Fiber-optic Community Broadband Service in the Washington State Wilderness

The Spokane Business Journal recently wrote about the community broadband system in Pend Oreille County, a long a favored destination for all seasons outdoor recreation.  Beginning in 2013, the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District (PUD) began providing residents and tourists with high-speed fiber to the premises broadband via a 573-miles fiber network.  The network was made possible by a $27 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant.

Private companies commonly say that such rural areas are not densely populated enough to justify investing in high-speed broadband infrastructure, leaving many rural communities on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide.  High-speed community broadband systems like the one in Pend Oreille County cancel out this potential problem as they allow tourists, residents, and businesses alike to be closely connected with nature while staying connected for business demands. Indeed, as the website for Pend Oreille County’s Economic Development Council makes clear, the community broadband service is at the core of the county’s ambitious plans to attract people and businesses to the area.

In our recent report, ”All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access,” we wrote about rural communities in Minnesota like Cook County where the tourist industry is a large part of the local economy. As in Pend Oreille, insufficient Internet negatively impacted resorts, lodges, and outfitters that depended on customers who needed more than dial-up Internet access. To solve their problem, they invested in a municipal fiber network.

Local community and business leaders report that they have also started to see people and businesses relocating to the county, encouraged by the area’s combination of fiber-optic broadband and outdoor recreation offerings.  

Alex Stanton, an IT executive whose company is stationed near the banks of the Pend Oreille River in the small town of Newport, confirms the positive impact of the network:

“Today, because of access to high-speed Internet structure in Newport and Pend Oreille County we run a full half of the team out of Newport, and we’re in the process of moving the entire remote support and network operation to Newport,” he says. “We’ve been able to build a local team of people who live and want to work here. Fiber has made that possible.”

Another anecdote comes from a man explaining the pivotal role the fiber-optic broadband service in Pend Oreille County played in convincing him to relocate to the area: 

"My wife and I both work primarily from home, and we have spent the last year and a half trying to find the spot that would allow us to experience nature while still being able to pay for it!  We have searched all over the USA and have discovered that this type of internet access is almost always reserved for large cities.... My wife and I look forward to calling Newport home…"

Hamilton Partners With Local Provider to Serve Businesses in Ohio

Hamilton, Ohio, has entered into a partnership with local firm, CenterGrid, to use city-owned fiber to boost economic development. The firm will offer Internet access and data transport to local businesses via existing infrastructure as the two enter into a five-year pilot project agreement, reports the Journal-News.

The city's business incubator, the Hamilton Mill, is the initial pilot site where emerging businesses are already receiving high-speed connectivity:

“As the initial pilot site, CenterGrid’s service has resulted in the Mill receiving network connectivity that is better than 83 percent of Internet connections throughout the US — that is huge,” Chris Lawson, executive director of the Hamilton Mill said. “For the types of companies that we are attracting, this level of connectivity is imperative for them to be successful.”

A press release from CenterGrid describes rates as economical, competitive, and determined by individual business requirements. According to the press release, entrepreneurs at The Mill are already taking advantage of the service:

"We've wanted a better high-speed internet option for quite some time. Now having something locally provided by the City of Hamilton and CenterGrid makes the idea that much more appealing. This high-speed circuit will allow us to transform our IT infrastructure and deliver value to our business," said Jon Corrado, IT Director at Tedia.

In 2014, the community of Hamilton connected local schools to city fiber allowing them to obtain Internet access from the Southwest Ohio Computer Association Council of Governments (SWOCA-COG). That opportunity decreased school connectivity costs while increasing bandwidth.

City leaders hired a consultant in 2012 who determined that opening up their existing 60-mile I-Net loop to schools and businesses was feasible and would contribute to economic development. Over the course of three years, the project estimate is $4.3 million for network expansion, equipment, ongoing capital, and operating and maintenance expenses. The community is on schedule and, if all goes according to plan, expects to see positive operating revenue in 2017 and net income in 2018.

“This initiative is a new beginning for Hamilton Fiber. Using the high-speed ‘fiber grid’ to connect its business community with our Hamilton data center, we can now deliver next generation computing solutions at previously unheard of cost,” [Director of Public Utilities Doug Childs] said.

Hamilton, located near Cincinnati in southwest Ohio provides electricity, gas, sewer, and water to residents and businesses. Located on the Ohio River, the community operates an extensive hydroelectric system to provide power to its 63,000 residents.

Danville's Incremental Strategy Pays Off - Community Broadband Bits Episode 166

Danville, Virginia, has long been one of the municipal network approaches that we like to highlight. Built in a region hard hit by the transition away from tobacco and manufacturing economies, the open access fiber network called nDanville has led to many new employers coming to town and has shown the benefits of a low-risk, incremental investment strategy for building a fiber network.

Jason Grey, Interim Utilities Manager, is back on the show to update us on their approach. He introduced the network to us three years ago on episode 22.

Since we last checked in, Danville has continued expanding the fiber network to a greater number of residents and Jason talks with us about the importance and challenges of marketing to residents. We also discuss how they lay conduit as a matter of course, even in areas they do not plan to serve immediately with the fiber network.

Read all of our coverage of Danville here.

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

This show is 20 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."

New Municipal Broadband Feasibility Study Underway in Firestone, CO

The Board of Trustees for the city of Firestone, CO is evaluating the feasibility of a new municipal broadband service for this growing town of about 10,000 people that sits just 30 miles north of Denver. This according to a recent report in the Times-Call newspaper in Longmont, Colorado.  The feasibility study will compare Firestone’s existing telecommunications infrastructure with those in nearby communities such as Longmont and Boulder that already have municipal networks. It will also assess the potential for growth of the service in Firestone to a nearby 3,500-home community development project.

It would be travesty to build a 3,500 home development without having a plan for high quality Internet access. Even if CenturyLink or Comcast were to deploy fiber optics there, the community should ensure there are plans for conduit or an open network to allow multiple service providers to provide a real choice.

A 2005 Colorado state law barring municipalities from providing internet service to their citizens has been an obstacle for Longmont and Boulder in their pursuit of their own city-run broadband services.  Telecommunications companies in the Longmont area spent $200,000 on a campaign that helped defeat the referendum in 2009 and $400,000 more in 2011.  But citizens in Longmont successfully voted in the 2011 referendum to exempt their town from the law and build their own community broadband network. As we wrote in May, Longmont’s NextLight fiber-based municipal broadband service, which started just 2 years ago, is now among the fastest internet services in the United States.

In Boulder, 84% of citizens voted in a 2014 referendum to restore the local government’s rights to restore local telecommunications authority. The city now provides free municipal Wi-Fi throughout the downtown civic area and additional fiber-optic infrastructure servicing city facilities with plans for further expansion.

As the Longmont Times-Call wrote in December, Longmont’s struggles and eventual success in starting their own fiber-based municipal network helped to pave the way for Boulder.  The success of those efforts also provide favorable local precedents for Firestone officials and other local advocates to demonstrate how well fiber-based municipal networks can benefit a community. According to Firestone spokeswoman Kristi Ridder, the possibility of Firestone eventually getting its own municipal broadband service is still a ways off, with no ballot question planned yet on Colorado State Bill 152.  But she acknowledged that inquiries from residents have prompted town boards to discuss the possibility of a community broadband service over the past several years.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - August

While we think they buried the lede (talking about cord-cutting and entertainment options when what we really need in this country is a locally accountable choice), the New York Times editorial board came out in support of local authority for municipal networks, in a roundabout sort of way.

Preparing for Life After Cable by Editorial Board of the New York Times

Although Americans now have more choices than ever for how they watch TV, about seven in 10 American households can only get broadband Internet service from one or two providers, usually cable and phone companies.

In other words, the big telecom companies will still have plenty of leverage. Some analysts predict that as customers desert cable TV packages for Internet-based services, the telecom giants like Charter and AT&T will simply charge more for Internet access, wiping out some or all of the savings consumers had hoped for.

That’s why it is important that Congress and the Federal Communications Commission push for more choices in the broadband market. Among other things, they should override laws some states have passed that make it difficult or impossible for municipalities to invest in broadband networks. State and local officials could also help by streamlining rules that make it hard for newer businesses to string fiber-optic cable on utility poles or below ground in order to compete with established cable and phone companies.

Community Broadband By State

Colorado

Winter Park, Fraser will put broadband question to voters by Hank Shell, Sky Hi Daily News

Routt County broadband plan could be ready in less than three months by Teresa Ristow, Steamboat Today

Fort Collins, Loveland Will Have Broadband Vote On The 2015 Ballot by Jackie Fortier, KUNC

 

Minnesota

Rochester tentatively to begin looking at broadband service by Jeff Kiger, The Post Bulletin

Foundation funds broadband upgrades, study in Sherburne by Mitch LeClair, St. Cloud Times

 

Missouri

After six-year push, rural Missouri still waits for high-speed Internet by Jeff West, Missourian

While mostly in metropolitan areas, fiber is arriving slowly to rural areas: In 2013, Co-Mo Connect, a subsidiary of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, began laying fiber-optic lines that will eventually offer 1-gigabit service to 15 small mid-Missouri cities.

Co-Mo Connect serves Tipton, which posted the second-fastest download speed of any Missouri city in July, according to Ookla.

“You hear people in town asking each other, ‘Do you have it yet? Do you have it yet?’” said Marna Williams, Tipton’s deputy city clerk.

 

North Carolina

Bald Head Islanders to vote on $10 million broadband bond by Adam Wagner, Star News Online

 

Virginia

City to examine new broadband Internet Options by Chris Teale, Alexandria Times

One issue that will likely present itself is the need to dig up city streets to install cables underground. But Wilson pointed to what he called a “dig once” policy adopted around the country as a way around it. With the city set for massive upgrades in its sewer system, he said that installing broadband service underground at the same time could prevent streets and pavements being under construction for too long.

 

General Broadband News

Want fiber Internet? That’ll be $383,500, ISP tells farm owner by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards Encourage, Highlight City Broadband by Colin Wood, GovTech

FCC asks whether data caps and high prices hurt broadband access by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

“…the FCC yesterday passed a Notice of Inquiry that "seeks comment on whether to consider standards beyond speed when assessing broadband deployment, including latency and consistency of service," the commission said. "And it asks whether to consider factors beyond physical deployment, including pricing and data allowances, privacy, and broadband adoption."

Evaluating latency will help determine whether satellite Internet service should be considered broadband.

Sixth Circuit consolidates cases, sets new briefing schedule in appeals involving municipal broadband laws by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Lexology

This Week On Bullish: The Digital Divide by Alex Wilhelm, Tech Crunch

Kitsap County Asks Residents Where to Expand

The Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD) is turning to residents to plot the course for expansion, reports the Central Kitsap Reporter. In order to find out where the greatest interest lies in municipal fiber connectivity, KPUD will be using the COS Service Zones survey system.

“Since this is a public network, we do not feel comfortable relying on anecdotal data to determine the next phase for broadband expansion,” said Bob Hunter, Kitsap PUD General Manager. “What’s most appealing with the COS Service Zones is that it enables us to let the gathering and push come from the citizens. We want to be sure the residents are driving this.”

We have reported on the KPUD, mostly as it related to other stories. The publicly owned open access fiber network in Kitsap County Washington began providing wholesale only service in 2000. The goal was to provide better connectivity to public facilities and improve emergency communications and the KPUD has reached that goal.

Readers will remember Seth, who almost had to sell his Internet-less dream home due to mapping errors and the general failures at Comcast. When he approached the KPUD, they found a way to bring him an Internet connection. An increasing number of residents have asked the agency to find a way to serve their homes. Currently, PUDs in Washington are prohibited by state law from offering retail service, which can limit financially-viable investments, but Kitsap is trying to get a sense of the size of the interest.

The COS Service Zones system will help KPUD plan for any potential buildout by determining where customers are most likely to subscribe. The system will also allow the public to see where the KPUD plans to expand as a result of the survey.

Kitsap County residents can go to the website kpud.servicezones.net to fill out the online survey.

Rochester, Minnesota, City Council Reviews Municipal Fiber Proposal

Earlier this year, Rochester City Council members chose to look further at the prospect of developing a municipal fiber network. On August 17th, the Committee of the Whole met to hear a proposal from Alcaltel-Lucent to deploy 500 miles of fiber for approximately $42 million.

According to the Post Bulletin, the city recently surveyed 1,200 Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) customers and found that more than 75 percent of them supported the idea of Internet access from RPU.

Rochester residents and businesses have long suffered with expensive, unreliable, slow connectivity from incumbent Charter Communications. City Council member Michael Wojcik introduced the idea of publicly owned infrastructure in 2010 but the idea never picked up steam. He revived the issue last year when constituents began calling his office with complaints about Charter.

"Principally, I feel the technology, the customer service and price in Rochester are unacceptably bad (from Charter)," [Wojcik] said. "I get the feeling that a good portion of the public strongly agrees with that."

For this information session, the Council took no action; next, the proposal will be examined thoroughly by RPU officials.

Local video coverage from KTTC:

"Digital New England" Conference Set for September 27th, 28th in Portland

Over the past year, New England has been a hotspot for broadband initiatives, legislation, and experimentation. The trend will continue into September when Next Century Cities and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) host Digital New England: A Summit for Regional Broadband Leaders on September 27th and 28th in Portland, Maine.

From a description of the event:

Broadband is emerging as a critical driver of economic growth and prosperity in New England. The “Digital New England” broadband summit will bring together state, local and federal officials, industry representatives, community leaders and other key stakeholders to share real-world broadband success stories and lessons learned from across the region. The summit will also examine the gaps that remain and strategize on what still needs to be done to expand access to and adoption of high-speed Internet services for the benefit of all citizens.

The event will start with a welcome reception on Sunday evening. Monday's day-long summit will include discussions on numerous topics that cover investment, access, and adoption. Come listen to some panel discussions and participate in some break-out workshops.

The welcome reception will be held at the Gulf Maine Research Institute at 350 Commercial St. in Portland. Monday's summit will be at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, 88 Spring St. in Portland.

Take a look at the schedule for this free event and register online at the Eventbrite page.

Ammon, ID Experimenting with Open Access FTTH Network

We have covered the small Idaho city of Ammon before, but the people there always seem to be innovating. A few weeks ago, the city took first place with an ultra-high speed app in a National Institute of Justice competition. That utlra-high speed came from the city’s fiber network built for municipal buildings several years ago. The network has since expanded to connect the schools and some businesses.

Now, residents of Ammon might also get to experience high speed Internet. The city is conducting a survey, called Get Fiber Now, to determine interest in building a unique open access network. The first area with a 70% take rate will have 300 homes added to the network.

Ammon's technology director Bruce Patterson has a plan to make this unlike any other open access networks in the world. The fiber will be partitioned to have multiple services (such as telephone and television) on one strand. Our Christopher Mitchell has called the idea "open access on steroids” and the "best shot at demonstrating what can be done as far as innovation on an open network.” Patterson now has a pilot project of about seven homes connected to the experimental network with symmetrical speed of 1Gbps.

The city intends to have the plans for the open access FTTH network finalized for this next spring and is looking at a 20- to 30- year bond to cover the costs.

Local news coverage has the rest:

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Policies for Better Broadband - Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 165

Back in July, Next Century Cities released a short report, Connecting 21st Century Communities: A Policy Agenda for Broadband Stakeholders, exploring various policies and approaches that will improve Internet access. The brief is organized into sections on local government, state government, federal government, philanthropy, and community.

For this week on Community Broadband Bits, Lisa Gonzalez takes the mic to interview Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities, and me, the Policy Director for Next Century Cities (which I do within my capacity at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance).

We talk about the report, why we picked the policies we did, why we stuffed it full of examples, and as a bonus, Deb gives us an update of Next Century Cities and upcoming events.

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

This show is 20 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."