommers says that, since they own the utility poles in town, have necessary personnel on hand, and equipment at the ready, unnecessary bureaucracy doesn’t slow down maintenance, repairs, or expansion efforts.

Bursting at the Streams

...

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Posted February 3, 2020 by shrestha

In  November 2017 we reported that Mount Washington, a town of roughly 200 people in southwestern Massachusetts, had deployed its own infrastructure for broadband service. More than two years after the initial setup, a recent article in Government Technology on municipal broadband in Massachusetts takes us back to the tiny town. We learn how fast affordable, reliable publicly owned Internet infrastructure has brought positive transformation to the citizens of Mount Washington, located in the Taconic Mountains.

You Could Barely Use It

The article covers several layers of how high-speed Internet access has provided a jumpstart for the local economy. The small town with its remote landscape and inherent challenges had only two options before broadband: dial-up or a long-distance Wi-Fi service, which provided download speeds of less than 1 Mbps. 

“You could barely use Wi-Fi calling, and it was impossible to stream anything,” said Brian Tobin, Mount Washington select board member. “You could send emails, and you could do Internet searches that just took a long time.”

In spite of the fact that they're the third smallest town in the state, the Mount Washington Broadband Network now offers fiber optic infrastructure and contracts with an Internet access provider to offer speeds which surpasses those in some of the state's much larger communities. Funding for the network is part of a larger state plan to bring broadband to rural towns in need of Internet service. The Government Technology article notes that: 

“Mount Washington benefited from the Last Mile Program, which provided more than $35 million in grants for rural broadband. The program is run by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), which is part of the state agency Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech).”

...

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Posted January 28, 2020 by lgonzalez

NextLight, the municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in Longmont, Colorado, has been serving residents and businesses in the community since 2014 and offers reliable gigabit connectivity at affordable rates. This week, Director of NextLight, Valerie Dodd, is on the show to discuss the past, present, and future of NextLight with Christopher.

NextLight has implemented some special marketing and customer service techniques, which has helped achieve the high take rate that continues to grow. As the network expands to all areas of the city, Longmont has used some creative approaches and contended with a few challenges to connect residents and businesses. Valerie and Christopher talk about some of these decisions and how those choices have panned out.

They also discuss the community's commitment to digital inclusion and how it's paying off in an increasingly diverse and growing city. Valerie describes how her experience with a private sector provider has contributed to NextLight's focus on subscribers and breaks down some of the key differences between a traditional municipal utility, such as an electric service, and broadband service from the city.

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

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the...

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Posted January 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

We last wrote about MB Link, the municipal fiber network in Mont Belvieu, Texas, in October 2018. Since then, the city near Houston has connected about half of its 7,500 residents to the network and is talking about expanding into the surrounding county, reported the Dallas Morning News.

The in-depth article from late last month discussed many aspects of the groundbreaking network, including why the city decided to take charge, the legal and logistical challenges it faced, and how local service is benefiting the community.

MB Link Emerges

As in other communities, poor service quality from existing providers drove Mont Belvieu to deploy a city owned broadband network, the article explained:

For years, residents of this fast-growing town on the outer ring of Houston complained to local leaders about slow and spotty Internet. They put satellite dishes on their rooftops. They endured intermittent service and frequent outages.

. . .

So Mont Belvieu took matters into its own hands: It decided to build and operate its own high-speed Internet service.

Now, MB Link offers residents across the city speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second for only $75 a month. Approximately half of all Mont Belvieu households get Internet access from the municipal network, which has recently begun providing service to businesses as well.

Community Networks Create Competition

Mont Belvieu isn’t the only city that has built a broadband network to create options for residents and businesses, the article noted:

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s community broadband network initiative, said cities began building broadband networks in the 1990s when they had no Internet. Now, he said, they’re motivated because they feel stuck with Internet that’s inferior or overpriced.

. . .

“The simple fact is without good government policy to create...

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Posted December 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

As we greet each holiday season, we try to re-live the classic creations from years gone by and treasure hoilday memories the creative writers at MuniNetworks.org have developed to enjoy the season. Four years ago, Tom Ernste and Hannah Trostle wrote “Twas the Night Before Muni Fiber” which has always been one of our favorites.

Both authors have journeyed on to other careers but we get to keep their contributions to ILSR’s work, including this poem in the style of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore. We've made it a tradition each year to publish the piece for new readers.

Enjoy, share, and thank you for your support! 

 

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Posted December 12, 2019 by lgonzalez

With an incredible resource such as the Greenlight Community Broadband Network in town, leaders in Willson, North Carolina, have the ability to pursue any number of innovations. This past November, Greenlight, Wilson Community College, and the Gig East Exchange held their first Fiber Boot Camp, a training program to certify people interested in working as fiber optic technicians.

Accessibility for Students

The boot camp was borne from a prior course that lasted 10 weeks. The longer course filled up quickly and, recognizing the need for the training, Manager of Outside Plant Gene Scott and his team realized that a more intensive, but shorter course could benefit people from other communities.

“The class filled to capacity right quick. People came from as far away as Salisbury to attend, a two-hour drive each way once a week, for 10 weeks.”

He added, “Affordability was a big factor in our approach. Most fiber certification classes run a few thousand dollars. We want this untapped workforce to have a chance at this training. Our 10-week course was $140.”

The course received an outpouring of positive feedback.

When they realized the high demand for the training and that people all over the state were interested in the course, they knew that making the course a fit for people from other areas of the state would pay off.

“What if we had a fiber boot camp. Something where folks did not have to drive back and forth, but could stay here and get 10 weeks of training in five days?”

...

“To our amazement,” Scott said, “we had representatives from as far away as Asheville sign up.”

Scott discussed the longer course and the plans for the boot camp in our conversation with him for episode two of our special NC Broadband Matters Series. Check it out:

...

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