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Rochester, Minnesota, City Council Reviews Municipal Fiber Proposal

Earlier this year, Rochester City Council members chose to look further at the prospect of developing a municipal fiber network. On August 17th, the Committee of the Whole met to hear a proposal from Alcaltel-Lucent to deploy 500 miles of fiber for approximately $42 million.

According to the Post Bulletin, the city recently surveyed 1,200 Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) customers and found that more than 75 percent of them supported the idea of Internet access from RPU.

Rochester residents and businesses have long suffered with expensive, unreliable, slow connectivity from incumbent Charter Communications. City Council member Michael Wojcik introduced the idea of publicly owned infrastructure in 2010 but the idea never picked up steam. He revived the issue last year when constituents began calling his office with complaints about Charter.

"Principally, I feel the technology, the customer service and price in Rochester are unacceptably bad (from Charter)," [Wojcik] said. "I get the feeling that a good portion of the public strongly agrees with that."

For this information session, the Council took no action; next, the proposal will be examined thoroughly by RPU officials.

Local video coverage from KTTC:

Ammon, ID Experimenting with Open Access FTTH Network

We have covered the small Idaho city of Ammon before, but the people there always seem to be innovating. A few weeks ago, the city took first place with an ultra-high speed app in a National Institute of Justice competition. That utlra-high speed came from the city’s fiber network built for municipal buildings several years ago. The network has since expanded to connect the schools and some businesses.

Now, residents of Ammon might also get to experience high speed Internet. The city is conducting a survey, called Get Fiber Now, to determine interest in building a unique open access network. The first area with a 70% take rate will have 300 homes added to the network.

Ammon's technology director Bruce Patterson has a plan to make this unlike any other open access networks in the world. The fiber will be partitioned to have multiple services (such as telephone and television) on one strand. Our Christopher Mitchell has called the idea "open access on steroids” and the "best shot at demonstrating what can be done as far as innovation on an open network.” Patterson now has a pilot project of about seven homes connected to the experimental network with symmetrical speed of 1Gbps.

The city intends to have the plans for the open access FTTH network finalized for this next spring and is looking at a 20- to 30- year bond to cover the costs.

Local news coverage has the rest:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Murfreesboro Wants to Use Existing Fiber for Better Connectivity

In the center of Tennessee sits Murfreesboro, the fastest growing city in the state with 108,000 people and one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. (Just 10 years ago there were only 68,000 residents.) Murfreesboro is also one of the next communities to show an interest in a publicly owned fiber network to improve connectivity.

In an August press release [PDF], Murfreesboro Electric Department (MED) described their existing 19-mile fiber infrastructure, used for communication and control purposes for the electricity distribution system. The fiber was deployed in 2008, says MED General Manager Steve Sax, and the utility is now making plans to use spare fibers for Internet connectivity. MED is in the process of expanding its network by an additional 20 miles.

Sax also stated that MED is working with Middle Tennessee State University to develop a fiber optics pilot project but did not offer details other than it is "very similar to what Google is doing in Nashville."

MED and the Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative (MTEMC) recently entered into negotiations for MTEMC to acquire the MED. The city of Murfreesboro is in the center of the MTEMC service area and the two have been duplicating efforts in some areas. The city and cooperative signed a memo of understanding in June and the process is moving forward slowly. MTEMC serves over 200,000 cooperative members in a four county service territory; the MED provides electricity to approximately 56,000 customers.

MTEMC does not offer telecommunications services at this time but according to a Daily News Journal article, the cooperative is investing in fiber:

"We have been working with an enterprise ... on a fiber network," said [Brad Gibson, MTEMC chief business officer] about the utility that covers Rutherford, Wilson, Williamson and Cannon counties.

MTEMC has contracted with a private company to install and manage its fiber network but the utility is also researching the possibility of developing its own network, he said.

"We are dedicated to fiber," Gibson said.

The ownership of the public electric utility notwithstanding, leadership at the utility understand the impact today's investment will have on Murfreesboro's future. From the press release:

"Back when MED was founded, electricity was the crucial piece of infrastructure that our grandparents and great-grandparents worked to extend throughout the city," [Sax] says. "Now it's our turn. Broadband Internet is every bit as essential to keeping Murfreesboro competitive now as electricity was then. We welcome the opportunity to work with the city to continue enhancing the quality of life for our citizens."

Baltimore for Broadband Op-Ed Demands Local Authority

On July 27 an important op-ed appeared in the Baltimore Sun to argue for the creation of a Baltimore Broadband Authority (BBA). Written by a cohort of three philanthropic organization presidents, two consultants, one broadband coalition leader, and one state senator, the op-ed echoed the calls of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and community groups, such as the Baltimore Broadband CrowdFiber initiative, who believe that in order for Baltimore to continue its development into a haven for young people, minimize pernicious digital inequalities, and ensure economic growth, the City must take charge of its fiber assets. As the authors wrote:

We urge the city of Baltimore to move quickly, but carefully, to create the much-needed Broadband Authority and act with all deliberate speed to devise a comprehensive, workable plan to move us forward.

The most recent op-ed comes in the wake of a series of moves by the City of Baltimore to study existing broadband infrastructure and adapt plans to expand access across the region. In June, the City released two studies to address increasing demand for broadband in areas that incumbent providers Comcast and Verizon have neglected (that being the vast majority of the city). One report, by the Smarter City Task Force, highlights the severity of the digital divide in the City of Baltimore:

There are no precise estimates of how many people in Baltimore lack access to broadband Internet. While national surveys suggest that about 20 percent of Americans do not have broadband at home or a smartphone, it’s reasonable to conclude that the percentage of Baltimoreans who lack broadband is higher. Baltimore has a large population of African Americans and people who have low incomes or low educational attainment – three demographic and socio-economic groups that nationally are significantly more likely to lack home broadband access.

The second report is more extensive than the first, including GIS maps of publicly-owned broadband assets ranging from dark fiber to wireless towers. Its policy suggestions include the creation of an open access network along the pre-existing Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN); leasing dark fiber assets to private entities; taking advantage of the Department of Transportation’s underground conduit lines; and installing more “vertical assets,” such as wireless towers and rooftops, to increase Wi-Fi availability.

In Baltimore, more and more individuals are becoming aware of the negative impacts of Verizon and Comcast’s practices regarding broadband deployment, and recognizing the importance of broadband to local economic development. Other Washington D.C. area communities - such as Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia - are currently in the process of launching their own community broadband projects. Same goes for Harford County, Maryland. Some forward-thinking Maryland communities, such as Howard County, MD have been working to increase fiber availability for years, as CIO Chris Merdon explained in a January Broadband Bits Podcast.

Residents like D. Watkins, who in 2014 published an op-ed in Vice’s Motherboard, “Life on the Other Side of the Digital Divide,” have also lambasted the City of Baltimore for its insufficient broadband infrastructure. “Public libraries are an option for free internet access,” he wrote, “but unlike liquor stores and churches, you can’t find one on every corner.”

The continued push for a Baltimore Broadband Authority by non-profit, philanthropic, and government leaders should help to create a space for further discussion of Baltimore’s digital inequalities, but it will also be crucial for these entities to work directly with local community leaders. Even as the City’s high-level fiber assets are leveraged, ground-level work with communities and incremental deployment strategies will be key to ensuring an equitable rollout of broadband technologies.

More Details on the Northwest Open Access Network - Community Broadband Bits Episode 164

Just a few short weeks ago, we interviewed Dave Spencer, the Chief Operating Officer for the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) in Washington. We offered a good overview, but got some requests for more details so Dave returns this week for a more focused discussion in episode 164.

We discuss the specific services that are available and how the retail service providers access them as well as NoaNet's enlightening approach to peering so its service providers have the benefits of low cost, high quality Netflix videos, as an example.

We also discuss the legal status of NoaNet as a nonprofit municipal organization. Finally, we discuss the other services that NoaNet makes available and how some of the fees are structured.

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."

Hudson Lays Out Details for Its Municipal Gigabit Network

Hudson, Ohio's upcoming municipal network, Velocity Broadband, may be serving commercial customers as early as September, reports the Hudson Hub Times. At a July 22nd Rotary Club meeting, Assistant City Manager Frank Comeriato presented details on the plan. The city has no plans to serve residents but once business services are in place, they may consider a residential build out.

The gigabit network, to be owned and operated by the city of Hudson, will be deployed incrementally. Incumbents Time Warner Cable and Windstream serve local businesses but a majority complain of unreliable connections and unaffordable prices in the few places where fiber is available.

Earlier this year, the city conducted a survey and businesses responded:

"They wanted better service and speed," [Comeriato] said. "After only two vendors responded to the city to offer the service, the city decided it could offer the service like it offers public power, water and other infrastructure."

Hudson officials realize that it connectivity is an essential service for economic development and that businesses have no qualms with relocating to places where they can get the bandwidth they need:

"Economic development is 80 percent retention, and Hudson businesses are unhappy with their current service, he added. "They want something like this."

Hudson Public Power has been preparing by training crews to deploy the infrastructure. Like other communities that have recently decided to invest in municipal networks, Hudson will focus only on Internet access and voice.

Earlier this year, the City Council approved the initial $800,000 capital expenditure to begin the deployment. According to Hudson Communications Manager Jody Roberts, the city expects to spend another $1.5 million in 2016 on infrastructure before they light the network, scheduled for 2016.

"We will then determine any additional amounts needed in [future] years, since by then we will be bringing in money in the form of monthly fees from customers," Robert said of anticipated costs. "It is our goal for this service to become fully self-sustaining. And, we anticipate by offering this service, we will attract more businesses to Hudson (more income tax) and retain more businesses."

Local public relations firm AKHIA will be one of the beta testers as the network progresses. They upload and download large data files on a daily basis and their current 5 Mbps connection is inadequate. Ohio.com reported:

“Our [current] Internet is constantly going down,” [Jan Gusich, part-owner and chief executive officer] said. When that happens, her staff leaves to find other places with available Internet, such as coffee shops, she said.

Hudson is home to approximately 23,000 people and located in the northeast corner of the state. In 2014 they released an RFP for a Broadband Needs Assessment and Business Plan; the survey was part of that assessment.

After consultants reviewed the city's assets and developed an option that incorporated its I-Net, their February 2015 estimate came to approximately $4.9 million for infrastructure to four commercial areas of town for an open access model. At the time, the consultants suggested that the price would increase to $6.5 million if the city chose to take on the role as retail provider.

Carl Junction Pulls Out of Public Private Partnership

In the spring, we reported on a public private partnership agreement between the community of Carl Junction and Wi-Fi provider Aire Fiber. According to City Administrator, Steve Lawver, the City Council had second thoughts and pulled out of the deal.

Even though the partnership has ceased to be an option, the people of Carl Junction will still have better connectivity. Aire Fiber found the interest level was so intense that it will independently deploy the equipment to serve the community's 5.6 square miles and approximately 7,400 people.

As part of the abandoned partnership agreement, the city would have paid for and provided locations to mount necessary equipment. Aire Fiber would have handled installation, management, and technical aspects needed to keep the network up and running. In exchange, the city would have received 10 percent of the gross revenue from the network. The system would have cost an estimated $400,000 - $450,000 to deploy and both entities estimated just 10 percent of the market would have allowed them to break even.

Now the city has typical water tower lease agreements with Aire Fiber. Each tower mounting Aire Fiber equipment brings in $100 per month. 

Carl Junction has been searching for better Internet access for its businesses, schools, and residents for several years. In 2012 they commissioned a feasibility study and decided in 2013 to move forward with plans for a fiber network. Unfortunately, the community had to seek other options when it chose not fund the $5.2 million project.

As a post mortem, Lawver advises other city officials to take the time to educate elected officials and not rush the process, especially when the time comes for final approval. 

Our process from FTTH feasibility to this final agreement took 4 or 5 years.  Be patient. Understand that if you get down to the final agreement there is a good chance you may be the only person left that remembers the whole process.

"Fibervention": Break the Cable Habit In Chattanooga

If you are lucky enough to live in a community where you have a municipal network as a provider, you already know they often go the extra mile to serve customers. However, they don't always market as well as the incumbents, something that is starting to change with naturally viral ads. Enter Chatanooga's "Fibervention" campaign.

The campaign encourages current subscribers to nominate non-suscribers for a gift package:

  • Three months of FREE EPB Fiber Optics service
  • Three months of FREE Smart Network or Smart Network Plus service
  • A Roku online streaming player
  • Six months paid subscription to Netflix
  • $100 iTunes gift card
  • EPB branded gear

They have even created this video, highlighting all the reasons why EPB is so much better than the competition:

As a follow up, EPB released a second video showing the installation at the home of Ms. Martha, the first winner.

With winners like Ms. Martha, this campaign is sure to draw some attention. If you pay attention, you'll see Chase, an actual EPB installer that has become very popular around the community, with some people actually requesting he specifically install their service. At a conference awhile back, many of us assumed in an early ad that he was from a stock photo, but he is real.

New Video Series on Better Broadband in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cambridge, Massachusetts has established a Broadband Task Force and is looking for ways to better its local connectivity. In order to educate the public about the advantages of broadband, the local community CCTV channel will televise presentations and sit-downs between local leaders who can describe how it will impact Cambridge.

The first episode of Cambridge Broadband Matters recently aired and is now available to view. It runs approximately 30 minutes long and features Georgiana Chevry of Cambridge Community Learning Center, Susan Flannery of Cambridge Public Library, and Jay Leslie of the Cambridge Housing Authority.  

One of the topics they address in this episode is the connection between broadband and adult education and workforce development. The issue is critical in Cambridge and many communities as we transition to an information based economy.

 

Cleveland Investigating Fiber Pilot Project in Tennessee

After a feasibility study on the possibility of a municipal triple-play fiber network left Cleveland Utilities feeling "…not overly optimistic…" community leaders have decided to rethink their strategy. The utility board recently voted 5-0 to look deeper at a network that would offer only Internet and voice services.

Rather than study the feasibility of serving the entire community, CU wants to first try their hand at working on a limited area with a pilot project. The next step is to work with a consultant that will conduct a more focused feasibility study and develop a business plan.

In June, CU CEO Ken Webb told the board:

"I will go ahead and tell you that it's not overly optimistic about us being able to provide 'triple play' [Internet, television and phone] services," Webb said. "The capital requirements are extensive, and the startup cost could present issues."

"There is a possibility of offering services that are not full-blown services," Webb said. "There are a lot of decisions yet to be made, and a lot of review has yet to take place."

After more review of the study, Webb asked the board at the July meeting to consider further consideration for the pilot project, much like the process in Erwin, Tennessee. The Times Free Press covered the meeting where Webb reported that Erwin expected to break even on its pilot project once it took on 180 customers. After recently commencing the project, it quickly signed up 150 subscribers.

As municipalities are considering how to improve their local connectivity, subscriber interest in video services continues to drop. The associated expenses such as head end equipment and the rising cost of content lead a number of them to offer only Internet access and voice. Longmont, Colorado, and Sandy, Oregon, are two recent networks that have decided not to directly offer video, though Sandy is negotiating with a vendor to include a video package in their service.

Cleveland, home to approximately 41,000 people, is considered part of the Chattanooga statistical metro but is not served by the Chattanooga EPB, in part due to state restrictions. Even though the FCC scaled back those state laws in February, the issue is under appeal. Chattanooga border communities such as Cleveland are in limbo as they debate whether or not to wait for the possibility that EPB may one day extend out to them or to take action on their own.

"We owe it to the community to determine whether or not this is a viable project or not," said Webb.