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KeepBTLocal Working on Plan to Purchase BT

Burlingtonians love their municipal network. We have reported in the past that, prior to the sale of the network to Blue Water LLC, a group of locals organized to create the KeepBTLocal cooperative. Recently, the organization reaffirmed its commitment to purchase the network when it goes up for sale, a condition of the Blue Water LLC transaction.

A customer satisfaction survey in April revealed that BT customers are more than twice as satisfied with their provider as those obtaining service from competitors. The VTDigger reported survey results:

· 87% customer satisfaction with BT’s Customer Service;

· 24% of customers chose BT’s services after being recommended by a friend or family member; and

· General impression of BT by non-BT customers saw a 10% “positive” increase over their 2014 impression.

The survey also reported that customers with other providers were 40% satisfied with their service.

BT offers 150 Mbps for $55 per month and gigabit service for $85 per month or $70 per month with a 12 month contract. All speeds are symmetrical.

It has been a long road for BT after prior city leadership covered up years' worth of cost overruns creating serious financial difficulties for the community. Eventually, CitiBank filed suit to recover the $33 million Burlington owed. The two settled and Burlington eventually transferred ownership to Blue Water with the city still leasing. The ultimate goal for the city is to sell the network. Enter KeepBTLocal.

According to a June VTDigger article, the coop has been working with a former telecommunications industry executive now working as a consultant. They are developing business and acquisition plans to purchase the network when it goes up for sale within the next few years.

Andy Mortoll, Chair of the Board of KeepBTLocal told VTDigger:

“It’s just so important for so many of us in Burlington to keep Burlington Telecom a local, community-owned asset,” Montroll said. “If the city is going to sell it, we want to be the ones to acquire it on behalf of the residents.”

KC Fiber Innovates in North Kansas City - Community Broadband Bits Episode 157

Every now and then, we stumble across something, read it twice, and then decide we need to verify it. In North Kansas City, a municipal fiber network operating in partnership with KC Fiber, is delivering a gig to residents at no ongoing charge after a reasonable one-time fee.

To get the story, our interview this week for Community Broadband Bits is with Brooks Brown, Managing Partner of KC Fiber. KC Fiber is now running the North Kansas City municipal fiber network, liNKCity.

The network delivers a free gigabit to the schools and after a one-time fee of $50-$300 (depending on desired connection capacity) residents can get a high quality fiber Internet connection with no additional charges for 10 years.

KC Fiber is not your ordinary ISP, coming from the data center world where it does business as Data Shack. We discuss how this background makes it easier for KC Fiber to offer the gigabit at no ongoing cost in our interview.

Read the rest of our coverage of North Kansas City.

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

This show is 16 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."

Chattanooga Video Explains Potential Gigabit Expansion Process

Following up on our post last week noting the new video from Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities, another video recently posted explains what needs to change in Tennessee law for Chattanooga to expand Internet access beyond the current footprint. EPB Chief Operating Officer David Wade also explains the process the municipal electric distributor will use to connect nearby communities.

Video: 

Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities - Video on Gig Freedom

In a video calling for "Broadband Equity," the Tennessee Fiber Optic Communities have released a video explaining why communities must have their local Internet choice restored.

We encourage you to Like and Follow their campaign on Facebook.

Video: 

Gigabit Internet for North Central Ohio Schools

Consolidated Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit, member-owned cooperative, will soon offer gigabit broadband in rural North Central Ohio. They intend to first offer the gigabit to local schools and then to businesses.

According to eSchoolNews, Consolidated Electric Cooperative will provide 15 school districts with gigabit connectivity. The school districts will then have greater access to online resources and be better able to comply with mandated online testing in Ohio. In the article, Doug Payauys, vice-president of information systems for Consolidated Electric Cooperative, described the need for improved Internet access in schools:

"Technology is creating a shift in today’s classroom, and it’s transforming the way teachers educate and students learn. As the country becomes a more digital-based society, schools must work to transform lesson plans and accommodate new technologies” 

The gigabit broadband will also improve the Wi-Fi in the school districts, providing more bandwidth for wireless learning devices. Wireless connections almost always depend on wireline backhaul to ensure each access point does not have a bottleneck between the user and the larger Internet. With better Wi-Fi, the schools hope to support an online curriculum for students to learn at their own pace.

Consolidated Electric Cooperative also intends to offer the gigabit connectivity to local businesses. They already offer some broadband connections to businesses through their Enlite Fiber Optic Network. They first began to develop this network in 2010 with some costs covered through the Broadband Initiatives Program created by the stimulus effort. Since then, they have expanded the network which now consists of 200 miles of fiber optic cable from Columbus to Mansfield, spanning five rural counties in North Central Ohio.

They currently do not offer residential fiber, focusing instead on providing a middle mile connectivity to governments, schools and businesses. They are, however, prepared to adapt to support residential services in the future:

Payauys noted that the network has been designed to enable Consolidated to easily deploy residential broadband if the company were to choose to do so at a future time. And already some other network operators – including three wireless Internet service providers – have stepped up to offer residential broadband using the Consolidated network for aggregation and Internet connectivity.

Consolidated Electric Cooperative expects about a four-year payback on the network and appears ready to continue expanding broadband access in rural Ohio.

Sonic.net Lights Up In Brentwood CA

Last summer the community of Brentwood began working with Sonic.net in a plan to use publicly owned conduit for a privately owned fiber network. Earlier this month, the partners celebrated completion of part of that network and officially lit-up the first residential neighborhood served by Sonic.net's fiber gigabit service.

The Mercury News reports that residents are much happier with the new Internet service provider than they were with incumbents Comcast and AT&T:

"I had no lag, no buffering, no waiting -- it almost feels like the Internet's waiting on you, rather than you waiting for the Internet," said Brentwood resident Matt Gamblin, who was one of the first residents to sign up for the service. "The hardest part about the process was canceling my old Internet."

Brentwood began installing conduit as a regular practice in 1999; the community adopted the policy as a local ordinance, requiring new developers to install it in all new construction. The city has experienced significant growth and the conduit has grown to over 150 miles, reaching over 8,000 homes and a large segment of Brentwood's commercial property. As a result, they have incrementally developed an extensive network of fiber ready conduit. 

As part of their agreement with Sonic.net, Brentwood will save an estimated $15,000 per year in connectivity fees because the ISP will provide gigabit service at no charge for City Hall. Sonic.net will fill in gaps in the conduit where they interfere with network routes. In school jurisdictions where 30 percent or more of households subscribe, public schools will also get free Internet access. (We have grave concerns about the impact of only extending high quality Internet access to schools where households are better able to subscribe to Internet access at any price point.)

City officials hope to draw more of San Francisco's high tech workforce to town. Over the past two decades of population growth, the city has prospered but community leaders want to diversify:

Officials don't expect the population growth to stop anytime soon, but they also don't want to rely too heavily on property tax revenues and risk having budgetary shortfalls during a housing crisis, such as what happened to Antioch in recent years. They're hoping things like this new high-speed Internet will attract more tech workers to town, and city leaders will be working this year to see if Brentwood can truly become an epicenter for business.

"That's the basic question: Are we a bedroom community or are we something else?" City Manager Gus Vina said. "And that 'something else' needs to have that balanced economy -- diversification is the key."

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.

Upgrade Seattle on Need For Better Access - Community Broadband Bits Episode 153

We were excited to begin writing about the Upgrade Seattle campaign back in January and this week we are presenting a discussion with several people behind the campaign for episode 153 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We are joined by Sabrina Roach, Devin Glaser, and Karen Toering to discuss what motivates the Upgrade Seattle campaign and the impact it hopes to have on the community.

We discuss their strategy for improving Internet access, how people are reacting, and how Upgrade Seattle is already working with, learning from, and sharing lessons to, people organizing in other communities for similar goals.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

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

This show is 25 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

In NC, Bald Head Island Releases RFP for Gigabit Network

The Village of Bald Head Island, North Carolina, recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP), in its search for an FTTP network. The Village, home to about 160 year-round residents, is accessible only by ferry. Transportation on the island is limited to feet, bikes, and electric golf carts. While they may choose slower transportation methods, the people of the island want speed when it comes to Internet access.

Members of the community began working on the idea in the summer of 2013 as part of an initiative that involved several challenges facing this quiet community. They determined that the economic health of local businesses and quality of life depended on improving access, traditionally provided by AT&T and Tele-Media.

Real estate professionals on the island noted that lack of broadband interfered with the housing market. According to the RFP:

Adequate broadband service is at such a premium that current real estate transactions require conveyance of current Internet service. Otherwise, new installations can take a very long time. Inadequate broadband is a known and aggravating hindrance to daily operations of local businesses. There is very strong demand from prospective real estate buyers for high-speed broadband. Current services are of inadequate quality, and worsen in bad weather and during peak usage.

After reaching out to incumbents and potential new providers, Bald Head Island's Village Council chose to open up the possibilities and issue an RFP.

While the number of year round residents is small, part-time housing, vacation rentals, and local businesses catering to tourists are plentiful. As a result, a fiber network could reach approximately 2,500 premises. The population of the island varies based on holidays, with the number of people as high as 7,000. Community leaders expect it to increase significantly when fiber comes to the island.

We reached out to Calvin Peck, Village Manager:

"We are looking for a partner. We think fiber to the home is the way to do it. At this point there is no broadband on the island that fits the FCC's definition."

The community's main industries are real estate and tourism. While we often think of "getting away from it all" as a vacation gold standard, a number of visitors have told Peck they will vacation elsewhere until the island can get its connectivity up to speed. In addition to professionals who need to remain in touch electronically, children and grandchildren still want to stream Netflix or play games online while on vacation.

We saw similar problems in Cook County, Minnesota, where the community is engaged in a BTOP funded fiber deployment. The tourist industry in the woods also needed access to high-speed Internet to remain viable.

Even though the FCC recently struck down North Carolina laws that prevent municipalities from investing in broadband networks (or engaging in certain types of partnerships), leaders in Bald Head Island choose to move forward carefully. They know that the state challenge to the FCC's Order could restore the state restrictions based on judicial interpretation. The original bill was pushed through by then Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (now in the U.S. Senate), who is hostile to municipal networks.

Peck and village officials in Bald Head Island expect Tillis to strongly defend his bill at the federal level. They also don't know if the state general assembly will simply pass another law that could create another barrier. As a result, says Peck, they are approaching the project from a "worst case scenario" perspective. 

They hope that by the time they are operating, there will be no question, allowing them to move forward without the onerous state law requirements that stifle broadband development.

It is unfortunate that industry dollars so control North Carolina leadership that a place like Bald Head Island, with less than 200 full time residents, must develop a contingency plan to protect itself from its own state government. If the Village of Bald Head Island is willing to take on the task themselves for its own future and its right to do so has been recognized at the federal level, state decision makers should step aside and let the community proceed.

Responses to the RFP are due by June 20, 2015. View a PDF of the entire document at the Village website.

Morristown FiberNET in the Spotlight

In a recent report, WBIR Knoxville shined the spotlight on Morristown. The article and video discuss how FiberNET has improved its telecommunications landscape by inspiring competition, offered better connectivity to the region, and how state law prevents other towns from reaping similar benefits. We encourage you to watch both of the videos below.

Morristown's utility head describes how it considers high-speed Internet access to be a necessary utility:

"You had railroads, you had interstates, and this is the new infrastructure cities need to have," said Jody Wigington, CEO of Morristown Utility Systems (MUS). "To us, this really is as essential to economic development as having electricity or water."

Morristown began offering gigabit service via its FTTH network in 2012. It began serving residents and businesses in 2006 because the community was fed up with poor service from incumbents. Since then, FiberNET has stimulated economic development, saved public dollars, and boosted competition from private providers. 

Prices for Internet access are considerably lower in Morristown than similar communities. From the article:

Morristown's Internet service is more expensive than Chattanooga, but much faster than the rest of the region at a comparable price. A 100 Mbps synchronous connection is $75 per month. Advertised rates for Comcast in Knoxville show a price of almost $80 per month for a 50 Mbps connection with much slower upload speeds. A 50 Mbps connection in Morristown costs $40 per month. The cable Internet option in Morristown is Charter, with an advertised price of 35 Mbps for $40 a month.

As we have seen time and again, the presence of a municipal network (nay, just the rumor of one!) inspires private providers to improve their services. AT&T offers gigabit service in Morristown and Comcast has announced it plans on offering 2 gigabit service in Chattanooga.

"Without a major disruptor like we've seen in Chattanooga and in Morristown, there's really no reason for these guys [private companies] to go out of their way to make a big spend to make bandwidth faster. It just simply doesn't make good business sense," said [Dan] Thompson, [senior analyst for Claris Networks].

Thompson said he does not believe there should be any concern that municipal Internet would result in a monopoly akin to other utilities.

"If you go to Chattanooga, Comcast advertises like crazy on billboards down there. You don't see that here [in Knoxville] at all. Comcast is still there. AT&T is still there. They're still viable options."

Beyond offering better service to residents, FiberNET also attracts more employers. In 2013, we reported on 228 new jobs in the community, attracted here in part because of FiberNET's reliability. Most recently:

"There is a new call center that is looking at relocating to Morristown. They told us the local provider can get them fiber in the building for around $1,000. The guy from our utility company told him we've already got fiber to your front door and we'll put it in the building for free because you're going to be helping our economy and jobs. Their jaws drop. Businesses really are shocked by what we have here," said [President of the Morristown Chamber of Commerce Marshall] Ramsey. "They looked at Blount County and looked at Knoxville, but the confidence in the networks just isn't there right now."

Even though the FCC struck down state restrictions on municipal networks in Tennessee, local communities are not rushing to deploy their own networks. The state is challenging the federal action, and no local community has announced an expansion due to the uncertainty around the appeal. With this appeal, the state of Tennessee is wasting taxpayer dollars to deliberately slow the deployment of essential infrastructure in rural communities.

As Wigington acknowledges in the story, a municipal fiber network is no small endeavor. Nevertheless, only a local community can know if it has the ability, drive, and need to venture into Internet access as a utility.

Wigington said the decision of whether to compete with private industry should ultimately be made by the cities, not made for them by the legislature or the cable companies.

"Cities need to be able to make this decision."