Reports Highlighted by MuniNetworks.org

Open Technology Institute Report Offers Overview of Public Broadband Options

Publication Date: 
May 6, 2014
Author(s): 
Ben Lennett, Open Technology Institute
Author(s): 
Patrick Lucey, Open Technology Institute
Author(s): 
Joanne Hovis, CTC Technology and Energy

The Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, along with ctc Technology and Energy, have released an overview of options for local governments that want to improve Internet access. The report is titled, "The Art of the Possible: An Overview of Public Broadband Options."

The paper has been released at an opportune time, more communities are now considering what investments they can make at the local level than ever. The Art of the Possible offers different models, from muni ownership and partnerships to coops. The paper examines different business models and assesses the risk of various approaches.

It also includes a technical section for the non-technical to explain the differences between different types of broadband technology.

From the introduction:

The one thing communities cannot do is sit on the sidelines. Even the process of evaluating whether a public network is appropriate can be beneficial to community leaders as a means to better understand the communications needs of their residents, businesses, and institutions and whether existing services and networks are keeping pace.

The purpose of this report is to enable communities to begin the evaluation of their broadband options. The report begins with an overview of different network ownership and governance models, followed by an overview of broadband technologies to help potential stakeholders understand the advantages and disadvantages of each technology. It then provides a brief summary of several different business models for publicly owned networks. The final two chapters focus on the potential larger local benefits and the risks of a publicly funded broadband project.

Minnesota Local Governments Advance Super Fast Internet Networks

Publication Date: 
March 19, 2014
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell
Author(s): 
Lisa Gonzalez

Local governments in Minnesota have been at the forefront of expanding fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access - often in some of the most challenging areas of the state. ILSR has just released a policy brief to explore some of these approaches: Minnesota Local Governments Advance Super Fast Internet Networks.

The full report is available here.

The brief examines five communities that have taken different approaches to expanding access, from working with a trusted local partner to creating a new cooperative to building community-wide FTTH networks.

Lac qui Parle County has worked with Farmers Mutual Telephone cooperative to bring fiber networks to those who had been stuck on dial-up. Finding itself in a similar situation with no reliable partner, Sibley County is creating a new coop to work with.

Scott County built a fiber ring to connect community anchor institutsion to dramatically expand access to high capacity networks and lower telecommunications budgets. That network has helped to lure several major employers to the area by leasing fiber to them.

Windom and Monticello have built FTTH networks in extremely challenging conditions. Though Windom is far smaller than most have believed is feasible to build such a network, it has thrived and is now connecting many of the small towns surrounding it. It was essential in retaining jobs in the community that would have been lost without it and has attracted new jobs to the region. Monticello is a younger network and has remarkably benefited the community even as it has struggled financially due to dirty tricks from the telephone and cable companies.

The policy brief makes some policy recommendations while focusing on some local solutions to difficult problems in ensuring all Minnesotans have fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access.

Santa Monica City Net Case Study

Publication Date: 
March 5, 2014
Author(s): 
Eric Lampland
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

Santa Monica has built a fiber network called City Net that has lowered its own costs for telecommunications, helped to retain businesses, and attracted new businesses to the community. Built incrementally without debt, it offers a roadmap any community can draw lessons from.

Unlike the majority of municipal fiber networks, Santa Monica does not have a municipal power provider – City Net is run out of the Information Systems Department. The vision for the network and its expansion was created in the Telecommunications Master Plan in 1998, standardizing the procedure that we now call “dig once.” Careful mapping and clever foresight laid the foundation for growth.

The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina

Publication Date: 
January 3, 2013
Author(s): 
Todd O'Boyle, Common Cause
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

In late 2006, Wilson, North Carolina, voted to build a Fiber-­‐to-­‐the-­‐Home network. Wilson’s decision came after attempts to work with Time Warner Cable and EMBARQ (now CenturyLink) to improve local connectivity failed.

Wilson’s decision and resulting network was recently examined in a case study by Todd O’Boyle of Common Cause and ILSR's Christopher Mitchell titled Carolina’s Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. This new report picks up with Wilson’s legacy: an intense multiyear lobbying campaign by Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink, and others to bar communities from building their own networks. The report examines how millions of political dollars bought restrictions in the state that will propagate private monopolies rather than serve North Carolinians.

Download the new report here: The Empire Lobbies Back: How National Cable and DSL Companies Banned The Competition in North Carolina

These companies can and do try year after year to create barriers to community-­‐owned networks. They only have to succeed once; because of their lobbying power, they have near limitless power to stop future bills that would restore local authority. Unfortunately, success means more obstacles and less economic development for residents and businesses in North Carolina and other places where broadband accessibility is tragically low.

It certainly makes sense for these big companies to want to limit local authority to build next-­‐generation networks. What remains puzzling is why any state legislature would want to limit the ability of a community to build a network to improve educational outcomes, create new jobs, and give both residents and businesses more choices for an essential service. This decision should be made by those that have to feel the consequences—for better and for worse.

This story was originally posted on the ILSR website.

Wilson's Greenlight Leads North Carolina in Fast Internet

Publication Date: 
December 5, 2012
Author(s): 
Todd O'Boyle, Common Cause
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Following the collapse of key industries, a town of 50,000 in eastern North Carolina had to make a hard choice. It wanted to support existing businesses and attract new ones but the cable and telephone companies were not interested in upgrading their networks for cutting edge capacity.

So Wilson decided to build its own fiber optic network, now one of the fastest in the nation, earning praise from local businesses that have a new edge over competitors in the digital economy. In response, Time Warner Cable lowered its prices and modestly boosted available Internet speeds, contributing to the $1 million saved by the community each year.

Download Carolina's Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet here.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Common Cause have just released a case study of how and why Wilson built Greenlight, a citywide next-generation fiber-to-the-home network that set the standard for connectivity in North Carolina. The report is authored by Todd O'Boyle of Common Cause and Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The network, owned and operated by the municipal utility, offer telephone, television, and Internet services to every resident or business in the city. Over 6,000 households and businesses have subscribed, a take rate of over 30% and growing. Additionally, the network has connected all of the schools with at least 100 Mbps connections. Downtown has free Wi-Fi and the library has benefited with a higher capacity connection for people looking for jobs and taking computer classes.

The Federal Communications Commission ranks North Carolina last in the nation in percentage of households subscribing to at least a "basic broadband" service, largely because Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, and AT&T have declined to upgrade their networks to modern standards. Only 13% subscribe to a connection that is at least 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream -- the minimum required to take advantage of basic Internet applications according to the FCC.

This story was originally posted on the ILSR website.

This report is the first of two. The second will be published shortly and will feature a discussion of how Time Warner Cable reacted, pushing legislation through the General Assembly to block other communities from copying Wilson's success.

Chanute's Gig: Rural Kansas Network Built Without Borrowing

Publication Date: 
October 2, 2012
Author(s): 
Lisa Gonzalez
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has just released a new case study on community broadband -- this one examines how Chanute, Kansas, built its own broadband network over a period of many years without borrowing.

Download a PDF of Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage here or purchase a Kindle-formatted edition of our case study for $2.99 here.

Local businesses are strong supporters of the network. From Ash Grove Cement to MagnaTech, business clients have remained satisfied subscribers. The network continues to encourage economic development and provides connectivity options that attract high bandwidth employers. The network generates $600,000 per year for Chanute’s Electric Utility, 5 percent of which goes to the general fund as a franchising fee each year.

Author Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, believes Chanute can offer valuable lessons to other communities across the United States. “This community has demonstrated that communities can meet their own telecommunications needs with smart public investments — they did not wait for national corporations to solve their problems.”

City Manager J.D. Lester refers to municipal broadband as “the great equalizer for Rural America,” saying: “You don’t have to live in Kansas City to work there.”

The City also operates a 4G WiMAX network that connects public safety and is used to feed Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the community.

Local leaders plan to expand the network to offer access to all residents and businesses in the future as extending it become financially feasible. As it expands, it will offer the potential for smart-grid type investments in the gas, water, and electrical utilities — all of which are owned and operated by the local government.

One of the key lessons other communities can take away from this case study is how planning and prioritizing community investments in broadband can greatly benefit the community, especially local businesses. Chanute took advantage of several opportunities to expand what started as a very basic network over the course of many years at low cost.

Florida County Saves Millions by Building its own Broadband Network

Publication Date: 
June 20, 2012
Author(s): 
Lisa Gonzalez
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

We have just released a paper revealing how Martin County saved millions of dollars by building its own fiber optic network to link schools and county facilities rather than leasing lines from Comcast.

The report, Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network, reveals how Martin County transformed the threat of a near ten-fold cost increase for its telecom budget into cost savings and new opportunities for economic growth.

Download the Florida Fiber Report here.

“Martin County is a model example of how local governments can cut costs, increase efficiencies, and spur economic development,” according to Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “Local governments will need broadband networks in 10, 15, 30 years – they should consider owning the asset rather than leasing indefinitely.”

ILSR Broadband Researcher Lisa Gonzalez and Christopher Mitchell authored the report.

The new report highlights challenges the County faced, creative tactics used to reduce the cost of the investment, financial details on the incredible cost savings from the network, and how the new connections are already being used.

Though the County is not planning on offering services directly to residents or businesses over the network, the network has already allowed a local Internet Service Provider to expand its territory and offer some choices to people and businesses previously stuck only with AT&T and Comcast. Additionally, the network is leasing dark fiber to some entities.

Florida law makes it difficult for the community to offer services to residents and businesses by imposing additional regulations on public providers that are not imposed on massive companies like AT&T and Comcast.

If you want to stay current with stories like this, you can subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.

Open Technology Institute Explores Gig.U Model for Community Networks

Publication Date: 
April 23, 2012
Author(s): 
Benjamin Lennett, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation
Author(s): 
Sarah Morris, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation
Author(s): 
Greta Byrum, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation

In a report entitled "Universities as Hubs for Next-Generation Networks," the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation has explored a new path for expanding community networks. The full report is available here [pdf].

This report builds on the Gig.U initiative, in which major universities are working with communities and other partners to expand access to next-generation networks in select areas. We recently wrote about a Gig.U project in Maine.

This approach encourages a very collaborative approach with lots of community input and a mix of fiber-optic lines feeding neighborhood wireless networks. Universities already need robust connections but few have been as bold as Case Western Reserve University, which initiated a project to share a gig with neighbors in Cleveland.

OTI calls on open access fiber links connecting anchor institutions that allow wireless nodes to easily connect. Planning for such interconnection upfront is far preferable to adding it after because interconnection points should be placed in convenient places for wireless transmitters.

The people at OTI have long championed mesh architectures and this report again explores the benefits of such an approach:

Moreover, communities deploying wireless mesh technology can incorporate additional service offerings into their networks. Mesh facilitates the use of a community-wide intranet, allowing all users connected to the mesh to access content and applications from local schools, universities, libraries, religious establishments, social service agencies, local governments, and local anchor institutions.

To the extent that each of these components is also connected to the mesh, the intranet component of the network would be functional even without Internet backhaul connectivity, and might actually run faster than Internet connections.

... Read the rest of our review here ...

How Chattanooga, Bristol, and Lafayette Built the Best Broadband in America

Publication Date: 
April 9, 2012
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell

We are thrilled to finally unveil our latest white paper: Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. This report was a joint effort of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Benton Foundation.

We have chronicled how Bristol's BVU Authority, Chattanooga's EPB, and Lafayette's LUS built some of the most impressive broadband networks in the nation. The paper presents three case studies and then draws lessons from their common experiences to offer advice to other communities. Here is the press release:

The fastest networks in the nation are built by local governments, a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Benton Foundation reveals

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is well known for being the first community with citywide access to a “gig,” or the fastest residential connections to the Internet available nationally. Less known are Bristol, Virginia, and Lafayette, Louisiana – both of which now also offer a gigabit throughout the community.

A new report just released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and the Benton Foundation explains how these communities have built some of the best broadband networks in the nation. Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks is available here.

“It may surprise people that these cities in Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana have faster and lower cost access to the Internet than anyone in San Francisco, Seattle, or any other major city,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “These publicly owned networks have each created hundreds of jobs and saved millions of dollars.”

“Communities need 21st century telecommunications infrastructure to compete in the global economy,” said Charles Benton, Chairman & CEO of the Benton Foundation. “Hopefully, this report will resonate with local government officials across the country.”

Mitchell is a national expert on community broadband networks and was recently named a “Top 25 Doer, Dreamer, and Driver” by Government Technology. He also regularly authors articles at MuniNetworks.org.

The new report offers in-depth case studies of BVU Authority’s OptiNet in Bristol, Virginia; EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and LUS Fiber in Lafayette, Louisiana. Each network was built and is operated by a public power utility.

Mitchell believes these networks are all the more important given the slow pace of investment from major carriers. According to Mitchell, “As AT&T and Verizon have ended the expansion of U-Verse and FiOS respectively, communities that need better networks for economic development should consider how they can invest in themselves.”

Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks is available here.

About ILSR: Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) proposes a set of new rules that builds community by supporting humanly scaled politics and economics. The Telecommunications as Commons Initiative believes that telecommunications networks are essential infrastructure and should be accountable to residents and local businesses.

About Benton: The Benton Foundation works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. We pursue this mission by seeking policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity, and by demonstrating the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all.

Learning from Burlington Telecom: Some Lessons for Community Networks

Publication Date: 
August 18, 2011
Author(s): 
Christopher Mitchell - Institute for Local Self-Reliance

In little more than a year, Burlington Telecom went from being a hopeful star of the community fiber network movement to an albatross around its neck. The controversies surrounding it have encouraged cable and telephone companies to use it as Exhibit A in their case against communities going into the telecommunications business. However, most of those criticizing Burlington Telecom have very little understanding of what went wrong and how it happened. Examining what actually happened helps to explain how these problems may be avoided, as the vast majority of existing community networks have already done.

[Download the full report]

In 2007, ILSR issued a case study on Burlington Telecom. The report argued that Burlington Telecom was a model for how communities could build their own next‐generation fiber‐to-the‐home broadband networks.

This report revisits and updates that report, analyzes Burlington Telecom’s situation (for better and for worse), and extracts useful lessons for other communities pursuing community fiber networks.

In preparation for this report, ILSR examined many documents, including those available due to the investigation of Vermont’s Department of Public Service. We interviewed many people from Burlington, including former BT employees, citizens active around the project, and City Council members. We discussed Burlington’s situation with a number of others intimately involved in community broadband networks around the country and posed questions directly to a representative of BT.