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Rural Rio Blanco County Builds Open Access Fiber, Wireless - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 158

Rio Blanco County is a large, rural county in northwestern Colorado that has two population centers. The county has a sharp plan for building FTTH to the population centers and wireless across most of the county to improve Internet access in a region the national carriers have little interest in.

In this week's episode, we interview county IT Director Blake Mobley, who has long been involved in improving Internet access for community anchor institutions in the area. We talk about their plan and how they are financing it (enabled in part by the Department of Local Affairs in Colorado - which has helped many community networks).

We also discuss many other aspects of what it takes to create a project like this -- including building trust among local stakeholders -- and their particular open access approach and terminology for the different layers in the stack of entities involved.

Finally, Blake tells us what they believe has to happen for the project to be successful. Read their vision statement here. Read our full coverage of Rio Blanco County stories here.

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

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Longmont's NextLight Video: A Brief Look at the Network and the Community

When we talk to municipal network leaders about lessons learned, they often tell us that marketing is an area where they feel a particularly vulnerability. Whenever we see a great piece of marketing from a municipal network, we like to share it.

When Longmont rebranded its FTTH network under the name NextLight, they released this awesome video. Check it out!

Video: 
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Fort Collins Local Media Endorses Muni Option

Communities all over Colorado have voted to reclaim local authority during the past year. Even though elected officials in Fort Collins are exploring the municipal network option, the City Council has yet to present the question to voters. Editors at the local news outlet, the Coloradan, recently expressed their support for a municipal broadband network, urging community leaders to let voters decide.

The Editorial Board focuses on the benefits Fort collins can expect from increased economic development, telemedicine capabilities, and relieved congestion from telecommuting. They see Internet access as one of the essential services cities provide such as water and electricity. The Editorial Board notes that city leaders have already budgeted $300,000 to create a strategic plan that includes community broadband.

The Board acknowledges that there are many unanswered questions - funding, cost, motivation for a deployment. Yes, questions need to be answered along the way, but it is time to move forward:

One hurdle is a 2005 state law that bans municipalities from starting their own telecommunications service, however, either a local vote or a federal waiver could override the law.

The time is now to sidestep the ban and approve municipal broadband.

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." 

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.

Longmonters Loving NextLight in Colorado

Longmont's NextLight municipal broadband service is surpassing projected take rates, reports the Longmont Compass. The business plan called for 34 percent but as LPC builds out the FTTH network, the first phase of the project has achieved 45 percent.

In response to the positive response, LPC will speed up completion of the project. From the Compass:

“Our schedule was already aggressive, but we’ve heard repeatedly that our community is eager to receive high-quality, high-speed broadband,” LPC general manager Tom Roiniotis said. “So we’re accelerating the deployment.”

LPC now plans to “close the circle” from two directions at once as it completes its citywide buildout, rather than move around Longmont in one counterclockwise sweep. That means the final phase of the build is now scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2016 instead of the first quarter of 2017.

As we reported last fall, gigabit symmetrical service for $50 is available for customers who sign up within three months of service availability in their area. That rate follows customers who move within Longmont and transferable to to the next home owner.

Grand Junction Will Vote to Reclaim Municipal Telecommunications Authority

Grand Junction will join a number of other Colorado communities who asked voters for an exemption to SB 152 reports KKCO 11 News. Ballot measure 2A, asking voters to approve the city's right to provide Internet access and cable TV service will be decided in the April 7th election. 

Measure 2A asks for a yes or no on the following question:

RESTORING AUTHORITY TO THE CITY TO PROVIDE EITHER DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY WITH PUBLIC OR PRIVATE SECTOR PARTNERSHIPS HIGH-SPEED INTERNET AND CABLE TELEVISION SERVICE SHALL THE CITY OF GRAND JUNCTION, WITHOUT INCREASING TAXES BY THIS MEASURE, BE AUTHORIZED TO PROVIDE, EITHER DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY WITH PUBLIC OR PRIVATE SECTOR PARTNER(S),  HIGH-SPEED INTERNET SERVICES (ADVANCED SERVICE), TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICES AND/OR CABLE TELEVISION SERVICES AS DEFINED BY §§29-27-101 TO 304 OF THE COLORADO REVISED STATUTES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY NEW AND IMPROVED HIGH BANDWIDTH SERVICE(S) BASED ON FUTURE TECHNOLOGIES, TO RESIDENTS, BUSINESSES, SCHOOLS, LIBRARIES, NONPROFIT ENTITIES AND OTHER USERS OF SUCH SERVICES, WITHOUT LIMITING ITS HOME RULE AUTHORITY?

Grand Junction, located on the western edge of the state, is home to approximately 147,000 people. Their interest in the SB 152 opt out generates from the need to be economically competitive with Longmont, Montrose, and the other Colorado towns that have already passed similar ballot measures.

The Daily Sentinel covered the region's broadband problems in a recent article:

“Broadband is not a selling point. It’s an expectation,” said Kelly Flenniken, director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. The group works on behalf of local entities to lure companies and increase business opportunities in the Grand Valley.

“It’s a modern day utility. It’s sort of like saying our roads are paved, too,” she said. “I really think from an economic development standpoint, it’s about maintaining a competitive position. If we’re trying to grow solo entrepreneurs, they’re going to want to live here. We want to make it so they can work here.”

Flenniken, whose office is located in downtown Grand Junction, said she tested upload speeds of her Internet recently and it showed a speed of less than 1 Mbps.

“The download speed was OK, but it could be way better,” she said. “When companies have to put documents on a flash drive or a CD-ROM and send it (in the mail), it’s not a sales pitch.”

Two years ago, The Business Incubator, a shared space for startups and other enitites, decided it was critical to bring high-speed Internet to the building. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Energy also uses space on the campus and was willing to share in the $250,000 cost to install the infrastructure. Clients have access to 60 Mbps symmetrical for $65 per month from CenturyLink via that infrastructure.

Other businesses don't have the same options:

Seth Schaeffer of Hoptocopter Films runs his business out of a residential-based, but ultra-modern, building in the Grand Junction core near North Avenue.

Schaeffer said it’s not that the Internet speeds are terribly slow, but that the upload speeds don’t live up to the advertised speeds his company is paying for. And, service can be inconsistent. Sometimes it’s just more reliable to send something out on a cellphone.

“Right now, 4G on my cellphone is fast and that’s the workaround that everybody is using,” he said.

Schaeffer said his company has upgraded to Charter’s 60 Mbps service, but upgrading again to having 20 Mbps for both upload and download speed would work better. That would cost about $1,000 a month, he said.

“That’s a lot to swallow,” Schaeffer said. “It’s a ridiculous amount of money to have to spend. If we could get 5 Mbps up consistently and solid, we’d be OK.”

Obviously, it's time for changes in Grand Junction.

Local coverage on measure 2A:

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 20

FCC Outlines Plan To Crush Awful State Protectionist Broadband Laws: from the it's-about-time dept by Karl Bode, Tech Dirt

While net neutrality rules are designed to protect consumers from a lack of last-mile competition, the agency's moves on municipal broadband are intended to actually strike at the issue of limited competition at the root. As we've noted a few times, ISPs (with ALEC's help) have passed laws in twenty states preventing those towns and cities from deciding their own infrastructure needs for themselves. 

It's pure, unabashed protectionism: the bills do little more than protect regional duopolies from change while hamstringing local communities desperate for better service. Usually the laws are passed under the auspices of protecting taxpayers from themselves, ignoring that the bills' sole purpose is to protect duopoly revenues. 

TV and Internet Service Providers Deliver the Worst Customer Experience: Fifth Annual Temkin Experience Ratings Evaluates 293 Companies Across 20 Industries

The poster child for poor customer experience in these industries - Comcast - was not only the lowest-scoring TV service and Internet service provider, but it was also one of the lowest-scoring companies in the entire Ratings. It ranked 289th overall out of 293 companies for its Internet service and ranked 291st overall for its TV service.

Of the 17 companies that received "very poor" ratings (below 50%) across the 193 companies, five of them were from these two industries: Comcast for TV (43%), Comcast for Internet (45%), Time Warner Cable for Internet (47%), Charter Communications for TV (48%), and Time Warner Cable for TV (48%).

"Internet and TV service providers are awful to consumers. The lack of competition continues to fuel this bad experience epidemic," states Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group.

 

California

Broadband coming to Orleans by Jessie Faulkner, Times Standard

The Karuk and Yurok Tribes have been collaborating to bring the speeded-up service to the Klamath River communities of Orleans, Weitchpec, Wautec, Johnsons as well as Orick. A $6.6 million California Public Utilities Commission grant, awarded in October 2013, is financing the project. The tribes provide matching funds.

Colorado

Fort Collins eyes starting broadband Internet service by Nick Coltrain, The Coloradoan

If the city of Fort Collins made a sound while examining the possibility at offering its own Internet service, it'd be the chirps and whirrs of a 56K modem — Almost connected but with no guarantee of success. 

Minnesota

Businesses would be able to tie into countywide broadband by John Gessner, Sun This Week

Scott County has a high-speed, fiber optic network available for businesses and Internet service providers to tap into.

Neighboring Dakota County doesn’t. One result? Up to 10 companies that were wooed by Dakota County communities instead chose Scott County for its access to limitless bandwidth, according to Craig Ebeling.

Fiber Optic Project Moves Forward: KDUZ

Ten city councils and a standing room only crowd packed the United Farmers Cooperative Berdan Center on Monday for a public hearing and adoption of a tax abatement resolution to fund a loan to the Renville-Sibley County Fiber Joint Powers Agency for the RS Fiber Cooperative.

Maine

Broadband companies showing interest in Sanford by Ellen W. Todd, Sanford News

The City of Sanford, in collaboration with the SREGC, intends to finance and own a fiber-optic network connecting 80 community institutions and private enterprises — businesses, the hospital, municipal facilities, the mill complex, industrial parks, schools — in Sanford-Springvale.

Last year, the SREGC commissioned a study on the feasibility of bringing broadband (fiber-optic) communications access to the city. The company that did the study — Tilson Technology Management company of Portland — concluded that broadband access has the potential to add “between $47 and $192 million to the Sanford-Springvale region’s economic output over the next ten years.” 

Montana

Lawmakers consider issuing bonds for broadband expansion by Alison Noon, The News Tribune

New Hampshire

Editorial: Fast internet could be a boon for Concord

Creating a truly high-speed, affordable municipal internet network could be a pipe dream – or it could be a pipeline to a more vibrant Concord with a booming economy and a growing population of young entrepreneurs and knowledge workers.

New York

County touts pros of Municipal Broadband System WKBW-7

Erie County's Broadband Committee released a new report Wednesday touting the pros of building a Municipal Broadband System.

Erie County Legislator calls for faster internet by Mark Belcher, News 4 Digital Producer

“A municipal broadband network could be our generation’s great infrastructure project, like the Erie Canal or the Hoover Dam,” Burke said.

Cayuga County's high-speed Internet needs, state broadband initiatives discussed at Wednesday Morning Roundtable by Robert Harding, Auburn Citizen

According to Batman, what started out as a few towns became a larger collaboration to find a high-speed Internet service provider for the area. He said the group contacted these companies with a few ideas, including a public-private partnership. 

Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of interest in such a venture.

"It simply is not a viable alternative," Batman said. "It simply is too expensive to serve me and my neighbors without financial incentives and support."

North Carolina

Community broadband debate centered in a North Carolina town by Renne Schoof, McClatchy Washington Bureau

“You don’t realize how fortunate you are to live in an urban setting in my district until you go into a remote area and have no access to broadband or to cellular telephone,” he said.

Tennessee

Rural Tennessee counties need broadband and internet service too by Dave Shepard, Columbia Daily Herald

The battle is typical of the Big Guys (telecommunications companies) verses the Little Guys (Municipal Electric Providers). My rural district which is comprised of 3 rural counties, Dickson, Hickman, and Maury, need expanded broadband service to make us competitive for industrial and business recruitment. We need expansion of broadband service into unserved areas to help our students do homework assignments and our residents to connect to a high speed internet service for business and pleasure. This service is already available to our state’s residents in densely populated areas all over the state of Tennessee.

My rural counties and constituents need broadband and internet service too, and I plan to vote to help them get it.

BTES adopts resolution to support legislation of municipal broadband by Tammy Childress, Bristol Herald Courier

The Bristol Tennessee Essential Services board adopted a resolution Wednesday to support legislation for municipal broadband.

City County approved a similar resolution earlier this month.

International Media Covering NextLight Strides in Longmont

Longmont's NextLight is well known in the municipal networks space; now other media markets are starting to notice the most recent network in the Centennial State. CCTV America profiled the network recently, highlighting its importance to local businesses.

CCTV spoke with a local tech business owner who had recently connected to the municipal network:

Jon Rice is a web developer for whom a reliable computer connection is critical.

“Our entire business is basically predicated on having fast, easy access to the Internet,” Rice said.

Like many other modern households, Rice describes how their home hosts multiple devices. NextLight's $50 per month gigabit tier is a necessity for both his residential and business needs.

"It's a no brainer for us; the faster the better," says Rice in the video.

Demand is high in Longmont, where the community chose last fall to bond in order to speed up FTTH deployment. In a USAToday article from last November, Tom Roiniotis, Manager of Longmont Power and Communications, described how the utility was struggling to keep up with the requests for service:

"It's a good problem to have, scrambling to keep up with demand," Roiniotis said. "This is something we're doing locally and it's a big source of community pride. The money stays locally and if you have a problem you can just drive 2 or 3 miles down the road and come talk to us. People realize it's just as important ... as reliable energy and clean water." 

Thanks to Jon Rice at the Longmont Compass who alerted us to this video and the story:

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Boulder Uses New Found Authority to Offer Free Wi-Fi

Just two months after voters passed ballot measure 2C, the City of Boulder is solidifying plans to offer free Wi-Fi throughout the downtown Civic Area, reports the Boulder Daily Camera.

Boulder was one of several Colorado communities that reclaimed local authority last fall. They had no specific project planned but knew they needed to create an environment rich in opportunity. Colorado's state law is so restrictive, there was little Boulder could do with the fiber resources they already have in place:

"Before, we were technically breaking the law by having wi-fi at the library," [Boulder IT Director Don Ingle] said.

Ingle told the City Council at it's January 26th meeting that the project was estimated to be less than $100,000 and that they hope to have it completed by March, weather permitting.

You can listen to Chris interview Don Ingle about the situation in Boulder in Episode 108 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.