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Virginia Beach Growing Municipal Network For Savings, Development

Virginia Beach has launched a $4.1 million capital improvement project to extend the city’s high-speed Internet network to all municipal buildings. The network will also offer connection spots on the system for colleges, businesses, and neighboring cities, according to the Virginian Pilot.

The city (pop. 448,479) plans to more than double the reach of its municipal network, adding 73 more sites, including more police stations, fire stations, and libraries. Project work is currently underway and is expected to finish in the next year to 18 months. In addition to extending the municipal network, the project will include buying new networking equipment. The city is using money from its capital fund to pay for the project.

Once the project is completed, Virginia Beach will become the first community in the South Hampton Roads region of Virginia with its own Internet network linking all of its government buildings, the Virginian Pilot reported

Growing City Internet Needs

Virginia Beach started its municipal Internet network in 2002 with the local public schools. Since then, the city has invested a total $27 million to install about 225 linear miles of fiber-optic cable, linking all the public schools along with  “connecting many government buildings, including police stations, fire stations, libraries, recreation centers, and Human Services facilities,” according to a city news release.  

Today, Virginia Beach’s burgeoning Internet needs are fueling its municipal network expansion. The network helps maintain traffic lights, facilitates video conferencing, and provides infrastructure for email. A city spokesperson told us that 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) symmetrical service is available to most of the sites on Virginia Beach’s municipal network. 

Network Yields Savings

Once Virginia Beach’s municipal Internet network is fully implemented, the city will save about $500,000 annually in Internet access fees, Matt Arvay, Virginia Beach’s chief information officer, told the Virginian Pilot. For many years, Virginia Beach has paid to lease lines from Cox Communications for buildings not on its network. Without the need to lease those lines, the city can better control and predict their telecommunications costs.

Boosting The City’s Economic Development 

City officials see expanding their municipal network also as a strong enticement to retain and attract economic development, including biomedical companies and other new high-tech businesses.

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That includes establishing “connectivity opportunities for Old Dominion and Norfolk State universities and Tidewater Community College,” Mayor William D. Sessoms Jr. said recently in his 2016 State of the City address.   

The mayor and other city officials also envision their expanded municipal network will provide neighboring cities the opportunity to connect to Virginia Beach’s network for their own municipal broadband. 

In his State of the City address, Sessoms contended:

 “Virginia Beach is on the verge of becoming the East Coast’s fiber transmission hub, facilitating ultra-high-speed broadband communications across the ocean. Picture this….  Lines of fiber running beneath the Atlantic Ocean — from Europe and Brazil to Dam Neck Road, and on to fiber transmission facilities at the Corporate Landing Business Park….With the expansion of broadband, we are on the cusp of incredible economic growth leading to innovations and breakthroughs in medicine, business and technology.”  

Besides addressing its growing municipal needs, the city of Virginia Beach anticipates having enough fiber available to lease fiber to private businesses. If that occurs, one potential beneficiary could be the developers of a proposed biomedical park on 155 acres in Princess Anne Commons, according to Warren Harris, the city’s director of Economic Development,in the Virginian Pilot news story.

In April, the Virginia Beach City Council approved transferring that 155 acre parcel in Princess Anne Commons to the city Development Authority to create a biomedical-related business park. In an earlier news release, the city said, “Expanding ultra-high-speed Internet to the park is a high priority.”

Three Communities Make Big Moves Toward Municipal Fiber Networks

A March article in Broadband Properties Magazine spotlights three communities around the country that are making progress toward creating municipal fiber networks. The City of Centennial, Colorado announced that they have completed a feasibility study and a Master Plan detailing the city’s plans to develop a network. Additionally, the Cities of Indianola, Iowa and Rancho Cucamonga, California announced that they have begun studying the feasibility of starting their own municipal fiber networks. 

Indianola, Iowa

Indianola, Iowa is a city of about 15,000 just 20 miles south of Des Moines. As we wrote a few years ago, Indianola currently owns an open access Fiber-to-the Premise (FTTP) network which provides Gigabit speed Internet access, plus TV, and phone service to most businesses and select residents in Indianola. The study they recently commissioned will explore the feasibility of using this existing network for constructing a FTTP network to the entire community. 

Indianola built its existing fiber network, which they launched in 2012, out of frustration as CenturyLink refused requests from the community to upgrade their DSL network and the incumbent Mediacom began overcharging for their Internet services. Today, Indianola Municipal Utilities is the infrastructure owner and a wholesale provider of this fiber network while Mahaska Communication Group, an Iowa-based Internet Service Provider (ISP), performs the operations and maintenance services for the network. 

Rancho Cucamonga, California

The City of Rancho Cucamonga, California recently asked a private consulting firm to perform a study to determine the feasibility of creating a fiber optic network. City officials see a municipal fiber network in this city of just over 170,000 as a potential driver of economic development. The city is located about 45 miles east of Los Angeles.

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Like Indianola, Rancho Cucamonga owns existing fiber-optic infrastructure. They city owns 25 miles of 96 strand fiber and 5 additional miles of vacant fiber conduit connecting to numerous municipal facilities. The city plans to first create a network for municipal buildings and businesses. Later, Rancho Cucamonga will integrate the network into the city’s traffic system and expand the network to serve residents.

Centennial, Colorado

The City of Centennial, Colorado released the results of a feasibility study and Master Plan in March. The study and plan detail a strategy to expand an existing 48-mile dark fiber infrastructure to create an open access network in this Denver suburb of 100,000.

The Master Plan calls for the city to spend $5.7 million to expand its existing fiber infrastructure and create a municipal fiber network that will provide vastly improved Internet access to all of the schools, libraries, local government and public safety organizations in Centennial. The city is also designing the network to run close to major business and residential areas and will have enough capacity to serve businesses and households. The city would serve as a wholesale provider and lease the network infrastructure on a non-exclusive basis to private ISPs that would provide retail services to subscribers. 

Centennial uses its 48-mile fiber infrastructure to facilitate operations of the city’s traffic signal equipment and to connect its government facilities to privately owned Internet networks. In 2013, Centennial residents voted overwhelmingly in support of a ballot question to reclaim local telecommunications authority that had been hijacked in 2005 when the state legislature passed SB 152. The voters’ 3:1 approval of that referendum opened the door to other possibilities for their publicly owned fiber.

Centennial’s Mayor Pro Tem C.J. Whelan, the chair of Centennial’s Fiber Steering Committee, described city’s vision for the network:

“This plan provides the roadmap for a future fiber-optic network infrastructure that will become a key resource of the city and ultimately enable Centennial to pursue improvements to public services and enhance economic development.”

City Councilwoman Stephanie Piko added.

“The city will now be in a position to partner with anchor agencies, such as school districts and public-safety agencies to offer better alternatives for their technology needs and improve their services to our residents.”

Dakota County, Cities Reviewing Joint Powers Group for Fiber Network

The publicly owned fiber optic network of Dakota County, Minnesota, and of cities within its borders may soon come under the oversight of a local joint powers board.

David Asp, County Collaboration Engineer, said the County started putting the network together in May of 1998. It has grown from 20 miles in 2005 to 112 miles in 2015, and then to 270 miles in 2016. The network provides speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) download. This news marks a coming of age for the County’s 10-year-old Internet network which, together with the cities' related infrastructure, now spans 270 miles. The County network serves hundreds of public facilities and operations including county buildings, city halls, libraries, schools and more than 350 traffic control signals.

The County and 11 cities within its jurisdiction are now reviewing whether to approve a limited joint powers agreement that would have them inventory their fiber optic infrastructure to find out "what do we have and what are gaps in the system," said Matt Smith, Dakota County deputy manager. Their second objective is to develop a detailed financing system to operate an integrated Internet network, he said.

Asp said he expects the County and the cities will decide by April whether to take this first step in forming the joint powers alliance.

After these studies, the County and cities are then expected to decide if they want to participate in a broader joint powers agreement that would establish the Dakota Broadband Board. If the answer is "Yes," the joint powers board could begin operations in early 2017, Asp said.

Duties of the Board could include establishing policies, procedures, and pricing on leasing the network’s dark fiber, Asp said. Dark fiber is fiber-optic cable that is laid underground but currently not in use, and thus is dormant, or “dark.”

Dakota County, Dakota County Development Agency, Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Farmington, Hastings, Inver Grove Heights, Lakeville, Mendota Heights, Rosemount, South St. Paul and West St. Paul are reviewing the initial JPA.

Promoting Economic Development

Asp recently told us that one major role of a joint powers board would be figuring out how to use the dark fiber (unused strands) from Dakota County’s Internet network to promote economic development. That could include extending the network to industrial parks, new housing developments, and possibly residential neighborhoods.

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“We are trying to get the city councils to work together to provide guidance to the County on what to do for the future use,” Asp said. “We are trying to put as many dots on the [Internet network] map so we can bring the cost down.”

Asp said as the County continues to extend its fiber network to more public buildings; it also wants to see how to make it available to businesses and residents. "That is a political question that we are trying to answer and we are not there yet," he said.

Currently, Dakota County plans to spend about $4 million to grow the publicly owned network by about another 100 miles in 2016, Asp told us.

Since launching its fiber network 10 years ago, Dakota County has raised Internet speeds from 1.5 Mbps to now up to 10 Gbps in multiple locations, Asp said.

More Fiber Upgrades Along County Roads.

As in prior years, Dakota County has taken advantage of transportation projects and its “dig once” policy to install conduit and fiber. “We are enhancing what we have got by replacing the old fiber and putting in the new fiber,” he told us.

One of those projects is a 12-and-a-half-mile stretch along Highway 42, from Burnsville to Rosemount. “The copper strands have corroded and so we are replacing those with 288 strands of fiber optic cable and putting in extra conduit,” Asp said.

The County is also doing similar fiber optic upgrades along Cliff Road in Eagan and Robert Street in West St. Paul.

Also, Dakota County is extending its network access reach to about a half dozen of its parks so they are equipped with Wi-Fi. Locations include Lebanon Hills Park in Eagan and Spring Lake Park Reserve in Hastings.

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

Springfield, Massachusetts Introducing Free Downtown Wifi Plus New Dark Fiber Capacity

Starting this spring, the City of Springfield, Massachusetts will offer free municipal Wi-Fi and new dark fiber capacity to a 7-block area of the city’s downtown known as the “Springfield Innovation District.”

As Masslive.com reports, the new dark fiber will create a connection between the city’s Springfield Innovation Center and an existing network of dark fiber capacity in this part of downtown. The publicly owned fiber currently provides gigabit connectivity to municipal buildings but the city will lease out excess capacity. The new Wi-Fi and dark fiber services are part of a broader plan aimed at boosting economic development and innovation in Springfield, the state’s third largest city at 150,000 and the fourth largest city in all of New England. 

The project is phase one of a broader plan to soon expand the network even further in order to reach an additional downtown area and all of the city’s public parks. Springfield’s Chief Information Officer Kevin Kennedy estimates the project’s phase 1 total cost between $50,000 and $100,000. While users interested in connecting to the dark fiber will contract with a private provider for Internet service, the city will be the service provider for the free downtown Wi-Fi.

Preparing for New Tourism, Increased Economic Development, Better Livability

Over the next two years, the city will welcome a new Union Station transportation center and an MGM Casino in the city’s downtown area. With the increased tourism, Kennedy told WAMC Radio that it would be “embarrassing” for Springfield not to have free downtown Wi-Fi.

Delcie Bean, the founder of a Springfield IT company and the creator a downtown-based tech training organization called Tech Foundry, believes the new network capacity is essential to attracting people to work, live, and play in downtown Springfield:

"Connectivity like this is like what electricity was to an earlier age," he said. " It opens up the possibilities for other things to happen because we will have this fundamental base." While pointing at a downtown park near his offices, Bean added, "If we are ever going to activate that park as a public work space, we are going to need to have Wi-Fi. Even food trucks use Wi-Fi these days to process credit cards. There is just so much you can't do without it."

Local coverage:

Davenport Stepping Closer To Muni

Davenport, Iowa, is more committed than ever to bringing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to its residents and businesses.

At a January City Council public work session, current members detailed the city's plans for new members. Alderman Bill Boom noted that the community already has approximately 100 miles of fiber in place and by serving its own telecommunications needs, Davenport has saved $600,000 per year.

Connectivity As It Is Davenport

In January 2015, Davenport received the results of a feasibility study that documented lack of redundancy, inconsistent distribution of fiber, and complaints from businesses about speeds and costs. Incumbents are just not keeping pace with Internet access needs of Davenport's small business growth or the residential demand. Education and healthcare were two other areas where a fiber network could offer a long list of benefits to the community. The school district uses multiple providers because reliability is such a common issue.

People who live in Davenport also want better connectivity:

Residents, like retired University of Iowa Professor and resident of Davenport, Ezra Sidran also weighed in, saying they support a broadband infrastructure increase..

“I’m just for this, I don’t know the details all I can say [is] fiber optics are where it’s at,” Sidran said.

A Changing Community

Davenport, population 102,000, is part of the "Quad Cities" metropolitan area. The region includes four counties in northwest Illinois and southeastern Iowa and also encompasses Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline in Illinois. The population of the entire area is approximately 384,000. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, the region endured some difficult economic times as the community shifted from agriculture and related manufacturing. International Harvester, John Deere, and Caterpillar factories all closed; the community has had to attract other employers. Hy-Vee, Tyson Fresh Meats, and Genesis Health System, are only a few of the major job located in the Quad Cities today.

Looking For A Partner

Davenport is seeking a private partner and even incumbent Mediacom has expressed interest in working with "Iowa's Front Porch." At a recent public meeting, a company representative stated that Mediacom "absolutely" will be a interested in a partnership. The city wants a partner to build and manage a network that Davenport will own. The consultants who completed the feasibility study recommend the city move forward with a Request for Quotation (RFQ).

At the next City Council meeting, members will dig deeper into the details and share their findings with the public:

“You will see what the proposals look like, what the monthly payments would look like and how the internet service providers that are going to ride on the network will make those payments,” Boom said.

Boom and Klipsch say it will be two years before this project is complete.

“We are committed to making this happen, it’s just going to be what’s the time period it’s going to take, to make it all come to fruition,” [Mayor Frank] Klipsch said.

Local video coverage:

Solon Set to Save in Ohio: Big Plans for I-Net

Solon, located in Ohio's northeast corner, is looking to save approximately $65,280 per year with a publicly owned fiber institutional network (I-Net). At the January 19 city council, an ordinance authorizing the Director of Finance to request bids for the project passed unanimously

Cleveland.com recently reported that the city council is considering ditching its contract with Time Warner Cable as the city moves forward with a traffic signal project. The project would require streets to be excavated all over the community, a perfect time to install fiber connecting 8 municipal facilities. The publicly-owned network will connect buildings such as the Solon Senior Center, the Solon Community Center, and three city fire stations. The traffic signal project will cost $5 million and is funded in a large part by a combination of state and federal grants with the city contributing approximately twenty percent of the total cost.

The city will also pay for the I-Net project, an additional $160,000 but will recoup its investment in less than 3 years through savings on telecommunications costs. The city has paid Time Warner Cable to connect the municipal facilities via fiber and provide Internet access since 1990. Solon currently pays $5,440 per month. 

The city's water reclamation plant will not be connected to the new I-Net and will still use the incumbent because, due to its location, extending to the plant would cost another $100,000. The city will continue to pay Time Warner Cable $500 per month to connect the plant.

Work on the project could begin this spring.

Minnesota's Arrowhead Region Points to High-Speed Internet

Welcome to high-speed Internet on the Iron Range! This past fall, the Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) completed a multi-year project, a fiber optic network spanning nearly 1,000 miles, on Minnesota’s north shore.

The project, the Northeast Fiber Network, connects public buildings, such as health care facilities, community libraries, colleges and universities, tribal facilities, and government offices. The fiber provides the opportunity for next-generation connectivity in many unserved and underserved areas of eight counties: St. Louis, Cook, Lake, Pine, Itasca, Koochiching, Carlton, and Aitkin. It’s exciting to see this rural project finally come to fruition.

Institutional Network: Now to Go the Last Mile

It’s an institutional network, which means it brings high-speed Internet to community anchor institutions throughout the region. So far, about 320 public entities, including 31 school districts, have connected to the network. The network is designed to provide middle mile connectivity for community anchor institutions, not to bring connectivity to residents and businesses of the region. As with most federally funded projects, the plan is to provide middle mile infrastructure with the hope that the private sector will be more able or willing to invest in last mile connectivity.

That last mile, to homes and businesses, presents a challenge. NESC is leasing fiber to public and private providers and working to ensure that the network can serve as a backbone to greater connectivity. Actively working with private providers, NESC offers a bright future for unserved and underserved communities on the Iron Range.

Collaboration & Funding

Through a combination of grants and loans from federal programs, the project began about four years ago. The total cost came to about $43.5 million: 50 percent loans and 50 percent grants. The federal programs supporting the project were the USDA (Department of Agriculture) Rural Utility Service broadband loan program and the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  

Paul Brinkman, executive director of  NESC, described how the scope of this project would not have been possible without the collaboration of federal and local officials: 

“Although we have many people to thank for the success of this federal project, we are especially grateful for the spirit, dedication, and effort of USDA, elected officials, our board, our members, and our staff.” 

What’s Next for the Iron Range?

The completion of the network offers new opportunities for rural residents of Northeastern Minnesota to gain access to high-speed Internet. With the economy of the Iron Range in jeopardy, the network is a chance to improve economic development through next-generation technology.

Collaborating to Light Up Opportunities in New York

"We have fiber in the ground that is currently dark...It's a resource we have that other communities want," said Rochester, New York, Mayor Lovely Warren at a November press conference. The city is now working with Monroe County to take advantage of that dark fiber.

There are more than 360 miles of fiber under the ground serving public safety entities, suburban police and fire departments, libraries, schools, and public works facilities. In downtown Rochester, there is enough fiber to provide the redundancy that high tech companies need to establish operations. Over the past two decades, there have been several public works projects involving excavation. During those projects, crews installed fiber.

There are approximately 211,000 people living in Rochester, the county seat of Monroe County. The county is situated along the northwest border of the state, along Lake Ontario; about 750,000 people live there.

City and county officials estimate that more than 70 percent of the fiber network capacity is not being used. Local leaders are taking steps to change that. In November, the two entities released a joint request for proposals (RFP) seeking an expert to assess the current network and make recommendations on how to make the most of their investment.

At the press conference to announce the collaboration, Warren said:

The Rochester community is fortunate to have a substantial fiber optic network already in place. Very few cities have the advantage of this infrastructure in their city center. We need to be sure that its capacity is being used wisely and, ultimately, that this capacity is being used to help employers create more jobs. This fiber network gives Rochester a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting companies with high bandwidth needs and the jobs they bring with them.

According to Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and Warren, the city and county are hoping to work with private partners. At the press conference, they suggested leasing out capacity but they acknowledged that this is only the first step in a long process.

Falmouth Saves With Cape Cod I-Net

Out on Cape Cod, municipal networks are taking hold. Public buildings throughout the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, experience great connectivity and the town saves $160,000 each year with its own Institutional network (I-Net).

Public Savings

The Falmouth Area Network, maintained by CapeNet, connects 17 buildings throughout the town for a total of $3,000 each month ($2,500 from the school; $500 from the town). Were the town to go through a private provider, it would cost $1,000 for each building every month or $17,000 per month. By saving $14,000 each month, Falmouth's annual savings add up to approximately $160,000 a year. That’s a lot of money to be reinvested in the community of 31,000.

Falmouth Area Network intends to reach even more institutional buildings in the next few years. The 17 that are connected now are the libraries, the schools, the town hall, the police stations, the fire stations, the harbormaster’s office, and a senior center. Soon the Gus Canty Community Center will also gain a connection. At the Annual Town Meeting last week, the town approved the Capital Improvement Plan which included $80,000 to upgrade the network, including hooking up the community center. There are also plans to add a new wastewater treatment plan to the network in 2017.

The Role of OpenCape

The Falmouth Area Network came about thanks to another community-owned network project, the nonprofit OpenCape. Recently featured in an episode of eSTEAMers, OpenCape provides much needed middle mile connectivity throughout the Cape. The middle mile network does not connect business or residential users, but instead focuses on serving as a backbone of connectivity for towns. County, state, and federal grants funded construction of the $40 million OpenCape, which launched in 2013. The Falmouth Area Network connects to OpenCape, and a percentage of the city's annual fees go to OpenCape. 

Falmouth has more buildings connected than any of the other 15 Cape communities. The town’s success in capitalizing on access to OpenCape’s network has inspired other towns, such as Mashpee and Provincetown, to model their own networks after Falmouth.

Small City Fights Comcast Over Institutional Network

Reports have recently surfaced from The Detroit News and Patch.com that a town in Michigan is now fighting Comcast over who owns their network.

The Backstory

Fifteen years ago, West Bloomfield, Michigan, population about 65,000, wanted an Institutional Network (I-Net) to connect all the important services, like emergency response, police, fire, and water, with a dedicated high-speed network. The town entered into a franchise agreement in order to share the construction costs with the incumbent cable company, which at the time was MediaOne. According to the township, MediaOne offered to contribute $400,000 to the cost of construction as part of that agreement.

The agreement was transferred to Comcast in 2000; Comcast acquired MediaOne in 2002. MediaOne and successor Comcast have provided "free high-speed bandwidth transport as well as interconnectivity" during the life of the network claims Comcast in a letter submitted to the court. The cable giant also describes the practice as a "benefit not provided by Comcast's competitors" and wants it to stop. The franchise agreement expired on October 1 but was renewed until 2025.

To The Courts

Comcast and the town are now fighting over ownership of the infrastructure. With Comcast demanding new fees, the town is bringing a lawsuit. Comcast, however, maintains that it owns the I-Net that the town uses for all its important communications. The Detroit News reports that the township is coming out swinging:

The township said it is illegal to use public funds for private commercial purposes and insists there was never any reference to a cable company ever retaining ownership of the I-Net and said it has paid all other costs including upgrades and maintenance of the system which is “imperative to public safety operations of the township and will impact the township’s budget which is currently being prepared for 2016.”

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The township not only seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction against Comcast, it wants the company’s act declared a “wrongful conversion of township property” and to be awarded three times the actual damages plus costs and attorney fees.

In the past, these agreements made sense to small towns that needed economical internal communications. All across the U.S., towns signed onto franchise agreements with large providers that offered to build I-Nets and supply connectivity.

As original franchise agreements expire, ownership issues and rate changes are popping up. After years of dependency on big corporate providers in an environment where there is little or no competition, communities like West Bloomfield often find themselves at the mercy of companies like Comcast.

What Can Cities Do? Take Control

There’s another way though. Many towns have built their own I-Nets - often with better connectivity and more savings than franchise agreements offer. The infrastructure can be expanded for other public policy programs too, like economic development or residential Internet access. The “Institutional Networks” page is full of stories about communities that have built their own I-Nets. Rather than trusting big corporate providers, towns control their own infrastructure and are better able to predict connectivity costs.

Franchise agreements are expiring across the country. Big corporate providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable use this strategy to squeeze more dollars from institutional customers. Martin County, Florida, overcame a similar situation when Time Warner Cable tried to extract exorbitant fees as their franchise agreement expired. Rather than pay an increased rate of more than 800 percent, they chose to invest in a publicly owned fiber I-Net. The community is now able to control their costs with fast, affordable, reliable infrastructure that the community can expand. Read more about Martin County in our 2012 Report, Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network.

Other towns can expect to find themselves in the same situation as West Bloomfield, Michigan. Raising rates and demanding new fees, large providers put profit before the best interests of the community. With these franchise agreements expiring, there’s a chance for cities and towns to take back local control by building their own networks.

The time to act is now. To learn more about what to do at the local level, check out our Community Connectivity Toolkit.