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Fiber-optic Community Broadband Service in the Washington State Wilderness

The Spokane Business Journal recently wrote about the community broadband system in Pend Oreille County, a long a favored destination for all seasons outdoor recreation.  Beginning in 2013, the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District (PUD) began providing residents and tourists with high-speed fiber to the premises broadband via a 573-miles fiber network.  The network was made possible by a $27 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant.

Private companies commonly say that such rural areas are not densely populated enough to justify investing in high-speed broadband infrastructure, leaving many rural communities on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide.  High-speed community broadband systems like the one in Pend Oreille County cancel out this potential problem as they allow tourists, residents, and businesses alike to be closely connected with nature while staying connected for business demands. Indeed, as the website for Pend Oreille County’s Economic Development Council makes clear, the community broadband service is at the core of the county’s ambitious plans to attract people and businesses to the area.

In our recent report, ”All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access,” we wrote about rural communities in Minnesota like Cook County where the tourist industry is a large part of the local economy. As in Pend Oreille, insufficient Internet negatively impacted resorts, lodges, and outfitters that depended on customers who needed more than dial-up Internet access. To solve their problem, they invested in a municipal fiber network.

Local community and business leaders report that they have also started to see people and businesses relocating to the county, encouraged by the area’s combination of fiber-optic broadband and outdoor recreation offerings.  

Alex Stanton, an IT executive whose company is stationed near the banks of the Pend Oreille River in the small town of Newport, confirms the positive impact of the network:

“Today, because of access to high-speed Internet structure in Newport and Pend Oreille County we run a full half of the team out of Newport, and we’re in the process of moving the entire remote support and network operation to Newport,” he says. “We’ve been able to build a local team of people who live and want to work here. Fiber has made that possible.”

Another anecdote comes from a man explaining the pivotal role the fiber-optic broadband service in Pend Oreille County played in convincing him to relocate to the area: 

"My wife and I both work primarily from home, and we have spent the last year and a half trying to find the spot that would allow us to experience nature while still being able to pay for it!  We have searched all over the USA and have discovered that this type of internet access is almost always reserved for large cities.... My wife and I look forward to calling Newport home…"

Hamilton Partners With Local Provider to Serve Businesses in Ohio

Hamilton, Ohio, has entered into a partnership with local firm, CenterGrid, to use city-owned fiber to boost economic development. The firm will offer Internet access and data transport to local businesses via existing infrastructure as the two enter into a five-year pilot project agreement, reports the Journal-News.

The city's business incubator, the Hamilton Mill, is the initial pilot site where emerging businesses are already receiving high-speed connectivity:

“As the initial pilot site, CenterGrid’s service has resulted in the Mill receiving network connectivity that is better than 83 percent of Internet connections throughout the US — that is huge,” Chris Lawson, executive director of the Hamilton Mill said. “For the types of companies that we are attracting, this level of connectivity is imperative for them to be successful.”

A press release from CenterGrid describes rates as economical, competitive, and determined by individual business requirements. According to the press release, entrepreneurs at The Mill are already taking advantage of the service:

"We've wanted a better high-speed internet option for quite some time. Now having something locally provided by the City of Hamilton and CenterGrid makes the idea that much more appealing. This high-speed circuit will allow us to transform our IT infrastructure and deliver value to our business," said Jon Corrado, IT Director at Tedia.

In 2014, the community of Hamilton connected local schools to city fiber allowing them to obtain Internet access from the Southwest Ohio Computer Association Council of Governments (SWOCA-COG). That opportunity decreased school connectivity costs while increasing bandwidth.

City leaders hired a consultant in 2012 who determined that opening up their existing 60-mile I-Net loop to schools and businesses was feasible and would contribute to economic development. Over the course of three years, the project estimate is $4.3 million for network expansion, equipment, ongoing capital, and operating and maintenance expenses. The community is on schedule and, if all goes according to plan, expects to see positive operating revenue in 2017 and net income in 2018.

“This initiative is a new beginning for Hamilton Fiber. Using the high-speed ‘fiber grid’ to connect its business community with our Hamilton data center, we can now deliver next generation computing solutions at previously unheard of cost,” [Director of Public Utilities Doug Childs] said.

Hamilton, located near Cincinnati in southwest Ohio provides electricity, gas, sewer, and water to residents and businesses. Located on the Ohio River, the community operates an extensive hydroelectric system to provide power to its 63,000 residents.

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:

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."

Gig City Wilson Helps Local Companies Thrive

The story of how Wilson's municipal fiber network, Greenlight, won over one of its strongest critics illustrates how community networks support and benefit local businesses. Tina Mooring is the Manager of Computer Central in Wilson and was an opponent of the city building a fiber optic network to provide a choice beyond the incumbent cable and DSL companies, both of which were national carriers.

"We were fearful," says Mooring, when asked about her feelings when the City of Wilson first announced its plan to build out a community-wide fiber to the home network. Reselling DSL connections leased from the incumbent telephone company was Computer Central's bread and butter. "We repaired computers and we resold DSL...and we were supposed to take a ‘leap of faith' that the City did not want to put us out of business." Mooring was outspoken in her belief that Wilson was taking the wrong step.

But after a few years passed by, Mooring's feelings about the municipal broadband network changed. Because of Greenlight, Tina's company found new opportunities in offering new services with the greatly enhanced connectivity. In going to conferences and speaking with her clients, she was repeatedly asked if Computer Central could offer services she did not know existed: large data backup services, cloud services, and disaster recovery. Full document and file image backups meant accessing the kind of bandwidth, particularly upstream, that just was not available in the community from the slower cable and DSL connections. Greenlight gave her business plenty of new opportunities:

"I'd say our revenues have increased from 30 and 100 percent over last year's" because of Greenlight's next-generation connections. Computer Central's clients access the upstream and downstream gigabit symmetrical capacity that Greenlight offers throughout the community and her company supplies the value added services on top of that internet pipe: data backup services, various hosting and managed services, security and disaster recovery. Mooring has switched 23 customers in Wilson County to Greenlight because these private sector businesses wanted the hosting and data disaster recovery services they otherwise could not access.

Tina's voice grew serious when she explained one example of how meaningful these new services are to businesses in Wilson. "We had a big tornado go through...everyone was hit including the car dealership across the street from my office. Cars were upside down and thrown down the street. But because of Greenlight's fiber capacity, I was able to get the dealership" right back on its feet. Time is money, and Greenlight, she says, "is very fast."

Computer Central banner

Mooring noted how her business suffers from North Carolina's state law that limits Greenlight's service area to only Wilson County. (As of the writing of this article, the FCC voted to preempt that state law, but the state of North Carolina has sued the FCC in an effort to reverse the order and prevent North Carolina municipalities from providing gigabit broadband services.)

"It's the law itself that's bad for the private sector ... it is hurting the private sector," she explained. "All my clients" in the six counties surrounding Wilson would benefit if Greenlight could serve them." Mooring adds, "I have CPA clients who tell me about their clients asking them: ‘When can they get Greenlight,' when they hear what my CPA accomplishes with our services." CPAs, medical offices, supply houses with medical offices, clients who need metro-ethernet connections, small businesses and small municipalities all would benefit from gaining access to Greenlight" she emphasized. "Right now they are limited on the services that we can provide them due to bandwidth constraints of the current incumbent providers."

Finally, Tina emphasized that access to world class broadband speed is just part of the picture. According to Ms. Mooring, "It's also an issue about the efficiency, the responsiveness, and the customer service... you know who you are doing businesses with because your families have known each other for decades." She noted the difficulty she experiences just to get a call returned from the large local incumbents serving the community. "There is much more latency...and like I said, lost time is lost money," she added. "I want Greenlight to grow, so Computer Central can grow."

Community networks like Greenlight create entrepreneurial opportunities for local businesses like Computer Central to boost local economies. Firms like Computer Central can help other area businesses be more efficient and competitive – but they need to have an infrastructure provider in town that is providing high capacity, reliable connectivity and excellent customer service.

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.

SandyNet Sharing Awesome Gig Deal With Local Businesses

SandyNet has introduced some incredible fiber connectivity deals for local businesses. Like residents, businesses can now get gigabit service for $60 per month and 100 Mbps for $40 per month. The utility also continues to offer enterprise connections, with rates established on a case-by-case basis.

Speeds are symmetrical which can be a critical factor for businesses that often must upload large amounts of data to work with clients. 

Until SandyNet began to deploy the FTTH network, business customers that needed more bandwidth relied on the town's dedicated Wi-Fi service which offered advertised speeds of up to 30 Mbps download, however, that cost $175 per month.

Smaller businesses could sign up for traditional Wi-Fi - the system residents also used - but speeds maxed out at only 5 Mbps or 10 Mbps download. Prices were $25 per month and $35 per month respectively.

Wi-Fi business customers can now make the switch to fiber for no extra fee. Those that are new customers to SandyNet will need to pay a one-time $350 connection fee.

Hungry for more on the SandyNet story? For more on how they did it, check out our video Gig City Sandy: Home of the $60 Gig. You can also listen our interview with Joe Knapp in Episode #17 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

Jackson Becomes 7th “Gig City” in Tennessee with Upgrades to its Fiber Network

According to a recent report in the Jackson Sun, the city of Jackson, Tennessee is now the seventh “Gig City” in the state of Tennessee. Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), Jackson’s municipal utility received the special recognition at a January business summit.  The Sun focuses on several existing and expected economic benefits that accompany municipal gigabit connectivity.

“These ultra-fast Internet speeds will help to assure innovation as it relates to the next generation of education, medical care, public safety and economic development,” JEA CEO John Ferrell said.

Ferrell also noted that ultra-fast Internet connectivity benefitted businesses in the Jackson community by allowing them to avoid excess inventory while still being able to provide customers with fast access to physical products when they need them.

"A good example is where an automotive supply company produces a part for a car at one plant — such as an interior headliner — and ships that part to the assembly plant to be installed in the car," Ferrell said. "Many times, this part is produced on the same day at one plant that it is installed at another plant."

Community leaders in Jackson hope their new Gig City status can help them to gain the same kind of economic development benefits that have come to places like Chattanooga, Tullahoma, and Morristown over the past several years. EPB told the Sun:

"The economic impact has been huge," J. Ed. Marston, vice president of the Electric Power Board in Chattanooga, said. "New companies have moved to Chattanooga, and a lot of investors, outside investors, are looking at Chattanooga."

Our report, Broadband at the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks, delves into Chattanooga’s story. Where communities invest in municipal networks, economic development almost always follows. Check out our Municipal Networks and Economic Development page for more examples.

The State of Tennessee now has nearly 200 data and call centers with more than 34,000 employees. A 2013 article from Business Climate magazine credits digital and fiber-optic networks as the reason why.

We wrote about the Jackson Energy Authority’s community broadband efforts as far back as 2008 when BBPMag’s FTTH Deployment Snapshot showed that JEA’s network had saved the community over $8 million already.  

As we reported in October of 2014, the JEA is upgrading the network to gigibit service over a three year period, with estimates that service will cost less than $100 per month. The first round of upgrades began earlier this year. JEA is spending around $8-10 million on the current upgrades. The original network build out in 2003 required the JEA to borrow funds but the current upgrades are funded through regular cash flow and require no borrowing. 

Jackson's Mayor Jerry Gist already sees the benefits to his city when a company comes to look at potential building sites in the area:

"Many sites are eliminated because of technology," Gist said. "This puts us in a select group across the nation that has the capability to provide fast (Internet) service to residents and businesses. We're ahead of many, many other cities across the country, and it's a huge asset.”

Eugene Opens Up Dark Fiber for Commercial Connectivity

Businesses are now finding affordable connectivity in Eugene, Oregon, through a partnership between the city, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), and the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), reports the Register-Guard. A new pilot project has spurred gigabit Internet access in a small downtown area for as little as $100 per month.

According to the article, the city contributed $100,000, LCOG added $15,000, and EWEB spent $25,000 to fund last mile connections to two commercial locations. LCOG's contribution came from an $8.3 million BTOP grant.

The fiber shares conduit space with EWEB's electrical lines; the dark fiber is leased to private ISPs who provide retail services. XS Media and Hunter Communications are serving customers; other firms have expressed an interest in using the infrastructure.

Moonshadow Mobile, a firm that creates custom maps with massive amounts of data, saves money with the new connection while working more efficiently.

To upload just one of the large files Moonshadow works with daily — the California voter file — used to take more than an hour. Now it can be done in 77 seconds, [CEO Eimer] Boesjes said.

“This completely changes the way our data engineers work,” he said.

“It’s a huge cost savings, and it makes it much easier for us to do our work. We can do our work faster.”

The upgrade also will help spur innovation, he said.

“We can start developing tools that are tuned into fiber speeds that will be ubiquitous five to 10 years down the road, so that gives us a huge advantage,” Boesjes said.

The upgraded fiber also could bring more work and jobs to Eugene, he said.

“In December one of my customers said, ‘You can hire another system administrator in Eugene and we’ll move this work from Seattle to Eugene if you have fiber,’ and [at that time] I didn’t have fiber so that opportunity went away,” Boesjes said.

A 2014 EugeneWeekly.com article notes that EWEB began installing fiber to connect 25 of its substations and 3 bulk power stations in 1999. At the time, it installed 70 miles of fiber with the future intention of connecting up schools, the University of Oregon, local governments, and long-haul telecommunications providers. There is some speculation that the EWEB Board considered developing a municipal network to offer Internet access to residents and businesses and that the vision was abandoned shortly thereafter.

As word spreads, Eugene officials expect to see more retail customers and more ISPs sign on as participants.

“We had kind of a bidding war going on and that’s what the project was designed to do was to create competition,” [Milo] Mecham [from the LCOG] said.

...

“We’ve got prices that are competitive with Portland, Chicago, San Francisco — any place you want to go — and for Eugene they’re record breaking,” Mecham said. “These products are similar to what Google is offering in bigger markets, like Austin (Texas) and Charlotte (North Carolina).”

ZipRecruiter has already named Eugene one of the Top 10 Up-and-Coming Cities for Tech Jobs in 2015. As news of its efforts to spread gigabit connectivity take off, more entrepeneurs will head toward to his community of approximately 156,000.

The city plans to connect a third building this year with telecom revenue from the project.

Erie County, New York Will Hire Consultant for Feasibility Study

Erie County's leadership recently decided it is time to get serious about publicly owned broadband infrastructure. The Erie County Legislature approved funding to engage a consultant for a feasibility study. Patrick B. Burke spearheaded the initiative, reports the county's website. Burke stated:

“Consumers, businesses, schools and government agencies need to have affordable and accessible high speed internet service in order to function in today’s world; the build out of a fiber cable network is a no-brainer. This is a win for social justice, economic development and public safety.”

In addition to funding, the county has also formed a Municipal Broadband Committee and released a policy agenda which addresses service problems in the county. Next the county will issue an RFP for a consultant.

Earlier this year, the Broadband Committee released a report [PDF] that estimated a municipal fiber network would, among other things, boost GDP in the county by 1.1 percent or $450 million per year. That report recommends public ownership of infrastructure, with private partners acting as managing operators with private ISPs offering services via the network.

The report also noted that the Buffalo Metropolitan Area peak speeds come in 294th in the state at 22.2 Mbps. The horrible result is in part due to dead zones in the southern areas where there is NO Internet access. Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state - this result is completely unacceptable in the 21st century.

In March, Burke told WBFO:

"This has to happen...There is no doubt that there will be a build- out of fiber networks in this region and throughout the country."