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Fibrant Rolls out 10 Gbps, A Look At Salisbury's Challenges in FTTH

Salisbury, North Carolina's Fibrant, now holds the distinction of offering the fastest Internet access in the country. The municipal network is making 10 Gbps symmetrical connectivity available for residents and businesses.

Fibrant's first 10 Gbps customer is Catawba College, a local school that will use the ultra-fast connections for its new Digital Media Creation and Collaboration labs. In a press release Joanna Jasper, Catawba CIO stated:

"By moving to Fibrant's 10 Gbps speeds, the College is in a better position to differentiate itself. We can bring world-class broadband services to our campus community to support the next generation of educational applications."

"The future is all about rich immersive digital media and being able to communicate and collaborate with others in real-time regardless of where people are in time and space."

The city of Salisbury hopes this new standard will set it apart from other North Carolina communities and entice more economic development. From a BizJournals article:

“It helps us differentiate ourselves” among cities and states seeking technology companies, [says Kent Winrich, Director of Broadband and Infrastructure Services]. “It will attract international companies. It’s not sniping businesses from Charlotte.”

Winrich sees Salisbury attracting technology companies that need the bandwidth for real-time connections to clients and suppliers — software developers and data centers, for example.

The network, which already offers gigabit connectivity to businesses and residents for around $100 per month, has attracted several businesses to a community that once struggled with job loss. Mayor Paul Woodson told WFAE that the investment in Fibrant grew out of necessity:

"All we were trying to do was differentiate ourselves from other cities. We lost our mills, we lost our furniture factories. We decided we need to do something to replace the manufacturing the whole country was losing, not just Salisbury, the whole country, so that’s how we got started."

Listen to the entire WFAE story below and check out episode #168 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for a conversation between Chris and Kent Winrich, Salisbury Director of Broadband and Infrastructure.

Salisbury has had to deal with a variety of challenges, having built the network during the worst economic downturn in 70 years and seeing Time Warner Cable slash its prices to undermine the municipal network. We thought the following background would be helpful.

Salisbury is located in west central North Carolina and home to approximately 34,000 people. In the early 2000s, the community suffered from high unemployment and businesses could not get the connectivity they needed from incumbents. There were key commercial areas in town that had no Internet access at all. Local leaders hoped the network would spur economic development an area that had previously been known for textile and other manufacturing.

Incumbent providers Time Warner Cable (TWC) and AT&T did not see enough profitability to justify upgrades, so community leaders had to take action without them.

seal-north-carolina_0.jpgIn 2005 the city began to investigate the idea of a municipal fiber network. An early survey suggested 30 percent of households would purchase at least one service from the city by the end of year three - TV, telephone, or Internet access. The local community expressed support for the project, including businesses, potential anchor institutions, and residents.

The city issued approximately $29 million in revenue bonds to finance its network deployment in November 2008. At the time of the issue, Moody's rated Salisbury at A-1 and Standard & Poor listed the city as A-plus which are equivalent ratings and considered "investment grade."

As plans moved forward, a series of setbacks delayed deployment and launch. Even though the city reached an agreement with AT&T to place city fiber on the incumbent's poles, preparing the poles took longer than expected. Synchronizing audio and video proved to be a challenge at first due to software glitches and there were also problems with remote controls accompanying set-top boxes. 

Incumbent Time Warner Cable, however, was able to take advantage of its substantial market share and cross subsidize to offer exceptionally low prices in the region. Certainly the stiff competitive prices negatively affected Fibrant's ability to reach its subscription goals.

In 2014, two bond rating agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, downgraded the bond rating for the city, citing financial struggles with the Fibrant network as a major factor in the decision. As Moody’s wrote, the city’s reduced bond rating from Aa2 to A3...

“...primarily incorporates the city's outsized enterprise risk associated with its broadband enterprise (Fibrant), with considerable operating pressure should the Fibrant continue to underperform.” 

Moody's also based its rating on the city's decision to redirect $7.6 million from its sewer and water enterprise fund to support the network. The investor service described the city's situation as "a narrowed but still acceptable cash position for the water & sewer fund."

Moody's decision to downgrade, we should note, came after a decision by Standard & Poor to upgrade, which sheds some light on the fragile and complicated bond rating process.

In 2011, North Carolina was also a battleground for TWC's intense lobbying efforts to block initiatives like Fibrant through state legislation. TWC managed to push through a restrictive bill that negatively impacted municipal networks, including Fibrant, by limiting its ability to expand.

Nevertheless, Fibrant has slowly and steadily added customers bringing subscribership to 3,000 in the summer of 2014 and in December reported that 3,200 customers took Fibrant service. By that time, Fibrant was already offering gigabit service for around $100 per month, having upgraded top tier customers to gigabit symmetrical speeds with no rate increase.

According to Winrich, the switch to even faster speeds was not as difficult as one might expect:

"We changed out our router and realized we could actually bump this up, and be the first city in the world to do it. And we were just scratching our heads going, ‘really, we’re going to be the first ones?’ And we kept checking with everyone we knew, and they said ‘we don’t know of anybody.’ So, we just jumped all over it and it was really very easy to do. Surprisingly easy to do."

Rates will vary but will cost around $400 per month, approximately $100 per month higher than the 2 Gbps residential service recently announced by Comcast. In other words, 25 percent higher for 5 times the speed with the added bonus of reliability from a local provider that cares about the welfare of its community.

An increasing number of communities are considering the benefits of municipal networks and places with 1 Gbps offerings have an even greater advantage. The ability to offer 10 Gbps lets businesses know that Fibrant has an entrepreneurial approach just as their business customers do; Salisbury is positioning itself and the region for the future:

“This whole area could be so vibrant, and Salisbury would be in the center of it,” [Winrich] says.

More Colorado Communities Will Ask Voters To Reclaim Local Authority

This November 3rd, more than ten communities in Colorado will attempt to escape the local-authority-revoking effects of SB 152 by overriding its restrictions at the polls: Archuleta County, Bayfield, Boulder Valley School District, Durango, Fort Collins, Ignacio, La Plata County, Loveland, Moffat County, Pitkin County, San Juan County, and Silverton.

Many of these communities participated in a $4.1 million fiber infrastructure project which currently provides public entities (municipal buildings, libraries, and schools) with cheap, plentiful Internet access. To determine how to better utilize that existing fiber infrastructure, the South Colorado Council of Governments received a $75,000 regional planning grant. The 10 year old law in question, SB 152, prevents local governments from taking full advantage of local fiber assets by removing local authority to offer any services that compete with incumbents; voters must reclaim that authority through a referendum.

Under the restrictions, localities cannot partner with local ISPs to provide high-speed Internet to community members via publicly owned infrastructure or create municipal FTTH networks. Local government entities must also be careful to not lease too much fiber or risk running afoul of the law. Statewide organizations have worked to amend the law, but without success:

“It’s an obnoxious law that was passed by the industry to protect their monopoly,” said Geoff Wilson, general counsel for the Colorado Municipal League.

The league tried to get the law amended during the 2015 legislative session after hearing from communities across the state about how it was blocking them from improving Internet access for residents.

“The law is designed to protect the provider of inferior service from the local government doing anything about it,” he said.

This past year, a number of Colorado communities (including Boulder, Cherry Hills Village, Estes Park, Grand Junction, Red Cliff, Rio Blanco County, San Miguel County, Yuma, and Wray) held similar referendums to reclaim local authority; most passed with huge majorities. Not all have expressed the desire to establish municipal fiber networks but they have sent a clear message that they want the ability to determine their own broadband destiny. Many are inspired by the success of Longmont, which offers 1 Gbps connectivity for $50. (Check out this video on Longmont’s fast, reliable, affordable network, NextLight.)

Here are a few details from communities scheduled to vote on local authority this fall:

Boulder Valley School Board owns about 100 miles of fiber which currently cannot be used to improve the connectivity of the surrounding community. Polling over the summer showed that 60% would approve of opting out of SB 152

Moffat County, the City of Moffat, local businesses, the school district, and Colorado Northwestern Community College are discussing how to increase economic development through better Internet access. Exempting themselves from the restrictions of SB 152 would create the opportunity to explore public-private partnerships and allow the communities to pursue the options that best meet their needs with high-speed, affordable connections. 


The City of Durango also already owns about 19 miles of fiber, leasing out 14 miles to private providers. Even the leased lines, however, have extra capacity that the city would like to be able to use. Loveland similarly has underutilized fiber, and the school district is especially interested in increasing Internet access among all students. 

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards spoke on the possibility of creating a Carrier Neutral Location (CNL) or middle-mile infrastructure and how SB 152 prevented the county from pursuing such projects. La Plata County is primarily interested in the opportunities for public-private partnerships. Other communities, such as Silverton, San Juan County, Bayfield, and Ignacio, are also preparing to vote

The ballot language from these communities often highlights how these communities do not want to raise taxes or commit to broadband project, but simply explore all their options. Archuleta County just released its ballot language as did Fort Collins:

Without increasing taxes, shall Archuleta County, Colorado have the legal ability to provide any or all services currently restricted by Title 29, Article 27, Part 1, of the Colorado Revised Statutes, specifically described as ‘advanced services,’ ‘telecommunications services,’ and ‘cable television services,’ as defined by the statute, including, but not limited to, any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, utilizing community owned infrastructure including but not limited to any existing fiber network, either directly, or indirectly with public or private sector service providers, to potential subscribers that may include telecommunications service providers, and residential or commercial users within Archuleta County?


Without increasing taxes by this measure, shall the City of Fort Collins, in the exercise of its home-rule authority, have the right to provide, either directly, and/or indirectly with public and/or private sector partners, high-speed internet services, including but not limited to any new or improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, nonprofit entities and other other users of such services located within the boundaries of the City of Fort Collins Growth management area, as expressly permitted by SB 05-152 (codified at Sections 29-27-101 to 304 of the Colorado“ Revised Statutes)?

Rather than wait for incumbents that are in no hurry to serve them, these communities are seeking local authority to take full advantage of their own infrastructure. Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments described the situation to the Durango Herald:

“We’re sort of the end of the Internet world.” 

Wilson Business Thrives With Muni Fiber Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 171

When Wilson decided to build its municipal fiber network in North Carolina, it found a strong opponent in Tina Mooring, store manager of Computer Central. One of the local business' sources of revenue was connecting people to the Internet and they were fearful that they would lose customers to what became Greenlight, the municipal fiber network that delivered the first 100 Mbps citywide service in the state and later the first citywide gig as well.

As we noted in a post in August, Computer Central became a strong supporter of Greenlight and now believes that Computer Central would be best served by allowing Wilson's municipal fiber to expand to nearby communities.

In this week's Community Broadband Bits, Tina Mooring gives us the background and reasoning for this interesting change of heart. This is a short interview, but we hope to see more of these collaborations and partnerships in other communities, where local businesses can use municipal fiber networks to sell business-to-business services.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 10 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."

New Video on Economic Development and High-Speed Connectivity in Tennessee

Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities has released another quality video focused on restoring local telecommunications authority. This three minute feature describes the importance of high speed connectivity to local economic development.

The video offers specific examples of businesses that relocated to places like Jackson and Chattanooga, comparing business connectivity in places with municipal networks to areas where high-speed connections from incumbents are costly and hard to come by.

Check out the video from the Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities:

TNFOC_EconomicDevelopment2 from TN For Fiber on Vimeo.

Avoid Partisan Fights with a Personal Face on Economic Development

The following commentary comes from Mike Smeltzer, one of the key people responsible for the UC2B network in the Illinois twin cities of Urbana and Champaign. Mike had this comment after a question about how we can elevate local bipartisan conversations from the local level to the state and federal level without getting lost in political bickering. He wrote this and gave us permission to republish it.

The Urbana City Council could be confused for Madison's, while Champaign's Council is far more conservative. I spoke to both of them on a regular basis in the early days of UC2B seeking their support. I learned early on that I could not tell Urbana's Council what they wanted to hear on Monday night, and then change the message to better please Champaign's Council on the next night. Those dedicated public servants watch each other's meetings on the PEG channels.

The only message that rang true with both councils was economic development. That should not come as any surprise, but as we look to elevate the discussion, I believe that we need to personalize that message. Joey Durel does it more eloquently than anyone, but I have heard the same theme from other mayors and elected officials from across the country.

The first time I heard Joey was on a NATOA field trip to Lafayette 4 or 5 years ago. After he served us his home-made gumbo, he told us the bottom line on how a conservative businessman became a leading advocate for Lafayette's fiber broadband system.

Joey saw fiber broadband as his community's best opportunity to create a local business environment that would allow his adult children (and their children) to work and live in Lafayette. There is no greater gift to parents than to be able to participate in the lives of their adult children and grandchildren. Without fiber in Lafayette, Joey was concerned that his kids would have to move away to find jobs after college or high school in order to find rewarding work.

Any parent from any political perspective understands that. I am lucky that both of my daughters live in Champaign. I get to see them and my grandchildren often. Wouldn't it be great if my luck was more generally shared?

On a state level, many states lose population every year. At the current pace, some time later this century, the last person living in Iowa will turn off the lights and leave the cows and corn behind. Creating local opportunities for our kids is a personal issue, a local issue and a state issue for many states.

We can gain support by putting this personal face on economic development.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Orono and Old Town Receive Funding for Fiber in Maine

The Old Town-Orono Fiber Corporation (OTO Fiber), the entity created by the cities of Old Town and Orono in Maine to design, install, maintain and manage a planned fiber network, recently received a grant for $250,000.

The funds, awarded by the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), will help the communities commence their open access network project. According to a statement released by Maine Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, this was one of six awards to Maine communities. The other grants included road, sewer, and other municipally-owned facilities needed to maintain or grow jobs in the northern counties of Maine.

Congress created NBRC in 2008 as a state-federal partnership to encourage job growth in several northern counties of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York that experience economic distress. 

In 2014, Old Town and Orono, working with the University of Maine, had been awarded ConnectME funds for the project but the funding was blocked by Time Warner Cable. Those funds were meant to string approximately 4 miles of cable intended for integration into a much larger network to eventually connect to the state's Three Ring Binder network. The ConnectME Authority chose to withhold the funds, based on TWC's argument that this open access network would overbuild potentially 320 subscribers but OTO Fiber vowed to continue and seek funds elsewhere. The funding blocked by TWC amounted to $125,000.

Approximately 7,800 people live in Old Town; Orono is home to a little over 10,000 people and the Unversity of Maine where over 11,000 students attend classes.

Albany, NY Proposes Feasibility Study for Municipal Broadband Service

In July, the city of Albany, NY released a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking qualified consulting firms to conduct a feasibility study for a municipal broadband service. As the RFP states, the study will look to develop strategies, find gaps in service and adoption, and develop a business plan to explore partnerships between the city and private ISPs.

According to Broadband Communities magazine, a working group comprised of several important community organizations and business groups in Albany will help to steer plans for the possible municipal broadband initiative. Jeff Mirel, a technology professional in Albany and a member of the working group, explains the group’s goals for the feasibility study:

“The first step is asking the right questions, which is what we want this study to do. What are the real broadband needs and issues that both businesses and residents experience here? Is it infrastructure, technology, education, affordability? How do we address the gaps to not only keep and attract companies, but bring these employers and a connected local workforce together? By taking a deep, comprehensive look at broadband access and usability, along with best practices, we can move towards meaningful, actionable strategies.”

This news out of Albany, a city of about 100,000 people, comes as major gaps persist in high speed broadband access in many parts of the state. FreeNet, Albany’s free wireless network, received a $625K state grant in 2009 earmarked to expand its service. But neither FreeNet nor Time Warner Cable and Verizon, the two biggest providers of broadband service in Albany, provides the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity a municipal fiber-based network could provide

At recent hearings in front of the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) in the New York cities of Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, and Bethlehem, political leaders and consumers expressed particular frustration with Verizon’s unwillingness to build its FIOS fiber service out to underserved parts of New York. In some cases they are asking the state’s Public Service Commission to strengthen regulations and require private companies to bring better Internet service statewide.

We warned in 2012 that Verizon would never bring FIOS to Albany and many other cities in the state. Then, as now, it’s clear that Albany’s feasibility study offers a way forward towards the only certain strategy for bringing the fast fiber-based broadband to Albany: taking matters into their own hands.

Dark Fiber Network Saving Money, Generating Revenue in Burbank

ONE Burbank, the dark fiber network that has provided connectivity for studios since 1997, is bringing a number of benefits to Burbank schools and taxpayers, reports the Burbank Leader. The network is saving public dollars, generating revenue, and providing better connectivity to schools and public facilities.

Five years ago, we reported on Burbank's asset and its primary customers - Hollywood studios. That trend has continued but now the network generates even more revenue. As a result, all electric customers served by Burbank Water and Power save with lower utility bills:

Last year, ONE Burbank generated $3.4 million in revenues for the utility, [General Manager Ron] Davis said in May. That’s compared to roughly $205,000 in 1997 and about $1.5 million five years ago, according to data Davis presented to the City Council.

“The bulk of that [$3.4 million] is all margin and helps keep electric rates down,” Davis said. “[We do] basically zero marketing and collect that margin.”

By connecting city facilities rather than leasing from a private provider, Burbank has all but eliminated past telecommunications expenses, lowering costs by 95% and saving, $480,000 in total thusfar. The school district has saved $330,000 since connecting to ONE Burbank.

ONE Burbank is also providing four times as much bandwidth to the school at a much lower rate that it once paid to the private sector, cutting its costs from $18,000 per year to $9,000 per year.

In August, Burbank Water and Power began using the dark fiber network as backhaul for free Wi-Fi service available throughout the city. There is no service level guarantee but it is open to any device:

“It’s just out there if you can get it,” Ron Davis, the utility’s general manager, told the City Council last week.

The dark fiber has helped retain and attract business, reports city leaders, and they want to continue the current trajectory to bring in high-tech companies and turn Burbank into a "Silicon Beach."

Louis Talamantes, president of Buddy’s All Stars, said his business has been using the service for about 18 months. While it’s more expensive than the prior service provider, he said, it makes up for it in reliability. The Internet would go down three or four times a month, sometimes for half a day, with his previous provider.

Though he was skeptical at first, Talamantes said the service “delivered” and he’s had no downtime with ONE Burbank, allowing him to keep his 24 employees productive, and it’s helped keep up morale.

Fiber Sailing into the Port of Lewiston, Idaho

The Port of Lewiston, the most inland seaport of the West Coast, will soon be deploying a dark fiber network, according to a July city media release. The network will serve several of the community's largest businesses, the medical center, the state college, and the airport. Although the plan calls for $950,000 to construct the network, port officials intend to have it operational by year’s end.

“This is what ports do, we develop infrastructure to support, attract and grow businesses in order to build a stronger economy,” said Port Manager David Doeringsfeld. “In today’s world, businesses must have adequate bandwidth and redundancy to remain competitive.”

The project has been highly supported by the nearby Port of Whitman County which already has maintained their own open access fiber network for over 10 years. Connecting a fiber line through the Port of Lewiston would create a loop, improving redundancy on the Port of Whitman County’s network. Better redundancy could prevent outages and ensure the ongoing reliability of the network.

The Port of Whitman’s network is fairly successful - just one section of the network near Pullman, Idaho makes $250,000 annually. The Port of Lewiston plans to follow the same open access model in designing and constructing its network which will run throughout the 32,000-person City of Lewiston.

The two ports are already collaborating on a different fiber line through North Lewiston. The Port of Lewiston is paying $30,00 for construction costs, and the Port of Whitman County will build and administer the network. This fiber line will later connect to the planned Port of Lewiston's open access network.

Chattanooga Best Place For Startups and Outdoor Play

Chattanooga was hot in August - and we don't mean just weather-wise. EPB Fiber Optics achieved a major milestone, raising subscribership to over 75,000. The Gig City also outpaced the rest of the state in new startup activity and received recognition from Outside Magazine as the 2015 Best Place to Live in America.

The Times Free Press covered the Chattanooga startup scene in a recent article, describing how the city is leading the state in economic investment for new business ideas. When compared to the same period in 2014, Hamilton County's initial business filings rose 12.6 percent in the April - June 2015 period. Statewide that figure for the same timeframe was 9.9 percent.

The Times Free Press article focused on Platt Boyd, an architect and entrepreneur who came to Chattanooga with his 3-D printing business. He moved his business there after competing in the 2014 GigTank. His 3-D printer large enough to create walls may one day change the way buildings are constructed.

"If you are searching for a place to open up a business and looking for a community to grow in, I think the very positive experience of our startups here and the rather unique network of support that Chattanooga offers (are) a really big advantage and draw for a lot of enterpreneurs," said Mike Bradshaw, executive director of The Company Lab, a nonprofit group that works to help startup ventures get off the ground. "Branch Technology, and many other similar companies, have found they can succeed in Chattanooga."

Apparently when measuring quality of life, some people consider factors outside of Internet connectivity: Outside Magazine applauds the Chattanooga sandstone climbing cliffs, its 120-mile mountain bike trail, and the Tennessee and Oconee Rivers where kayakers can find thrilling rapids. But outdoor adventure is not all Outside considered when handing out the award; the presence of the fiber network and its value to young entrepreneurs favored Chattanooga:

“The Gig showed that Chattanooga was committed to developing business,” says Joda Thongnopnua, communications director of Lamp Post, a venture fund that invests in local startups. 

It might be too early to start calling it Silicon Gorge, but people are relocating to Chattanooga because it has something that many other recreation meccas don’t: opportunity.

Watch Outside's video below to learn more about Chattanooga's adventure appeal.