Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 8, 2015

State-by-State Community Network Coverage

Maine

Bangor panel argues state must invest in broadband or fall behind by Nick McCrea, Bangor Daily News

Broadband’s influence on economic development is an “academic marvel, because it’s the only thing that all economists agree on,” according to [Tilson Tech broadband consultant, Aaron] Paul. He argued the infrastructure is “fundamentally cheap,” when compared with investments, such as natural gas connections, because fiber optic cables can be hung on utility poles.

Maryland

Baltimore Broadband Coalition wants your input by Stephen Babcock, Technical.ly

Massachusetts

Colrain eyes broadband options Tuesday by Diane Broncaccio, Recorder

Princeton to seek new broadband partner by Sandy Meindersma, Telegram

North Carolina

Fibrant’s new director: we’re evaluating every portion of the business by David Purtell, Salisbury Post

Ohio

Broadband conversation begins 

Local officials who want to see improved broadband Internet service in the area pitched their ideas during an information session Monday.

Tennessee

Athens TN to get fiber-optic Internet, thanks to EPB, Times Free Press

Need for speed: city utilities fight to offer internet by Jim Matheny, WBIR

"We are making a profit, we're paying down the loans, and the money we make get reinvested in the network and the community. That is all money that used to leave this town and go to stockholders of private companies without making the service here any better," said Wigington.

EPB looks to next school year for discounted Internet by David Morton, Nooga.com DAVID MORTON

Comcast announces super-fast Internet in Tenn., mum on cost by Erik Schelzig, Associated Press 

Comcast brings fiber to city that it sued 7 years ago to stop fiber rollout by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

"I'm an EPB customer that had to sit on the sidelines while Comcast sued my city to halt the fiber rollout...  I'm glad they lost as it was a total win for the community here," cdclndc told Ars, adding that Comcast has struggled to maintain Chattanooga customers since the EPB rollout. "I have EPB's 1/1Gbps service at home, and to be honest after all the shenanigans [Comcast] pulled here keeping our city tied up in court for the longest time trying to hold onto their monopoly, I wouldn't go back to them on principle alone."

Comcast launching 2-gig broadband to trump Chattanooga's municipal gigabit offering

This isn't the first sign that the evolving U.S. broadband market is forcing Comcast to improve its services. Earlier this month, the ISP announced that it will begin rolling out its 2-gig Gigabit Pro service in Atlanta in May. Just over two months earlier, Google announced that it was bringing its $70, 1-gig Google Fiber service to Atlanta.

West Virginia

Huntington mayor says fiber broadband “a game-changer for economic development” by Marcus Constantino, Charleston Daily Mail

“Do you want to go into a NASCAR race with a Volkswagen Beetle?” Williams said. “The Volkswagen Beetle certainly has a function and it can get people where they want to go, but if you’re going to be competing in the international marketplace, broadband is the interstate of the 21st century. In order for us to compete effectively, we don’t need as much to have an international airport as we need the ability to compete with somebody across the world in China and be able to compete at a speed that belies any other place.” 

 

Other Muni Broadband News

OPINION: The right to high-speed Internet Seth Bailey, CNBC

In short, municipal broadband allows those in rural areas to have high-speed access similar to that offered to residents of urban areas. Which means the quality of their technological lives do not suffer due to their addresses.

FCC's Sohn: Wired Broadband Competition Lacking by John Eggerton, Broadcasting and Cable

Wheeler to Cable: Suck It Up by Alan Breznick, Light Reading

Wheeler urged cable operators to "overcome the temptation to use your predominant position in broadband to protect your traditional cable business." If they don't, he warned, "the Internet will disrupt your existing business model. You can take that to the bank because it has done that to everybody."

That 20 Mbps Broadband Line We Promised? It's Actually 300 Kbps. Enjoy! by Karl Bode, Tech Dirt

Poorly-served towns and cities need the right to craft their own, flexible and customized broadband solutions in cases of market failure -- whether that's a publicly-owned fiber ring or a public/private partnership with somebody like Google. Instead, we've watched as the same telcos that don't even want to serve many of these DSL customers -- pass protectionist law preventing these communities from doing anything about it. We're only just starting to see this logjam starting to break, but it's going to take a lot more work to get many of these broadband black holes out of the grip of mega-ISP apathy.

Seattle Times Supports Universal, Affordable Municipal Network

The Editorial Board of the Seattle Times wants Mayor Ed Murray and his administration to put affordability and ubiquitous access near the top of the list as it considers a municipal fiber network. In a May 7th editorial, the Board acknowledged that Internet access in the City is available, but apparently not at affordable rates for everyone. 

One of the next topics for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to address is whether taxpayers in Software City should support a new broadband network.

...

But any attempt to create the broadband equivalent of Seattle City Light should be planned from the start as a citywide service, providing the same quality to everyone in the jurisdiction.

...

Rates for city broadband must be kept low enough to be accessible and appealing. This would be a challenge for a city that’s found ways to load utility bills.

A city broadband network may be worthwhile if it offers something unique and of great public value. Leveling the playing field and providing top quality service to everyone would meet this criteria.

Read the full editorial here!

Dakota County Expanding Fiber Network

Minnesota's Dakota County community leaders are planning to expand their existing fiber optic network, reports Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy. She attended a recent County Commissioner's meeting in which commissioners approved $1.2 million to add another 500,000 feet to the network.

Dakota County plans to perform some upgrades in addition to the expansion. They hope to collaborate with municipal and state government as well as a local school district. In addition to connecting more public facilities, a key benefit of this expansion will be to improve traffic signals along several busy corridors. 

Dakota County is taking advantage of transportation projects and its dig once policy to install conduit and fiber. This project will also add redundancy and capacity to the existing network and create potential connections to an industrial park. By sharing the cost of the expansion and the maintenance, each participating entity will see many benefits at a fraction of the cost from leasing from an incumbent provider.

The Dakota County Broadband Initiative recently began a campaign to approach local community leaders in order to offer info on the potential benefits of further leasing fiber to private businesses. Nearby Scott County, which offers connectivity to a number of businesses, has successfully used their fiber for economic development.

The SunThisWeek reported on a March Burnsville City Council meeting where Consultant Craig Ebeling spoke on behalf of the Initiative:

Private-sector telecom providers don’t have the capital to extend fiber widely, he said, echoing findings in the Design Nine study. Meanwhile, Scott County “smacked us in the face” with its fiber advantage, he said. It’s no time for a “hide your head” approach, [Council Member Dan] Kealey said.

“Shame on us for not being long-sighted enough to figure that out before,” he said.

The County has also realized that the network could be used to improve residential access. An Star Tribune article in March reported that only 64 percent of Dakota County homes have access to fixed broadband. As a response:

County officials are meeting with staff from local cities to come up with what they jokingly call “the mother of all joint powers agreements” that would guide growth of the fiber-optic network across the county.

“We’re not getting any help from the federal government. We’re not getting any help from the state government. So we have to do it ourselves,” [Deputy County Manager Matt] Smith said.

To learn more about Dakota County's publicly owned network and some of its benefits, read our 2014 report All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.

ECFiber Adds 1,000th Customer; Continues to Expand in Vermont

In April, ECFiber connected it 1,000th customer in Thetford Hill. Users at the First Congregational Church, described as the oldest meeting house in the state, have nothing but kudos for ECFiber and their new high-speed symmetrical Internet access. From the press release [PDF]:

“The service has been great so far,” said David Hooke, Chair of the Board of Trustees, “and we really appreciate that ECFiber is a community owned organization committed to bringing state of the art connectivity to rural east central Vermont. This will be a boon for the whole region.”

To celebrate the milestone, ECFiber Chairman Irv Thomae presented a special certificate to the Church.

This is just the latest accomplishment as ECFiber expands across Vermont. The consortium of 24 towns continues to obtain financing one expansion at a time. According to another press release [PDF], the community owned network just added an expansion to encompass the towns of Chelsea and Tunbridge. This will allow 80 more rural household to subscribe; more will soon be on the way:

“This is the first of several expansions we’ll be opening this summer,” said Irv Thomae, Chairman of ECFiber and Governing Board delegate from Norwich. “We’re pleased that more residents in this area are now able to enjoy the benefits of locally grown, full time, state-of-the-art real broadband.”

Read our previous coverage of EC Fiber here.

UPDATE: Today, ECFiber announced that it is now offering free bandwidth upgrades to local schools, public institutions, and libraries. The announcement, another example of a publicly owned network going the extra mile to improve the quality of life in the community, is published in VermontBiz. From the announcement:

“Thanks to our high speed infrastructure and state-funded dark fiber and grants that have helped interconnect many of our hubs, ECFiber has excess bandwidth (particularly during daytime hours) and we are pleased to be able to offer it to all these institutions, many of which operate under tight budget constraints,” said Irv Thomae, Chairman of ECFiber and Governing Board delegate from Norwich. “Although 400 Mbps is currently the fastest speed we offer, we hope to be able to continue to provide these institutions the fastest speed we offer in the future.  We hope to provide 1 Gigabit per second speeds within one year.” 

Grants are from the Vermont Department of Public Services Connectivity Initiative and will help to connect even more schools and libraries.

The Latest on Wired West Rural Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 149

Our second episode of Community Broadband Bits featured an interview with Monica Webb, Chair of the Wired West Board and Spokesperson. Three years later, we are excited to have Monica on the show again to update us on their recent progress.

As we recently noted, the state has decided to contribute significantly to the capital costs of a network connecting these rural towns and the towns are currently voting on whether to move forward.

In our discussion, we discuss Wired West and what it is like to live with very poor Internet access in 2015. You can read all of our coverage of Wired West here. Keep an eye on @Wired_West on Twitter for breaking news - 2 more communities voted to move forward with overwhelming majorities last night!

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 27 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 previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Paul Bunyan Communications Spreading Fiber Across Northern MN

The northern half of Minnesota, despite its rural character, is rapidly improving in high quality Internet access. Paul Bunyan Communications, the cooperative serving much of the Bemijdi area, began work on its GigaZone network last fall and the network is snaking its way across the region. According to an April 20th press release from the cooperative, GigaZone is now available to 500 more locations from the rural areas near Lake George to Itasca State Park. This brings the number of customers with access to GigaZone to 5,000.

Rates for symmetrical Internet access range from $44.95 per month for 20 Mbps to $74.95 per month for 50 Mbps. Higher speeds are available, including gigabit Internet access, but the cooperative asks potential customers to call for pricing.

We first reported on Paul Bunyan Telephone Communications in 2009. The cooperative began expanding its existing fiber network in 2007 but gigabit connectivity did not become available to members until earlier this year. Upgrades began in Bemidji and will continue to include the cooperatives entire 5,000 square mile service area. As new lines are installed, older lines will also be upgraded to fiber to transform the entire network. 

The cooperative began offering Internet access in 1996 as Paul Bunyan Telephone. Three years later, Paul Bunyan began infrastructure upgrades that allowed it to offer phone, high-speed Internet access, and digital television. The network expanded incrementally and continued to implement technological improvements. In 2005, the cooperative expanded with fiber technology for the first time. In 2010, Paul Bunyan Telephone changed its name to Paul Bunyan Communications.

At an event to announce GigaZone last fall, leadership from the region's economic development commission noted the new unleashed potential:

Greater Bemidji Director Dave Hengel compared Paul Bunyan to pioneering software giant Apple.  

“In many, many ways, Paul Bunyan Communications has become the Apple of greater Bemidji and the region, he said. “They are always on the leading edge.”

The GigaZone network will help attract businesses and workers to the area, Hengel added.

“In fact, I happen to believe that after today, our greatest competitive advantage in the greater Bemidji region will be our broadband network, thanks in very large part to the work of Paul Bunyan,” he said.

Northern Minnesotans in Lake County and Cook County are also in the midst of FTTH projects. You can read more about those projects in our 2014 report All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.

Chris to Speak in Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 5th

On Tuesday, May 5th, Chris will speak at an open meeting to provide information on municipal fiber networks. The community is in the process of exploring the possibility of investing in infrastructure to improve local connectivity. 

The city formed its task force in 2014 and are in the process of establishing a relationship with a consultant to help them move forward. 

The presentation will be at the Harvard Information Center, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The event starts at 5 p.m.

Charles Benton, Champion of the Public Interest in Telecom, Passes

The world of media education, communication policy, and philanthropy is mourning the loss of Charles Benton who passed away on April 29. He lived a long life encouraging and empowering individuals and communities to use technology to improve their quality of life. But beyond that, specifically working to remove barriers that discourage historically marginalized communities from benefiting from communications technologies.

In addition to serving on the National Museum and Library Services Board for the Obama Administration, Charles advised President Bill Clinton as a member of the Parental Advisory Committee on the Public Interest Obligation of Digital Television Broadcasters.

He also served his country as Chairman of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) and as Chairman of the First White House Conference on Library and Information Services, held in November of 1979. He continued to serve on the NCLIS for another five years, during which time he was unanimously elected Chairman Emeritus.

He and his wife, Marjorie, established the Benton Foundation in honor of his father, William, a public servant and U.S. Senator.

These are only a few of his many accomplishments. Throughout his life, Charles Benton shined the spotlight on the link between communications, media, education, and democracy. To learn more about his life and his achievements, read his obituary on the Benton Foundation website.

This from Chris:

We are deeply saddened at Charles' passing but incredibly inspired by his life. Every time we interacted with Charles, we came away with fresh energy to work in this space. I cannot think of a time when he wasn't smiling during our conversations -- his passion and optimism will carry on. 

Charles Benton, and support from the Benton Foundation, were instrumental in our ability to publish Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. The report is an in-depth look at the municipal fiber optic networks in Chattanooga, TN, Lafayette, LA, and Bristol, VA. 

We miss you, Charles. 

Photo of Charles Benton from the Benton Foundation

Vallejo Commits to Develop Fiber Master Plan

Vallejo recently hired Jory Wolf, CIO from Santa Monica, to help develop a fiber optic master plan, reports the Times Herald. A fiber network now controls the city's intelligent transportation system (ITS) and Vallejo wants to build off that asset to encourage economic development.

Wolf was the key player behind Santa Monica's master plan, which led to the development of its Institutional Network and CityNet, a fiber optic network for business connectivity. According to the article, Vallejo's master plan is expected late this fall. 

Last year, we highlighted a letter to the editor from resident Chris Platzer who suggested using Vallejo's ITS fiber network as the foundation to deploy a municipal network. A number of communities we study take advantage of fiber assets and conduit put in place as part of transportation control, including Martin County in Florida; Arlington, Virginia; and Aurora, Illinois. The Vallejo ITS includes approximately 11 miles of fiber and was built in the 1990s.

In March, city staff included the same idea as part of their recommendations. They also advised developing a joint trench ordinance and fiber upgrade policy, collaborating with nearby Benicia, and joining Next Century Cities. 

From the article:

According to staff, a joint trench ordinance would be essential in upgrading municipal infrastructure as it would allow the timing of installation of conduit to coincide with other underground construction.

Staff is also investigating the possibility of the city drafting a cooperative agreement with Benicia, to provide “better telecommunications service, faster implementation, lower costs ...”

Also on Thursday, the city announced that it has joined Next Century Cities.

Over 80 communities belong to Next Century Cities, an organization of local and regional leaders advancing fast, affordable, reliable Internet access. They provide support, resources, and collaboration to assist communities like Vallejo that want to exercise local control to improve connectivity.

From a city press release:

“Jory brings a wealth of unique experience to Vallejo in terms of how you build, operate and manage a municipal fiber network that will improve internet access and affordability, attract businesses and jobs, and generate revenue for the city,” said Mayor Osby Davis. “The City Council identified the development of a fiber network as a top priority in 2014 and 2015, and retaining Jory represents a significant step towards this goal.”

FCC Opens Spectrum; Creates Citizens Broadband Radio Service

On April 17th, FCC Commissioners voted unanimously to expand the use of spectrum previously reserved for U.S. Army and Navy radar systems. The FCC Report and Order creates the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) which establishes rules for shared use by licensed and unlicensed users.

This is a step forward to ensuring we are getting the most use out of the spectrum - by allowing different entities to share the spectrum when it is not being used in some geographic areas for the purpose it was originally allocated for. Milo Medin of Google explained this plan at Freedom to Connect - watch his presentation here.

According to the FCC Press Release [PDF], sharing will be managed with a three-tiered approach:

In addition to the protected incumbent tier, the Report and Order authorizes two commercial tiers of use in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The General Authorized Access tier, which allows any user with a certified device to operate without seeking any further Commission approval, will permit low-cost entry into the band, similar to unlicensed uses. A Priority Access tier will make geographically targeted, short-term priority rights to a portion of the band available through future spectrum auctions. One or more Spectrum Access Systems, operated by private commercial entities, will facilitate coexistence among the different user tiers.

Public Knowledge applauded the decision. Senior Vice President Harold Feld:

Today’s FCC’s actions lay the groundwork for changes in the very way we use wireless, allowing different levels of interference protection and network architecture that will make the wireless world of the future as radically different as the smartphone and the WiFi hotspot are from touchtone phones and the CB radios.

New America's Michael Calabrese, Director of New America's Wireless Future Project commended the FCC and pushed for more action:

"Today's bipartisan FCC vote to create a Citizens Broadband Service is a historic step that lays the foundation for spectrum sharing. While exclusive licensing will persist for many years, there is little left to be cleared for traditional auctions. There is, however, a potential spectrum superhighway of grossly underused federal and satellite spectrum that needs to be opened for low-power sharing by both unlicensed users and by priority access licensees who pay for interference protection. The Commission should move quickly to extend this new Citizens Broadband Service to other similar bands with immense fallow capacity, thereby ushering in a new era of wireless broadband abundance."

The Verge quoted FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:

"Since they don’t make spectrum anymore, and since spectrum is the pathway of the 21st century, we have to figure out how we’re going to live with a fixed amount," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during Friday's session. "Sharing is key to that." 

In order to address the problems and challenges that may arise as spectrum is shared between public and private users, the FCC Order also calls for a public comment period. 

Our hope is that this step forward begins to allow more unlicensed technologies that will build on the success of Wi-Fi - allowing residents, neighborhoods, communities, etc., to build high capacity wireless networks. Wi-Fi works well within the home but this spectrum could be used to create similar high capacity networks in neighborhoods.