Biloxi and Mississippi Gulf Coast Towns Pursuing Fiber Initiative

Community leaders in the city of Biloxi want to expand massive water and sewer infrastructure improvements to include broadband infrastructure. The City Attorney Gerald Blessey recently addressed members from the Leadership Gulf Coast group and during the speech he shared the idea to spread fiber throughout Biloxi.

Mayor FoFo Gilich has already spoken with the Governor who, reports WXXV 25, is interested in the idea. Streets in town are being excavated for the water and sewer project and Gilich wants to use this opportunity to install conduit and fiber.

Biloxi recently settled a lawsuit for just under $5 million with British Petrolium (BP) for economic losses arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Community leaders consider fiber a strong investment to help the area recover.

“And not only is it going to be economic development, but it’s going to be quality of life. Our school system needs this. The medical system needs this. The casino industry needs this,” said [Vincent Creel, city of Biloxi Public Affairs Manager]. 

The Biloxi plan may be happening in coordination with a larger initiative to bring fiber to the coastal area. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Fiber Ring would link 12 cities along the southern coast; each community would determine their own level of service.

The Sun Herald reports that Governor Phil Bryant has offered an additional $15 million in BP state settlement funds to deploy fiber. While any network is still in the idea stage, the plan will likely involve establishing a nonprofit organization to own and operate the fiber ring.

The Coast counties need the economic development a fiber network could bring. According to the Sun Herald:

Since Hurricane Katrina, the recession and oil spill, the three Coast counties are down 2,700 jobs compared to the pre-recession numbers of 2008, and down 5,600 jobs compared to pre-Hurricane Katrina in 2005, [Blessey] said.

The technology will draw talented new people and high-tech business to the Coast, he said. He sees the technology supporting research at colleges in South Mississippi and providing medical teleconference capabilities that would allow a patient on the Coast to confer with a specialist anywhere in the country. The circle would let movie, television and video game producers work from South Mississippi instead of going to other cities that have the technology, and he said it would help monitor pollution in the Gulf and the health of the fisheries and forestry.

"The infrastructure is just first step," he said.

The state might look at what Virginia did with some of the tobacco settlement money in establishing the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, now the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation. The effort has aided Danville and Martinsville muni fiber approaches by providing a connection to the outside world and creating a connection for peering exchange.

MBC began in 2004 when the state used funds from the Virginia Tobacco Commission and $6 million in matching funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration to commence a fiber backbone deployment. The first $12 million paid for approximately 350 miles of fiber to industrial parks in southern Virginia. Since then, additional grants have aided in extending the network to over 1,800 miles. In 2012, MBC transitioned from a cooperative, that paid excess revenues to members, into a nonprofit corporation which made revenue and grant management less complicated. Under the new model, excess revenues can be reinvested into the network.

The nonprofit operates an open access middle mile network throughout southern Virginia. It provides wholesale transport in more than 20 counties for 45 providers of varying levels from large international companies to small local ISPs. MBC is credited with injecting a healthy dose of economic activity into southern Virgina.

From MBC's History page:

The broadband capacity it has brought to Southern Virginia has attracted numerous companies to the region and has helped to bring more than 900 jobs and $1.3 billion of private sector investment to the region. Most notably, MBC was a critical component in securing the Microsoft data center project for Southern Virginia, which has already announced over $1.3 billion in private sector investment and 180 high-paying jobs.

We talked to Tad Deriso from MBC in Episode #146 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Have a listen.


WXXV 25's report:

Ammon, ID Creates Award-Winning Ultra-High Speed App

The City of Ammon just took first place in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Ultra-High Speed Apps: Using Current Technology to Improve Criminal Justice Operations Challenge with the “School Emergency Screencast Application”.

The challenge encourages software developers and public safety professionals to utilize public domain data and ultra-high speed systems to create applications to improve criminal justice and public safety operations. Ammon’s application does just that.

Utilizing gunshot detection hardware and a school’s existing camera system, the application reports gunshot fire and provides live-video and geospatial information to dispatch and first responders. Greg Warner, county director of emergency communications, described how this application will change the response to a shooting emergency:

“We’re going from no intelligence to almost total intelligence ... The ability to strategize when approaching a situation like that, and keep people safe, is an exponential change.”

The City of Ammon will share the $75,000 prize money with its public partners, such as the Bonneville Joint School District 93 and the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office.

This application would not have been possible without the City of Ammon’s municipal network which the Bonneville Joint School District recently joined after the state education network went dark. The city built the network incrementally over a few years and operates it as open access to encourage competition. For more information on Ammon’s unique approach to high-speed Internet, check out Community Broadband Bits Episode 86.

The video below provides an example of the application in action.

Comcast's Big Gig Rip-Off

For some five years now, many have been talking about gigabit Internet access speeds. After arguing for years that no one needed higher capacity connections, Comcast has finally unveiled its new fiber optic option. And as Tech Dirt notes, it is marketed as being twice as fast but costs 4x as much (even more in the first year!).

We decided to compare the Comcast offering to muni fiber gigabit options.

Comcast's Big Gig Rip-Off

For more information on the great offer from Sandy, see the video we just released about their approach.

Cambridge Broadband Advocate at the Summit: "We Are the Perfect Testbed"

In April, Chris spoke at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin. If you were not able to attend, Saul Tannenbaum's Readfold.com article gives you a taste of what it was like. Tannenbaum is a member of the Cambridge Broadband Task Force, recently set up by the city's City Manager to investigate the possibility of municipal broadband connectivity.

Tannenbaum describes his experience there and some of the typical discussions he encounters while investigating a muni network. What role should the local or state government play in bettering connectivity? What is preventing the U.S. from excelling at ubiquitous access for all income levels? Why a municipal network? For Tannenbaum, and other residents of Cambridge, those questions are especially significant because the town is historically a place of technological innovation. Gigabit connectivity may be the gold standard, but in a place like Cambridge, it is the minimum:

Cambridge has companies and institutions for whom high capacity, high speed networks are mission critical. MIT, Harvard, the Broad Institute, Google, Microsoft, Biogen-Idec, Novartis, and many others who are not yet household names, move large amounts as part of daily work. With partners like those, Cambridge can become a true testbed for the network of the future. Cambridge, where the Internet was invented, can be where the next Internet is developed.

We encourage you to read the entire article, which also offers up some great resources, but Tannenbaum made the case for his home town:

[Cambridge] pairs a legacy of being on the frontiers of social justice with an economic sector whose future health requires a free and open Internet. It is a rarity in Cambridge politics to find the interests of our innovation community and our social justice community to be so closely aligned.

Illinois Munis Partner with Local ISP for Gigabit Network - Community Broadband Bits Episode 160

The southern Illinois cities of Urbana and Champaign joined the University of Illinois in seeking and winning a broadband stimulus award to build an open access urban FTTH network. After connecting some of the most underserved neighborhoods, the Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) network looked for a partner to expand the network to the entire community.

In this week's Community Broadband Bits podcast, we talk with UC2B Board Chair Brandon Bowersox Johnson and the private partner iTV-3's VP and Chief Operating Officer Levi Dinkla. The local firm, iTV-3, already had a strong reputation as an Internet Service Provider as well as operating other lines of business as well.

In our conversation, we talk about iTV-3's commitment to customer service, their expansion plan, and how the network remains open access. Read our continuing coverage of UC2B here. See the neighborhood signups here.

Read the transcript from this show 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."

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 20

Community Network Media Roundup By State

California

Santa Monica cited as model city for broadband by Debbie Lee, The Santa Monica Daily Press

Beginning with the unveiling of a Telecommunications Master Plan in 1998, the City of Santa Monica has reduced the cost of laying fiber optic cable by nearly 90 percent by coordinating installation with other capital projects while issuing no additional debt. As of the end of 2013, the City of Santa Monica maintains 32 free Wi-Fi hotspots along nine major commercial corridors and has managed to synchronize 80 traffic signals, according to a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). Additionally, generating $5 million in revenue toward the City General Fund, the city has lowered the cost of high capacity internet connections for businesses by over two-thirds.

“We’re gratified by this recognition of Santa Monica’s success at building out digital infrastructure, which we hope can serve as an example for other communities on how to proceed incrementally, sustainably and even profitably,” said Santa Monica Mayor, Kevin McKeown.

 

Colorado

High-speed broadband a slow process for city by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

Fort Collins voters are likely to be asked in November to give the city authority to look into providing broadband service. However, if voters approve the proposal, the city is not locked in to being a service provider.

A “yes” vote would only open the door to the city exploring options and getting into sundry details, such as the role “incumbent” providers (Comcast, CenturyLink, etc.) might play in city-provided broadband, the cost of service, how to fund infrastructure upgrades, and so on.

 

Connecticut

New Haven, Conn., to Pursue Citywide Fiber-Optic Cable Network by Mary O’Leary, Government Technology

 

Pennsylvania

No Internet access restricts many Pennsylvanians; Allentown among nation's least-connected cities by Elizabeth Daly, The Morning Call - [PA law restricts local government authority to build their own networks]

Access to information on jobs, housing, educational resources and health care — all increasingly found online — elude those without funds to pay for access as Internet costs rise and competitive pricing stagnates.

 

Utah

Some city governments want to be your Internet provider by Omar Etman, The Deseret News

 

Washington

Here's What High-Speed Municipal Broadband Looks Like in a Town 200 Miles Away. Let's Do This, Seattle by Ansel Herz, The Stranger

 

Virginia

Albemarle County to Hold Public Meeting on Broadband Internet by WVIR-TV

 

General

A Roadmap to Better Broadband by Deb Socia & Chris Mitchell, Governing

Key players in civic life can similarly help to facilitate broadband projects. Anchor institutions such as libraries, schools, and hospitals can be portals for better access to broadband Internet. Philanthropic organizations have provided, and can continue to provide, key support to broadband-friendly efforts. In Chattanooga, Tenn., and Kansas City, for instance, the Enterprise Center and KC Digital Drive, respectively, have worked to promote the adoption of broadband by city residents.

In the 21st century, high speed Internet access has emerged as more than just an information superhighway. It is essential infrastructure for improving our quality of life. That's why it's so important that all of a community's stakeholders be involved in making it happen.

'Competify' Campaign Seeks FCC Action on Broadband by Gary Arlen, MultiChannel News

While cable TV and the huge telephone companies are not mentioned by name on the new website or in an ad in The New York Times unveiling the campaign, it is clear that these major system providers are the target of the new group's wrath. The announcement characterized the current market condition as "a chronic disease" affecting the entire information economy.  It urged the FCC to move forward aggressively "on its critical work to address the scourge of high broadband prices and anticompetitive behavior by advancing meaningful broadband competition."

These senators wanted an FCC probe of Internet prices. They’re going to be disappointed by Brian Fung, The Washington Post

WiredWest Grows: Roster of Towns Up to 22

Momentum is growing in WiredWest territory and each town that votes takes on a fresh enthusiasm. New Salem is one of the latest communities to overwhelmingly support joining the municipal broadband cooperative. The Recorder reported that all but one of the 189 registered New Salem voters chose to authorize borrowing $1.5 million to move forward with the initiative. There are now 22 towns that have joined.

According to Moderator Calvin Layton, a typical town meeting draws 60 to 70 voters, far less than this one did. Apparently, investing in better connectivity is a hot button issue in places like New Salem, where Internet access is slow, scant, and expensive.

Poor connectivity has impacted local commerce and even driven some residents with home-based businesses away from New Salem. For Travis Miller, a role playing game designer, and his wife Samantha Scott, an IT professional, the town’s slow Internet speeds were holding them back so they moved away. In a letter to the New Salem Broadband Committee, Miller wrote:

A lack of broadband Internet service was one of the elements in our decision to move. A substantial online presence has become a basic requirement for successful table top game designers. Many of the platforms used to interact with fans and clients require broadband service. Our lack limits my income and makes further penetration into the market difficult if not impossible.

Adam Frost — owner of an online toy store, The Wooden Wagon — also found New Salem’s slow Internet speeds to be a limiting factor for his business. He said:

Though The Wooden Wagon is a specialty business, our needs are not unique: pretty much any business owner or person hoping to telecommute has the same requirements. Businesses outside the region with whom we work expect us to be at the same level technologically as they: they will not make concessions just because our Internet service is outdated. We must keep up, or be left behind.

Communities in western Massachusetts are each taking up authorization needed to cover their share of the connectivity project. All but one of 23 towns voting thus far have exhibited strong support. In Montgomery - that one town that did not support the proposal - the measure lost by only two votes, reported the Berkshire Eagle. Chesterfield and Goshen approved funding earlier this month, both to big crowds of voters. Leyden approved their participation at a meeting in May with a 90-33 vote.

Of the 45 towns eligible to participate and obtain state funding, 33 Select Boards have committed to presenting bond authorization measures before their voters. Monica Webb, Chair of WiredWest's Board of Directors told the Eagle in June:

"Ultimately, the overwhelming votes so far are a resounding affirmation that the citizens, businesses and institutions of Western Mass. towns underserved by broadband are ready, willing and eager to move forward with the WiredWest regional fiber network."

We spoke with Webb in May in episode #149 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Local residents who were tired of dial-up and satellite established the cooperative as a way to band together and turn up the volume on their collective voice. Each community has representation on the executive board and will receive a share of state funding designated for the project.

At the meeting in New Salem, the town's Broadband Committee Chair MaryEllen Kennedy told told the audience:

“Our goal is to make this broadband available to every house, not just the places that are easy to wire, another reason we thought a government co-op was the way to go."

The next step in New Salem and in other Massachusetts communities where voters have approved borrowing is to hold a special town election to approve an exemption to Massachusetts' Proposition 2 1/2 tax levy limit.

Kentucky City Transfers Ownership of Network, Still Under Local Control

The city of Franklin, KY transferred ownership of its fiber optic network to the Franklin Electric Plant Board (EPB) for $2.5 million. The Franklin City Commission unanimously approved a resolution for the transfer of ownership at the June 8th meeting. The network, although no longer maintained by the city, is still under local control. The EPB is an extension of city government, but has its own board of directors. Pleased with the city’s decision, Mayor Ronnie Clark stated:

"Broadband is now the new utility, and who better to deliver those services than the local infrastructure experts, EPB. They have the manpower and the equipment, as well as the community's confidence in providing reliable utility service and exceptional local customer support."

The city developed the 32-mile fiber optic network to encourage economic development by providing broadband to local businesses. The network attracted to new businesses including a distribution center from Tractor Supply Company. Currently, the network supports Internet connectivity to more than 40 business and industry customers in Franklin. The EPB hopes to continue to expand the services: 

"This network will be an excellent fit for us operationally, and will enable us to expand our role in serving our customers with the most robust broadband services available. We have big plans to add new services and grow our broadband customer base," said General Manager of EPB Bill Borders.

In this $2.5 million deal with EPB, the city will recoup the $2.5 million cost of constructing the network. Originally, the city funded $1.5 million with bonds and received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The sale of the network to the EPB will pay off a $1.3 million bond issued to create the network and the remainder will go into the general fund. 

CNS Expanding Fiber in Rural Georgia

Community Network Services (CNS) has been serving six rural southwest Georgia communities since the late 1990s. Recently, we learned that the network added two more communities to its service area when it took over a small municipal cable system in Doerun and purchased a private cable company in Norman Park.

CNS has been our radar since 2012 when we learned how Thomasville, Cairo, Camilla, Moultrie, Baconton, and Pelham joined together to create a regional network that reached into 4 counties. The network has brought better access to rural Georgia, improved educational opportunities, and helped lower taxes.

Mike Scott, Moultrie City Manager, gave us details on the expansions into both of these very small communities. Scott repeated the CNS philosophy:

We don't look at it as a just a business plan…we look at it as economic development for the entire county.

Doerun, population 774, had its own municipal DSL and cable TV system but it needed significant upgrades. Doerun also faced increased costs for content, technology, and personnel challenges, and customers wanted faster connectivity. CNS and the community of Doerun had discussed the possibility of a CNS take over of the system in the past but network officials hesitated to take on the investment until Doerun upgraded due to the condition of the system. Doerun's school was already connected to the CNS network.

In addition to the problems with the network, an upgrade required considerable make-ready work. CNS estimated that preparing existing utility poles for fiber would be expensive, according to Scott, and network officials did not feel comfortable making that additional investment. 

Like many other small rural communities, Doerun operates its own municipal electric utility. The electric system was also in need of upgrades but due to lack of available capital, the city would need to borrow to fund the work. CNS and Doerun worked out an agreement to transfer the cable TV and Internet access system to CNS for mutual benefit.

CNS paid $100,000 as an advance franchise fee for 10 years, which reduced the amount Doerun needed to borrow to upgrade its municipal electric utility. In exchange, Doerun entered into the pole attachment agreements with CNS in order to string fiber on electric utility poles. As Doerun electric utility crews worked to upgrade the electric system, CNS fiber deployment crews worked alongside Doerun's construction crews replacing the old cable lines with fiber in the correct positions on Doerun's utility poles.

Rates in Doerun are the same as in other CNS communities. Internet access is as economical as $19.95 for 3 Mbps / .5 Mbps but published rates also list 35 Mbps / 3 Mbps for $49.95. A variety of bundles are available that include video, Internet, and phone. For a complete list of packages and rates, check out the CNS Moultrie residential pricing brochure [PDF].

The story in nearby Norman Park was somewhat similar. A private cable TV provider that did not offer Internet access served Norman Park, population 972. The small local company had passed to the deceased founder's son but the system, which covered the town's 3 square miles, was outdated. Rather than invest in the necessary repairs and updates, he sold it to CNS. As in Doerun, CNS eventually decided the best choice was to rebuild with fiber.

Prior to the purchase, CNS had leased a line to connect the Norman Park school to the CNS backbone; this expansion eliminated the need for the lease. Now all the schools in Colquitt County are served by CNS and each has 10 gigabits of bandwidth.

CNS provides Internet access to the Doerun and Norman Park city halls and both are in the process of transferring over to VoIP.  Scott did not have figures for city halls in Doerun and Norman Park, but noted that the city of Moultrie cut its phone costs in half by switching to VoIP and eliminating multiple phone lines. In addition to eliminating lines for office phones, Moultrie was able to cancel lines to pump stations, lift stations, and other facilities used to monitor facilities for their SCADA system.

Now the citizens of Doerun and Norman Park can utilize the same fast, affordable, reliable services available in neighboring towns. These two rural communities with limited options needed better connectivity so CNS stepped in.

Introducing Our Economic Development Page

Access to high-speed, broadband Internet facilitates economic development. Over the years, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has documented economic successes brought about by community broadband networks. We chose some of the most compelling examples, organized them by topic, and put them in one place for easy reference.

Unfortunately, in some communities, a lack of broadband Internet continues to stunt economic growth - and has even forced businesses to relocate or shut down. In many cases, incumbent Internet service providers like AT&T and CenturyLink are not willing to provide business customers or local residents with next-generation fiber networks.

To boost economic development, local communities create their own fiber networks. Municipal fiber networks typically provide faster, more reliable, more affordable Internet access than incumbent networks because municipalities have a vested interest in seeing their community succeed. 

Stories and examples of economic development resulting both directly and indirectly from community broadband networks abound, but until now these anecdotes and statistics were not consolidated into one place. 

In our economic development page, the benefits of municipal networks are separated into various categories - ranging from job creation to advances in healthcare - with concrete examples from community broadband networks across the country. Take a look.