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Rural Rio Blanco County Builds Open Access Fiber, Wireless - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 158

Rio Blanco County is a large, rural county in northwestern Colorado that has two population centers. The county has a sharp plan for building FTTH to the population centers and wireless across most of the county to improve Internet access in a region the national carriers have little interest in.

In this week's episode, we interview county IT Director Blake Mobley, who has long been involved in improving Internet access for community anchor institutions in the area. We talk about their plan and how they are financing it (enabled in part by the Department of Local Affairs in Colorado - which has helped many community networks).

We also discuss many other aspects of what it takes to create a project like this -- including building trust among local stakeholders -- and their particular open access approach and terminology for the different layers in the stack of entities involved.

Finally, Blake tells us what they believe has to happen for the project to be successful. Read their vision statement here. Read our full coverage of Rio Blanco County stories here.

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

This show is 23 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."

Last-Mile FTTH Via Nonprofit Networks in New York State

Western New York residents are welcoming the presence of a new Internet service provider, Empire Access, competing directly with Time Warner Cable and Verizon. Besides satisfied customers, no data caps, and no usage-based billing, Empire is different from the incumbents in another way - it uses nonprofit network infrastructure to deliver services.

StopTheCap writes that Empire Access utilizes the Southern Tier Network (STN) to connect to communities in Steuben, Chemung, and Schuyler Counties in its southern service area. STN's 235-mile backbone was deployed when fiber-optic manufacturer Corning contributed $10 million to build the network and the three counties contributed the remaining $2.2 million. Construction on the open access network was finished in the spring of 2014.

Axcess Ontario provides the fiber route in the northern region of the Empire Access service area. The network is also a non-profit model and similarly developed to serve business, community anchor institutions, and ISPs. The organization began 10 years ago with the establishment of the nonprofit. The Ontario County Office of Economic Development /Industrial Development Agency provided startup costs to deploy the $7.5 million middle-mile open access dark fiber network. Axcess Ontario is also over 200 miles long. 

For now, the locally-owned company that began in 1896 with one telephone and grew from there, is taking a different approach then its much larger competitors. From StopTheCap:

Empire targets compact villages with a relatively affluent populations where no other fiber overbuilder is providing service. It doesn’t follow Google’s “fiberhood” approach where neighborhoods compete to be wired. Instead, it provides service across an entire village and then gradually expands to nearby towns from there.

In some towns, where Empire has a franchise agreement, it offers cable TV in addition to Internet access. Empire customers have access to gigabit FTTH service as of March, when the company officially began the offering in Naples:

Village of Naples Mayor Brian Schenk says the service will be a game-changer for the community's economy.

"We are thrilled to see 1 Gigabit service and fiber-to-the-home launch in Naples," he said. 

"Those of us who live here and work here cherish our beautiful, Finger Lakes community. Now, with 1 Gigabit and fiber to the home, more people and more businesses can invest in Naples and experience it for themselves."

Middle-mile networks like Axcess Ontario and STN have rarely evolved thus far into tools that facilitate last-mile connectivity. Nevertheless, this is a sign that with the right partners, it can happen:

With the new agreement with Empire Access, the fiber ring's ultimate goal of providing fiber-to-the-home service has now been achieved, said Ed Hemminger, one of the original founders of the fiber ring and Axcess Ontario's first CEO.

"Ten years ago, we had a dream of one day having 1 Gigabit and fiber-to-the-home service in Ontario County," he said. "Today, that dream has come true. And we didn't need Google to do it — we did it ourselves."

KC Fiber Innovates in North Kansas City - Community Broadband Bits Episode 157

Every now and then, we stumble across something, read it twice, and then decide we need to verify it. In North Kansas City, a municipal fiber network operating in partnership with KC Fiber, is delivering a gig to residents at no ongoing charge after a reasonable one-time fee.

To get the story, our interview this week for Community Broadband Bits is with Brooks Brown, Managing Partner of KC Fiber. KC Fiber is now running the North Kansas City municipal fiber network, liNKCity.

The network delivers a free gigabit to the schools and after a one-time fee of $50-$300 (depending on desired connection capacity) residents can get a high quality fiber Internet connection with no additional charges for 10 years.

KC Fiber is not your ordinary ISP, coming from the data center world where it does business as Data Shack. We discuss how this background makes it easier for KC Fiber to offer the gigabit at no ongoing cost in our interview.

Read the rest of our coverage of North Kansas City.

Read the transcript from our conversation here.

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

This show is 16 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."

Municipal Networks and Economic Development

Economic Development and Community Networks

When a community invests in a municipal broadband network, it often does so because it hopes to reap economic benefits from the network. Much has been written about the positive relationship between municipal Internet networks and economic development, including a White House report published in January 2015. Municipal networks create jobs by serving existing businesses and attracting new businesses to local communities, increase productivity by allowing individuals to telecommute and work from home, support advanced healthcare and security systems, strengthen local housing markets, and represent long term social investments in the form of better-connected schools and libraries. They also create millions of dollars in savings that can be reinvested into local communities. 

When municipalities choose to deploy fiber networks, they introduce Internet services into the community that are not only significantly faster than Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and cable, but more reliable. With fiber connections, businesses and individuals are far less likely to experience temporary blackouts that can harm their ability to provide services to customers. And because these networks are locally-owned and operated, business owners do not have to spend hours on the phone with an absentee Internet Service Provider like AT&T in the (albeit unlikely) event of a problem. 

Community Broadband Networks and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have catalogued numerous examples of economic development achievements that have occurred as a result of cities and counties deploying a municipal broadband network. Below, you can find a wide range of articles, studies, blog posts, and other resources that speak to the economic successes enabled by municipal networks, organized by topic:

* Job Creation

* Attraction of New Businesses

* Expansion of Existing Businesses

* Home-based Productivity 

* Healthcare, Education, and Research

* High Tech Industries and Entrepreneurship

* Savings 

* Property Values 

* General Resources

Chanute's FTTH Project on Hold Indefinitely

Changes in leadership in Chanute have put the community's FTTH plan in suspended animation. In April, the City Commission decided to delay financing shortly before the scheduled bond sale. It is unfortunate that residents and businesses will lose the opportunities the fiber deployment would bring. Nevertheless, they deserve the right to make their own choices, good or bad.

The community of Chanute deployed a network incrementally with no borrowing or bonding in order to improve efficiencies, save public dollars, and control connectivity for municipal facilities. Local schools and colleges, struggling to compete, began taking advantage of technology in the classroom and expanded distance learning. The network eventually created a number of economic development opportunities when community leaders started providing better connectivity to local businesses. We told Chanute's story in our 2013 report "Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage." 

Chanute made history when it was the first municipality in Kansas to obtain permission from the Kansas Corporation Commission to issue bonds for the project. They also became the first municipality in the state to seek and receive "eligible telecommunications carrier" (ETC) status. Chanute was awarded over $500,000 in Rural Broadband Experiment Funds from the FCC. Whether or not they will still be able to take advantage of those funds remains a question. After taking action and putting so many of the necessary pieces in place, it is disheartening to see the plan abandoned by politicians.

Regardless of the future of the FTTH project, Chanute has the infrastructure in place to encourage more economic development, connect community anchor institutions, and allow the community to control its own costs. The FTTH project is still a possibility.

You can learn about the origins of Chanute's network in episode #16 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Longmont's NextLight Video: A Brief Look at the Network and the Community

When we talk to municipal network leaders about lessons learned, they often tell us that marketing is an area where they feel a particularly vulnerability. Whenever we see a great piece of marketing from a municipal network, we like to share it.

When Longmont rebranded its FTTH network under the name NextLight, they released this awesome video. Check it out!

Video: 
See video

Alabama Republican Speaks Out in Favor of Local Authority

As we have learned, communities with municipal networks have tended to be politically conservative. Nevertheless, conservative state level politicians have often supported measures to revoke local authority to encourage local Internet choice. Recently, Alabama State Senator Tom Whatley, a Republican from Auburn, expressed his support for local authority in AL.com.

Whatley introduced SB 438, which would remove service area restrictions on municipal providers and remove the currently restriction preventing other municipalities from providing voice, video, or Internet access services. As he notes in his opinion piece, the bill did not move beyond the Transportation and Energy Committee, but he also asserts that he will be back next year to press for the measure. 

Auburn is near Opelika where the community has deployed a FTTH network to serve residents and spur economic development. If the restrictions are eliminated, Opelika could expand to Auburn and even other rural areas nearby.

Whatley makes comparisons to the strides America made with the national interstate system. He also acknowledges the way Chattanooga's network has transformed what was once described as the "dirtiest city in America." Whatley takes the same approach we encounter from many communities where, after failed attempts to entice private providers to serve their citizenry, eventually decided to take on the task themselves.

He writes:

As a Republican, I believe the private sector is usually the best and most efficient method for providing a service. But when private companies, for whatever reason, make a decision not to serve an area, we should not handcuff the people of that region if they decide to use a public entity to receive that service (in this case, broadband Internet) in order to compete today for the jobs of tomorrow.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 15, 2015

This week's big news came out of Washington, specifically Seattle. The city just published a report examining the feasibility of a Chattanooga-type citywide municipal fiber network. The report and related materials are available here; read the news release here. In short, duplicating a Chattanooga-type approach appears too risky given the likely response from incumbents Comcast and CenturyLink.

Seattle

Public Internet is supposed to lower prices. In Seattle, it could work too well by Brian Fung Washington Post

Is Muni Broadband Feasible in Seattle? Not Likely, Report Finds by Colin Wood, GovTech

The numbers don't bode well for proponents of municipal broadband in Seattle, but the city has other plans.

“The broadband market has been changing incredibly fast just in the past six months, since the president mentioned the need for strong broadband access in his State of the Union address," he said. "And we’re starting to see some interesting joint ventures that allow cities to meet their policy objectives around equity and around economic development through broadband."

Seattle councilmember calls for ‘mass citywide movement’ against Comcast and CenturyLink in support of municipal broadband by Taylor Soper, Geekwire

GeekWire Radio: Amazon meeting hijacked; Twitter shakeup; and the future of municipal broadband by Todd Bishop, GeekWire

Cost of municipal broadband for Seattle less than estimated by Daniel Beekman, Seattle Times

Building a municipal broadband network in Seattle wouldn’t cost as much as the city once thought, but the city would still need additional funds. 

Bad News For Municipal-Run Broadband Internet by Ross Reynolds, KUOW

Report says municipal broadband too expensive for Seattle to build alone, Capitol Hill Seattle Blog

Media Roundup By State

Missouri

Gigabit-speed Internet comes to downtown St. Louis By David Nicklaus, St. Louis Today

New York

A New York State of Megabits by Susan Crawford, Backchannel

Will a half-billion dollar investment in internet infrastructure put NY in the national lead? Only if its leaders put muscle behind the dollars.

North Carolina

For Wilson's Greenlight Community Broadband, fiber waiting game in full swing by Lauren K. Ohnesorge, Triangle Business Journal

The interest is there, specifically from farmers, he says. One current Greenlight customer wants to expand his commercial farming operation into an adjacent county, and needs the high-speed service to run the business, Aycock says.

“It’s not just about the residential folks in the rural areas,” he says. “It’s also about agriculture."

Washington

High Tech, High Rec: Pend Oreille County works to connect work with play by Mike McLean Spokane Business Journal 

The Community Network System opens the option for people to live in Pend Oreille County and have access to a rural setting or larger tracts of land, he says.

Alex Stanton, a principal at Newport-based information technology company Exbabylon LLC, says, “Having fiber makes it possible for me to do my job.”

It’s also a big selling point when it comes to recruiting employees, Stanton says.

Without the fiber network, it was more difficult to convince qualified IT candidates to come to Newport.

“A lot of talented people are living in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Liberty Lake, and Seattle,” he says. “Most highly technical people want really good Internet service at home. It’s so accessible in metropolitan areas, it’s become a staple commodity.”

Locals Celebrate iTV-3 and UC2B Expansion in Champaign-Urbana

The expansion in Champaign-Urbana has begun! On May 8th, iTV-3 held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the start of its plan to bring fiber to the homes of neighborhoods that sign up for service. IllinoisHomePage.net reported on the event with the video below.

An April press release announced the celebration that kicked off efforts to meet iTV-3's ultimate goal:

This will enable iTV-3 to expand the network and provide Gigabit service to more than 250,000 homes including 45,000 households and businesses in the Champaign-Urbana area. 

The company has promised to expand to neighborhoods where they achieve a 50 percent commitment. 

Earlier this year, the ISP increased speeds for free in order to offer service that meets the minimum speeds as revised by the FCC. The lowest tier available from iTV-3 via the UC2B network is now 30 Mbps. All speeds are symmetrical.

The UC2B partnership with iTV-3 has been heralded by public leaders. UC2B's private sector partner, iTV-3 is an Illinois company with a track record of business decisions that support local communities. Their agreement is structured in such a way that will protect the UC2B nonprofit and subscribers in the future. At the event, a representative from iTV-3 briefly described the company's approach to the communities it serves:

"We own and operate the Family Video stores nationwide as well, and for us, we've always enjoyed being part of the community and this in and of itself is a community wide effort," said Trevor Rice, who is the marketing director for iTV-3. "Without the community's involvement, we're not going to be able to expand." 

 

FTTH Adding Value to Apartments and Condos, Studies Show

Urban real estate investors take note: FTTH has come of age in the multi-dwelling unit marketplace. (MDU). When looking for new homes, many more renters and owners are now considering FTTH a necessity.

Several studies have established that fiber raises the value of single family homes by $5,000 - $6,000 on a home valued at $300,000. A July 2014 survey, commissioned by Broadband Communities magazine and conducted by RVA LLC indicates that similar results influence MDUs. Clearly, access to FTTH adds measurable value to real estate.

The study examined numerous factors related to knowledge, use, satisfaction, and adoption of FTTH related to MDUs. RVA broke down the results by age, economics, and education attained. While some results were surprising, others were predictable. For example, level of education attained is not necessarily consistent with knowledge of the benefits of FTTH. The study reflects that those with a graduate degree did not have the same appreciation for the technology as those with some college less than a four-year degree.

The level of satisfaction when comparing FTTH to cable, DSL, wireless, and satellite options was not surprising. Of course, fiber-to-the-home far out performed any other technology.

The survey also found that access to broadband has become as important as other utilities: 

Overall, survey respondents indicated that broadband was, indeed, their top amenity. This finding confirms other recent polling and provides finer-grained details: For MDU unit owners, access to good broadband is now the top amenity by a large margin. Renters rated broadband second in terms of amenity importance, close behind “in-unit washer/dryer.” Broadband was valued highly in all types of buildings but especially in student housing and in luxury buildings.

FTTH can influence sale value by 3 percent and rental value by 8 percent. The additional revenue to the building owner far outweighs the initial investment:

For an MDU building owner, outfitting an apartment with FTTH would yield $972 more annual rental revenue and $209 more revenue from lower vacancy rates, the survey shows. Having FTTH at the site would also result in a $120 savings in marketing, administration and maintenance stemming from 31 percent lower churn and more word-of-mouth advertising, according to the survey.

In a May 2014 American Planning Association report, Investing in Place [PDF], researchers asked Millenials, Boomers, and Gen Xers to rank their priorities for urban landscapes:

When asked about high priorities for metro areas, Active Boomers cited high-speed Internet access and affordable housing equally at 65 percent each, which was second only to safe streets (79 percent). Millennials ranked internet service third with 58 percent; safe streets cited first with 76 percent and affordable housing cited second with 71 percent. Generation Xers also ranked Internet service third with 51 percent; safe streets was first (69 percent) and affordable housing was second (57 percent).

These same three metro features also were cited in the same order by three of the four different types of communities — urban, suburban, and small town — and each of the four regions. 

Fiber it quickly becoming on par with considerations of floor plan, natural light, and location. From the Broadband Communities survey:

MDU developers and managers should be marketing broadband, especially FTTH broadband, more aggressively. This is especially true given that broadband is the only amenity (in the list respondents used) that cannot be seen with the naked eye.