Tag: "county"

Posted June 20, 2012 by christopher

We have just released a paper revealing how Martin County saved millions of dollars by building its own fiber optic network to link schools and county facilities rather than leasing lines from Comcast.

The report, Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network, reveals how Martin County transformed the threat of a near ten-fold cost increase for its telecom budget into cost savings and new opportunities for economic growth.

Download the Florida Fiber Report here.

“Martin County is a model example of how local governments can cut costs, increase efficiencies, and spur economic development,” according to Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “Local governments will need broadband networks in 10, 15, 30 years – they should consider owning the asset rather than leasing indefinitely.”

ILSR Broadband Researcher Lisa Conzalez and Christopher Mitchell authored the report.

The new report highlights challenges the County faced, creative tactics used to reduce the cost of the investment, financial details on the incredible cost savings from the network, and how the new connections are already being used.

Though the County is not planning on offering services directly to residents or businesses over the network, the network has already allowed a local Internet Service Provider to expand its territory and offer some choices to people and businesses previously stuck only with AT&T and Comcast. Additionally, the network is leasing dark fiber to some entities.

Florida law makes it difficult for the community to offer services to residents and businesses by imposing additional regulations on public providers that are not imposed on massive companies like AT&T and Comcast.

If you want to stay current with stories like this, you can subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.

Posted April 24, 2012 by lgonzalez

Step across the county line in Thomas County, Georgia and you will be in Florida. Its county seat, Thomasville, has been chosen as a one of the best places to retire. Thomasville's website is filled with pics of grand white pillared porches, rose gardens, and long winding paths lined with graceful oaks. It strikes me as a place to sit, sip a mint julep, and enjoy a passing breeze.

Appearances can be deceiving. Thomasville has been keeping up with the times by enhancing their fiber optic capabilities since 1995. While their project began as city investment, they are now part of a community network that serves several other local municipalities spanning several counties. The network brought services to an area the private providers had neglected.

The network began by connecting local schools, hospitals, and businesses, but quickly attracted residential subscribers. Within two years, neighboring Cairo (Grady County), Camilla (Mitchell County), and Moultrie (Colquitt County) joined Thomasville to create the collaborative development authority, now sometimes referred to as the South Georgia Governmental Services Authority. The purpose of the Authority was to expand Community Network Services (CNS) to reach more of the region in more ways. While each town benefits from connecting to the other three, they all maintain their own network as part of the CNS system. A few smaller towns in the area are also part of the network.

Past press releases record many instances of community, success, and positive use of their network. From the very beginning of CNS, it was apparent that the local leaders knew the community needed to act for itself. These words, spoken in 1997, have been echoed many times by the founders of municipal networks:

"Rural Georgia has been bypassed by technology for a long time," said Thomasville City Manager Tom Berry. "If we want economic development to occur here, we have to make sure the technology those businesses need is available."

A press release in 2001 described the local celebration as the first cable customers were hooked up to service in Moultrie. Clearly, the sense of...

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Posted April 18, 2012 by lgonzalez

VisitMendocino.com sums up this northern California community as a peaceful and serene:

"Mendocino County, where rugged coastline, breathtaking beaches, picturesque villages, majestic redwood forests and America's Greenest Wine Region beckon you to escape to a slower pace."

While the people of Mendocino County love life in the slow lane, they would love a fast lane for the Internet. Mendocino County, known for its wineries, its redwoods, and its greenery is now becoming known for its efforts to develop their own community-owned broadband.

The Mendocino County Broadband Alliance (MCBA) was borne out of a need to fill gigantic gaps in broadband coverage created by the private sector. The geological and rural nature of the area presents an insurmountable challenge to the private cable and telco business models in this spacious county of just under 88,000 residents. While there is still archaic dial-up service, spotty and unreliable satellite access, and a few communities with DSL, the MCBA reports that over half of the population has NO access to broadband.

Community leaders in Mendocino County have contemplated the need for access in their area for some time. What really drove home the urgency of the situation was the 2011 death of Esplanade, Mendocino County's small, local, independent ISP. Carol Brodsky, of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, spoke with MCBA for the story:

When Esplanade, a small, privately owned south-coast Internet service provider closed its doors in 2011, around 400 customers were left in digital darkness, according to Greg Jirak, strategic planning chair for the Mendocino County Broadband Alliance. The resultant issues cascaded and greatly affected the lives of individuals, organizations and businesses.

Jirak goes on to describe other ways Mendocino County has suffered due to the loss of a large part of the scanty Internet coverage they had:

“When Esplanade folded, the Coast Community Library was no longer able to provide public Internet access,” Jirak explains.

Seniors were severely impacted because of Esplanade’s shutdown. “The South Coast Senior Center staff helped seniors use their Internet connection to deal with Social Security, Medicaid, insurance issues and medical...

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Posted February 4, 2012 by christopher

A local government in southeast North Carolina is the first entity to deploy a "Super Wi-Fi" white-spaces broadband network. New Hanover County, North Carolina, owns the network that was developed by Spectrum Bridge.

New Hanover County and The City of Wilmington do not plan to charge people to use the WiFi capability made possible by the new network. As long as the service is free neither they nor other municipalities deploying the technology are likely to run afoul of anti-municipal network legislation that has been adopted in some areas.

Recall that North Carolina passed a law last year to limit local authority to build networks that could threaten Time Warner Cable or CenturyLink's divine right to be the only service providers in the state (even as they refuse to invest in modern networks).

These white spaces are sometimes called "Super Wi-Fi" because the public knows that Wi-Fi is wireless and therefore anyone can quickly grasp that "Super Wi-Fi" is newer, better, and perhaps even wireless(er).

GovTech also covered the announcement:

According to the FCC, these vacant airwaves between channels are ideal for supporting wireless mobile devices. The FCC named the network “super Wi-Fi” because white spaces are lower frequency than regular Wi-Fi and, therefore, can travel longer distances.

New Hanover County is deploying the super Wi-Fi in three public parks, starting with a playground area at Hugh MacRae Park on Jan. 26, followed by Veterans Park and Airlie Gardens. Other locations in Wilmington, N.C. — located in the county — will also have access to the new network.

Apparently the newsiness of this story derives from its official launch - MuniWireless covered many of the details about this...

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Posted January 27, 2012 by christopher

A rural Fiber-to-the-Farm project that started in Sibley County has added three new towns to its potential territory due to the extremely high interest in fast, affordable, and reliable connections to the Internet. The current providers aren't getting the job done and few expect that to change given the cost of improving services.

An article last year reported on present difficulties for many in Sibley:

Soeffker, who farms with her husband in rural Sibley County, said the dish receiver they must use works fine in good weather but balks during heavy rain and snowstorms.

Meantime, her husband struggles with a lagging Internet speed of .6 megabits a second that falls short of meeting his business needs when he’s selling commodities.

The committee organizing the network set a goal for demonstrating the interest of something like 50% of the population in the target area. There has been some confusion as to exactly how many they should have before committing to the project but with just two mass mailings, they have received nearly 3,000 positive responses (of the over 8000 households that could be served). This is a very strong response.

To keep the public informed, they have had numerous public meetings in each of the communities that will be involved. To be as open as possible, they would often have three meetings in a town per day -- a morning, afternoon, and evening meeting to accomodate everyone's schedule. As this project moves forward, no one can claim the group has been anything but open with the plan.

On January 19, they had a major meeting with over 100 people attending, including many elected officials from the towns. For over two and a half hours, they had five presentations and numerous questions. MPR's Jennifer Vogel was there and wrote about the project shortly afterward.

Participating communities--which include Renville County, Sibley County, Fairfax, Gibbon, Winthrop, Gaylord, Arlington, New Auburn, Green Isle, Buffalo Lake, Steward, Brownton and Lafayette--have been asked to decide by early March whether to...

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Posted November 21, 2011 by christopher

There are definitely times when you learn of a business practice where you think, "Wow, my opinion of AT&T could not go any lower." And then, BOOM. You find out that AT&T was intentionally underfunding a 9-11 call center in order to undercut its competitors in bids.

Yikes.

Did we mention that this is not an isolated case? AT&T has been busted in several jurisdictions for this practice.

Hat tip to Stop the Cap! for bringing my attention to a lawsuit brought by Hamilton County against AT&T for its practice of under-reporting the number of business lines it provides.

This practice allows it to undercut all competitors in the market, including the community fiber network run by Chattanooga's Electric Power Board. From the Times Free Press article:

The lawsuit claims that, since at least July 2001, AT&T has filed monthly and annual reports listing fewer business phone lines than they actually provide. Under Tennessee law, phone companies must pay $3 per month per line to pay for 911 access.

...

In a March phone service bid proposal for Hamilton County, AT&T stated it would not collect the $3 rate and instead collect $2 per line per month. That allowed the company to underbid the next lowest bidder by 69 cents per line per month, “unlawfully increasing its profits at the expense of revenue to support the critical emergency services that” 911 provided, according to court records.

A difference of $.69 may not seem like much, until you consider they may be providing 1,000 lines - which is a difference of $690/month or $8,280/year.

911.gif

It is an incredible racket. AT&T gets more high-margin customers, pays less in fees than competitors, and the only people who get hurt are those who depend on 9-11.

Just when you think AT&T is brilliantly evil (an accusation I tend not to make against many corporations no matter how much I disapprove of their...

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Posted November 17, 2011 by christopher

Dunnellon, a small town in Marion County south of Gainesville, decided to invest in a community fiber network to spur growth and diversify its income stream. Though citizens did not want to cut government services, they have not been pleased at property tax increases.

364 days ago, we published a story discussing their financing.

The town itself is quite small, with 1,733 residents but the network will be serving areas in the County as well. Though AT&T and Comcast offer services in the area, they have big gaps in coverage and apparently the cable television packages are antiquated (only 50 channels???).

An article last year noted Dunnellon's Internet connections will range from 10Mbps to 125Mbps. They hope to sign up 1,647 subscribers within 6 months of launch -- the network is named Greenlight (not sure if they were aware that the city of Wilson, NC, already operates a triple-play FTTH network called Greenlight).

They hoped to launch 6 months ago. Bill Thompson's "Dunnellon dreams of a connectied future," offers a comprehensive look at the promise and the challenges Dunnellon faces.

Dunnellon's city manager comes from Valparaiso, which had a city-owned cable network that upgraded to FTTH. Unfortunately, Dunnellon is in the hard position of building a network from scratch.

logo-valp-net.jpg

Building a new network requires a massive up-front capital investment - in this case the city will have spent $4.4 million to connect the first connection. Good thing they aren't all that expensive!

The article identifies two main sources of the delays: difficulty in getting on the poles owned by Progress Energy and long delays in receiving the fiber-optic cable they ordered (stimulus projects have hogged the supply). Rather than taking 12 weeks, they had to wait 30. Delays cause problems:

The installation delay has put the city in a pinch with its lender, Regions Bank. The city was scheduled in November to pay...

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Posted November 9, 2011 by christopher

Minnesota's Governor Dayton has already done more for expanding broadband access in Minnesota than predecessor Pawlenty who took the "stay quiet and hope for the best" approach to expanding access in our state.

After being prodded by the legislature (including now-Lieutenant Governor Prettner-Solon) Governor Pawlenty appointed an industry-heavy "Ultra High Speed" Broadband Task Force that exceeded the expectations of many, including myself, with its report [pdf]. I give a lot of credit to a few members, especially "Mikey" and Chairman Rick King of Thomsen Reuters, for that report given the constraints of the environment in which it existed.

Minnesota's Legislature and Governor Pawlenty then created some goals for 2015 and generally ceased any work on ensuring Minnesota could meet the goals. However, some departments (like the Department of Commerce) are using that language to prod broadband providers to consider what steps they can take to get us closer. Despite my frustration, I want to recognize those who are doing all they can to expand access to this essential infrastructure.

Fast forward to this week, when Governor Dayton announced a new Task Force that is supposed to really do things (as opposed to the more common Task Force approach of creating the appearance of doing things).

I am heartened by many of the appointees. There are some terrific people, especially some terrific women who are too often under-represented in technology) that will work very hard to bring real broadband to the Minnesotans that either need their first option or a better option.

And they have their work cut out for them. The state has few options to compel investment from a private sector that sees little reason to invest in an industry with so little competition (St Paul has one high-speed provider: Comcast, and one slower, cheaper alternative - CenturyLink).

For instance, rural Kanabec County took the Ultra High Speed Task Force's recommendation and asked its incumbent to partner in providing better broadband. That went over about the...

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Posted October 20, 2011 by christopher

Albert Lea, a town of 18,000 in southern Minnesota, transitioned from getting its Internet access from a private ISP to its County, Freeborn.  This is part of a larger IT collaboration between the local governments.

Previously, the community was paying $95/month for a 3Mbps DSL connection from a local private company (the options from the telephone and cable incumbents were even more expensive, offering less value).  Now Freeborn County is providing a connection of at least 25Mbps for $150/month -- however the connection regularly offers connections over 50Mbps.  

There is an upfront cost of $9,000 to make this switch, which pays off in less than 2 years (local governments often fail to make smart investments that have longer break-even windows because of how they budget for capital vs. ongoing costs).  After it breaks even, Albert Lea says it will save $6,000 a year.

Local governments will need broadband connections as long as they exist, meaning that leasing connections from a private party is often fiscally irresponsible.  Better to own it or work with another community provider that prices its service closer to the cost of actual provisioning rather than marking it up to reflect a scarce market.  

Posted September 6, 2011 by christopher

Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, may soon also be the land of Countywide rural FTTH. Yet another County is doing a feasibility study to figure out how it can bring fast, affordable, and reliable broadband access to all of its citizens.

Redwood County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) opted to move forward with a broadband feasibility study that would determine just what the county would need to do in order to get fiber to every premises.

The study, which is being conducted by the Blandin Foundation through what is known as the Robust Broad-band Networks Feasibility Grant Program.

The grant, which includes up to $40,000 for the county as it addresses the needs of every community and farm site from one end of the county to the other, requires matching funds, which are available through the county EDA.

Redwood County

Redwood County is in an interesting area, just north of the Windom area muni FTTH networks and west of the proposed project in Sibley and Renville counties. This study comes not long after Todd County started a feasibility study as well (the the latest on that). And though we haven't discussed it much on MuniNetworks.org, Lac qui Parle County to the northwest is working with a rural telephone cooperative to bring FTTH to many in their border as well.

And then beyond them, we have Cook County going FTTH with their electric coop and Lake County going its own way, both with the assistance of the broadband stimulus awards.

Minnesota could very well become the state with the most impressive rural connections. Unfortunately, thus far we have seen no assistance from the state in this matter, but perhaps the Dayton Administration will chart a new course. He has decided to appoint a new...

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