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Owensboro Residents Flying High On Fiber Pilot

Last fall, Owensboro, Kentucky, began constructing its pilot program to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to a limited number of residents. Construction is complete and now the municipal utility is serving subscribers, much to the delight of folks in the city's Town & County neighborhood. There are 570 households and approximately 1,500 people living in the pilot area.

As of late January, 80 households had signed up for service with 15 now being served at a rated of about eight installations completed every week. Chris Poynter, superintendent of Owensboro Municipal Utilities (OMU) telecommunications division reported to the Board that feedback has been positive and that customers have been "…very happy with their speeds and the installation process."

All speeds are symmetrical - just as fast on the upload as the download - and there is a $49.99 installation fee. OMU offers three tiers: 

  • 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.99
  • 100 Mbps for $69.99
  • 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $99.99

OMU installed fiber thought the city in 1997 and two years later began offering high-speed Internet access and other telecommunications services to local businesses. OMU's goal is to serve a minimum of 20 percent of the households in the pilot area and if all goes well, the community will consider a city-wide project. 

Home to about 58,000, Owensboro sits across the river from Ohio. The city is the county seat and center of a metropolitan area of about 116,000 people. OMU also offers electricity and water services.

Speeds Up, Prices Steady (or Down!) With EC Fiber

The East-Central Vermont Community Fiber-Optic Network (EC Fiber) recently announced plans to increase speeds across tiers with no increase in prices.

Changes will look like this:

  • "Basic" will increase from 7 to 10 Megabits per second (Mbps)
  • "Standard" will increase from 20 to 25 Mbps
  • "Ultra" will double from 50 to 100
  • The new "Wicked" plan will increase from 100 to 500 AND will include a price decrease. (Current subscribers to the Wicked tier who pay for 400 Mbps will also get the bump up to 500 Mbps and the price decrease.)

All speeds from EC Fiber are symmetrical so both download and upload are equally fast.

Self-Funded at the Start

Twenty-four communities in Vermont make up the consortium which began in 2009. The towns joined forces to deploy a regional Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network when large corporate incumbent providers chose to invest elsewhere. Slow DSL was the best option in the area and local residents, businesses, and local institutions needed better connectivity.

Individual investors funded the initial network buildout but last year a new Vermont law took affect that allows towns to create "communications union districts." EC Fiber now functions under such a governance structure and organization officials expect to more easily attract larger investors and borrow at lower interest rates. EC Fiber hopes to answer requests to expand beyond its 24 member towns.

Characteristic Altruism

Increasing speeds with little or no rate increases is typical of publicly owned network communities. Tullahoma's LightTUBe, Chattanooga's EPB Fiber, and Lafayette's LUS Fiber have done it, often with little or no fanfare.

Publicly owned networks are also known to shun data caps, another tool big players like Comcast use to squeeze every penny out of subscribers. EC Fiber summed up why data caps are inconsistent with the publicly owned network philosophy:

An uncapped internet environment encourages entrepreneurs and economic growth. Despite the trend toward instituting data caps among commercial internet providers, ECFiber believes that caps are inconsistent with its mission as a community network. An unconstrained online environment frees businesses and individuals to be creative and innovative.

Fiber-to-the-Home May Be the Cherry on Top in Traverse City

In Traverse City, Michigan, big plans are underway. The local electric utility is considering constructing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for next-generation high-speed Internet access.

About 10,000 people call the "Cherry Capital of the World" home. The area primarily relies on tourism and high-speed Internet access can help diversify the local economy. At the moment, Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) is holding planning meetings with community stakeholders to discuss how to build a network to meet the needs of the community.

An Opportunity for Connectivity

The city has been mulling over the possibility of general connectivity for a while - especially citywide Wi-Fi. In 2007, TCLP had just finished installing fiber optic cables to connect electrical substations. They leased some lines to large nonprofit institutions, such as school systems and health facilities, but they still had spare capacity. TCLP realized that they had the potential to expand to residents.

They partnered with the Downtown Development Authority to create a downtown Wi-Fi zone in 2014. The zone automated parking meters and connected tourists, but the Wi-Fi's technological limitations, such as signal strength, soon became apparent. TCLP concluded that citywide Wi-Fi would not be the best option for Traverse City.

Now community leaders are considering using existing fiber, which is already planted throughout the community. TCLP, city and county officials, and other stakeholders have discussed how to develop fiber assets for a FTTH network. The city has several options: a phased approach (connecting the city section by section), a pre-subscriber approach (connecting neighborhoods where people pre-subscribe in great number), an incremental build (slow and steady), or an immediate citywide build (all at once). They also still have to figure out exactly how to cover the costs. 

Economic Development and Community Vitality

Lack of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity drives the discussion. Charter offers cable service and CenturyLink DSL is available in limited areas but both are offered over aging infrastructure. Big corporations, such as AT&T and Time Warner Cable are announcing speed upgrades in large cities throughout the country, but have no plans to invest in Traverse City.

TCLP Technical Director Scott Menhart explained in our interview that Traverse City cannot wait another 10 or 15 years for the private sector to "maybe" invest in their home town. Traverse City needs the network now to ensure the growth of the community. 

Menhart described northern Michigan as a great place for data centers if they could only solve the problem of reliable connectivity. A fiber network should do just that, and FTTH could make the community an even better place to live and work. For instance, a FTTH Council study links FTTH to increases in home values. Community life is the focus for Menhart:

 “It’s why I got into the government sector - to improve the city that I grew to love.”

St. Louis Park And Developers Ready The Wires

Community leaders in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, are taking advantage of growth in apartment and condominium developments to "till the soil" for better residential connectivity. One of the smartest things a community can do to improve connectivity is prepare an environment that encourages high-speed connectivity infrastructure investment. As developers erect new buildings, the city is working with them to develop internal wiring standards and conduit installation standards for high-quality Internet access within and to their buildings.

Developers Understand The Value

The city of approximately 45,000, located immediately west of Minneapolis has not adopted any formal building code language, but has negotiated broadband readiness specifications with several new multi-dwelling unit building developers. Savvy developers realize that high-speed connectivity is now a basic utility that tenants demand.

Loma Linda, California, implemented a similar approach when it passed an ordinance concerning wiring codes for its Connected Communities Program in 2004. New development and remodels that involve more than 50 percent of the structure must include internal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) wiring. Developers, recognizing the increase in value of properties wired for FTTH, have embraced the practice.

A Goal to Better the Community

The effort is St. Louis Park's intention to turn the city into a "technology connected community," and is part of St. Louis Park City Council Goals & Priorities. The city and the developer begin with basic language and the parties make changes to accommodate the unique needs of each development:

Broadband Readiness

Redeveloper shall install at its cost dedicated wired connections from each building’s telecommunications point of presence to each internal wiring closet, thence to each living and working unit. Each living and working unit shall have a minimum of two (2) connections, each capable of supporting at minimum a one-gigabit connection.

To provide for future high-speed broadband service, the Redeveloper shall install at its cost one empty 2-inch conduit from within a new or existing handhole in proximity to its existing telecommunications services, typically in public Right-of-Way, (Point A) to a point of presence within each building in proximity to its existing telecommunications services (Point B). Alternatively, the developer shall provide an easement to the City of St. Louis Park that can accommodate said 2-inch conduit from Point A to Point B, inclusive of related telecommunications facilities at each point.

The city has not formally adopted Broadband Readiness as part of its building code but is leaning toward such an approach. The City Council is interested in exploring language for an ordinance or city code addressing broadband readiness and hopes to make significant progress in 2016.

Local Media Loves Opelika Gigabit Fiber Network

We love when community networks are celebrated for their accomplishments and potential. Opelika, Alabama, started to build a network in 2010, and now local news proudly showcases the community as a Gig City.

The Fiber-to-the-Home network in Opelika turned out to be a great investment for the community. After five years of work and $43 million, the network now boasts 3,000 customers. With such incredible high-speed Internet access, Opelika hopes to attract new businesses and encourage young people to stay. For more of the history of the network, check out our interview with Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller in Episode 40 of Broadband Bits.

Local News Celebrates Opelika’s Network

Hanover, New Hampshire, Taps New State Law for Network

The town of Hanover, New Hampshire (pop. 11,500), is considering building its own municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network following the enactment of a new state law that makes it easier for communities to take on such projects.

Under the new state law (Chapter 240, HB486-Final Version), New Hampshire towns and cities can now establish special assessment districts to finance telecommunications infrastructure, expanding a long-standing statute. Specifically, the law now includes “communication infrastructure” as among the types of “public facilities” for which a special assessment district can be formed.

Under the expanded law, communities can finance fiber optic networks by billing individuals who reside within the district for a prorated share of the cost of installing that communication infrastructure.

Prospects for Fiber Raised

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin told our Chris Mitchell in a recent podcast of Community Broadband Bits:

“For the first time I think there is a role here for a municipal entity to help ensure that fiber is installed and that homeowners and businesses have an opportunity to connect to that network."

...

“Prior to this we've been able to create districts for water and sewer and sidewalks and street lights and even for downtown maintenance; but never for communication infrastructure. Nor has the statutes that have been on the books for years, been as expansive as this one is in terms of laying out just how we make these assessment districts work.”

Since New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the special assessment districts measure into law last July, Hanover has started looking into building a municipal network. It is in the process of finalizing a contract with Wide Open Networks to perform the cost analysis and system network design.

Hanover Explores Building Fiber Network 

“We will likely have a completed design by late March at the latest,” Griffin told us. “We have asked them (Wide Open Networks) to develop cost estimates, recommend options of undergrounding the fiber and develop an implementation plan.”

Griffin adds:

“Ideally, Hanover employees would do all of the ditching and conduit installation which will save us the labor costs and avoid the pole attachment fiascos that tend to dominate the New Hampshire landscape.  We would then contract with FastRoads to install the fiber and property connections.  We could, potentially, coordinate with the town to our north, Lyme, New Hampshire.”

New Hampshire FastRoads, of which Hanover is a participating community, is a collaboration of the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, the Monadnock Economic Development Corp., the 34 towns of the Monadnock region, and WCNH.net, the eight towns of the Upper Valley–Lake Sunapee region. Its goal is to help ensure that the businesses, institutions, and residents of the region have the right infrastructure to support jobs and sustainable economic development, including fast, affordable, reliable telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas. Griffin told us that Hanover envisions its fiber optic network would be open access

“We're really looking for how we can do this feasibly, economically for our residents in terms of making it as affordable as possible, but also streamlining the process by doing it ourselves in our own right of way. I'm looking forward to creating a working model that we hope other New Hampshire communities are going to be able to take hold of and run with it.”

New Law Long Time Coming 

Griffin, a member of the FastRoads board, says she was among people in New Hampshire who has been pushing for a change in state law for more than the past 10 years.

“We hear from our residents how important it is that they have robust Internet access, and, yet, as a municipality we're not enabled to invest in helping to bring that infrastructure to our region.” 

The new state law is a significant change for New Hampshire communities since the local governments have been very limited in how they can use public financing to invest in Internet networks. Though New Hampshire does not have any explicit barriers against publicly owned networks, the state has not authorized local governments to bond for them, which has limited local communities’ ability ensure high quality Internet access.

Griffin noted New Hampshire has technically allowed bonding under a statute that's been on the books for years:

“But it’s so impossible to implement because the telecommunication companies essentially made sure that it's ground rules are so onerous that it's virtually impossible for any municipality to take advantage of it."

Hanover borders Vermont. Although largely a rural community, the town is also home to Dartmouth College, a regional medical center, and numerous restaurants, shopping, and theater that make it an attractive draw for visitors and tourists.

Currently, about 50 percent of Hanover residents have Comcast or Fairpoint DSL, Griffin says, noting, “Both are OK but still have their limitations in today’s  streaming world.”

Meanwhile, the remaining 50 percent of town residents have no “high speed Internet service other than satellite which is expensive and really unreliable,” Griffin notes. “Many in-town customers would like faster Internet speeds while our outlying rural residents would settle for just about anything.”

Griffin explains, “We’re a community that is very heavily dependent on the Internet.”

Rural Kansas Cooperative Continues Fiber Network Expansion

In July, the Columbus Telephone Company (CTC), a cooperative in rural Cherokee County, Kansas, announced plans to expand its fiber-to-the-home network to the nearby city of Pittsburg. 

When CTC built the fiber network in 2004, it was the first 100% fiber-optic network in the state. This expansion marks the first time the coop has expanded outside Cherokee County, located in the southeast corner of the Sunflower State. 

New Branding for New Expansion

Last year, CTC announced the creation of Optic Communications, a new brand the company started to expand beyond their original footprint. The news of the expansion to Pittsburg comes after the network’s first expansion project last year. They built a fiber-optic ring that now links together Cherokee County’s three major cities: Columbus, Galena, and Baxter Springs. The coop has also acquired Parcom, LLC, the leading Verizon retailer in the region.

Subscription Details

Residential rates for stand alone Internet access from Optic Communications are $40 for 10 Megabits per second (Mbps), $50 for 20 Mbps, $65 for 50 Mbps, and $90 for 100 Mbps. All speeds are the same for both upload and download. Gigabit service is also available but rates determined on a case-by-case basis. Optic also offers customized bundles including subscription options for any combination of Internet access, phone, and cable TV service. 

Rates for the different bundled packages vary based on the number of cable TV channels the customer wants, access to DVR and HD capability, and which tier of phone service. The network also offers designated Internet access and phone rates for business customers.

A Long History of Innovation

The people in this rural community have a long legacy of telecommunications innovation. In 1905, a group of Columbus-based farmers started the CTC coop to bring telephone service to their rural homes. Throughout the 20th century, CTC provided phone service to people living within the 2.4 square mile serving area within the City of Columbus.

Now, over 100 years later, CTC continues to innovate and expand its publicly owned fiber-optic network, bringing fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to the people of rural Cherokee County and beyond.

Grassroots Springing Up In Holyoke, Massachusetts

For years, the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts, has built up a treasure trove of fiber that the municipal buildings [and some businesses] use to connect to the Internet. Now, some residents want to share in the bounty. The newly-formed Holyoke Fiber Optic Group plans to drum up grassroot support for a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project to bring high-speed Internet to the 40,000 residents of Holyoke. 

The group recently spoke with members of the city utility and are now on their way to the mayor's office in an effort to bring better connectivity to the city. The meeting with the mayor's office is scheduled for next Tuesday. The Holyoke Fiber Optic Group aims to form an exploratory committee of community stakeholders to dive into the possibility of a FTTH project.

Grassroots Effort

The group formed in November of 2015 and hosted its first meeting in early December. Members highlighted their frustration with the lack of access to high-speed Internet and pointed to the April 1999 Master Plan for the city. It specifically stated the need to capitalize on the fiber available.

Organizers maintain a Facebook group to discuss the issue in Holyoke and the latest developments in high-speed Internet. They call for an open access network to encourage competition and enable residents to pick their own service provider. The group now has over 200 members.

The group recently spoke with the manager of the city utility, Holyoke Gas & Electric. It maintains the fiber and provides telecommunication services to municipal buildings and other nearby towns. The city utility’s efforts to better connect communities was highlighted in a recent report from the Berkman Center (for more info check out our podcast interview with [David Talbot], a Fellow at the Berkman Center). On January 4th, the Holyoke Gas & Electric manager unexpectedly attended the group's meeting and explained how the city utility is continually considering this idea.

An Often Considered Possibility

Holyoke Gas & Electric has been contemplating the idea of a FTTH project for quite sometime. In our Community Broadband Bits podcast from 2013, Chris discussed the possibility with Senior Network Engineer Tim Haas:

"That's something that we have looked at for a long time here, Chris.  We've looked extensively at it for the past ten years, three different times -- probably every three years -- in depth.  And what the cost structure would be.  And it's one of those things where if we're going to deliver a service like that, to residences, it's -- well, we really have to deliver it to everyone.  And we've struggled with the return on investment of delivering fiber-to-the-home, and how we manage those services being delivered to the customer."

The Holyoke Fiber Optic Group, however, thinks that it’s now the right time to pursue FTTH. An organizer, Peter Palombella, explained in an email Wednesday to MassLive

“The Holyoke Fiber Optic group feels the city is ready to start exploring this issue and we hope to meet with Jim Lavelle [Holyoke Gas & Electric Manager] sometime in January to discuss forming an exploratory committee. … Not a full broadband committee with the power of a city agency, but a committee to explore the issue, in stages, with members from different stakeholder groups in the city."

Back in 2013, Senior Network Engineer Haas did say that Holyoke Gas & Electric has considered expanding to FTTH just about every three years. If the Holyoke Fiber Optic Group is right, perhaps 2016 will be the year for fiber to come to the homes of Holyoke.

Local Governments and Internet Access Debate - Community Broadband Bits Episode 185

For this week's Community Broadband Bits podcast, we are trying a discussion/debate format between myself, Christopher Mitchell, and Ryan Radia, Associate Director of Technology Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. We have debated previously and prefer a style of seeking to flesh out the argument rather than merely trying to win it.

We start by discussing the role of incumbents in limiting competition and what might be done about it. Next we move to bandwidth caps. On both of those points, we have pretty significant disagreement.

We finish by discussing the role of conduit and poles, where we have some agreement. If you like this show, please do let us know and we'll try to have more in this style.

The transcript from this episode is available here.

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

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Reedsburg Utility Commission Receives State Grant for Expansion

In April 2015, Wisconsin's Brett Schuppner from the Reedsburg Utility Commission (RUC) had a conversation with Chris about the utility's plan to expand the municipal fiber network. Funding is one of the biggest challenges but in December, the RUC learned that it a state grant will help move those plans forward.

WisNews recently reported that the RUC applied for $110,000 to bring the triple-play fiber network to Buckhorn Lake in Sauk County. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission announced on December 11th that the RUC will instead receive $69,300 which will allow the network to extend to an additional 105 homes and 40 properties. From the article:

Schuppner said an informal survey of members of the Buckhorn Property Owners’ Association suggests the utility commission will likely recover its out-of-pocket costs for the project not covered by the grant of about $40,000 from new users in the first year.

RUC began serving the community in 2003, expanding in 2011, and offering gigabit service in 2014. The community is located about 55 miles northwest of Madison and home to approximately 10,000 people.

Ten other entities across the state also received grants. RUC anticipates construction to begin on this expansion early this year.