Last-Mile FTTH Via Nonprofit Networks in New York State

Western New York residents are welcoming the presence of a new Internet service provider, Empire Access, competing directly with Time Warner Cable and Verizon. Besides satisfied customers, no data caps, and no usage-based billing, Empire is different from the incumbents in another way - it uses nonprofit network infrastructure to deliver services.

StopTheCap writes that Empire Access utilizes the Southern Tier Network (STN) to connect to communities in Steuben, Chemung, and Schuyler Counties in its southern service area. STN's 235-mile backbone was deployed when fiber-optic manufacturer Corning contributed $10 million to build the network and the three counties contributed the remaining $2.2 million. Construction on the open access network was finished in the spring of 2014.

Axcess Ontario provides the fiber route in the northern region of the Empire Access service area. The network is also a non-profit model and similarly developed to serve business, community anchor institutions, and ISPs. The organization began 10 years ago with the establishment of the nonprofit. The Ontario County Office of Economic Development /Industrial Development Agency provided startup costs to deploy the $7.5 million middle-mile open access dark fiber network. Axcess Ontario is also over 200 miles long. 

For now, the locally-owned company that began in 1896 with one telephone and grew from there, is taking a different approach then its much larger competitors. From StopTheCap:

Empire targets compact villages with a relatively affluent populations where no other fiber overbuilder is providing service. It doesn’t follow Google’s “fiberhood” approach where neighborhoods compete to be wired. Instead, it provides service across an entire village and then gradually expands to nearby towns from there.

In some towns, where Empire has a franchise agreement, it offers cable TV in addition to Internet access. Empire customers have access to gigabit FTTH service as of March, when the company officially began the offering in Naples:

Village of Naples Mayor Brian Schenk says the service will be a game-changer for the community's economy.

"We are thrilled to see 1 Gigabit service and fiber-to-the-home launch in Naples," he said. 

"Those of us who live here and work here cherish our beautiful, Finger Lakes community. Now, with 1 Gigabit and fiber to the home, more people and more businesses can invest in Naples and experience it for themselves."

Middle-mile networks like Axcess Ontario and STN have rarely evolved thus far into tools that facilitate last-mile connectivity. Nevertheless, this is a sign that with the right partners, it can happen:

With the new agreement with Empire Access, the fiber ring's ultimate goal of providing fiber-to-the-home service has now been achieved, said Ed Hemminger, one of the original founders of the fiber ring and Axcess Ontario's first CEO.

"Ten years ago, we had a dream of one day having 1 Gigabit and fiber-to-the-home service in Ontario County," he said. "Today, that dream has come true. And we didn't need Google to do it — we did it ourselves."

Growing Interest in Dark Fiber and Pricing Details

Dark fiber is a growing business for both private and publicly owned networks. Data transport, data centers, ILECs, and CLECs are some of the most common users. Increasingly, wireless providers are turning to dark fiber for backhaul.

A May Fierce Telecom article reports that 14 percent of Zayo's wireless backhaul services are dark fiber solutions:

"We're seeing a shift with wireless backhaul contracts to dark fiber to the tower and we're starting to see that show up as the trend over the last couple of quarters," [Chairman and CEO Dan] Caruso said … "And you see it more pronounced in the current quarter where 14 percent of our product mix for fiber to the tower is dark fiber to the tower and you see that's grown and taken on a bigger piece of the pie."

Dark fiber leases have played an important role in developing revenue for municipalities that have invested in fiber infrastructure. Dark fiber leasing can be the only option in places where state barriers limit local options.

Santa Monica, Columbia in Missouri, and Maryland's Howard County, are only a few communities that lease dark fiber to ISPs and other commercial customers. A few networks, including Metronet Zing in Indiana, offer only dark fiber services. It is worth noting that, as Santa Monica discovered, the vast majority of businesses and residents prefer and easy, affordable, and reliable lit service rather than dark fiber. But the dark fiber niche is growing.

As more customers look for the service, negotiating leases and pricing models can be challenging. Municipal networks seeking guidance can start with a 2012 report from CTC Technology & Energy, Dark Fiber Lease Considerations [PDF].

The report covers pricing models, various methods for pricing dark fiber, and offers some examples. CTC also helps identify potential customers and makes general recommendations. It is always advisable to seek out the advice of professionals with significant experience in negotiating dark fiber leases, but the CTC report can provide a foundation to begin exploring options and weighing risks.

From the report summary:

This memorandum presents a brief framework for pricing and marketing of dark fiber. With the obvious caveat that a detailed analysis requires an in-depth evaluation of a given project or market, this general overview may help you in determining such matters as how to price your dark fiber—for example, to balance encouragement of use (and opening up of the dark fiber market) and rationing of strands, while maximizing potential dark fiber net revenues.

City and School Board Partner for Fiber in Maryland

Cumberland and the Allegany Board of Education are collaborating to improve educational, municipal, and business connectivity in the city's downtown area, reports GovTech.

The district's 23 schools are all connected, but the Maintenance and Facilities Warehouse is not yet connected. The location of the facility and the proposed fiber route will create an ideal opportunity to install fiber in a commercial corridor where ISPs can tap into the infrastructure, notes Cumberland's economic development coordinator Shawn Hershberger:

“It will expand upon the solid resources we already have and make us more competitive for future economic development projects,” said Hershberger

The project will cost approximately $220,000. Half of the funding will come from a federal Appalachian Regional Commission grant. The school board and the city will split the remaining cost.

The city will connect its public service buildings and provide splice points for ISPs, who will be responsible for the cost to connect the last mile to the customer.

“Providing additional options for high-speed Internet service in Allegany County can only be a positive move for economic development and growth. The downtown area specifically will benefit from competitive pricing available to private entities with reliable and redundant high-speed service,” said [Chief Information Officer for the school board Nil] Grove.

“It helps us toward the jobs we are trying to compete for and helps us keep the jobs we have here now,” said Hershberger.

KeepBTLocal Working on Plan to Purchase BT

Burlingtonians love their municipal network. We have reported in the past that, prior to the sale of the network to Blue Water LLC, a group of locals organized to create the KeepBTLocal cooperative. Recently, the organization reaffirmed its commitment to purchase the network when it goes up for sale, a condition of the Blue Water LLC transaction.

A customer satisfaction survey in April revealed that BT customers are more than twice as satisfied with their provider as those obtaining service from competitors. The VTDigger reported survey results:

· 87% customer satisfaction with BT’s Customer Service;

· 24% of customers chose BT’s services after being recommended by a friend or family member; and

· General impression of BT by non-BT customers saw a 10% “positive” increase over their 2014 impression.

The survey also reported that customers with other providers were 40% satisfied with their service.

BT offers 150 Mbps for $55 per month and gigabit service for $85 per month or $70 per month with a 12 month contract. All speeds are symmetrical.

It has been a long road for BT after prior city leadership covered up years' worth of cost overruns creating serious financial difficulties for the community. Eventually, CitiBank filed suit to recover the $33 million Burlington owed. The two settled and Burlington eventually transferred ownership to Blue Water with the city still leasing. The ultimate goal for the city is to sell the network. Enter KeepBTLocal.

According to a June VTDigger article, the coop has been working with a former telecommunications industry executive now working as a consultant. They are developing business and acquisition plans to purchase the network when it goes up for sale within the next few years.

Andy Mortoll, Chair of the Board of KeepBTLocal told VTDigger:

“It’s just so important for so many of us in Burlington to keep Burlington Telecom a local, community-owned asset,” Montroll said. “If the city is going to sell it, we want to be the ones to acquire it on behalf of the residents.”

KC Fiber Innovates in North Kansas City - Community Broadband Bits Episode 157

Every now and then, we stumble across something, read it twice, and then decide we need to verify it. In North Kansas City, a municipal fiber network operating in partnership with KC Fiber, is delivering a gig to residents at no ongoing charge after a reasonable one-time fee.

To get the story, our interview this week for Community Broadband Bits is with Brooks Brown, Managing Partner of KC Fiber. KC Fiber is now running the North Kansas City municipal fiber network, liNKCity.

The network delivers a free gigabit to the schools and after a one-time fee of $50-$300 (depending on desired connection capacity) residents can get a high quality fiber Internet connection with no additional charges for 10 years.

KC Fiber is not your ordinary ISP, coming from the data center world where it does business as Data Shack. We discuss how this background makes it easier for KC Fiber to offer the gigabit at no ongoing cost in our interview.

Read the rest of our coverage of North Kansas City.

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

This show is 16 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 other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 26, 2015

How States Are Fighting to Keep Towns From Offering Their Own Broadband by Leticia Miranda, ProPublica

North Carolina and Tennessee are the latest states to side with telecoms, which have long lobbied against allowing cities to become Internet providers.

 

Community Broadband Networks - News By State

Alabama

Forbes recognizes Auburn-Opelika area region among nation’s best for job creation by OANow.com 

This type of job creation was greatly encouraged by Opelika's FTTH network. Opelika's experience shows the power of local authority and self-reliance.


Maine

Will Maine Create a $500 Municipal Broadband Fund? by Colin Wood, GovTech

Proponents of municipal broadband say Maine's Legislature has its heart in the right place, but $500 won't buy the citizenry much connectivity...

It’s frustrating to see such a promising piece of legislation relegated into uncertainty, Mitchell said.

“It still sets an interesting precedent in terms of targeting municipal open-access approaches, which I think is valuable, although clearly much less so if they’re not going to put any money into it,” he said. “Just about every elected official wants to vote and tell their constituents that they supported better broadband, but they really don’t want to upset the Fairpoint and Time Warner Cable lobbyists, so they’ve kind of done both. The lobbyists are happy because there’s no real funding, but a lot of people will go home and say, ‘Well, I voted for better broadband for the state.’"

 

Maryland

City task force calls for better broadband in Baltimore by Stephen Babcock, Technical.ly

 

Minnesota

Race against clock as broadband project approaches deadline by LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle 

 

Utah

In Our View: Need for speed by The Spectrum & Daily News Editorial Board

Perhaps it is time for communities in Southern Utah to join forces and support a project like UTOPIA, a government-owned open access model operating in 11 cities along the Wasatch Front. UTOPIA manages the infrastructure and leases the lines to private Internet service providers who deliver services to the end customers.

"The cities should take a role in building the infrastructure and wholesale it out to the data providers on a level playing field," said Pete Ashdown, founder and CEO of Wasatch Front-based Internet service provider XMission. "If you don't like one of (the providers), you could switch in a day.

"Competition is a much better option than having a regulated monopoly (like most utilities) because it puts the decision in the hands of the consumer," he said. "The level playing field that government infrastructure brings is what also gives us an incredible ability to have (online) commerce. These are (ideas) that have supported our economy for years and years."

 

New Hampshire

Battle Cry of New Hampshire: No Fiber, No Votes by Susan Crawford, Medium

Here’s a suggestion: someone at every single New Hampshire political event this perfervid season should look those supplicants for office in their beseeching eyes, and raise the question of cheap, ubiquitous, fiber access across the state. And every single candidate — from both parties — should be forced to continue that meaningful eye contact until they’ve answered the question.

 

Texas

City Looking at Citywide Broadband Network, WOAI News

"We've got this infrastructure, it is already there, it is a sunk cost," Commissioner Kevin Wolff said.  "Let’s figure out how to use it."

  Nirenberg says he will make a proposal to City Council at tomorrow's first budget session to allow the municipal broadband system to get up and running.

  "This is within our grasp," he said.  "Minor capital investments will allow us to upgrade the municipal network so it can provide the support that institutions would expect of commercial grade broadband carriers.  We have made substantial progress in obtaining those investments."

 

Washington

Seattle Study Finds Muni Broadband Too Costly to Do Alone by Karl Bode, DSLReports

Following setbacks, municipal broadband supporters continue urging action by Amelia Havanec, Crosscut

Advocates concluded the event by urging attendees to make public broadband an issue in city council districts. “We can talk about what leaders should do, but we need to make them do things,” Mitchell said. “It’s about electing people who are forced to do things…Invest in your power as a citizen to reflect something of your core values.”

 

Other News

Verizon ordered to finish fiber build that it promised but didn’t deliver by John Brodkin, Ars Technica

Why the government is about to approve the AT&T and DirecTV mega-deal – and the one thing that remains a big concern by Cecilia Kang, Washington Post

Chattanooga Video Explains Potential Gigabit Expansion Process

Following up on our post last week noting the new video from Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities, another video recently posted explains what needs to change in Tennessee law for Chattanooga to expand Internet access beyond the current footprint. EPB Chief Operating Officer David Wade also explains the process the municipal electric distributor will use to connect nearby communities.

Video: 

Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities - Video on Gig Freedom

In a video calling for "Broadband Equity," the Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities have released a video explaining why communities must have their local Internet choice restored.

We encourage you to Like and Follow their campaign on Facebook.

Video: 

Ketchum Will Install Conduit Only; Cox's Role?

In Idaho, Ketchum appears to have abandoned its flirtation with a municipal fiber optic network, choosing instead to lay conduit as a way to encourage private investment. The decision is an interesting result that suggests incumbent Cox Communications has considerable power over local decision making.

Readers may recall how in May 2013 the local broadband advisory committee booted Cox representatives off the roster. Residents began to receive telephone calls which amounted to push polls from the incumbent cable provider; the then-Mayor would would have none of that. Even though communities leaders had not stated they were considering a municipal network, they were put off by Cox's underhanded approach.

Since then, the administration has changed and it appears this time Cox has successfully shanghaied the decision. Cox is back on the committee establishing a plan and pressing for the result we would expect. From a Mountain Express article:

Guy Cherp, vice president of operations for Cox Communications, was part of the strategic planning committee. He said the group concluded that the city should not become a public Internet provider, as the cost would be exorbitant and high bandwidth is not needed by most Wood River Valley businesses. Those who desire it, he said, can pay for private installation—and several local businesses do.

Ketchum’s Internet service is as good as it is anywhere, Cherp said—speaking to the 2013 Magellan report, which stated that traditional broadband users complained of inconsistent speed and reliability, as well as slower service during peak Internet times.

“The notion that Ketchum is lagging behind, we don’t see that,” he said.

In May, voters passed a water revenue bond to replace the city's old and leaking Springs water line. Certainly this need also influenced community leaders' decision to forego investment in a fiber network. The city will install conduit in the open trench when that line is replaced. Recently, City Council approved $7,000 to install conduit in open trenches resulting from construction under two main streets in the downtown area. Ketchum will continue to deploy conduit whenever the opportunity arrives:

“The city’s role is to facilitate installation of the infrastructure for future broadband,” Mayor Nina Jonas said in an interview. “That occurs through installing empty conduit with new construction, co-locating conduit when there is an open trench and making available the Ketchum Springs lines once they’re abandoned.”

Even though Cherp says that Cox "doesn't see" the problems caused by lack of high capacity connections, local entrepreneurs do. From the Mountain Connect article:

George Golleher, owner of Bigwood Bread Café, chose to install fiber-optic cables under his second Bigwood Bread restaurant in the light industrial district when it was constructed last year, using Cox Communications as his provider.

No wonder they don't see it - it is more profitable to wait until business owners like Golleher point it out the need.

“It’s the wave of the future, I’d be crazy not to do it,” [Golleher] said. “I’d rather do it now than retrofit it later.”

Though we believe it is smart for communities to place conduit wherever possible, we fear that communities that stop with conduit are limiting future investment and competition. Conduit is limited -- perhaps a few providers can lease it to expand. But when local governments populate the conduit and lease the fiber, they can enable far more investment and prevent a single firm or two from creating scarcity.

In West Texas, "Hub City" Conducts Fiber Feasibility Study

A feasibility study conducted by the Lubbock Power & Light (LP&L) Electric Utility Board this April discussed several potential benefits of installing a fiber optic cable in the City of Lubbock, Texas. Charles Dunn, a member of the Utility Board, proposed installing fiber optic cables alongside the city’s utility lines, which are currently being buried underground as part of a three-phase, $1.9 million downtown redevelopment initiative

A fiber optic cable, Dunn contended, could increase Internet speeds hundredfold (from a max speed of around 10 Mbps to one above 1 Gbps), attract high tech companies to the city, and induce Texas Tech University students to stay in Lubbock after they graduate. In Lubbock, where Internet speeds run about 35 percent slower than they do in the rest of the state, a fiber network could be a boon for businesses and residents alike.

According to the April feasibility study, the fiber project might not even eclipse $100,000. LP&L would shoulder the costs of the project by drawing from its own budget. Both Dunn and LP&L director of electric utilities, David McCalla, believe that fiber would greatly benefit the community.

CEO of McDougal Companies, Marc McDougal, also argued in favor of the installation of the cable. From Fox 34 News:

Quite honestly, it would give us something that very few cities have... It would give us a huge advantage in another market to recruit businesses for downtown Lubbock. 

If plans to build the network were to move forward in Lubbock, LP&L would not be able to immediately offer Internet access to customers because of state law discouraging municipalities from offering telecommunications service. Though a Texas Utilities Code prohibits municipalities from offering telecommunications services to the public, that restriction does not appear to apply to Internet service (which is why AT&T a decade ago unsuccessfully tried to explicitly revise the barrier to include Internet access). The municipality would almost certainly have to defend its interpretation of the law in court, work with a private provider to offer services, or petition the FCC to overturn the current state law

While many municipal networks are located in smaller towns and rural areas, Lubbock seems to be an ideal mid-sized city for a high-speed municipal fiber network. Nicknamed the “hub city” on account of the key economic and educational role it plays in the South Plains region of West Texas, a foray into fiber optics has the potential to turn Lubbock into a hub for local self-reliance, as well.

From FOX 34