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Chicago Alderman Advocates Public Fiber For Municipal Savings

At a Chicago City Council meeting this month, a newly elected alderman proposed the city stop relying on incumbent ISPs and start using its existing fiber network for connectivity.

Pointing to nearby cities like Aurora, where municipal government elimnated leased lines to reduce costs by $485,000 per year, Alderman Brian Hopkins suggested the switch could save the city “tens of millions of dollars” annually. He also advocated the change in order to provide more efficient services.

“We already have a robust infrastructure in place to build from. Fiber optic resources currently controlled and managed by [the Office of Emergency Management and Communications] for traffic, first-responder, and emergency services is an example,” Hopkins said. "Given the debt Chicago faces, we should follow other cities by switching all municipal government broadband access from private incumbent providers to a taxpayer-owned fiber network. The money saved can be reinvested into the expansion of the municipal network to finally reach those communities that need fast affordable access. Why would we not do this?”

Hopkins’s comments come on the heels of a resolution we reported on earlier this year from four powerful Chicago City Council members calling for hearings on how to use city buildings, light poles and high-speed fiber-optic lines for a wireless network that could raise the city millions.

The city is trying to find ways to generate revenue amidst a major $30 billion employee pension crisis that led Moody’s to downgrade the city’s bond rating to junk status in May.

One of the most obvious benefits to local government of self-provisioning is saving taxpayer dollars. In addition to direct savings from allowing municipalities to switch from expensive leased lines, the community at large benefits from ancillary savings. Municipal government, businesses, and residents can save from the need for fewer telephone lines, lower utility costs due to more efficient operations, and even lower rates from incumbents who sense possible competition.

DC-Net Delivers Public Savings

Washington, DC, continues to operate an incredibly successful municipal network. Created in 2007, the municipal government’s 57-mile fiber optic network, DC-Net, provides connectivity to government buildings and community anchor institutions that are health or education based. DC-Net started providing public Wi-Fi hotspots in 2010. We covered some of the savings of DC-Net itself in our 2010 report, and we recently found a report from 2012 that details an example of public savings from the network.

In 2008, the Office of Personnel Management in D.C. needed to replace its aging phone system with state-of-the-art Voice over IP and a video conference system. These two telecommunication systems require a high capacity network. After a market analysis found that prospective vendors would cost more than the budget could handle, they had to find an alternative solution. That’s when they connected with DC-Net. The network kept costs down - the initial cost-savings from the project were about $500,000. 

DC-Net also provided more than Office of Personnel Management had originally anticipated: redundancy, more connectivity, and better coverage. With the added redundancy, the phone and Internet have had less outages. DC-Net then provided gigabit ethernet to the headquarters and Wi-Fi coverage. 

The total cost savings for the Office of Personnel Management over the first 6 year period (from 2008 to 2014) are estimated at $9.25 million. They came in at budget with more connectivity than they had anticipated by using a municipal network that was committed to meeting their needs. Sounds like a good deal to us.

Boise to Collaborate With BSU and Highway District For Downtown Fiber

Boise, the Ada County Highway District (ACHD), and Boise State University (BSU) have entered into an agreement to deploy fiber along a busy downtown Boise corridor. The high-speed lines will supply connectivity to a new building BSU intends to lease as a facility for Computer Science Department students. The fiber will also connect the BSU Bookstore.

The city will use the fiber to connect its City Hall and a Police Department substation located on the BSU campus while ACHD will add this fiber line to its current fiber network to control traffic throughout the city.

According to an Idaho Statesman article, the city has been installing conduit on campus, connecting it to ACHD conduit situated in the downtown core during the past year. Conduit installation cost the city approximately $47,000; BSU will now install fiber in the conduit at a cost of approximately $75,000. ACHD will contribute a  section of its own conduit to complete the connection and will provide the permits to install the fiber.

When deliberating the joint venture, Boise leaders considered the economics and the future possibilities of the presence of the fiber. From the Statesman article:

“Providing the same data connectivity from a telecommunications provider would cost each agency close to $36,000 (per) year,” deputy city attorney Elizabeth Koeckeritz wrote in an Aug. 20 memo to the City Council. “By working together to connect these four locations, the (return on investment) is less than one year.”

At some point, Reno said, the city wants to connect the Boise Depot, the original railroad depot on the Bench south of the BSU Campus that the city owns and rents out as a venue for business meetings, weddings and other events.

This agreement will allow each entity to own one-third (48 strands) of the entire fiber line (144 strands). The city will continue to own the conduit that is in place and will own all newly-installed conduit and vaults located on city property or in the ACHD rights-of-way; any conduit installed on University property will belong to BSU.

Introducing Our Institutional Networks Page

Community anchor institutions play a critical role in bridging the digital divide. These networks that connect government buildings, libraries, and schools are often called “institutional networks” or “I-Nets.” Since the start of, we have noted the ways these institutions have expanded services and saved money. Now, these stories have been compiled into one quick-reference resource.

As franchise agreements run out with incumbent service providers, public institutions often struggle to renegotiate contracts at sustainable prices. Other communities have been left behind altogether by large cable and telephone companies and cannot get the high quality Internet access needed for their libraries or schools.

With 30% of U.S. households without a broadband connection at home, schools and libraries are portals to digital learning tools, social services, and job applications. A local government self-provisioning a fiber network to connect these facilities is often the most cost-effective way to ensure these essential entities have affordable and reliable Internet access.

In this page, we detail the many times schools and libraries have used municipal networks to save money, increase Internet access, and provide better services. We also note how these municipal institutional networks can be incrementally expanded beyond institutions to businesses and homes, creating city-wide connectivity. Check out the page.

Institutional Networks

Community Anchor Institutions, such as public libraries and schools, are among the first places people go to access the Internet when they cannot access it at home. With 30% of the United States without a broadband connection at home, libraries and schools are essential for access to social services, job applications, and digital learning tools.

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.

Traffic Project Gets Fiber in the Ground in Winston-Salem, NC

Winston-Salem struck up a smart deal with the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2011. Four years later, that agreement allows the city to move forward with its vision for an I-Net.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports that the City Council recently approved $826,522 for networking equipment to light up city owned fiber installed by the NCDOT. The agency has been upgrading area traffic control systems, a project estimated at around $20 million. Winston-Salem took advantage of the opportunity and paid the agency $1.5 million to simultaneously install its own fiber in the state conduit.

“The city was able to have the network built at only the cost of the fiber,” [city information systems department Chief Officer Dennis] Newman said. “They (state traffic contractors) are running fiber optic cable all around the city to where all the traffic lights are at. This will enable us to connect to all facilities all over the city – fire stations, public safety centers, satellite police stations – right now there are about 40 locations that we have targeted to connect to.”

As is typically the case, Winston-Salem currently pays private providers for connections at each facility but when the new I-Net is up and running, they will be able to eliminate that expense. The new voice and high-speed network will outperform current connections, described in the article as "out-of-date." City officials also told the Journal that some municipal offices have no Internet access at all but will be connected to the new I-Net.

A number of other communities have taken advantage of partnerships with state and federal transportation agencies during traffic signal upgrades. Martin County, Florida; Aurora, Illinois; and Arlington, Virginia saved considerably by collaborating during similar projects.

Boulder Releases RFP For Broadband Feasibility Study

In June, Boulder released a Request for Proposals (RFP) as it seeks a consultant to conduct a broadband feasibility study. A PDF of the RFP is available online.

The city currently has 179 miles of fiber in place serving 60 city facilities; there is an additional 36 miles of empty conduit. This network interfaces with the Boulder Valley School District's network within the city and in other areas of Boulder County. It also connects to Longmont's network and to a colocation facility in Denver. 

The city is also home to BRAN -  the Boulder Research and Administration Network. The city, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Department of Commerce Laboratories share ownership of the BRAN fiber network which interconnects their facilities.

Last fall, Boulder joined a number of other Colorado communities whose voters chose to reclaim local telecommunications authority, revoked in 2005 under Colorado State Bill 152.

The city established a Broadband Working Group earlier this year to investigate ways to bring better connectivity to Boulder. They created a draft vision, included in the RFP:

Draft Vision: Gigabit Broadband to Boulder Homes and Businesses

(May 21, 2015)

Our vision is to provide a world-class community telecommunications infrastructure to Boulder for the 21st century and beyond, facilitated by new access to the public’s local telecommunications assets. We acknowledge that broadband is a critical service for quality of life, as is the case with roads, water, sewer, and electricity. Every home, business, non-profit organization, government entity, and place of education should have the opportunity to connect affordably, easily, and securely. Boulder’s broadband services will be shaped by the values of the community.

We intend to empower our citizens and local businesses to be network economy producers, not just consumers of network information and data services. We realize that doing so requires access to gigabit-class broadband infrastructure to support these needed services and capabilities:

1. Broadband Infrastructure: Provide the infrastructure to enable every Boulder home, business, visitor, and public or private institution the opportunity to access affordable high speed broadband connections to the Internet, and other networks.

2. Open Access: Demonstrate, support, and build a non-discriminatory, open-access infrastructure that should, to the maximum extent possible, be open to all users, service providers, content providers, and application providers and be usable via all standard commercial devices.

3. Competitive Marketplace: Facilitate a local broadband marketplace that is as competitive as reasonably possible. 

4. Compete Globally: Provide stakeholders with the broadband capacity, affordability and local, regional and national connectivity they need to compete successfully in the global marketplace. 

We envision significant progress toward an operational network in 1-2 years with commitments from providers, community stakeholders, regional partners, and a common, shared vision to make gigabit-class bandwidth available to all residents, businesses and workers in Boulder.

As mentioned in the RFP, Boulder is currently in the process of municipalizing its electric utility services. The city mentions that the firm selected for the electric utility project is available to provide information about infrastructure or related issues for a more accurate study.

Last summer, Chris spoke with Don Ingle, Director of Information Technology from Boulder, for episode #108 of the Commnity Broadband Bits podcast. Don shared information about the city's policies that helped develop their existing fiber and conduit assets. Chris and Don also discussed ways Boulder has benefitted from its existing network.

The city is already offering free Wi-Fi in the downtown Civic Area. They have produced a video on the service:

City launches free public WiFi in Civic Area from City of Boulder on Vimeo.

Dublin Plans Upgrade Dublink to 100 Gbps

Dublin, Ohio's Dublink has been saving public dollars and spurring economic development since 2002. The gigabit fiber network is on the verge of a 100 gigabit upgrade. The Dublin Villager reports that in early May the City Council voted to implement the 100-Gigabit Dublink Ignite program.

According to the Villager:

The city has budgeted $865,000 over the next six years to complete the project, [City Manager Dana] McDaniel said, and will also use $300,000 in state funds and $360,000 from the Ohio Academic Resource Network for use of additional fiber optics for the project.

Increasing the city's fiber capability will allow the Dublin to provide fiber optics to older office buildings and make then more attractive, McDaniel said.

In addition to bringing fiber to a greater number of office buildings, the project may even lead to "fiber to the cubicle." 

As we reported in 2014, Dublin collaborated with the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet) to create CORN, also known as the Central Ohio Research Network. This new 100 gigabit initiative plans to encompass those partnerships so companies can potentially access OARnet and CORN.

Dublin operates a "meet me" room at a local data center and anticipates using that facility as a place were a number of ISPs can compete for commercial customers. 

According to a detailed memo from Dana McDaniel [PDF], the city has calculated significant benefits for local businesses. Here are just a few (emphasis ours):

  • Backhaul to the local data center (Metro Data Center). This represents monthly cost savings to the company in the form of avoided carrier costs. Such cost savings are estimated to be $400/month or $14,400/3 year for 10 Mbps level of service; $800 /month or $28,800/ 3 year for 100 Mbps level of service; and $2000/month or $72,000/3 year for 1 Gbps level of service
  • Provide server space, at not cost, to local companies so they can create a presence in the local data center. Average cost per month for this service is estimated to be $1,013 per month. The company not only gets free space in an N+2 data center environment, but it also would get a value of $1,013/mo or $36,468 /3 years
  • Once a presence is created in the data center, companies and institutional users can choose among internet service prices. It is not yet known the effect of choice and increases capacity for a company. It is anticipated to lower the cost by $20-30/mo per Mbps which would save a small business with 10 Mbps on Internet services and additional $200/mo or $7,200/3 years.

The city will also increase connection speeds for Dublin City Schools and Washington Township Schools and connect them to each other. Institutional users will have connectivity to the data center, which will allow them the opportunity to connect with OARnet. They will be able to choose from ISPs and can avoid carrier costs with the connection to the "meet me" room provided by the 100-Gigabit Dublink Ignite Program.

McDaniel told council. "We think that we will be off the charts for incentives we can offer to our businesses."

Places like Dublin are thinking ahead. Their foresight years ago positioned them so they are already able to offer connectivity to attract potential employers. This program takes Dublin to the next level ensuring their competitive edge.

Indiana County Saving With Fiber in Pennsylvania

Indiana County, Pennsylvania's County Commission recently voted to use its fiber optic network for telephone service reports the Indiana Gazette. The change will allow the county to save $67,000 over the first five years. Indiana County is located on the west side of the state and is home to approximately 89,000 people.

The upgrade will allow the county to eliminate two-thirds of its phone lines by taking advantage of the network that was installed as part of Indiana County's public safety radio system. Phones in the courthouse, jail, district justices’ offices, a convalescent facility, the Indiana County Airport, the county parks and the departments of Children and Youth Services and Human Services will all be on the new system.

From the Gazette article:

“This is just the beginning of the savings we’ll see from the fiber optic network,” Baker said. Coming soon will be lower costs for county government’s Internet service.