Better Connectivity, Better Public Safety

For public safety, fiber networks can offer new opportunities and improve existing services. Last year, Ammon, Idaho, created an award-widding, high-speed application to provide real-time information about school shooters to emergency responders. This year, Chattanooga is continuing to improve its video infrastructure at public housing.

The police force for the Chattanooga Housing Authority (CHA) now use fiber connectivity to identify and locate suspects - protecting victims and witnesses who fear having to testify in court.

Fiber For Reliable Cameras

The Times Free Press reported on how the CHA has already installed over 50 high-resolution digital cameras in half of its family housing sites. The old cameras were connected via a wireless network, which occasionally lost signal.  All the new cameras are hooked up to a fiber network - a huge improvement in reliability. Officers can now view images from the new cameras with smartphones, tablets, and other computers. Rather than having to return to the precinct, law enforcement can see images while they are still at the site.

Installing the 50 high-resolution digital cameras cost $200,000. In an effort to continue improving video evidence, the CHA has recently applied for a $5,000 grant from the Tennessee Municipal League. With a local match of $5,000, the CHA will upgrade the video equipment in some of the elderly high-rise buildings.

The Digital Video Recording As The Witness

Reaction to the presence of surveillance cameras at the CHS facilities varies. While some people know the footage will help prosecute those who commit crimes, they don't believe the cameras will deter criminal activity. Others feel safer with the cameras in place. 

Video footage is evidentiary and often considered more reliable than eyewitness testimony. While prosecuting those that harm people living at CHS facilities and deterring crime are important, the primary goal is to create a safer environment for residents. Without the added pressure to testify, people who experience criminal activity at CHS facilities can move on with their lives with one less thing to worry about.

Crazy Talk from Another Telco-Funded Think Tank - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 200

This week, we discuss a report with zero credibility from the State Government Leadership Foundation, which was written by a well-known telco economist from the Phoenix Center. Entitled, "The Impact of Government-Owned Broadband Networks on Private Investment and Consumer Welfare," the report [pdf] makes so many factual errors that one wonders just how much these telco think tanks really take pride in their work.

George Ford authored the report. Ten years ago, he demonstrated that municipal networks most certainly did not crowd out private investment. The biggest change since then is that his employer went from supporting competitive networks to opposing them - when BellSouth bought AT&T and took its name. Prior to that acquisition, AT&T actually supported competitive carriers and was even going to be an ISP on the UTOPIA network. As goes AT&T, so goes the Phoenix Center.

For episode 200 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we discuss this report and why it has no credibility. One of my favorite points is that Ford argues municipal networks average an incredibly high take rate, which flies in the face of all the other criticism municipal networks typically face. You just can't make this stuff up.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Forget the Whale for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "I Know Where You've Been."

MO Fight Not Over 'Til It's Over: Time To Call

The direct assault stalled but now anti-muni legislators in Missouri are going for the flank.

If The Bill Ain't No Good...

In February we learned about Missouri bill HB 2078, the latest legislative attack on municipal networks. Since our story, it has passed through the House committees on Utility Infrastructure and the Select Committee on Utilities. The bill seems to have lost momentum since mid-March but its sponsor, Rep. Lyndall Fraker, is taking another approach to make sure his bill gets passed, come hell or high water. Session ends May 13th, so he is now banking on procedural tricks, rather than the substance of his legislation.

On May 2nd, when a bill relating to traffic citations, SB 765, came before the body, Fracker proposed to amend it with language from HB 2078. Some of the amended language is even more destructive than the original proposal in HB 2078. 

SB 765 had already passed the Senate with a 32 - 0 vote.

Advocates in Missouri report that, even though a number of Democrats wanted to strike the language as not germane to the substance of the bill, the Republican leadership presiding over the session would not recognize them so they could not move to strike the amendments. Fraker’s amendments were passed by only four votes, even though the House is controlled by an overwhelming majority of Republican Representatives. 

Now, SB 765 goes back to the Senate for further approval after the Fraker amendments. Considering the outcome in the House, it's possible that an expression from voters can influence the ultimate outcome of this bill. This is the time when a phone call to your elected official can change the course of connectivity.

Express Yourself

If you don’t know who represents you in the Senate or House, you can use the Missouri Legislator Lookup to obtain names, phone numbers, and email addresses. You can also contact the sponsors of SB 765 and explain how you feel about amendments that do not relate to the substance of their bill and urge them to clean up their legislation by striking the amendments themselves.

The Missouri Public Utilities Alliance (MPUA), has been following the progress of this bill from the beginning and would like to hear from local government officials who want to share their perspective on possible consequences of the bill. You can contact Ewell Lawson, Manager of Government Relations, at elawson(at)mpua.org.

Westfield To Widen Whip City: FTTH Pilot A Hit

Another pilot program is evolving into greater things.

Whip City Fiber, the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network deployed by Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) in Massachusetts, announced in April that it has chosen three more neighborhoods for network expansion. Residents in the target neighborhoods are invited to sign-up by May 15th for one month’s free service. WG+E offers symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) service for $69.95 per month for residents and $84.95 per month for commercial subscribers. Wi-Fi routers are included; there is no charge for installation and no contracts. 

Whip City Fiber only offers Internet access but like other municipalities opting out of video services, they see the trend toward Internet TV:

"This is not TV. But what we see is a lot of cord cutters that are streaming programming on Netflix, Hulu and Apple TV," [WG+E marketing and customer service manager Sean Fitzgerald] said. "The only thing missing are sports channel and those are coming around."

Expanding Use Of Fiber In Westfield

A Berkman Center report on nearby Holyoke Gas and Electric referenced Westfield’s recent pilot project. WG+E began using fiber-optic connections to monitor substations and municipal facilities, including schools and administrative buildings, about 20 years ago. The community also has a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity responsible for owning and operating a municipal fiber network, and used the fiber infrastructure to provide Internet access to Westfield’s municipal facilities and local businesses for the past ten years.

In February, WG+E announced that it would expand the network beyond the pilot area and encouraged residents to express their interest by signing up. It was through those sign-ups, in part, that the utility determined these first expansions. According to WG+E General Manager, choosing the target area was no easy task:

“It was difficult to decide where to build next given the strong enthusiasm shown throughout many areas of the city. Unfortunately, we can’t build everywhere at once.” Howard said. “Our priority is to bring the service to as many people as possible.”

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 2

Alabama

At schools with sub-par Internet, kids face a poor connection with modern life by Chico Harlan, Washington Post

 

Massachusetts

Massachusetts government stymies WiredWest municipal broadband initiative, report says by Samantha Bookman, FierceTelecom

Homegrown Internet provider a good idea by The Recorder's Editorial

 

Virginia

Broadband vs. ice cream by Roanoke Times' Editorials

Switch flipped on municipal-motivated broadband network; PBS is first customer by Yann Ranaivo, Roanoke Times

Proponents of the network have in the past few years pointed to various reports on the Roanoke area’s low rankings in terms of connectivity. They have also stressed that many employers today, whether they are already in the region or looking to expand here, need modern broadband infrastructure for their operations.

“What we’re creating today is additional infrastructure for our community so it can move forward,” said Salem City Manager and Broadband Authority board Chairman Kevin Boggess. “The network is just the first step in advancing and coordinating economic prospects for our region.”

 

General

Report: FCC gets lots of complaints about broadband data caps by David Murphy, PC Magazine

According to a FOIA request from The Wall Street Journal, there were nearly 8,000 complaints about data caps in the second half of 2015. That's not a very large amount compared to the millions of people dealing with these data caps, but it's a significant increase over the number of similar complaints for the first half of the year: a whopping 863. (Though it's unlikely that the Federal Communications Commission will see that many complaints in the first half of this year, since it has only received around 1,500 so far.)

The Charter-Time Warner merger would create a new Internet giant by Klint Finley, Wired

Ted Cruz pushes bill to hinder community broadband by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Times Warner Cable's bad behavior helped Charter win merger approval by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Regulators impose caveats on Charter TWC merger approval by David Jones, E Commerce Times

Economists: Munis Improve Access to Banking Services

A new study conducted by two economists from a major banking institution says that municipal broadband networks contribute significantly to helping low income households gain access to banking services.

Major Findings, And Why Does This Matter?

The researchers concluded that access to the Internet is a more significant predictor of access to banking services (specifically, having a bank account) than both race and education level. They found that when low income families get access to Internet service, their likelihood of having access to banking services increases by 10%.

Economists commonly focus on access to banking services as a key indicator of financial inclusion for low income households. A bank account enables basic human stability and prosperity as it facilitates financial planning, paying for recurring expenses, and allays negative effects of unexpected financial shortfalls from traumatic events. Bank accounts also allow individuals to build working capital and financing for small business enterprises.

Financial inclusion is a significant concern not just in developing nations but in some wealthy countries as well. Currently, the U.S. ranks 23rd out of 38 high-income nations on the World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion Database. 

Municipal Networks: Catalysts For Equal Opportunity

The authors suggest that in addition to directly improving Internet access through better availability, municipal networks improve Internet access by improving local Internet service competition. They note that collaborative efforts between local governments and private industry can also improve Internet access and financial inclusiveness.

What can be done to advance the goal of getting fast, affordable, reliable Internet access - and access to banking - for all? The authors of the study suggest that municipal broadband projects in particular increase the likelihood that everyone, regardless of race or income, will have access to banking services.

They offer the city of Boulder, Colorado, as an example:

Boulder, Colo., which ranks at the top of our Financial Inclusion Metropolitan Index, is one of a few areas in the U.S. with financial inclusion levels that rival those of the Nordic countries. Interestingly, the city once owned miles of fiber that its residents could not take advantage of because of laws limiting municipal broadband. But the city challenged the telecommunications industry at the polls in 2014 and won. In doing so, Boulder has become one of a growing number of municipalities that have voted to allow their local governments to increase competition by offering Internet service to residents. This speaks to the mindset of a community that has embraced technology as a way to lift up everyone that calls Boulder home.

Boulder voters didn't just approve the change in the law and forget about it. By the following April, the city began offering free Wi-Fi in the downtown area and consultants are now finishing up a feasibility study.

There's More To Life Than Money, But It Helps

Communities hoping to build municipal networks generally have to first confront the issue of how a network can make its return on investment and have direct economic development benefits for local businesses and residents. But beyond these types of direct economic benefits, this study reveals one of the many important human benefits of municipal networks that tend to fly under the radar. 

In addition to improving financial inclusion for the disadvantaged, there are a number of other “under the radar,” spillover benefits of municipal networks. These include increased home values, better access to healthcare services including telemedicine, reduced car usage and access to various types of e-services, and bridging the digital divide.  

Dark Fiber For The Future In Caswell County Schools, NC

Caswell County School Board members recently voted to take a long-term approach to student connectivity in North Carolina.

Ten Years Was A Lifetime Ago

Earlier this month, the issue of Internet access for the schools came before the Board because a lease with the telecommunications company connecting school buildings is about to end. Since the inception of the 10-year agreement, computer and Internet use in schools has skyrocketed; Caswell County Schools now aim to have every child on a computer at school. The district is now served by satellite Internet access to school facilities and in order to supply the speed and reliability they need, the Chief Technology Officer David Useche recommended a fiber-optic network to the Board.

Lease vs. Own

Useche offered two possibilities: 1. lease a lit network, which costs less in the first years of the contract but will not belong to the school district; or 2. pay more for the first five years to have a dark fiber-optic network constructed. The dark fiber network infrastructure will belong to the school district. Caswell County will use E-Rate to help fund the construction of the network, which will result in an overall long-term savings of $35,000. Useche told the Board:

“If we look at the projections for the Lit network, in ten years after E-Rate our cost is going to be $214,255. With the Dark network the cost is $178,729. The difference is a savings of $35,000,” said Useche, who added that the district will use $751,000 in E-rate funds to help build the network. Useche said that the State of North Carolina is using E-rate funds to build networks in some of its rural areas. “If we didn’t have E-Rate funds we could not afford either of these options. We are lucky to have them to provide the services the schools need.”

The Board agreed with Useche’s recommendation to approve the dark fiber option. The agreement will include 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) connectivity for less than $100 per month more than 1 Gbps connectivity. “It’s not like we need ten gigabits right away but pretty soon we will need that much bandwidth,” said Useche.

New Details on Possible FTTP Network in Holland, MI

In March, we wrote about a prospective municipal fiber network project in the western Michigan city of Holland. Holland’s Board of Public Works (HBPW) began a pilot test in January, offering gigabit speed services to three commercial buildings in the city via a system of dark fiber cable that the city has owned for more than two decades.

Holland’s Board of Public Works (HBPW) has since released a study that details options for a citywide municipally owned Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. Although the study is only a first step toward developing a final business plan for the network, it gives significant insight into the city’s plans for the project.

Prospective Network Footprint and Business Model

In the first option, the city could invest $63.2 million to add nearly 500 miles of fiber lines to the city’s existing fiber infrastructure to create a municipal FTTP network for the entire HBPW service area. The new network would reach all of the homes, businesses, and municipal facilities in Holland and in neighboring communities that fall within the HBPW’s service area.

The second option suggests a $29.8 million investment on a fiber network with a smaller FTTP footprint that would provide gigabit speed fiber connections to all premises within the Holland city limits.

According to the study, the city prefers a “hybrid open access” business model in which Holland would provide retail services while also preserving its current open access model. The study also discusses potential FTTP models the city could consider, including one in which the city serves as the network’s sole ISP as well as several different potential public-private partnership (PPP) models that have been successful in other cities.

The study suggests that the city can finance the larger of the proposed network projects with a combination of bonds and loans. The study assumes a 39.6 percent take rate

Faster Speeds, Better Rates

The fastest connectivity customers in Holland can get from the existing city network is not competitive on speed and price with the services offered by local incumbent providers. The established network serves only commercial customers; the pilot project is the city's experiment in residential and small- and mid-sized business connectivity.

seal-michigan.png

But with a newly expanded FTTP network, the city would dramatically improve options to residents and businesses. Based on their 39.6 percent take rate, consultants proposed subscription rates for 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access:

  • Residents: $80 per month
  • Small commercial service: $85 per month
  • Medium commercial services: $220 per month

The study notes an additional, one-time $820 charge to connect each premise to the network.

Opportunity for Local Collaboration?

The city of Holland may also have the opportunity to cooperate on a broader network plan with Laketown Township, a neighboring community that recently proposed creating its own municipal fiber network. Laketown Township, part of which falls within HBPW’s service area, will vote in May on a proposed $8.6 million fiber network.

"When we began developing the fiber broadband business plan, we were unaware that Laketown was also pursuing fiber for the township,” a statement from the HBPW said. “We will gladly work and meet with Laketown officials to coordinate our offerings."

Local Fiber = Local Benefits

Whatever the final decision, Holland City Council Member Brian Burch makes a powerful argument highlighting the economic and quality of life benefits for everyone who lives and works within reach of the future network:

"Like drinking water, access to information is the new public health…. Advances in information and communications technology means that education is no longer confined to the classroom and our children can become more competitive in the global economy. Like strong transportation infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and water channels, public infrastructure allows commerce to grow and for private business to thrive…. The “backbone” of this gigabit network is currently wired, our next step is to bring this capability into homes and small businesses. By doing so, Holland can be at the forefront of the new economy and define our region with more educated residents and an even faster-growing economy."

Dark Fiber Network Brightens Prospects In Valpo, Indiana

Valparaiso, Indiana, is investing in dark fiber to stimulate economic development; it is deploying ValpoNet, a dark fiber network to serve local businesses and institutions.

The city of approximately 32,000 people is a little over an hour southeast of Chicago and home to Valparaiso University, Purdue University North Central, Indiana Vocational Technical College, and several other colleges. The community also has a large manufacturing base and a number of hospitals and medical clinics, so there is an ample supply of entities with IT departments with the requisite knowledge to use a dark fiber network.

If At First You Don't Find Fiber...

In 2010, a regional economic development organization developed a report that identified the lack of fiber in "Valpo" and Porter County but no project developed. The city moved on to other things until 2014. A situation with a large financial information company in town breathed new life into the idea of municipally owned fiber. The company wanted to expand its facility and wanted to be sure it could access better connectivity. Several years earlier, there had been an ice storm at one of the company's home offices and, while they thought they had redundancy from the incumbents, such was not the case. They lost connectivity for days and from that point on, whenever they opened new offices, expanded, or relocated, redundancy was always a top priority. 

Valpo's Redevelopment Commission decided to hire a consultant to draft a feasibility study. He determined that a dark fiber network was not only possible, but needed. The study revealed that other companies suffered from poor reliability and considered affordability another pressing issue. 

The Commission, working with Economic Development Director Patrick Lyp, reached out to entities in Valpo and found that the university and healthcare facilities were also interested in the promise of better reliability via fiber-optic connections. Valparaiso University and two large regional hospitals, including St. Mary's, expressed their desire to participate. Local officials approached large companies directly and, while several indicated that contracts with incumbents must be fulfilled before making a switch, every local business they approached confirmed that they want ValpoNet.

Location, Location, Location

logo-valpo-net.png

As it turns out, the geography of Lake Michigan's southern tip pushes a number of transcontinental fiber lines south near Valparaiso; there are also splice points nearby which contribute to the plan. The city will deploy a dark fiber loop down into Valpo that will then circle back up to the big pipe about 10 miles north of the city. There will also be a redundant loop to ensure uninterrupted connectivity. With the exception of a few areas where the fiber requires aerial placement, the network will be entirely underground, which will help protect it from the elements.

Valpo has no plans to offer FTTH service for residents or businesses or to offer any other lit services. Their plan is to entice both large and small ISPs to provide service over the new infrastructure and are actively seeking providers even before construction begins. Like a number of other ex-urban communities near major metro regions, Valpo has one cable provider (Comcast) and one DSL provider (Frontier). There is also a local provider called Nitco that provides DSL, wireless, and some limited fiber services.

Prices in Valparaiso are higher than in the Chicago area and, according to Lyp, tend to drop as one approaches the metro. Community leaders hope this project will encourage competition and lower rates in the area.

City Savings Ahead

The municipal facilities have always been served by the incumbents because the city owns no telecommunications infrastructure. Serving municipal facilities is not part of the dark fiber network phase 1 plan, but Lyp anticipates it will likely be part of a future phase. As they develop the network, planners are considering ways to include fiber accessibility for city buildings and local schools. The network design integrates strategic placement where laterals can easily extend to schools, desirable business development areas, and locations within Valpo ripe for economic development.

Financing With Future Dollars

The cost of the backbone fiber network will be approximately $2.39 million; Valparaiso is funding the network with tax increment financing, or TIF. Other fiber projects have been financed with TIF in recent years, particularly in Indiana. TIF allows public financing based on future gains in property or sales tax that are limited to a certain geographic area that will obtain the redevelopment or infrastructure project. Local government can borrow the funds, build the project, then use the funds generated from the project to pay off the debt.

The method is gaining popularity for fiber-optic projects in Indiana, but it has been used for some time on other public infrastructure projects, such as toll roads, bridges, and transit systems. In some states, it has been used for decades while other states are slow to adopt TIF.

The Cost Of Going Dark

In April, the Redevelopment Commission reached out to local businesses with an informational meeting to answer questions and share anticipated connectivity costs. Each customer will pay a one-time installation fee of $500 for all circuits and drops. Monthly fees will be $1,000 for one pair of dark fiber strands to a business customer unless that customer is an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or some other entity that plans to resell use of the fiber. ISPs or similar entities will pay $1,200 per month for one pair of dark fiber. There will also be a monthly charge of $200 for each drop.

Because the network is dark fiber, businesses will still have to pay monthly fees to an ISP for Internet access. The Commission's executive director, Jim Mooney, encouraged attendees to sign a nonbonding letter of interest to help them prioritize 2016-17 construction.

Mooney told business leaders at the meeting that the Commission had signed a contract with a company in March and that construction will begin in July. The network is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016.

Out Of The Gate Strong

In addition to strong support from local businesses that want to use the dark fiber network, other members of the community understand the benefits a dark fiber network will bring. In August 2015, the Northwest Indiana Times expressed their support for the municipal project:

flag-valpo.png

Anyone who says government should leave this solely to the private sector is missing a key point — that the private sector hasn't met this need.

Digital infrastructure is as much a part of economic and civic development as a strong, well-designed transportation network. We shouldn't punish this sort of progressive thinking by hanging on to outdated notions of what the government's role might be.

This is the answer to bridging the tech divide that is separating who will be successful from who will not be.

Managing The Network

Valpo offers municipal sewer and water utility service and while the community feels that their staff can eventually maintain the network, they realize that there is a learning curve. They want to be able to offer businesses connectivity managed by experienced professionals on launch so have issued an RFP to find a firm to manage and operate the network.

After working with an outside firm for the first couple of years, Valpo will determine whether or not to continue with a similar model or develop city talent to take over. Valparaiso has no electric utility like many other communities that invest in fiber networks.

Come To The Dark Side

A growing number of communities are now considering dark fiber investment to stimulate economic development and improve local connectivity. Recently, Huntsville, Alabama, announced it will be deploying a citywide dark fiber network on which Google Fiber will deliver retail services. Other communities have been using their dark fiber resources quietly for years with little fanfare; Burbank, California's dark fiber network is saving money and generating revenue.

Dark fiber networks require lower risk while still inspiring better connectivity in the community. Cities like Valparaiso need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to be able to compete, especially with Chicago nearby. With ValpoNet in place, the city may be able to lure commerce from the Windy City with reliable connectivity, affordable rents, and a high quality of life.

As Valpo Mayor Jon Costas said in February:

"We're looking forward to being the first city in our region to offer municipal dark fiber, which will make us more competitive in attracting new businesses and jobs."

Be sure to check out Community Broadband Bits podcast #199, in which Chris interviews Patrick Lyp about the new ValpoNet.

Know Thy Partner: Lessons Learned & Best Practices for PPP's (Video)

Every day, community leaders are working to overcome barriers to developing Internet networks. On Monday, April 4, 2016, Chris took part in the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) pre-conference panel on Public Perspectives to Partnerships at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas. Chris was joined by Gabriel Garcia, Bill Vallee, Jon Gant, and Drew Clark. The panel was moderated by Catherine Rice.

The group discussed strategies, business models, and lessons learned when building a successful public-private partnership (PPP).


Public Perspectives on Partnerships: Lessons Learned and Best Practices

Moderator:

Catharine Rice – Project Director, CLIC

Speakers:

Bill Vallee – Office of Consumer Counsel, State of Connecticut, New Britain, CT

Jon Gant – Director, UC2B

Christopher Mitchell – Community Networks Director, ILSR

Gabriel Garcia – Director, Senior Counsel, General Counsel, Legal Services, CPS Energy, San Antonio, TX

Drew Clark – Chairman and Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com