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Morristown FiberNET in the Spotlight

In a recent report, WBIR Knoxville shined the spotlight on Morristown. The article and video discuss how FiberNET has improved its telecommunications landscape by inspiring competition, offered better connectivity to the region, and how state law prevents other towns from reaping similar benefits. We encourage you to watch both of the videos below.

Morristown's utility head describes how it considers high-speed Internet access to be a necessary utility:

"You had railroads, you had interstates, and this is the new infrastructure cities need to have," said Jody Wigington, CEO of Morristown Utility Systems (MUS). "To us, this really is as essential to economic development as having electricity or water."

Morristown began offering gigabit service via its FTTH network in 2012. It began serving residents and businesses in 2006 because the community was fed up with poor service from incumbents. Since then, FiberNET has stimulated economic development, saved public dollars, and boosted competition from private providers. 

Prices for Internet access are considerably lower in Morristown than similar communities. From the article:

Morristown's Internet service is more expensive than Chattanooga, but much faster than the rest of the region at a comparable price. A 100 Mbps synchronous connection is $75 per month. Advertised rates for Comcast in Knoxville show a price of almost $80 per month for a 50 Mbps connection with much slower upload speeds. A 50 Mbps connection in Morristown costs $40 per month. The cable Internet option in Morristown is Charter, with an advertised price of 35 Mbps for $40 a month.

As we have seen time and again, the presence of a municipal network (nay, just the rumor of one!) inspires private providers to improve their services. AT&T offers gigabit service in Morristown and Comcast has announced it plans on offering 2 gigabit service in Chattanooga.

"Without a major disruptor like we've seen in Chattanooga and in Morristown, there's really no reason for these guys [private companies] to go out of their way to make a big spend to make bandwidth faster. It just simply doesn't make good business sense," said [Dan] Thompson, [senior analyst for Claris Networks].

Thompson said he does not believe there should be any concern that municipal Internet would result in a monopoly akin to other utilities.

"If you go to Chattanooga, Comcast advertises like crazy on billboards down there. You don't see that here [in Knoxville] at all. Comcast is still there. AT&T is still there. They're still viable options."

Beyond offering better service to residents, FiberNET also attracts more employers. In 2013, we reported on 228 new jobs in the community, attracted here in part because of FiberNET's reliability. Most recently:

"There is a new call center that is looking at relocating to Morristown. They told us the local provider can get them fiber in the building for around $1,000. The guy from our utility company told him we've already got fiber to your front door and we'll put it in the building for free because you're going to be helping our economy and jobs. Their jaws drop. Businesses really are shocked by what we have here," said [President of the Morristown Chamber of Commerce Marshall] Ramsey. "They looked at Blount County and looked at Knoxville, but the confidence in the networks just isn't there right now."

Even though the FCC struck down state restrictions on municipal networks in Tennessee, local communities are not rushing to deploy their own networks. The state is challenging the federal action, and no local community has announced an expansion due to the uncertainty around the appeal. With this appeal, the state of Tennessee is wasting taxpayer dollars to deliberately slow the deployment of essential infrastructure in rural communities.

As Wigington acknowledges in the story, a municipal fiber network is no small endeavor. Nevertheless, only a local community can know if it has the ability, drive, and need to venture into Internet access as a utility.

Wigington said the decision of whether to compete with private industry should ultimately be made by the cities, not made for them by the legislature or the cable companies.

"Cities need to be able to make this decision."

North Carolina Files Petition Opposing FCC Ruling to End Anti-Muni Laws

It took a while, but the State of North Carolina finally decided to take its turn at the throat of the FCC. Attorneys filed a Petition for Review in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals similar to the one filed by the State of Tennessee in March. The Petition is available for download below.

Our official comment:

"Attorney General Cooper must not realize the irony of using state taxpayer dollars to ensure less money is invested in rural broadband, but we certainly do," says Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "State leaders should stand up for their citizens' interests and demand good broadband for them, rather than fighting alongside paid lobbyists to take away those opportunities."

Like Tennessee, North Carolina makes an attempt to stop the FCC's well-considered Opinion and Order by arguing that the FCC overstepped its authority in violation of the Consitution. The FCC addressed this argument in its Opinion and Order along with a myriad of other potential arguments. For detailed coverage of the FCC's well-considered decision, we provided information on highlights of the decision back in March.

According to WRAL, Wilson is taking the new development in stride:

The City of Wilson was not surprised that North Carolina sued.

"We are aware of the suit," said Will Aycock, who manages the Greenlight network. "We knew that this would be an ongoing process."

The Attorney general's has not contacted Wilson about the suit, he added.

We have to wonder if North Carolina is a bit embarrassed in arguing that rural areas should not be allowed to build their own networks even as the metro regions in Charlotte and the Triangle are seeing gigabit investment. State elected officials in North Carolina seem committed to two-tier Internet access: fast for the metro and stiflingly slow in rural regions.

"Wilson filed this petition [last year to restore local authority] not with immediate plans to expand into its rural neighboring communities, but to facilitate the future advancement of its critical Gigabit fiber-optic infrastructure over the long term."...Wilson does not expect to incur any legal costs related to the North Carolina suit, Aycock said. "We told our story," he explained.

Unfortunately, this is another example of big telecom dollars asserting influence over  state leaders. Wilson's Greenlight has proven itself over and over again to be an economic development tool, a way for the municipality to save precious public dollars, and an agent to encourage better connectivity for citizens

Longmont's NextLight Offers Businesses, Residents Third Fastest Internet In the U.S.

Ookla finds the third fastest Internet access in the U.S. is located in Longmont, Colorado, reports the Times Call. NextLight, Longmont's gigabit municipal fiber network, is the source of the increase in speeds, driving Longmont's Internet access speeds far beyond any other service in the state.

Ookla clocks average download speed in Longmont as 105 Mbps, which includes all providers in the community. Incumbents Comcast and CenturyLink are dragging down NextLight's average download speed of 221 Mbps. Statewide, Colorado's average is 40 Mbps.

According to the article:

Ookla shows Internet speeds in Longmont shooting up in January and February, when LPC crews began hooking up customers to NextLight in earnest. 

NextLight continues to attract residential and business customers. In February, NextLight announced it would be hiring more install crews to meet the high demand for connections. Places without the speed, affordability, and reliability NextLight can offer will find themselves at a disadvantage as economic development increasingly relies on next-generation networks.

The Times Call spoke with Bret McInnis, vice president for information technology for Circle Graphics. The local business switched from CenturyLink to NextLight because it needed better connectivity. Before taking service from NextLight, their maximum capacity connection was 50 Mbps download or upload and it wasn't enough:

Because the images for the canvases use high-resolution photos, they are sent in large files that can range from 100 to 300 megabits in size. The company prints anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 canvases a day during the busy holiday season.

"We've got more bandwith," McInnis said, standing in front of the five tall black towers of computing equipment that make up the business's data center. "So the NextLight fiber feeds right into this and we used to see peaks with CenturyLink ... you would see periods when we were bursting at our capacity."

Switching to NextLight, McInnis said, means employees can download and upload the high-resolution images much more quickly.

"Now, we can't really overuse it and you don't see peaks like you used to," McInnis said. "That reduced latency, which means we get the files faster, which means we can print faster and get it to the customer faster. So that's the end result."

Tom Roiniotis, Longmont Power and Communications Manager, notes how the Ookla recognition brings the community one step closer to a  critical goal:

"One of the reasons we're doing this project is to strengthen us from an economic development perspective," Roiniotis said. "There are people who access this (Ookla) information when deciding where to locate." 

Huntington Determined to Bring Fiber to Town

Community leaders from Huntington, West Virginia, are the latest to announce they are determined to bring publicly owned infrastructure to town. The Charleston Daily Mail reported in April that Mayor Steve Williams described fiber as a "game-changer" for the city and is determined to find a way to bring it to Huntington.

From the article:

“This is something we need to have to compete at the level we expect to compete at in the city,” Williams said. “This is necessary for us to have Huntington transformed and frankly, to show that this can transform the region for the next 25 years. We intend to do this. What we have to determine is how do we use this study to define how we can get there. That’s what we’re in the midst of assessing right now.”

Huntington received a grant from the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council in 2014 that it used to conduct a feasibility study. The study estimated that the cost of a network would be approximately $25 million. The city considers the study a working document and is currently seeking out grant funding to move forward. They aim to bring gigabit Internet access to Huntington for $70 per month for residents and $100 per month for businesses.

Like many other moderately sized communities, Huntington wants to capitalize on the higher quality of life attributed to small town life coupled with a high capacity next-generation network. Huntington's population is around 50,000 but it is also part of the larger Huntington-Charleston metro area of about 365,000.

Williams said the city is looking into the feasibility of forming a public-private partnership to develop the fiber network. Williams said it would be cost-prohibitive for the city to build and manage the network itself, but a public-private partnership would allow the city to retain ownership over the fiber while letting an outside company sell the service itself.

No matter how the city decides to approach building the network, Williams said it will happen.

Dakota County Expanding Fiber Network

Minnesota's Dakota County community leaders are planning to expand their existing fiber optic network, reports Blandin on Broadband's Ann Treacy. She attended a recent County Commissioner's meeting in which commissioners approved $1.2 million to add another 500,000 feet to the network.

Dakota County plans to perform some upgrades in addition to the expansion. They hope to collaborate with municipal and state government as well as a local school district. In addition to connecting more public facilities, a key benefit of this expansion will be to improve traffic signals along several busy corridors. 

Dakota County is taking advantage of transportation projects and its dig once policy to install conduit and fiber. This project will also add redundancy and capacity to the existing network and create potential connections to an industrial park. By sharing the cost of the expansion and the maintenance, each participating entity will see many benefits at a fraction of the cost from leasing from an incumbent provider.

The Dakota County Broadband Initiative recently began a campaign to approach local community leaders in order to offer info on the potential benefits of further leasing fiber to private businesses. Nearby Scott County, which offers connectivity to a number of businesses, has successfully used their fiber for economic development.

The SunThisWeek reported on a March Burnsville City Council meeting where Consultant Craig Ebeling spoke on behalf of the Initiative:

Private-sector telecom providers don’t have the capital to extend fiber widely, he said, echoing findings in the Design Nine study. Meanwhile, Scott County “smacked us in the face” with its fiber advantage, he said. It’s no time for a “hide your head” approach, [Council Member Dan] Kealey said.

“Shame on us for not being long-sighted enough to figure that out before,” he said.

The County has also realized that the network could be used to improve residential access. An Star Tribune article in March reported that only 64 percent of Dakota County homes have access to fixed broadband. As a response:

County officials are meeting with staff from local cities to come up with what they jokingly call “the mother of all joint powers agreements” that would guide growth of the fiber-optic network across the county.

“We’re not getting any help from the federal government. We’re not getting any help from the state government. So we have to do it ourselves,” [Deputy County Manager Matt] Smith said.

To learn more about Dakota County's publicly owned network and some of its benefits, read our 2014 report All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.

Vallejo Commits to Develop Fiber Master Plan

Vallejo recently hired Jory Wolf, CIO from Santa Monica, to help develop a fiber optic master plan, reports the Times Herald. A fiber network now controls the city's intelligent transportation system (ITS) and Vallejo wants to build off that asset to encourage economic development.

Wolf was the key player behind Santa Monica's master plan, which led to the development of its Institutional Network and CityNet, a fiber optic network for business connectivity. According to the article, Vallejo's master plan is expected late this fall. 

Last year, we highlighted a letter to the editor from resident Chris Platzer who suggested using Vallejo's ITS fiber network as the foundation to deploy a municipal network. A number of communities we study take advantage of fiber assets and conduit put in place as part of transportation control, including Martin County in Florida; Arlington, Virginia; and Aurora, Illinois. The Vallejo ITS includes approximately 11 miles of fiber and was built in the 1990s.

In March, city staff included the same idea as part of their recommendations. They also advised developing a joint trench ordinance and fiber upgrade policy, collaborating with nearby Benicia, and joining Next Century Cities. 

From the article:

According to staff, a joint trench ordinance would be essential in upgrading municipal infrastructure as it would allow the timing of installation of conduit to coincide with other underground construction.

Staff is also investigating the possibility of the city drafting a cooperative agreement with Benicia, to provide “better telecommunications service, faster implementation, lower costs ...”

Also on Thursday, the city announced that it has joined Next Century Cities.

Over 80 communities belong to Next Century Cities, an organization of local and regional leaders advancing fast, affordable, reliable Internet access. They provide support, resources, and collaboration to assist communities like Vallejo that want to exercise local control to improve connectivity.

From a city press release:

“Jory brings a wealth of unique experience to Vallejo in terms of how you build, operate and manage a municipal fiber network that will improve internet access and affordability, attract businesses and jobs, and generate revenue for the city,” said Mayor Osby Davis. “The City Council identified the development of a fiber network as a top priority in 2014 and 2015, and retaining Jory represents a significant step towards this goal.”

Lincoln, Illinois, Once Again Looking at Fiber

Lincoln, Illinois, has contemplated investing in a fiber-optic municipal network since 2009 and, while they have not taken steps to deploy yet, the community appears to be ready to dive in. The Lincoln Courier reports that the City Council recently considered investing $100,000 to deploy fiber in the downtown business district.

Lincoln, located right in the center of the state, is home to approximately 14,500 people. At the meeting, City Administrator Clay Johnson described the need as essential for economic development:

"Fiber optics are the sewer and water for economic development; what businesses look for when they want to locate in your area or expand in your are is, ‘do they have access to high speed internet’ and in a lot of areas, no they don’t."

Johnson believes that existing fiber from local Lincoln College could be integrated into a network that would eventually lead to better access to businesses and as backhaul for downtown Wi-Fi. His "extremely preliminary" estimate is $140,000 - $160,000 for a fiber connection from the college down one of the main commercial corridors.

He also suggested that a long-term plan would include connectivity for local schools as a cost-saving measure.

In 2009, former Mayor Keith Snyder's administration embraced the idea of investing in municipal fiber infrastructure as part of a downtown revitalization plan. In 2012 the community received a $600,000 grant of which $16,500 was dedicated to develop an initial plan for a network. City leaders ultimately decided to direct remaining funds toward other projects in 2012 and the City Council is once again taking up the possibility of fiber.

Improving Mid-Atlantic Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 146

When we last wrote about the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, it was a coop focused on open access middle mile connections. Now it has become the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and is starting to work on some plans to expand open access last mile access.

This week, we speak with MBC President and CEO Tad Deriso to learn more about their history and current approach. We discuss how they got started financially and lessons for other middle mile open access efforts.

We also discuss their plan to expand the model to last mile businesses and homes in Martinsville in southern Virginia. And along the way, we learn how incumbent providers react differently to open access in the middle mile than in the last mile.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

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

This show is 22 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 previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Tennessee Bill to Strike Anti-Muni Laws Tabled Until Next Session

Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Kevin Brooks have decided to table their legislative efforts to remove state restrictions in Tennessee. While backing for SB 1134 and HB 1303 was growing beyond the walls of the state Capitol, the sponsors decided to shore up stronger legislative support rather than risk derailing the bill entirely. 

Brooks told the Tennessean:

"We have had a lot of good progress, and we don't want to throw it all away," Brooks said. The votes were not there in the Senate, and he and co-sponsor state Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, have asked to roll the bill to the beginning of the 2016 calendar, giving them more time to garner support from their colleagues.

"We have pressed the pause button to keep it alive," Brooks said.

Communities around the state, including Bristol, went on record in support of the bill. The Tennessee Farm Bureau, representing 600,000 members, also backed the legislation

Energized by the recent FCC decision nullifying state laws restricting Chattanooga from expanding, Bowling, Brooks, and other local leaders thought the time was right to once again try to eliminate state barriers. The FCC decision has already been formerly challenged by Tennessee's Attorney General with the support of the Governor. Rather than depend on federal intervention to establish an environment that will encourage connectivity, SB 1134 and/or its companion HB 1303 would have solved the problem on the home front.

Economic development has been stifled by state barriers preventing municipal network expansions in the state but many constituents are plagued by lack of personal access. Incumbents who have spent millions lobbying to keep these restrictions in place during past legislative sessions, do not serve a number of rural areas. Those areas could benefit from municipal network expansions. From a March 6th Tennessean article:

"My district said we need help. We have some folks with little service, some folks with no service," Brooks said. "This is not about government intrusion; this is a bill about service exclusion."

Even though the legislation will not change state law this session, the FCC decision still stands for now. It may take years for the issue to be finally determined but hopefully the momentum will continue and more Tennessee voters will let their elected officials know they want to strike anti-muni laws from state books.

From an EPB Press Release:

“Thanks to a growing number of Tennesseans, who are contacting their representatives to communicate their critical need for broadband services, we made more progress this legislative session than ever before,” Senator Bowling said. “Next year, I hope the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans with little or no broadband service will override the vested interests of the legacy carriers who refuse to serve them while lobbying to prevent community-based providers from meeting the needs of the people in our state.” 

WDEF News 12 covered the story:

We simply find it stunning that a majority of legislators in Nashville believe that their state is better off with slower Internet access. That is exactly what this is about - AT&T and Comcast have purchased another year of not having to worry about competition from the Tennessee General Assembly.

Grand Junction Voters: "We Want Local Authority!"

Grand Junction is the latest Colorado community to vote to restore local telecommunications authority.

Much like the eight communities that decided last fall to reclaim that right, and Estes Park in February, Grand Junction voters spoke loudly through the ballot. Seventy-five percent of those casting ballots chose to restore authority.

Grand Junction community leaders have expressed a desire to work with providers to improve poor connectivity but have feared repercussions from state laws put in place a decade ago. They now plan to explore partnerships as well as municipal initiatives reports KKCO 11 News

“It’s an indication that people really want to see us have better fiber in this city so we'll step back as a city council and see what are next steps to go forward,” says Mayor Phyllis Norris.

The approval of Measure 2A reverses the effects of Senate Bill 152 that have been in effect for more than 10 years.

City and county leaders now have the power to negotiate with internet companies and explore options of how to share their broadband with citizens.

Rather than wait for the domino effect to make its way across the state, requiring millions to be spent on local elections, Colorado should simply repeal SB 152 and restore local authority to every community. Right now, the only beneficiaries of this barrier to local choice are the incumbent providers, who at the very least are able to delay needed investments in Internet infrastructure.