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LPC Residential Gig Service in Longmont Has A New Name; Available November 3rd

Big changes are happening in Longmont as the LPC builds out its network expansion. In addition to new services and new pricing, LPC for residents has a new name - NextLight. At a recent city council meeting, LPC announced that a number of residents in south central Longmont will be able to enroll for NextLight services as soon as November 3rd.

Homeowners who sign up within the first three months that service is available in their area, will get 1 Gbps symmetrical service for about $50 per month or half the regular residential price. Those customers, considered Charter Members, will keep the introductory price as long as they keep their service and will take that rate to their new home while also reserving that rate for the home they leave. The Times Call reports:

And if a homeowner does not sign up in the first three months, they could still obtain a customer loyalty price after one year, knocking the regular price down from $100 a month to $60 a month.

The city will also offer a lesser speed of 25 megabits per second for both uploading and downloading for about $40 a month and that price is not discounted for charter members or 1-year-members.

 At the meeting, LPC Director Thomas Roiniotis explained the reason for the new brand:

NextLight was named with Longmont's original municipal electricity utility that the city acquired in 1912 in mind.

"What we're saying is now, today, with the same type of community support, we're building a network that uses beams of light to transmit information," Roiniotis said Monday.

Free High-Speed Internet Coming to North Kansas City, Missouri

Last year we reported on a deal between Google Fiber and North Kansas City. The provider entered into a long-term lease to use LiNKCity dark fiber to incorporate into its area deployment. The City recently announced it will now enter into a public-private partnership with DataShack to bring fiber to local businesses and residents. Residents will receive free high-speed access. From the City's announcement:

The partnership between these two companies will enable residents to experience Gigabit speeds for FREE. On January 1st, 2015 all existing residential customers will be upgraded to free monthly 100 mb internet service. New customers after January 1st will have the opportunity to choose between three service options; free monthly gigabit internet service with a $300 installation fee, free monthly 100 mb internet service with a $100 installation fee, or free 50 mb internet service with a $50 installation fee.

A Kansas City Biz Journal article reports that North Kansas City will retain ownership of the infrastructure and DataShack will bring free gigabit Internet service to the public library, city churches, and all public schools. Profits and losses will be shared equally but the City's losses are capped at $150,000, including the capital investment. DataShack will operate and maintain the network.

"It's a win-win for the city," said Byron McDaniel, the city's communications utility director. "It's really giving back to the community what they've invested into the network."

According to the Kansas City Star, the network has a lot of business customers, which is the core of DataShack's strategy:

Today, liNKCity has about 460 business customers in North Kansas City who pay anywhere from $80 to $500 a month for high-speed connections. DataShack plans to keep business rates the same while cranking up speeds.

About 440 residential customers currently buy hookups from liNKCity. Brown said he expects the free service to make that number double or triple.

Frankly, we don't yet understand this business model but as we learn more, we'll write about it. LiNKCity has always been an odd network as it was funded with revenues from a casino, which seemed to change the incentives for how quickly it was expected to break even and pay for itself financially.

Spencer Municipal Utilities Expands Upgrade to Fiber in Iowa

Spencer Municipal Utilities (SMU) in Iowa is expanding an upgrade project to bring fiber to approximately 2,000 additional premises. A little over a year ago, we reported on the switch from coax cable to fiber for 700 municipal network customers with no rate increase. According to the Spencer Daily Reporter, the original project is almost completed; the expanded upgrade will cost approximately $4.5 million.

Amanda Gloyd, marketing and community relations manager, told the Daily Reporter:

Since SMU first began offering Internet service to customers the amount used by customers has increased and we expect to see that continue. For example, the average peak usage from customers in the fall of 2010 was 125MB and today it averages around 800MB with maximums over 1,200 MB. The project to convert the whole town of Spencer will take several years and we continue to develop plans for future projects.

In April, the SMU Board of trustees approved a modest rate increase for video and Internet access to help defray increased costs for video content and increased demand on the system. The last time rates went up for video service was early 2013; residential Internet access rates have remained the same since November 2011.

New rates went into effect on June 1. Internet access rates range from $20 per month for 1 Mbps/256 Kbps to $225 per month for 100 Mbps/10 Mbps. Basic level video service begins at $14 per month; "Basic Plus" is $50.75 per month. Digital service and a range of channel choices are available as add-ons.

SMU also provides voice and partners with T-Mobile to provide wireless phone service in the community. The network began serving customers in 2000.

Spencer, population 11,300, is located in the northwest section of the state. In the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #13, Chris spoke with Curtis Dean of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU). Dean shared a story about Hansen's Clothing, a local upscale clothier in Spencer. Thanks to the presence of the SMU network, Hansen's was able to expand its sales to the online marketplace. Hansen's was struggling until it obtained the ability to reach clientele in New York and Los Angeles. The fresh business allowed Hansen's to flourish.

Fibrant Signs Up 3,000th Customer, Increases Top Speed to Gig With No Rate Hike

Salisbury's Fibrant network recently signed on its 3,000th customer, reports WCNC from Charlotte. The publicly owned network also recently increased speeds for residential customers with no price hikes, reports BBP Mag. Households that were signed up for symmetrical 100 Mbps service for $105 per month will now have gigabit service for the same rate.

BBP Mag spoke with Dale Gibson, one of Fibrant's first gigabit customers:

“Generally when an Internet service provider gives a speed, it represents bandwidth, or a theoretical 'best effort' speed, not the 'throughput' or actual speed. My speed tests are consistently above 900 Mbps.” A network professional for over 20 years, Gibson added that typically even in the best test conditions, it is more common to see numbers in the 800s and, “Fibrant should be very proud of that 900 number.”

Other speed hikes include:

20/20 Mbps for $45 per month raised to 50/50 Mbps

30/30 Mbps for $65 per month raised to 75/75 Mbps

50/50 Mbps for $85 per month raised to 100/100 Mbps

The network has also revamped its video packages to include more channels, new HD options, and remote DVR. For a complete overview of Fibrant's new packages, visit their pricing page.

High Speed in the Blue Grass State: Russellville's Gig

The Logan Journal recently reported that the Russellville Electric Plant Board (EPB) now offers gigabit service to local businesses. The article notes that Net Index, an online tool to measure download and upload speeds, recognizes EPB as the first Gig city in Kentucky. To learn more about the community and its network, we talked with Robert White, General Manager of EPB.

The community of 7,000 is the county seat of south central's Logan County. Russellville is located in the center of several other larger communities: Nashville, Bowling Green, Hopkinsville, and Clarksville, Tennessee. Manufacturing has been a large part of the local economy for generations, but community leaders recognize the vulnerability of a narrow economic base. In order to encourage a versatile economy, Russellville invested in its telecommunications utility.

The community wants to encourage small business while simultaneously providing manufacturers the connectivity they need. Leadership sees the ability to remain competitive directly tied to their network. In addition to the economic development opportunities a fiber network can provide, communities like Russellville rely on electricity revenue from large consumers. Retaining the large electric consumers that also provide jobs in the community is a must.

Russellville's electric utility created a strong advantage when it was time to venture into telecommunications. EPB had already established a strong relationship with its Russellville customers, says White, and locals felt they could trust their municipal electric provider.

EPB began offering wireless Internet to the community in 2005; at the time, there was very little choice for wireless or wired Internet. The product was competitively priced and it performed well for wireless service at the time but EPB eventually shifted focus to its next generation high-speed network. The wireless service is still available to customers who subscribed prior to the construction of the fiber network but EPB no longer offers it to new customers. Wireless speeds vary from 1-2 Mbps download and approximately 500 Mbps upload. The area now has several options from the private sector - Verizon and Bluegrass Cellular provide wireless up up to 10 - 15 Mbps.

Russellville EPB Logo

According to White, Russellville's inspiration to build the network was not to compete, but to fill the services gap. He told us:

"We support Logan County residents having the best product. If that means us offering the product, that's fine. If it means the private sector will step up to the plate and serve the areas we can't serve…that's fine as well. We want our residents to be served, whether by us or an incumbent."

Larry Wilcutt, White's predecessor at EPB, began studying the possibility of a fiber network in 2007, but external forces motivated Wilcutt and EPB to seriously pursue the project a few years later.

In early 2010, EPB learned that its power supplier, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), would switch to time-of-use wholesale rates and begin using smart grid technology by 2012. In order to participate in the new technology, EPB needed meters that could communicate with its electrical system operations. EPB installed fiber optics for Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and for future expansion into telecommunications. A News-Democrat & Leader article from October, 2010 (reprinted at MobilityTechZone.com) reported:

The EPB's goal is to eventually install fiber optic cable to every home and business in Russellville, is installing the cable to every home in the Russellville, city limits -- even those that are serviced by other electricity providers. There are also plans to include some locations outside of the city limits to extend service to the more populated areas adjacent to the city limits of Russellville. 

The article quoted Wilcutt:

"The Board has been working on this project for over two years and we are extremely excited to finally start construction on this project. We want to provide the citizens of Russellville with a system that is second to none, one they will be proud of, one that will entice new investment in the community. Whether that new investment is in the form of capital, technology or people, we believe the City of Russellville and Logan County will benefit well into the future" Wilcutt said.

AT&T Logo

At the time, the best connectivity in Russellville was AT&T's DSL at 6 Mbps download. Satellite Internet was available but was unreliable, expensive, and maximum speeds were 1 - 2 Mbps download.

The community was also starved for quality video service. Suddenlink did not offer HD channels and made it clear that HD service was not planned for Russellville. Large corporate providers had no interest in Russellville so EPB felt it was time to take control of their own connectivity.

Construction of the 99% aerial, 120-mile network began in October 2010; EPB began offering services in December 2011. White presented the results of an audit in November 2013 to the City Council showing that 8% of EPB's total revenue came from its broadband division. The audit also showed that the network was ahead of its projected take-rate with 1,300 active subscriptions out of 4,000 passed homes. 

The network capital costs were approximately $11 million with approximately two-thirds designated for electrical system expenditures. In 2010, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) offered Build America Bonds (BABs), some of which provide federal subsidies to help communities pay back interest to bondholders. BABs, backed by electric system revenue, provided funding for the entire project and contributed to interest expenses.

EPB offers services to every home and business in its service area and hopes to expand further. They expected video to be the lead product, but  Internet service is the most popular. White considers the lack of high-speed Internet in the region the driving force. The commercial gigabit product is new and no customers subscribe yet but local businesses take advantage of the fiber network. One local contractor tells White he enjoys the ability to share documents and bid for projects online without fear of technical glitches. When he used unreliable DSL connections to transmit data, he was perpetually concerned about deadlines and the status of data sent via DSL.

Local public safety agencies, the local library, Russellville City government, and Russellville Independent Schools now use the network. EPB and the Logan County Schools may soon be working together.

Word of Mouth graphic

In addition to providing much needed connectivity to the community, the network provides an increased stream of revenue. EPB submits a payment in lieu of taxes (PILoT) to county and city governments based on electrical and broadband services revenue. As EPB gains customers transitioning away from satellite video service, its contribution to the City increases; satellite providers do not pay a franchise fee to Russellville. At a July 2010 City Council meeting, EPB expected broadband services to add approximately $25,000 in PILoT within the first five years. EPB also pays a separate and voluntary video franchise fee to the local municipality. 

These days, White and EPB are concentrating on raising awareness of the commercial gig product and service to residents. To spread the word, EPB holds regular workshops for the community to explore ways to maximize the the network's possibilities. Commercial gig service is available for $1,499.95 per month.

White and the EPB understand that the private sector must make decisions based on returns. In the case of this publicly owned network, some key returns take the form of benefits to the community. Since EPB lit its network, White and his crew often hear from customers who rave about their service. White says:

"They hate to pay electric bills but they say getting superior broadband services from EPB is all worth it."

EPB's residential fiber Internet services begin at 20/5 Mbps for $39.95 per month with higher speeds at 100/25 Mbps for $69.95 per month. Video services from EPB range from $29.95 per month to $62.95 per month with the option to add over 100 HD channels. Voice packages start at $14.95 per month.

For Chris' recent interview with White, check out episode #82 of the Broadband Bits podcast. 

Central Missouri Coop To Offer Gigabit, Upgrades Speeds With No Price Increase

Residential customers of Co-Mo Connect in Missouri will see a free upgrade this spring. In a December announcement, the cooperative stated it will also begin offering gigabit Internet service for $99.95 per month.

“There are no strings attached,” said Randy Klindt, Co-Mo Comm's general manager. “We’re doing this because we can, because the network has the capacity and we received a good deal on bandwidth. We’re passing those speeds and savings onto our subscribers.”

New residential service options:

  • 5 megabits per second for $39.95 a month; 
  • 35 mbps (currently 20 mbps) for $49.95 a month; 
  • 100 mbps (currently 50 mbps) for $59.95 a month;
  • 1 gbps (currently 100mbps) for $99.95 a month.

According to the announcement, small businesses will also receive speed increases with no increase in price. Klindt notes that Co-Mo prides itself on gimmick-free pricing:

“Nothing is going to decrease after six months or whatever the other companies do,” he said. “And subscribers don’t have to do anything to get the extra speed. If you’re on the 20, 50 or 100 megabit tier right now, we’re simply going to turn up your speed when this becomes available sometime this coming spring.”

We reported on Co-Mo in 2012, as the cooperative began expansion of services. At the time, Co-Mo had been passed over for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding. Coop members wanted to improve the broadband situation for better economic opportunity so Co-Mo pressed on without federal funding. The plan to bring FTTH to all 25,000 coop members has four phases with completion scheduled for 2016.

LightTUBe Financially Secure in Tennessee

Tullahoma Utilities Board's triple-play FTTH LightTUBe, began serving Tullahoma in 2009. The fiber network utility is paying off its city bond debt on schedule reports the Tullahoma News.

The network's income during the first four months of fiscal year 2014 is a positive $58,939. General Manager Brian Skelton spoke with Chris Mitchell in July 2013 and expressed confidence that that network will continue to operate in the black. The News reported on our podcast interview with Skelton and provided some recent updates:

With an estimated potential customer base of 9,000 in the TUB service area, LightTUBe services 3,201 fiber customers. That number is slightly ahead of goal (3,186) and represents nearly 36 percent market penetration against primary competitor Charter Communications.

Tullahoma deployed its network to encourage economic development. In 2011, we reported on J2 Software Solutions. The company located its headquarters in Tullahoma because LightTUBe offered fast, reliable, affordable service. 

According to the News article, expenditures on Internet service remain consistent while subscriptions grow. The Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB) only recently approved a $7 rate increase for video service due to an increase in the cost of television content. When content rates rose in the past, TUB chose to absorb the increase but the cost of content continues to increase for all providers. Since 2009, TUB increased Internet service speeds five times without increasing prices. From the article:

”LightTUBe is in a very comfortable position from a financial perspective. Our biggest concern at this point is the unreasonable price increases that we (and others in the video business) are seeing from many of our channel providers,” said Skelton.

That comfortable financial position appears to rest largely on the shoulders of LightTUBe’s Internet service.

While video and telephone services together generate enough income to offset the system’s net maintenance and depreciation costs, Internet services generate enough income to offset its additional customer service, sales, administration and debt costs.

Unlike the private providers it competes against, Tullahoma is limited in where it can offer service. State law prevents it from serving customers outside its electrical territory - something AT&T and Comcast lobbyists have preserved year after year by killing bills that would remove this damaging law. Across Tennessee, local businesses, residents, and anchor institutions are stuck with slower, less reliable connections despite desiring expansion from the nearby utility but they are denied.

Because Tennessee law prohibits municipal utilities from providing their fiber services outside of their electric service territory, LightTUBe cannot offer its 1G Internet to – for example – the Coffee County Joint Industrial Park, which is serviced by Duck River Electrical Membership Cooperative (DREMC). The joint park, located five miles northeast of Tullahoma and outside of TUB’s service area, has cable-based Internet service.

Cedar Falls Schools Get 1 Gig from Cedar Falls Utilities

As of December 2, students and staff in Cedar Falls schools have access to 1 gig Internet service from Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU). The WCF Courier reports that the Board of Education recently decided to switch from the Iowa Communications Network (ICN):

Doug Nefzger, the district's financial officer, said though Des Moines-based ICN has been a great partner for a number of years, it's always best to go with a local group.

"We may be paying a little bit more money but what this provides for our kids far outweighs the added expense associated with that," Nefzger said.

The District will pay CFU approximately $11,400 per year for gigabit Internet access to be shared between nine schools and three other District facilities. ICN provided 130 Mbps Internet service for $8,200 per year. The District will now have the capacity to provide a tablet or laptop to each student by 2015. The 1:1 goal is part of the District's five-year technology plan.

According to Rob Houlihan, Network Service Manager at CFU, each building is already connected via CFU fiber. As a result, District buildings will also enjoy a 1 gig WAN. Robust Internet access is important, but a high capacity WAN improves communication between facilities with no need to send data to the Internet. CFU provides fiber connections at no charge to the District, saving significant public dollars. Shane Paige, Supervisor of Technology Services at the Cedar Falls Schools noted via email:

That could easily cost us $5,000-$10,000 per month after discounts if we were leasing lines. We have been extremely fortunate in the fact that we have never been put in that position of having to deal with the extra costs of point to point connections for our buildings.

CFU also provides free cable television service to twelve District facilities, saving approximately $600 per month.

For more on how CFU is serving the community, listen to our recent conversation with Rob Houlihan, Network Services Manager, and Kent Halder, Communications Sales Manager. Christopher recently interviewed them on Episode 75 of the Broadband Bits podcast.

We also have numerous stories on the CFU network.

GRUCom Gives Gainesville Gigabit Broadband

Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) has been deploying fiber in the north-central Florida home to the University of Florida (UF) since the late 1990s. We briefly mentioned them last year when Gig.U teamed up with GRUCom, GRU’s telecom division, to connect neighborhoods and businesses surrounding the University with fiber broadband. We’ve since taken a deeper look at GRUCom’s work and like what we see.

GRUCom was born after the FCC reclaimed the spectrum GRU used for microwave control of its SCADA systems. GRU naturally switched to fiber, and in the process of running lines for its utilities, it ran into crews doing the same for Shands Hospital, part of the University. Realizing the substantial demand for fiber broadband across the county, GRU created GRUCom to serve that demand more efficiently.

GRUCom Director, Ted Kellerman, points out that, as an enterprise division of GRU, GRUCom has a mandate to generate profit. This essentially means that the network only expands on a business case basis, so prices can vary across customers depending on connection costs. Despite this constraint, GRUCom manages to provide reliable high-speed data services at reasonable prices. 

GRUCom connects 100 public facilities including government, fire department, utilities and Alachua County Schools and Libraries. All facilities are on redundant fiber rings with route diversity and 10-Gbps capacity. Seven locations receive 1 Gbps service while the rest take either 10 or 100 Mbps. The average cost for 10 Mbps connections is $400 and $900 for the 100-Mbps links.

GATORNET

While GRUCom doesn’t serve residential customers directly (with a few exceptions), it does offer bulk Internet access to apartment complexes where many students live. As Mr. Kellerman explained it, GRUCom strives to fill growing demand for high-speed broadband from students who come to Gainesville, a Tier 2 market , from homes in Tier 1 markets where high-speed options are more readily available. GRUCom’s response is GATORNET, a 50 Mbps Internet access package that retails for $29.95 per month. This beats most Tier 1 market prices for comparable services, many of which advertise “up to 50 Mbps” over crowded cable networks but deliver only a fraction of that speed most of the time.

GRUCom brings another key benefit of community networks to Gainesville - local control accommodating local needs. When the music streaming service Grooveshark, started by two UF students, took off, its need for bandwidth exploded. Director Ted Kellerman recalls having regular discussions with Grooveshark’s founders during those times and making arrangements to get them the bandwidth they needed without breaking their startup budget. That’s what a community network is all about - meeting local needs.

New Hampshire FastRoads Update

New Hampshire FastRoads is leading the charge to connect the region. The project is funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants, private donations, and contributions from local communities. We spoke with Carole Monroe, Executive Director, to get an update on this open access network in rural western New Hampshire.

The first municipality to be connected to New Hampshire FastRoads, Richmond, was connected on November 1st. One-third of the network is now lit and the remainder will be completed and lit by November 30, 2013. Monroe tells us most of the 235 community anchor institutions (CAIs) have fiber terminated at their facilities and connections can be easily configured to 1 Gbps

There are also 75 residential customers, many of whom are choosing 20 Mbps symmetrical service. A smaller number take 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps symmetrical service. Monroe notes that people in the community with home based businesses or telecommute are signing up quickly.  

Monroe also told us about the Hampshire Country School, a private boarding school in Ringe and CAI. Before FastRoads, the school had only a T1 line. They will be connected with 50 Mbps by the end of the month.

We also touched base with Kenneth Kochien, Director of Information Services at Colby-Sawyer College in New London. The college is one of the many CAIs along the network. Kochien told us via email:

NH FastRoads provides our institution with alternative bandwidth solutions which have made a very significant difference in both affordability as well as enabling us to pursue  various cloud-based strategic services. In other words, more than one budget line is impacted by having affordable and sufficient bandwidth.  

Most importantly, it has enabled us to provide quality Internet experience for our students. As is well known, students seemingly have an insatiable appetite for multiple devices along with the need for continuous connectivity to social media. All of that is dependent on bandwidth.

NH FastRoads provides us with a path for future growth. The  absence of NH FastRoad service would have made meeting the administrative and academic technology needs of the institution far more challenging. Thank you NH FastRoads.

The network has four Internet service providers on the network, two of which also provide residential service. Monroe expects several more providers to come on board when they realize their CAI customers want to be served via the fast network connections. 

Monroe says New Hampshire FastRoads is now looking to the future. There are local neighborhoods not yet connected that are considering paying for builds themselves. FastRoads is helping them examine different models to bring the network to their communities. There are several towns with fiber in parts of town that are seeking ways to get the entire town connected.

The competitive environment is working in New Hampshire says Monroe:

For all the reasons the grants were written the way they were regarding open access, and creating a competitive environment, and including the CAIs for sustainability but also to give them better service - that is all working. The intent was good and the intent is working.