P3 between Westminster and Ting is “Community Broadband Innovative Partnership of the Year”

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) recently named the public private partnership (P3) between the City of Westminster, MD and Ting Inc. as 2015’s “Community Broadband Innovative Partnership of the Year.”  NATOA will officially honor the partnership at their Community Broadband Awards ceremony in San Diego this week.  

In a press release NATOA praised the P3 “...for showcasing an entirely new approach in public private partnerships to reach the common goal of bringing next generation fiber broadband to communities while demonstrating the possibility of creative solutions.”  In Ting’s own press release announcing the award, they described their unique arrangement as private partners in Westminster’s initiative aimed at providing their rural community of more than 18,000 people with blazing fast fiber internet service:

“We have agreed to an open access model. For a period of time at launch, Ting will be both the exclusive network operator and the exclusive service provider. After that, while we will maintain the exclusive role of network operator, we will open up the network to competitive service providers. That gives Westminster the dual benefits of stability and competition. They know that the network will be managed competently by one closely managed relationship. They also know that their businesses and residents will benefit from having many providers competing to offer them the best service at the best price.”

As we wrote in our recent extensive piece about P3s, a company like Ting is seen as a useful partner with expertise that cities may not want to cultivate directly as broadband service providers. Cities like Westminster view such partnerships as offering the benefits of shared risk. Although the data and expert opinions are varied as to whether such partnerships actually offer a reduced risk for municipal networks, Ting’s parent company Tucows has proven itself a responsible and progressive telecommunications company. 

In a January 2015 podcast, we spoke to CEO of Tucows Elliot Noss about Ting’s enthusiasm to work with Westminster.  And in Episode #100 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast last May, Chris also talked to the City Council President of Westminster Dr. Robert Wack about the Ting/Westminster partnership.

RS Fiber Cooperative Breaks Ground

Six years after an initial feasibility study was conducted to assess bringing broadband to Renville and Sibley Counties in southeastern Minnesota, members of the RS Fiber Cooperative board were finally able to dust off their shovels for a groundbreaking ceremony on July 9. Although those shovels may have ended up being more symbolic than they were practical, the ceremony marked an important and long-awaited step in the fight to extend broadband to 10 cities and 17 rural townships across the largely agricultural region.

The groundbreaking ceremony marked the start of stage one of a two-stage project that will take five to six years to complete. By the end of 2015, the RS (Renville-Sibley) Fiber Cooperative plans to connect 1,600 homes and businesses with fiber, with 90 percent of its service area covered by high-speed wireless. It hopes to connect another 2,600 homes and businesses by the end of 2016, with the eventual goal of reaching 6,200 potential customers. At the event, Toby Brummer, RS Fiber General Manager, highlighted the importance of broadband Internet to rural development:

This technology is to this generation what rural electric and rural telephone was to generations years ago.

The RS Fiber Cooperative is member-owned and member-driven, led by a Joint Powers Board that formed in 2009. In order to provide FTTH to the rural locations across the two counties, the cooperative partnered with a network operator, Hiawatha Broadband Communications, that already serves 17 communities in southeast Minnesota. RS Fiber will offer residential Internet speeds up to 1 gigabit for $129.95. It will also connect schools, bolster home and farm security systems, and even facilitate high school sports broadcasts and telemedicine initiatives.

The local governments each sold a General Obligation Tax Abatement Bond that in aggregate totalled $15 million that was loaned to the cooperative, which helped offset the cost of the initial phase of construction. It was a seed that allowed the coop to gather the rest of the necessary funding. The project’s overall funding includes both bonds and commercial loans from community banks.

Community Broadband Networks has followed the RS Fiber project closely as it jumped through several hurdles to create a financially sustainable plan to provide both urban and rural residents FTTH and fiber-to-the-farm services, respectively. ILSR highlighted the cooperative in its 2014 report - All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access. Chris also interviewed Co-op Vice Chair Cindy Gerholz and Winthrop Town Manager Mark Erickson last May in a Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Board members, according to a recent Gov Tech article, are hopeful that an osteopathic medical school that is coming to Gaylord will use the cooperative’s service.

Bringing broadband to rural communities like the ones in Renville and Sibley counties is critical to the future of the region. Without proper Internet access companies will not think of relocating to the area and when young generations leave, they will leave for good. As Vice Chair Gerholz told Chris:

One of the things that I'm looking at, too, for this whole project is that hopefully it will expand companies, and make invitations to companies, to come to this area. Which will then give more jobs for our kids, and keep our kids at home. Because we lose our kids. They go to college, and they're gone.

Enhanced broadband capacities will give those kids reason to stay, and make the region - which has experienced a steady population decline since the 1970s - economically competitive once again.

The Benefits of, Lessons From, SandyNet - Community Broadband Bits Episode 167

Two of the stars from our video on SandyNet in Oregon, join us this week for Community Broadband Bits episode 167. Sandy City Council President Jeremy Pietzold and IT Director Joe Knapp (also SandyNet General Manager) tell us more about the network and recent developments as they finish connecting the majority of the City to gigabit fiber.

We talk about the challenges and lessons learned along the way as they transitioned from running a Wi-Fi network in some areas of town to all areas of town to overbuilding the wireless with fiber optics.

Jeremy also discusses more of a story we recently reported on SandyNet's business services, which are the lowest cost, highest capacity deals we have seen.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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.

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."

Introducing Our Institutional Networks Page

Community anchor institutions play a critical role in bridging the digital divide. These networks that connect government buildings, libraries, and schools are often called “institutional networks” or “I-Nets.” Since the start of MuniNetworks.org, we have noted the ways these institutions have expanded services and saved money. Now, these stories have been compiled into one quick-reference resource.

As franchise agreements run out with incumbent service providers, public institutions often struggle to renegotiate contracts at sustainable prices. Other communities have been left behind altogether by large cable and telephone companies and cannot get the high quality Internet access needed for their libraries or schools.

With 30% of U.S. households without a broadband connection at home, schools and libraries are portals to digital learning tools, social services, and job applications. A local government self-provisioning a fiber network to connect these facilities is often the most cost-effective way to ensure these essential entities have affordable and reliable Internet access.

In this page, we detail the many times schools and libraries have used municipal networks to save money, increase Internet access, and provide better services. We also note how these municipal institutional networks can be incrementally expanded beyond institutions to businesses and homes, creating city-wide connectivity. Check out the page.

New York Times Supports Local Authority

In a recent editorial, the New York Times recognized that cord cutting is the wave of the future. They agree with the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, and other advocates for local telecommunications authority that the FCC should take steps to remove barriers to local Internet choice created by states on behalf of cable and telco lobbyists. The Editorial Board notes that laws limiting municipal networks block the ability for consumers to take full advantage of this phenomenon:

Among other things, they should override laws some states have passed that make it difficult or impossible for municipalities to invest in broadband networks.

Even though consumers are moving away from cable TV subscriptions, large corporate providers are making up for losses by an increase in Internet access subscriptions. As a result, they still maintain a significant leverage and consumers still face the same old problem - a lack of competition. Striking down anti-competitive state laws blocking munis would create a healthier balance, argues the Times Editorial Board.

This is an opportunity to respond to customer demand and make policy changes the consumers need, argues the NYTimes. Time to act! 

Customers are clearly saying that they want to watch and pay for TV in a different way. Regulators and media executives ought to heed and respond positively to that message — policy makers by encouraging more competition in the broadband market, and media businesses by making more of their content available online.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 4


Boulder Valley school board eyes putting broadband question on November ballot by Amy Bounds, Daily Camera



Kentucky is building a statewide middle mile network.

Kentucky Moving Forward With Effort to Expand Broadband In Rural Areas by Allison Crawford, WKMS

Kentucky Wired broadband internet project announced in Hazard by Tanner Hesterberg, WYMT-TV

Kentucky state, local leaders kick off pioneering broadband-access initiative by Paul Wesslund, Louisville Business First


New city Broadband Coordinator Hardebeck: Municipal broadband a 'distinct possibility' by Rick Seltzer, Baltimore Business Journal

What pieces can Baltimore use to build better broadband? by Rick Selzter, Baltimore Business Journal



Why doesn’t Cambridge, Mass., have a next-generation network? by Saul Tannenbaum / Cambridge Broadband Task Force



Letter from Langdon: The Co-Op Model by Richard Oswald, The Daily Yonder


North Carolina

City council candidates weigh future of city’s fiber optic network by Josh Bergeron, Salisbury Post

City-run ISP makes 10Gbps available to all residents and businesses by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

“We knew to be competitive we needed faster Internet," Winrich said. "We went to the incumbents [in 2009] and asked them if they had any plans to make a faster network and they said, ‘no,’ We went back to them and said, ‘well, if we pay you will you do it?’ They said, ‘no.’ We had to end up building our own because the incumbents had no plans on increasing the speeds of the network.”

This North Carolina City Offers Ultrafast Internet As an Alternative to the Usual Options by Lily Hay Newma, Slate

Salisbury, N.C.'s Fibrant lights 10G FTTH network by Sean Buckley, Fierce Telecom

City to connect departments with fiber optic links by Wesley Young, The Winston-Salem Journal



Ideas Worth Stealing: Can municipalities build better broadband networks? by Irina Zhorov, Newsworks



Matthew Friedman: Cable companies put before Tenn. citizens by Matthew Friedman, KnoxNews

It's time for Tennessee to stop doing the telecom industry's dirty work. It's time for the state to start favoring its own citizens over Comcast, Charter, AT&T and the rest of that lot.

How blazing Internet speeds helped Chattanooga shed its smokestack past by Marguerite Reardon, C-Net

Chattanooga's transformation has been decades in the making, but the construction of one of the largest and fastest Internet networks in the Western Hemisphere will be key to helping the city write the next chapter for the 21st century. 



Socialist councilmember Sawant calls for a new tech revolution by Drew Atkins 

To Sawant and her allies at the advocacy organization Upgrade Seattle, the solution is to create a city-owned broadband Internet utility, as Seattle once did for electricity. This municipal network would utilize and expand the city’s existing fiber network, bringing gigabit speeds to homes and businesses across the region. In the process, Sawant says, service would improve, low-income areas would receive infrastructure upgrades, and the city would push Comcast and CenturyLink from the equation, demonstrating to the rest of America that telecom giants could be beat at their own game.

Q&A: Councilmember Sawant on public broadband and a socialist Microsoft by Drew Atkins, CrossCut [if we publish the first one we should publish this too]

Tacoma Officials Wrestle With The Future Of The City's Broadband Service, Click Network by Ashley Gross, KPLU



The Connect America Fund Dilemma, Pots and Pans

But the real dilemma comes in how this affects rural communities that are looking at their own broadband solutions. Most of the DSL built under the Connect America Fund is going to 10 Mbps or less download speeds, something that is not even broadband by the FCC’s definition. And not every customer in these areas will get that much speed – many of them are going to live at the ends of the new DSL routes and will still get very slow speeds.

Making it in to the gigabit winner’s circle by Craig Settles, OSP magazine

Rio Blanco County Has Big Plans for Open Access Network

In Rio Blanco County, you’re almost more likely to find a dinosaur fossil than a human being. This rural county in northwestern Colorado has about two people for every square mile, but its sparse population is not stopping it from advancing an ambitious open-access broadband initiative

More than a year into the rollout of the network plan, Rio Blanco County (RBC) has already succeeded in soliciting $2 million in matched funds from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), contracted a network operator, and secured easements (land-use rights) from the county’s two largest municipalities to begin construction on the FTTx network. The bulk of the funding will come for the County budgeting for the infrastructure.

The network will initially touch every block and ultimately be expanded to deliver a fiber connection to each premise in the two towns. 

Rio Blanco’s network will be a four-tier open access arrangement. The county will own the infrastructure - from the data center to the optical network terminal (ONT) within the home and everything in between. A private company, Colorado.Fiber.Community, will operate the network. And a combination of independent middle-mile Internet service providers and last-mile value-added resalers will offer services directly to residents. 

For Rio Blanco County IT Director, Blake Mobley, this arrangement is what makes Rio Blanco County’s initiative both unique and feasible. Mobley gave a presentation at the MountainConnect conference in Vail, Colorado, where he spoke about the challenges and the early successes of Rio Blanco County community broadband network. Because the network is open-access, he said, the county can focus on what it does best - laying the groundwork and setting larger policy objectives, not taking the mantle of Internet service provider: 

We look at this just like a county building county roads. You build those roads out. You as a county aren’t anticipating a large return on that investment from those roads up front. It’s the utilization of those roads that builds an economy that’s going to be to your benefit.

Mobley, who along with presenting at MountainConnect also spoke with Chris on the Community Broadband Bits podcast this week, emphasized that it was the business community that came to the county in search of better broadband options. In his words:

The drive to do this project originated with the community itself. They came to the commissioners about a year and a half ago...to say... "You’ve got to solve this problem. We have businesses that have come in and looked in communities, large and far-from-large ones, that said we don’t have the bandwidth we need and we’re not going to locate here. We have residents that are having challenges."

Community members demanding better broadband from municipalities is hardly a new phenomenon. Local demand for community broadband networks has forced the hand of municipal and county governments in multiple Colorado locations. In the state of Colorado, underserved communities that wish to build a network must vote to override a barrier (Senate Bill 05-152) that prevents municipalities from building their own broadband networks. Last November, a resounding 82 percent of Rio Blanco County citizens voted to override this barrier. Rio Blanco County joined five municipalities (Boulder, Yuma, Wray, Cherry Hills Village, and Red Cliff) and one other county (Yuma) in overriding SB05-152 and thereby exercising their right to build a community network.  

Along with providing FTTx capacities, Rio Blanco County’s open access network plan includes a goal of expanding of cellular towers and emergency services. The county intends to construct 11 towers initially, which will serve up to 80 percent of the community, and provide FTTB connections of 25 Mbps upstream and 5 Mbps downstream, slightly better than the FCC definition of basic broadband.

RBC believes that by the end of 2015, it will have begun construction on its FTTB network in the county’s primary urban areas, the towns of Meeker and Rangely, as well as its more rural areas. For Mobley, a 5th generation Rio Blanco County resident, it is important that the project is done in a way that is transparent for both community members and private partners. He joked: 

I’m building the solution for my friends and family so I have a vested interest to do a very good job because if I get fired and have to leave that will be very uncomfortable.

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.

Read the transcript from this episode 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."