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In Reedsburg, Expansion Weighed After Muni Fiber Success - Community Broadband Bits Episode 147

The first gigabit city in Wisconsin, Reedsburg, has a municipal fiber network operated by the city-owned electric utility. This week, we talk with General Manager of the Utility Commission, Brett Schuppner. Reedsburg fiber goes back to 2003, which makes it one of the oldest FTTH networks in the nation.

Located about an hour outside of Madison, Reedsburg has seen more investment from local industrial businesses because of its fiber network. They received a broadband stimulus award to expand their network into some surrounding rural areas and are now considering how they can continue expanding the network deeper into surround Sauk County without federal assistance.

We talk about what goes into these expansion discussions - what is the dynamic when one community has a great network and the County would like it to expand?

Read all of our Reedsburg coverage here.

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

This show is 13 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."

Longmonters Loving NextLight in Colorado

Longmont's NextLight municipal broadband service is surpassing projected take rates, reports the Longmont Compass. The business plan called for 34 percent but as LPC builds out the FTTH network, the first phase of the project has achieved 45 percent.

In response to the positive response, LPC will speed up completion of the project. From the Compass:

“Our schedule was already aggressive, but we’ve heard repeatedly that our community is eager to receive high-quality, high-speed broadband,” LPC general manager Tom Roiniotis said. “So we’re accelerating the deployment.”

LPC now plans to “close the circle” from two directions at once as it completes its citywide buildout, rather than move around Longmont in one counterclockwise sweep. That means the final phase of the build is now scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2016 instead of the first quarter of 2017.

As we reported last fall, gigabit symmetrical service for $50 is available for customers who sign up within three months of service availability in their area. That rate follows customers who move within Longmont and transferable to to the next home owner.

Chanute and Chattanooga Added to List of Rural Broadband Experiment Funds

A year ago, the FCC accepted applications from entities seeking Connect America funds for rural broadband experiments. After provisional awards and some eliminations, Chanute's FTTH project, Chattanooga's EPB, and a number of additional cooperatives are now on the list of provisional winners reports Telecompetitor.

According to the article, $27 million became available when 16 entities were eliminated for various reasons.

A recent Chanute Tribune article reports that the city's expected award will be approximately $508,000 if it passes the FCC's post-selection process. Mikel Kline, a consultant working closely with the city on its FTTH project told the Tribune:

It is Kline’s understanding that this $508,467 would be cost support for the city’s Fiber to the Home network over the next six years. It requires the city to become an eligible telecommunications carrier, and to finance and construct the fiber network.

This money can be used to pay operational costs or offset a portion of the debt on the city’s investment in the local infrastructure over the next six years.

Remember that Chanute has developed its fiber infrastructure incrementally over more than two decades. The community is moving ahead with its FTTH project to share the benefits of fiber with residents and more businesses after bringing better connectivity to schools, municipal facilities, and a growing number of businesses. 

Recently, the city applied for and received state approval to bond for deployment costs. A 1947 state law required the application be filed with the Kansas Corporation Commission, the state entity concerned with utility regulations. According to Kline, the city has also applied for eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) status. This designation will allow the city, as a common telecommunications carrier, to obtain Kansas Universal Services Funds.

Read more about their accomplishments in our 2013 case study. We also interviewed Larry Gates and J.D. Lester from Chanute about the network in episode 16 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Opportunities and Challenges as Lafayette Considers Muni Fiber Expansion - Community Broadband Bits Episode 144

After we heard that Lafayette's LUS Fiber was considering expanding to some nearby communities, we knew we had to set up an interview with Terry Huval, Director of the Lafayette Utilities System in Louisiana.

In our interview this week, Terry and I discuss Lafayette's success, the legacy of the law creating special barriers that only apply to cities building fiber networks, and the challenges of expanding LUS Fiber beyond the boundaries of the city.

We also discuss some plans they are developing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the referendum on July 16, 2005, in which a strong majority of voters authorized the building of what was then the largest municipal FTTH network in the nation.

Despite its success, Lafayette has been targeted by cable and telephone shills that are willing to say just about anything to defend the big corporate monopolies. We addressed these attacks in this Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies report.

Read the transcript from this interview here.

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

This show is 28 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."

Lafayette Considers Expansion, One Nearby Town Strikes Itself From List

We have long applauded communities that have built their own fiber networks and then elect to expand them to neighboring communities. In Louisiana for example, Lafayette could hoard its network, forcing people that want the best connectivity in the region to move within its borders. But instead, it is preparing to expand the network.

City-Parish President Joey Durel announced that the municipal network would begin expanding beyond Lafayette city limits. An article in The Advocate quoted Durel:

“As I have traveled this parish, one of the most common things I am asked is, ‘When will we get fiber?’ That answer depended in large part on making fiber successful in Lafayette. We’re there,” Durel told the crowd that filled the Cajundome Convention Center.

Durel noted that municipalities that make agreements with Lafayette based on future annexation will be considered if they are willing to pay for the cost of expansion in their communities. Youngsville is reported to be the first town be consider Lafayette's proposal for bringing better local residential and business connectivity.

Any expansion of municipal networks has to answer some of the same important questions of any partnerships - how to allocate risk and benefits. It doesn't seem appropriate for Lafayette to assume the full risk of expanding the network to Youngsville, for example. Those who receive the benefits should assume some risk, and those who assume risk should be compensated in some measure.

One community, Broussard, is balking. Apparently, the town of 6,800 people located just outside Lafayette city limits does not want to contribute to the cost of fiber in their community, reports The Advocate. Understanding these fights from afar is always challenging because neighboring communities have often developed animosity over decades from both real and imagined slights.

Broussard has taken a hard line:

“There is no way we are going to give LUS the money to extend their fiber lines in Broussard for them to profit off of our infrastructure and the business of our citizens,” Broussard Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Johnnie Foco said in a statement…

Seeing such strong statements, we are forced to recall the extremes Cox Cable has gone to in an effort to thwart potential competition in the past. We don't know the terms LUS is offering, though we hope to update our reporting on this in coming days. What we do know is that expanding the LUS Fiber network will require a significant capital cost and risk. If Broussard doesn't want to contribute it all, it should get used to its Cox monopoly. 

Small Illinois Town Will Vote On Fiber Investment in April

The Village of Gilberts, Illinois, will ask voters in April to authorize up to $5 million in General Obligation bonds to deploy a FTTH network reports the Daily Herald. GO bonds are rarely used for network deployment but often used for public works projects and other publicly owned assets. Due to the funding mechanism in Gilberts, the network would be publicly owned.

"It's something that is not readily available in other communities," Village Administrator Ray Keller said. "It would set us apart and put us on a path to better meet the needs of our residents and businesses as their demands and needs for technology grows."

The community, home to 6,800 people, has experienced rapid population growth since 2000. At that time only 1,200 people lived in this northeast Kane County village.

According to the article and January Board of Trustee minutes [PDF online], the bond issue would increase property taxes 1.8 percent on most tax bills. Properties with a market value of $250,000, which is most common in Gilberts, would pay an additional $150 per year or $12.50 per month to fund the infrastructure deployment. There are approximately 2,400 taxable properties in Gilbert today but as more properties are built, each property owner's share would decrease. 

This is the second time the village has planned for a fiber network to improve connectivity throughout the community. In 2013, Gilberts entered into an agreement with i3, a British company that eventually folded, to deploy fiber using sewers as conduit. In that plan, i3 would have owned the fiber network.

Developer Troy Mertz is spearheading the project. His company is investing in a new housing development that will eventually include an additional 985 new homes. As part of that development and independent of the municipal fiber project, Mertz is installing fiber to each structure at his own expense. His company, iFiber Networks will also run fiber to nearby municipal and public safety buildings and the Gilberts Elementary School. According to the Daily Herald, iFiber is not charging the city for bringing fiber to its facilities or the school.

Mertz said it's hard to quantify how much additional money he's spending on granting access to village buildings and the elementary school, but it's something he's doing because it will benefit everyone, he said.

"It's a mutual success type of thing," he said. "I hope that by bringing these services into the village, it benefits not just my community but the community as a whole."

The housing development, called The Conservancy, was originally conceived prior to 2007 but the original developer filed for bankruptcy before the project could get off the ground. There is already some street infrastructure in place and the proximity to the elementary school makes the location attractive, says Mertz. Adding fiber to the new homes will make them more attractive and, according to a 2014 FTTH Council study, increases the value of propoerties up to $5,000.

In order to reduce the cost of the deployment, the Gilberts network will piggyback the iFiber network along the iFiber route.

Using GO Bonds will keep the interest rate down because the community pledges its full faith and credit to pay back the investors, resulting in very little risk. A benefit of tying the bonds to property taxes is that the investment increases the property value. Thus, if a homeowner moves out of town, the cost of paying back the bonds stick with the property that was improved with the network, not the homeowner him or herself. 

On the other hand, incumbent cable companies will often argue that this allows local governments to borrow at lower cost than the private sector providers can. Whether or not this is even true is hard to say give the incredible cash flow of these de facto monopolies that raise prices on an annual basis. Additionally, the benefits of having built the original cable networks as part of a government sanctioned monopoly are hard to quantify, so there is little reason to suggest that using GO bonds is actually unfair when compared to the many advantages of entrenched incumbent providers.

The referendum is set for April 7th.

Waverly: The Next Gigabit Community in Iowa

Remember Waverly, Iowa? We introduced you to the town of 10,000 back in 2013 when they revived the community choice to develop a telecommunications utility. Recently in February, the Waverly Light and Power Board of Trustees approved a long awaited gigabit project reported American Public Power.

According to a WLP press release, the $12 million project will be financed with revenue bonds which have already been secured. As we note in our Financing Municipal Networks fact sheet [PDF], this is one of the most common ways of funding deployment. Revenue from subscribers pays the private investors that buy the bonds used to finance the deployment.

Construction is scheduled to begin in May and WLP expects to begin serving customers in 2016. WLP serves approximately 4,800 customers in town and in the rural areas around Waverly. Early plans include incentives for early sign-ups such as a free first month of service and a reduced installation fee. The fiber network will also be used for smart metering.

From the WLP press release:

“It may have taken 15 years of planning and hard work to finally come together, but knowing what’s to come, it’s worth the wait,” explains Ael Suhr, Waverly Light and Power Chairman of the Board. “This approval opens the door for new alternatives for high-speed internet, cable and phone services in Waverly for both residents and businesses.”

International Media Covering NextLight Strides in Longmont

Longmont's NextLight is well known in the municipal networks space; now other media markets are starting to notice the most recent network in the Centennial State. CCTV America profiled the network recently, highlighting its importance to local businesses.

CCTV spoke with a local tech business owner who had recently connected to the municipal network:

Jon Rice is a web developer for whom a reliable computer connection is critical.

“Our entire business is basically predicated on having fast, easy access to the Internet,” Rice said.

Like many other modern households, Rice describes how their home hosts multiple devices. NextLight's $50 per month gigabit tier is a necessity for both his residential and business needs.

"It's a no brainer for us; the faster the better," says Rice in the video.

Demand is high in Longmont, where the community chose last fall to bond in order to speed up FTTH deployment. In a USAToday article from last November, Tom Roiniotis, Manager of Longmont Power and Communications, described how the utility was struggling to keep up with the requests for service:

"It's a good problem to have, scrambling to keep up with demand," Roiniotis said. "This is something we're doing locally and it's a big source of community pride. The money stays locally and if you have a problem you can just drive 2 or 3 miles down the road and come talk to us. People realize it's just as important ... as reliable energy and clean water." 

Thanks to Jon Rice at the Longmont Compass who alerted us to this video and the story:

Video: 
See video

Co-Mo Cooperative: Bringing Some of the Fastest Speeds in the Nation to Rural Missouri

Co-Mo Cooperative and the Co-Mo Connect Board of Directors recently voted to proceed with the final phases of its gigabit FTTH project. The decision assures the plan to bring to triple-play to all Co-Mo members by the end of 2016.

We checked in on Co-Mo about a year ago, when the cooperative announced it would increase speeds without increasing prices for both residential and business members. Residential fiber Internet service ranges from $39.95 per month for 5 Mbps to $99.95 per month for gigabit service; all speeds are symmetrical.

Triple-play service extends beyond the electric service territory. During the first phase of the project, the city of California (pop. 4,200) opened up city poles for Co-Mo in space that was previously used by a cable company that no longer operated in the area. The project then expanded to Tipton (pop. 3,200) and Versailles (pop. 2,500). In a story on the expansion on the Co-Mo website, General Manager Randy Klindt said:

“We’re creating this wide swath of the most advanced communications network in the country right here in rural Missouri. Part of the cooperative’s mission statement is to improve our communities, and these city projects definitely qualify. It is important the everyone in our region has access to broadband because the economic health of our cooperative members and our local towns are intertwined.”  

...

“Despite what other telecommunication companies say, it’s not only doable, but it’s happened. The broadband speeds we deliver are 100 times what the FCC now determines to be broadband in rural areas,” Klindt said.

Ookla recognized Tipton as the community with the fastest Internet speeds in Missouri in 2014 with and average of 88.86 Mbps for those who ran speed tests on the network reported Lake Expo.com. Co-Mo Connect was also ranked 18th in the U.S. of fastest ISPs with at least 100 speed tests run from subscribers.

“Our little piece of rural America is 18th fastest in the entire nation,” said Randy Klindt, general manager for Co-Mo Connect. “Just stop and think about that for a second.”

This past December Co-Mo Connect enabled a Watch TV Everywhere feature, which allows member to use devices other than TV sets to watch programming. The cooperative does not charge for the feature, but warns subscribers to be mindful of cellphone carrier's data caps and roaming charges.

Co-Mo has also recently launched a new tool using the network to help members monitor and reduce their energy consumption. SmartHub was developed by Co-Mo's technology partner, the National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC). In addition to paying their bill, members can report outages and view a consumption history. The cooperative has posted a series of SmartHub instructional videos on YouTube.

The remaining phases of the project will allow Co-Mo Cooperative to bring better connectivity to a greater number of households and businesses in central Missouri. The plan will also ensure the financial success of the investment. From the Lake Expo.com article:

“What we’re trying to prevent from happening is the reverse of what happened when investor-owned electricity providers came through in the early 1900s and cherry-picked the profitable cities and left the rural areas without electricity,” said Ken Johnson, Co-Mo Connect’s president the CEO/general of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative. “We didn’t want to see all the outlying areas with this amazing communications network but have holes in the middle with the cities that got left behind.”

The city projects also are providing an additional revenue stream that wasn’t expected when the business plan was developed. That revenue comes with comparably less expense because of the larger number of potential subscribers per mile of fiber.

“That revenue is going to make the entire project more likely to succeed, all the way to the very end of Co-Mo Electric’s lines where there are very few potential subscribers per mile,” Klindt said.

So far, customers have had nothing but rave reviews:

“I love that I am saving money, first of all, and then really loving that we don't lose our signal, whether it be the TV or the Internet, when it rains,” said subscriber Diana Davis.

Added Peggy Liebi: “I love it. I’ve never had HD or a DVR before. I didn't lose signal during the really bad storms, not even once.”

We interviewed Klindt for the Community Broadband Bits podcast. At the time, he estimated members were saving over $1.5 million per year; he has since revisited the calculations and discovered members are saving even more. With 16,000 subscribers saving approximately $20 per month, members are saving around $4 million annually. The service has proved so popular, other cooperatives have approached Co-Mo for information on their decision to invest in the fiber network.

Co-Mo Cooperative has produced a number of creative videos and posted them on their YouTube channel. Below is their video, the Road to Rural Broadband:

Opelika Speaks From Experience: Support Local Authority!

Opelika has offered FTTH to residents and businesses for less than six months but already it is singing the praises of local choice. Mayor Gary Fuller is now speaking out in an opinion piece in AL.com, encouraging the FCC to allow Wilson, Chattanooga, and other communities to have the same opportunity as Opelika.

Mayor Fuller points out that local telecommunications authority is an organic outgrowth of local self-reliance:

Cities have always been at the heart of economic expansion, entrepreneurialism, and local connection to citizens, charged with ensuring high-quality education for our children, caring for our sick and elderly neighbors, and laying the foundation for shared prosperity. As we look to the years ahead, high-speed broadband will only become more and more important to the quality and vitality of our community. 

That's why in Opelika, I led the charge to become the first city in Alabama to offer this cutting edge technology, both to residential and business customers. As a result, Opelika citizens now have access to fast, reliable broadband speeds that will turn possibilities into real opportunities. Businesses now have more opportunities to expand and grow, work more effectively and efficiently, and compete in a larger market. 

As one of over 450 communities that have invested in the infrastructure for better connectivity, Opelika can speak from experience. Mayor Fuller encourages all FCC Commissioners to support the notion of local choice:

The important fact is that every city must have the power to make the best decisions for their residents, free of interference. That's why the Federal Communications Commission should join Chairman Wheeler in preserving these two communities' right to self-determination. 

In Opelika, our citizens are building a stronger more prosperous city based on local Internet choice. If more cities have those same opportunities, someday soon it may not be so strange for a 30,000-person city to offer blazing fast Internet.

Check out Opelika's recent marketing videos and listen to Chris interview Mayor Fuller back in Episode #40 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.