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KeepBTLocal Working on Plan to Purchase BT

Burlingtonians love their municipal network. We have reported in the past that, prior to the sale of the network to Blue Water LLC, a group of locals organized to create the KeepBTLocal cooperative. Recently, the organization reaffirmed its commitment to purchase the network when it goes up for sale, a condition of the Blue Water LLC transaction.

A customer satisfaction survey in April revealed that BT customers are more than twice as satisfied with their provider as those obtaining service from competitors. The VTDigger reported survey results:

· 87% customer satisfaction with BT’s Customer Service;

· 24% of customers chose BT’s services after being recommended by a friend or family member; and

· General impression of BT by non-BT customers saw a 10% “positive” increase over their 2014 impression.

The survey also reported that customers with other providers were 40% satisfied with their service.

BT offers 150 Mbps for $55 per month and gigabit service for $85 per month or $70 per month with a 12 month contract. All speeds are symmetrical.

It has been a long road for BT after prior city leadership covered up years' worth of cost overruns creating serious financial difficulties for the community. Eventually, CitiBank filed suit to recover the $33 million Burlington owed. The two settled and Burlington eventually transferred ownership to Blue Water with the city still leasing. The ultimate goal for the city is to sell the network. Enter KeepBTLocal.

According to a June VTDigger article, the coop has been working with a former telecommunications industry executive now working as a consultant. They are developing business and acquisition plans to purchase the network when it goes up for sale within the next few years.

Andy Mortoll, Chair of the Board of KeepBTLocal told VTDigger:

“It’s just so important for so many of us in Burlington to keep Burlington Telecom a local, community-owned asset,” Montroll said. “If the city is going to sell it, we want to be the ones to acquire it on behalf of the residents.”

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.

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."

Ketchum Will Install Conduit Only; Cox's Role?

In Idaho, Ketchum appears to have abandoned its flirtation with a municipal fiber optic network, choosing instead to lay conduit as a way to encourage private investment. The decision is an interesting result that suggests incumbent Cox Communications has considerable power over local decision making.

Readers may recall how in May 2013 the local broadband advisory committee booted Cox representatives off the roster. Residents began to receive telephone calls which amounted to push polls from the incumbent cable provider; the then-Mayor would would have none of that. Even though communities leaders had not stated they were considering a municipal network, they were put off by Cox's underhanded approach.

Since then, the administration has changed and it appears this time Cox has successfully shanghaied the decision. Cox is back on the committee establishing a plan and pressing for the result we would expect. From a Mountain Express article:

Guy Cherp, vice president of operations for Cox Communications, was part of the strategic planning committee. He said the group concluded that the city should not become a public Internet provider, as the cost would be exorbitant and high bandwidth is not needed by most Wood River Valley businesses. Those who desire it, he said, can pay for private installation—and several local businesses do.

Ketchum’s Internet service is as good as it is anywhere, Cherp said—speaking to the 2013 Magellan report, which stated that traditional broadband users complained of inconsistent speed and reliability, as well as slower service during peak Internet times.

“The notion that Ketchum is lagging behind, we don’t see that,” he said.

In May, voters passed a water revenue bond to replace the city's old and leaking Springs water line. Certainly this need also influenced community leaders' decision to forego investment in a fiber network. The city will install conduit in the open trench when that line is replaced. Recently, City Council approved $7,000 to install conduit in open trenches resulting from construction under two main streets in the downtown area. Ketchum will continue to deploy conduit whenever the opportunity arrives:

“The city’s role is to facilitate installation of the infrastructure for future broadband,” Mayor Nina Jonas said in an interview. “That occurs through installing empty conduit with new construction, co-locating conduit when there is an open trench and making available the Ketchum Springs lines once they’re abandoned.”

Even though Cherp says that Cox "doesn't see" the problems caused by lack of high capacity connections, local entrepreneurs do. From the Mountain Connect article:

George Golleher, owner of Bigwood Bread Café, chose to install fiber-optic cables under his second Bigwood Bread restaurant in the light industrial district when it was constructed last year, using Cox Communications as his provider.

No wonder they don't see it - it is more profitable to wait until business owners like Golleher point it out the need.

“It’s the wave of the future, I’d be crazy not to do it,” [Golleher] said. “I’d rather do it now than retrofit it later.”

Though we believe it is smart for communities to place conduit wherever possible, we fear that communities that stop with conduit are limiting future investment and competition. Conduit is limited -- perhaps a few providers can lease it to expand. But when local governments populate the conduit and lease the fiber, they can enable far more investment and prevent a single firm or two from creating scarcity.

In West Texas, "Hub City" Conducts Fiber Feasibility Study

A feasibility study conducted by the Lubbock Power & Light (LP&L) Electric Utility Board this April discussed several potential benefits of installing a fiber optic cable in the City of Lubbock, Texas. Charles Dunn, a member of the Utility Board, proposed installing fiber optic cables alongside the city’s utility lines, which are currently being buried underground as part of a three-phase, $1.9 million downtown redevelopment initiative

A fiber optic cable, Dunn contended, could increase Internet speeds hundredfold (from a max speed of around 10 Mbps to one above 1 Gbps), attract high tech companies to the city, and induce Texas Tech University students to stay in Lubbock after they graduate. In Lubbock, where Internet speeds run about 35 percent slower than they do in the rest of the state, a fiber network could be a boon for businesses and residents alike.

According to the April feasibility study, the fiber project might not even eclipse $100,000. LP&L would shoulder the costs of the project by drawing from its own budget. Both Dunn and LP&L director of electric utilities, David McCalla, believe that fiber would greatly benefit the community.

CEO of McDougal Companies, Marc McDougal, also argued in favor of the installation of the cable. From Fox 34 News:

Quite honestly, it would give us something that very few cities have... It would give us a huge advantage in another market to recruit businesses for downtown Lubbock. 

If plans to build the network were to move forward in Lubbock, LP&L would not be able to immediately offer Internet access to customers because of state law discouraging municipalities from offering telecommunications service. Though a Texas Utilities Code prohibits municipalities from offering telecommunications services to the public, that restriction does not appear to apply to Internet service (which is why AT&T a decade ago unsuccessfully tried to explicitly revise the barrier to include Internet access). The municipality would almost certainly have to defend its interpretation of the law in court, work with a private provider to offer services, or petition the FCC to overturn the current state law

While many municipal networks are located in smaller towns and rural areas, Lubbock seems to be an ideal mid-sized city for a high-speed municipal fiber network. Nicknamed the “hub city” on account of the key economic and educational role it plays in the South Plains region of West Texas, a foray into fiber optics has the potential to turn Lubbock into a hub for local self-reliance, as well.

From FOX 34

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

Connecting Georgia's Munis - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 156

For years, we have urged municipal networks to cooperate in various ways to lower costs. For instance, by building a shared middle mile network to aggregate their bandwidth and get a better deal due to the higher volume. So it came as a bit of a shock that Georgia Public Web has been helping many municipal networks in these ways for well over a decade.

David Muschamp, President and CEO of Georgia Public Web (GPW), joins us for episode 156 of Community Broadband Bits to discuss what the member-owned nonprofit organization does to improve Internet access across the state.

GPW operates over 3000 miles of fiber connecting businesses and even entire communities. They operate a 365-24-7 network operations center and provide consulting, focusing particularly on the needs of the nearly 30 local governments that own the company.

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 18 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."

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.

Maine Island Stranded Without Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 155

Many communities feel like they are an island without proper connectivity but Islesboro, Maine, is literally an island... without proper connectivity. This week, we talk with Page Clason, Manager of the Broadband Internet Working Group for the island that is moving toward a fiber solution to expand high quality Internet access.

We discuss the differences between a mainland community and island life, the dynamic between full time residents and people who live on the island part of the time, and what Islesboro is doing to ensure everyone has high quality Internet access.

We also touch on the discussions around how to pay for the fiber. We recently wrote about the vote to move forward with an engineering study and contractor search.

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 20 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."

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.”