Tag: "washington"

Posted November 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

Open access networks offer opportunities for competition and innovation that networks owned and operated by one entity can’t provide. We've written about open access networks owned, operated, and funded by public entities; now private investors are increasingly attracted to these competitive, fiber optic environments.

Changing Paradigm

Over time, American Internet access subscribers have become accustomed to the idea that options are limited because large, corporate Internet access providers have positioned themselves so as not to compete with one other. In areas where local communities have deployed open access models, such as in Ammon, Idaho, or in places with regional open access networks, like UTOPIA Fiber in Utah and the many Public Utility District networks (PUDs) in the state of Washington, those connecting to the network have benefitted from ISP choice and access to high-quality connectivity.

In Europe and Asia, open access models appear more regularly, but in the U.S., the open access arrangement has primarily been adopted by local governments offering wholesale service to ISPs. Often they do so as a way to comport with state law. In the past few years, however, private companies and investment firms have seen the potential of open access fiber optic infrastructure in the U.S. For example, SiFi Networks announced a project in Fullerton, California, earlier this year with plans to establish similar infrastructure projects in other communities.

We recently touched base with Kelly Ryan, CEO of iFiber Communications, an Internet service provider that operates via open access networks owned and operated by PUDs in Washington. We also talked with James Wagar, Managing Director of Thomas Capital Group, who has eyes on open access fiber optic network projects.

The Finance Piece

James notes that in recent years, privately funded open access networks...

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Posted November 8, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

Anacortes, Washington, is ready to serve fast, reliable, and affordable fiber Internet access to its residents. The city is rolling out fiber to three pilot areas by the third quarter of 2020 and hopes to have citywide fiber coverage by 2023. Anacortes Fiber Internet began taking subscription sign-ups in October. The move is a major milestone in a plan that started more than three years ago, as the community looked for ways to improve communications between utility facilities, later expanding to establish this large pilot project.

Rapid Progress Expected

Residents and businesses living in the first pilot area, Central Business District, can expect so obtain fiber Internet access before the end of the year. Old Town is scheduled to finish within the first quarter of 2020 and M Avenue is set for the third quarter of 2020. Emily Schuh, Anacortes Administrative Service Director, hopes to have fiber Internet access available citywide by 2023. 

For a one-time $100 installment fee, residents can expect to pay $39 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or $69 per month for 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access. Businesses can subscribe to $89 per month for 100 Mbps or $149 a month for 1 Gbps. All speeds are symmetrical.

The city used the unconventional method of putting fiber optics in conduit within existing water pipe infrastructure. Using this strategy, the city will not have to concern themselves with road closures or storm damage. Since the fiber optics aren’t in contact with water, it has no impact on the water quality and has been greenlit by Department of Health. "Why didn't we think of this? You're just putting a water pipe inside a water pipe and then putting fiber optics in there,” said Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer.

Read more about the project on the business plan fact sheet [PDF].

...

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Posted October 29, 2019 by lgonzalez

Okanogan County and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are working together in central Washington to bring last mile broadband connectivity to the region. The partners have created the Broadband Action Team (BAT)  and are working step by step to develop fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for about 42,000 people in the area. They recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) as they search for a firm to help develop a County and Tribal Broadband Strategic Plan. Proposals are due November 26th, 2019.

Read the RFP here.

In the Face of Difficulties

Okanogan County and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have contended with significant challenges. According to the RFP:

Much of Okanogan County, including the Colville Reservation within Okanogan County, is plagued with high unemployment, excessive poverty, and an absence of quality of life amenities that have proven to be undesirable to most residents and insurmountable barriers to 21st century economic and community development. Okanogan County and the Colville Confederated Tribes are historically and economically a distressed area. Historically, the surrounding areas within Okanogan County have been dependent on a resource-based economy. Community and economic resources have decreased dramatically as a substantial as the Omak Mill, closed. Many individuals have struggled to find work elsewhere and have either had to move, find government work, or start their own business.

Like many other communities that have decided it’s time to diversify their economy, leaders have determined that improving connectivity is necessary for economic development. Other livability issues, such as public safety, educational opportunities, and distance learning will improve in the region with the Internet access that people now lack. 

Both parties also believe that this project will help strengthen their ability to jointly collect data regarding other infrastructure needs in the area. The county and the tribe want to pursue planning for other projects and work together.

Back in September 2019, we reported on earlier steps by the county and  the tribe along...

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Posted September 27, 2019 by lgonzalez

In central Washington, the Methow Valley, Okanogan County, and the Colville Confederated Tribes Broadband Action Teams (BAT) are teaming up to improve connectivity and shrink the digital divide across the Methow Valley. As part of the process the BAT has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for technical assessment and technical implementation planning to help them meet their goals. Deadline for proposals is September 30th, but the BAT has indicated that they will grant an extension upon request.

Review the RFP here.

Making Improvements

Methow Valley boasts its scenic treasures, including the North Cascades National Park and the Columbia River. Tourists visit the region for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and vibrant arts scene. Like other similarly situated communities where natural beauty is an important feature, high-quality Internet access is difficult to come by.

According to the RFP:

Many residents of the Methow Valley live below the poverty line and have limited access to affordable, high-speed Internet services. This lack of access has impacts on education, economic growth and viability, emergency services, and quality of life. Simply put, this area lacks reliable wide-spread broadband access necessary to overcome these challenges. 

In September, the Washington State Department of Commerce's Community Revitalization Board awarded a $50,000 grant to the BAT and the Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) to dig deeper into the need for broadband service in the Methow Valley. Okanogan County provided a match of $16,667 to secure the state grant. The funding has allowed the BAT to move forward on this project.

Read more in the TwispPDA Methow Valley Position Paper [PDF] here.

In 2018, the BAT began working toward better connectivity by creating a work plan, seeking out stakeholders, and obtaining community input. This year, they wish to expand on their planning process and conduct a technical assessment. In order to complete this phase of the plan, the BAT wants a consultant who will:

  • Facilitate Joint Planning with the BAT Team and its Stakeholders
  • Identify...
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Posted August 16, 2019 by lgonzalez

Earlier this year, Anacortes, Washington, shared an update on their plans for developing their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Their project has been moving along and now they’re seeking an Outside Plant Coordinator as they work on construction. If you’re interested, note that the job posting closes on August 23, 2019.

Check out the complete job description here.

Some of the responsibilities of the Outside Plant Coordinator will be:

  • Plan and oversee the design, permitting, construction and maintenance of the OSP portion of the Municipal Fiber Network (MFN).
  • Act as the MFN’s primary interface with owners of network infrastructure that the MFN must attach to, occupy or otherwise use.
  • Act as the MFN’s primary interface with entities from whom the MFN must obtain construction permits, right-of-way permits or easements.
  • Identify the equipment and supplies needed by the MFN to construct, install and maintain the OSP portion off the MFN.
  • Estimate MFN’s cost to extend its network to new customer sites.

In addition to other requirements, applicants should have:

Associate degree in Construction Management, Project Management, Business Management, or related field, OR any combination of training and experience which provides equivalent knowledge, skills and abilities.

At least three years of experience in any combination of the following:

  • Aerial cable deployment, maintenance and/or repair
  • Underground cable and/or conduit deployment, maintenance and/or repair
  • Inside wiring deployment, maintenance and/or repair
  • Right-of-way permit application preparation
  • Utility pole attachment application preparation
  • Telecommunications OSP infrastructure as-built documentation

PLUS at least two years of experience in any combination of construction management, project management or business management OR any combination of training and experience which provides equivalent knowledge, skills and abilities.

For more details on the requirements, salary, expectations, and how to apply, take a look at the...

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Posted July 23, 2019 by htrostle

Grays Harbor County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington state has just finished a fiber optic network to local schools and a local industrial park. The county has been strapped for Internet access, and this network is the first step in developing better connectivity to many of the homes and businesses along the route. Elected officials are also exploring new ways to encourage last mile connectivity.

The Need for Internet Access

The options for high-speed Internet access are limited in Grays Harbor County, Washington. About 74,000 people live in there, and about 78 percent of the population reports having some form of Internet access at home, but it's likely those that live in the rural areas don't have access to "broadband" as defined as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload) that meets certain other technical standards. While satellite Internet access continues to improve, satellite connectivity is still expensive, unreliable, and describing it as "broadband" is a stretch.

The FCC's data paints the situation in Grays Harbor County as similar to other areas where those living in rural areas have poor or no Internet access and many within small- or medium-sized towns have little or no choice. About 13 percent of the population have no access to broadband, and another 53 percent live under broadband monopoly. This means there is only a single provider for those people. Approximately 27 percent have a choice, but it is limited to two providers and typically between competing technologies, such as cable and DSL.

logo-grays-harbor-PUD.jpg The numbers are even starker for rural areas and tribal lands: 29 percent of premises have no access...

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Posted July 10, 2019 by lgonzalez

Ferry County, located in the eastern region of Washington and along the northern border, recently released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a Broadband Consultant. Responses are due July 12th, 2019.

Trees Abound, Broadband Absent

Much of Ferry County is home to the Colville National Forest and timber has been one of the main sources of the local economy. Like other areas where forests cover great swaths of the countryside, broadband is either expensive or has never been deployed. There are about 7,600 people living on Ferry County's 2,257 square miles.

In addition to timber, other resource-based industries have traditionally offered jobs to locals, but as those resources have depleted, employment opportunities have decreased. Without reliable broadband, many local residents have struggled to make ends meet.

The Colville Indian Reservation is located within Ferry County and controlled by the Colville Confederated Tribes. Like much of the rest of the county, the reservation faces economic distress; residents have faced the prospect of moving in order to find work. Lacking the same access to broadband, the Tribes have joined forces with the county to form the Ferry County and Colville Confederated Tribes Broadband Action Team (BAT).

The BAT formed in April 2018 and began reaching out to stakeholders such as Washington State University - Ferry County (WSU), Microsoft, and the State of Washington. They aim to boost economic development, improve educational opportunities, enhance telemedicine, and expand other initiatives through broadband that will improve the quality of life in Ferry County.

Obtaining an Expert

Microsoft’s Airband Initiative and Declaration Network Group are  already involved in the process and the consultant will work with them on data collection and analysis. The Airband Initiative uses TV white spaces to deliver connectivity. Learn more about the initiative from Christopher's conversation with Public Knowledge's Harold Feld, episode 262 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. 

Some of the services Ferry County seeks from a...

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Posted June 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

Washington's Douglas County Community Network (DCCN) began as a way to improve the local Public Utility District’s electric system; construction of the network started in the late 1990s. Two decades later, people living in some of the state's smallest communities have access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity that equals their neighbors in the county's busy cities through the publicly owned fiber network.

Restrictions Didn't Stop Douglas County PUD

Due to Washington state restrictions, the Douglas County Public Utility District (DCPUD) and other PUDs cannot offer telecommunications services directly to the general public; they can only provide wholesale service. In Douglas County, private providers deliver Internet access, voice, and video to subscribers in both rural communities and more densely populated areas. Six different providers offer a range of services via the open access network. The DCPUD also offers other services, including dark fiber, that businesses find useful and has invested in a carrier grade colocation facility in East Wenatchee.

The concept for the DCCN came about when the utility was searching for a way to upgrade their existing microwave system that they used for power control. With microwave, they would only have the ability to connect point A to point B, but with fiber, the DCPUD could connect points between substations. Around this same time, leaders at the DCPUD were learning of the growing interest in excess capacity from municipal electric utility fiber optic networks for broadband. At the time, communities that knew they would not be served by the large corporate ISPs were those investing in fiber infrastructure. 

logo-dcpud.png “That was us,” says DCCN Coordinator Ben Carter. “They were telling us that they weren’t going to roll broadband out … Obviously, the business decision makes itself.” Rather than bringing a new service to a place where the largest population center was only around 12,000 in 2000, corporate Internet access companies were aiming for large cities such as Seattle and Portland.

Instead of installing the microwave upgrade, the...

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Posted April 10, 2019 by christopher

For several years now, Tacoma, Washington, has pondered the fate of its Click! municipal open access network. In the spring of 2018, the community issued an RFI/Q searching for interested private sector partners that would lease the network from the Tacoma Power Utility (TPU). After reviewing responses, consulting experts, and comparing potential arrangements, Tacoma has narrowed the field of possible partners. The goal is to put the network on a sustainable and competitive footing both financially and technologically. Tacoma is following a path that will retain public ownership of the Click! network as the network continues to expand.

Click! has offered considerable benefits during its lifetime, but the network retains considerable debt even as it will soon require more upgrades to continue competing with Comcast. The cable television system is rigged against small operators and while the open access Internet side creates many benefits, Click!’s ISPs just don’t have enough subscribers to make the network financially viable into the future.   The discussion around Click’s finances are complicated because the broadband network is used for both external customers and internal utility uses -- the rate modeling around how to allocate costs is a process that requires subjective analysis (e.g. should the costs be allocated based on bandwidth or evenly split among each service). Some have credibly accused past TPU officials with cooking the books to make Click!’s financial status worse than it actually was. Nevertheless, Click! still doesn’t appear to be financially sustainable when costs are allocated more reasonably. Given the upgrades needed by the cable system, we fear that preserving the status quo will do more harm than good to the community over the medium and long terms; Tacoma needs to make a change to avoid being stuck solely with the broadband monopolies that plague the rest of us.

logo-click.png Opponents have labeled the current proposal to lease the network as “privatization.” ILSR strongly disagrees. The options being considered by Tacoma will ensure public ownership - the lease to a partner is no more privatization than allowing independent service providers to...

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Posted March 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Governor Jay Inslee started to promote his bill for better broadband earlier this year and, with any luck, Washington will have a solid foundation to expand broadband before the end of this year’s legislative session. SB 5511, a measure backed by the Governor, has sailed through the Senate, and has now appeared in the House. The bill establishes a State Broadband Office and earmarks funding for local broadband initiatives.

The bill is on the agenda for today's House Innovation, Technology & Economic Development Committee meeting at 10 a.m. PDT.

Difficult But Doable

In order to bring high-quality Internet access to all of Washington, millions and possibly billions of dollars of infrastructure investment are required. No one is certain how much completing the task will cost, and obtaining a better estimate will be one of the tasks of the State Broadband Office (SBO), which will be created by SB 5511. The bill allocates $1.2 million for the SBO.

Rural communities, economic development organizations, and tribes have all supported a measure to establish state investment in broadband infrastructure deployment across Washington. In January, Inslee met with leaders from communities across the state, including Colville Business Council member Susie Allen representing the Colville Tribes, to discuss the need for state funding:

“I have been working on broadband initiatives on our reservation for many years, but unfortunately, substantially, we still remain under-served and unserved, without broadband services,” said Allen. “The Colville Tribes have invested several millions of dollars to begin to meet this need, but we require assistance from the state and federal agencies to complete this work… The lack of broadband service creates not just an inconvenience, but poses real safety concerns throughout the reservation.”

The Colville Tribe has invested $6 million in order to connect the tribal government and under the terms of SB 5511, they would qualify to receive more funding in grants and low-interest loans.

The Tribe...

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