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Bald Head Island Reopens RFP to Find The Right Partner

After searching for a suitable partner, the Village of Bald Head Island in North Carolina has reopened its RFP for a gigabit fiber network. Apparently, the community received four responses but no proposal provided the level of detail they require. 

In order to give respondents another opportunity and to offer new candidates a chance, Bald Head Island leaders chose to release the RFP a second time with additional questions and a responsibility matrix. No response will be considered without answers to these new appendices. All three documents are available on the Village website.

The Village of Bald Head Island is home to approximately 160 year-round residents, but numbers swell to 7,000 during the busy tourist season. Vacation homes and part-time residents bring the potential fiber service area up to 2,500 but incumbents AT&T and Tele-Media don't see the value of bringing fiber to such an environment. The StarNews Online described community leadership's frustration and decision to move forward:

"Broadband is not available on Bald Head Island," said Calvin Peck, the village's manager. "It just isn't, and none of the current providers have plans to invest the money to make it available, so the village council feels it's an important enough issue to spend village resources to make it happen."

While Bald Head Island looks for a partner it also plans to ask voters if they agree to pursue better broadband. Voters will decide on November 3rd if they support a $10 million bond issue. Community leaders will focus on revenue bonds, one of the most common ways to finance municipal network deployment. This mechanism shifts repayment to those who use the network, reducing financial risk to the community at large.

Clearly community leaders understand that the time to act is now:

"We are losing people who would build, buy or rent property on the island because they do not have Internet service," said Gene Douglas, the village's mayor pro tempore. "Many executives of major companies' office is wherever they are as long as they have access to the Internet, and we simply don't have that."

As we have noted in the past, good partners are difficult to find; municipalities must always move forward with caution. We applaud Bald Head Island for being thorough and insisting on the details before choosing a partner. Kudos to them also for taking a bifurcated approach and asking voters for funding approval now so all pieces are in place when they find the right partner.

Gig City Wilson Helps Local Companies Thrive

The story of how Wilson's municipal fiber network, Greenlight, won over one of its strongest critics illustrates how community networks support and benefit local businesses. Tina Mooring is the Manager of Computer Central in Wilson and was an opponent of the city building a fiber optic network to provide a choice beyond the incumbent cable and DSL companies, both of which were national carriers.

"We were fearful," says Mooring, when asked about her feelings when the City of Wilson first announced its plan to build out a community-wide fiber to the home network. Reselling DSL connections leased from the incumbent telephone company was Computer Central's bread and butter. "We repaired computers and we resold DSL...and we were supposed to take a ‘leap of faith' that the City did not want to put us out of business." Mooring was outspoken in her belief that Wilson was taking the wrong step.

But after a few years passed by, Mooring's feelings about the municipal broadband network changed. Because of Greenlight, Tina's company found new opportunities in offering new services with the greatly enhanced connectivity. In going to conferences and speaking with her clients, she was repeatedly asked if Computer Central could offer services she did not know existed: large data backup services, cloud services, and disaster recovery. Full document and file image backups meant accessing the kind of bandwidth, particularly upstream, that just was not available in the community from the slower cable and DSL connections. Greenlight gave her business plenty of new opportunities:

"I'd say our revenues have increased from 30 and 100 percent over last year's" because of Greenlight's next-generation connections. Computer Central's clients access the upstream and downstream gigabit symmetrical capacity that Greenlight offers throughout the community and her company supplies the value added services on top of that internet pipe: data backup services, various hosting and managed services, security and disaster recovery. Mooring has switched 23 customers in Wilson County to Greenlight because these private sector businesses wanted the hosting and data disaster recovery services they otherwise could not access.

Tina's voice grew serious when she explained one example of how meaningful these new services are to businesses in Wilson. "We had a big tornado go through...everyone was hit including the car dealership across the street from my office. Cars were upside down and thrown down the street. But because of Greenlight's fiber capacity, I was able to get the dealership" right back on its feet. Time is money, and Greenlight, she says, "is very fast."

Computer Central banner

Mooring noted how her business suffers from North Carolina's state law that limits Greenlight's service area to only Wilson County. (As of the writing of this article, the FCC voted to preempt that state law, but the state of North Carolina has sued the FCC in an effort to reverse the order and prevent North Carolina municipalities from providing gigabit broadband services.)

"It's the law itself that's bad for the private sector ... it is hurting the private sector," she explained. "All my clients" in the six counties surrounding Wilson would benefit if Greenlight could serve them." Mooring adds, "I have CPA clients who tell me about their clients asking them: ‘When can they get Greenlight,' when they hear what my CPA accomplishes with our services." CPAs, medical offices, supply houses with medical offices, clients who need metro-ethernet connections, small businesses and small municipalities all would benefit from gaining access to Greenlight" she emphasized. "Right now they are limited on the services that we can provide them due to bandwidth constraints of the current incumbent providers."

Finally, Tina emphasized that access to world class broadband speed is just part of the picture. According to Ms. Mooring, "It's also an issue about the efficiency, the responsiveness, and the customer service... you know who you are doing businesses with because your families have known each other for decades." She noted the difficulty she experiences just to get a call returned from the large local incumbents serving the community. "There is much more latency...and like I said, lost time is lost money," she added. "I want Greenlight to grow, so Computer Central can grow."

Community networks like Greenlight create entrepreneurial opportunities for local businesses like Computer Central to boost local economies. Firms like Computer Central can help other area businesses be more efficient and competitive – but they need to have an infrastructure provider in town that is providing high capacity, reliable connectivity and excellent customer service.

Hudson Lays Out Details for Its Municipal Gigabit Network

Hudson, Ohio's upcoming municipal network, Velocity Broadband, may be serving commercial customers as early as September, reports the Hudson Hub Times. At a July 22nd Rotary Club meeting, Assistant City Manager Frank Comeriato presented details on the plan. The city has no plans to serve residents but once business services are in place, they may consider a residential build out.

The gigabit network, to be owned and operated by the city of Hudson, will be deployed incrementally. Incumbents Time Warner Cable and Windstream serve local businesses but a majority complain of unreliable connections and unaffordable prices in the few places where fiber is available.

Earlier this year, the city conducted a survey and businesses responded:

"They wanted better service and speed," [Comeriato] said. "After only two vendors responded to the city to offer the service, the city decided it could offer the service like it offers public power, water and other infrastructure."

Hudson officials realize that it connectivity is an essential service for economic development and that businesses have no qualms with relocating to places where they can get the bandwidth they need:

"Economic development is 80 percent retention, and Hudson businesses are unhappy with their current service, he added. "They want something like this."

Hudson Public Power has been preparing by training crews to deploy the infrastructure. Like other communities that have recently decided to invest in municipal networks, Hudson will focus only on Internet access and voice.

Earlier this year, the City Council approved the initial $800,000 capital expenditure to begin the deployment. According to Hudson Communications Manager Jody Roberts, the city expects to spend another $1.5 million in 2016 on infrastructure before they light the network, scheduled for 2016.

"We will then determine any additional amounts needed in [future] years, since by then we will be bringing in money in the form of monthly fees from customers," Robert said of anticipated costs. "It is our goal for this service to become fully self-sustaining. And, we anticipate by offering this service, we will attract more businesses to Hudson (more income tax) and retain more businesses."

Local public relations firm AKHIA will be one of the beta testers as the network progresses. They upload and download large data files on a daily basis and their current 5 Mbps connection is inadequate. Ohio.com reported:

“Our [current] Internet is constantly going down,” [Jan Gusich, part-owner and chief executive officer] said. When that happens, her staff leaves to find other places with available Internet, such as coffee shops, she said.

Hudson is home to approximately 23,000 people and located in the northeast corner of the state. In 2014 they released an RFP for a Broadband Needs Assessment and Business Plan; the survey was part of that assessment.

After consultants reviewed the city's assets and developed an option that incorporated its I-Net, their February 2015 estimate came to approximately $4.9 million for infrastructure to four commercial areas of town for an open access model. At the time, the consultants suggested that the price would increase to $6.5 million if the city chose to take on the role as retail provider.

Who Has Citywide Gigabit Internet Access for $100 or Less?

As Westminster begins serving customers with its new FTTH network and partner Ting, we were curious how many communities are there where a residential subscriber can obtain affordable gigabit access? We estimate the number of networks, large or small, where a majority of residents in a community can obtain gigabit service for $100 or less to be 12. Westminster will be there in a few years.

Update: Russellville, Kentucky and Salisbury, North Carolina, also offer a gigabit, bringing the total number of fully gigabit cities to 14.

Municipal citywide, sub $100 gigabit providers:

  • Leverett, Massachusetts
  • North Kansas City, Missouri
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Tullahoma, Tennessee
  • Sandy, Oregon
  • UTOPIA Cities, Utah
  • Russellville, Kentucky
  • Salisbury, North Carolina (Fibrant)

Cooperatives:

  • Paul Bunyan Communications, Minnesota
  • Farmer's Telecom, Alabama
  • Co-Mo Connect, Missouri

Private Companies:

  • Google - Kansas City, Provo
  • MetroNet - Crawfordsville, Indiana (formerly a muni)
  • Burlington, Vermont - (currently privately owned, formerly a muni with future in limbo)

We included municipal networks, cooperatives, and privately owned companies. When considering networks that cover multiple jurisdictions in a single area, we counted it as one (thus Google counts as 1 in KC, Chattanooga is 1 in TN). And we were looking for gigabit networks - not just gigabit download. While we prefer to see symmetrical connections, we accepted 500 Mbps up for our threshold.

We could not identify any cities served by AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, Comcast, Cox, or any other similar company where the majority of the community has access to a gig. Those providers tend to cherry pick and even then, their prices are over $100 typically. For example, CenturyLink advertises a gig at $80 but then requires other services and hidden fees that make the monthly bill closer to $150.

We found affordable residential gigabit service from networks in urban, suburban, or rural communities from 12 networks (some of which cover multiple communities). Trying to determine how much of the community has access to a service is challenging, so please contact us with any corrections. In a few years, munis like Longmont and private companies like Ting will join the list. 

While the number of providers are few, many of them do serve multiple communities. The coops, including Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama and Missouri's Co-Mo Cooperative, provide the service to a long list of smaller communities within their service areas. There is also the open access network UTOPIA, with at least 7 providers that offer gigabit FTTH below our price point in nine communities currently served by the network (to various degrees, some cities have little coverage whereas others are almost entirely built out). 

Prices range from $0 to $99.95 per month with the highest concentration at $70 or higher. In North Kansas City, residents pay $300 for installation and receive gigabit Internet access for $0 per month for the next 10 years. This incredible offer is available due to the presence of LiNKCity, a network deployed by the city and now managed and operated by a private partner. 

AT&T has launched its $70 GigaPower in parts of 12 different metro areas, although the price requires users to submit to a special web based advertising program. Even when these big firms finally invest in high capacity connections, they find new ways to exploit their subscribers - a reminder that who deploys a technology can be as important as what that technology is.

Now that the gig barrier has been blasted away (primarily by municipal networks and smaller ISPs) we expect to see more networks and providers offering affordable gig service to residents. 

Gigabit Cat photo courtesy of Michael Himbeault and shared through a Creative Commons license.

SandyNet Sharing Awesome Gig Deal With Local Businesses

SandyNet has introduced some incredible fiber connectivity deals for local businesses. Like residents, businesses can now get gigabit service for $60 per month and 100 Mbps for $40 per month. The utility also continues to offer enterprise connections, with rates established on a case-by-case basis.

Speeds are symmetrical which can be a critical factor for businesses that often must upload large amounts of data to work with clients. 

Until SandyNet began to deploy the FTTH network, business customers that needed more bandwidth relied on the town's dedicated Wi-Fi service which offered advertised speeds of up to 30 Mbps download, however, that cost $175 per month.

Smaller businesses could sign up for traditional Wi-Fi - the system residents also used - but speeds maxed out at only 5 Mbps or 10 Mbps download. Prices were $25 per month and $35 per month respectively.

Wi-Fi business customers can now make the switch to fiber for no extra fee. Those that are new customers to SandyNet will need to pay a one-time $350 connection fee.

Hungry for more on the SandyNet story? For more on how they did it, check out our video Gig City Sandy: Home of the $60 Gig. You can also listen our interview with Joe Knapp in Episode #17 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

Jackson Becomes 7th “Gig City” in Tennessee with Upgrades to its Fiber Network

According to a recent report in the Jackson Sun, the city of Jackson, Tennessee is now the seventh “Gig City” in the state of Tennessee. Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), Jackson’s municipal utility received the special recognition at a January business summit.  The Sun focuses on several existing and expected economic benefits that accompany municipal gigabit connectivity.

“These ultra-fast Internet speeds will help to assure innovation as it relates to the next generation of education, medical care, public safety and economic development,” JEA CEO John Ferrell said.

Ferrell also noted that ultra-fast Internet connectivity benefitted businesses in the Jackson community by allowing them to avoid excess inventory while still being able to provide customers with fast access to physical products when they need them.

"A good example is where an automotive supply company produces a part for a car at one plant — such as an interior headliner — and ships that part to the assembly plant to be installed in the car," Ferrell said. "Many times, this part is produced on the same day at one plant that it is installed at another plant."

Community leaders in Jackson hope their new Gig City status can help them to gain the same kind of economic development benefits that have come to places like Chattanooga, Tullahoma, and Morristown over the past several years. EPB told the Sun:

"The economic impact has been huge," J. Ed. Marston, vice president of the Electric Power Board in Chattanooga, said. "New companies have moved to Chattanooga, and a lot of investors, outside investors, are looking at Chattanooga."

Our report, Broadband at the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks, delves into Chattanooga’s story. Where communities invest in municipal networks, economic development almost always follows. Check out our Municipal Networks and Economic Development page for more examples.

The State of Tennessee now has nearly 200 data and call centers with more than 34,000 employees. A 2013 article from Business Climate magazine credits digital and fiber-optic networks as the reason why.

We wrote about the Jackson Energy Authority’s community broadband efforts as far back as 2008 when BBPMag’s FTTH Deployment Snapshot showed that JEA’s network had saved the community over $8 million already.  

As we reported in October of 2014, the JEA is upgrading the network to gigibit service over a three year period, with estimates that service will cost less than $100 per month. The first round of upgrades began earlier this year. JEA is spending around $8-10 million on the current upgrades. The original network build out in 2003 required the JEA to borrow funds but the current upgrades are funded through regular cash flow and require no borrowing. 

Jackson's Mayor Jerry Gist already sees the benefits to his city when a company comes to look at potential building sites in the area:

"Many sites are eliminated because of technology," Gist said. "This puts us in a select group across the nation that has the capability to provide fast (Internet) service to residents and businesses. We're ahead of many, many other cities across the country, and it's a huge asset.”

Eugene Opens Up Dark Fiber for Commercial Connectivity

Businesses are now finding affordable connectivity in Eugene, Oregon, through a partnership between the city, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), and the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), reports the Register-Guard. A new pilot project has spurred gigabit Internet access in a small downtown area for as little as $100 per month.

According to the article, the city contributed $100,000, LCOG added $15,000, and EWEB spent $25,000 to fund last mile connections to two commercial locations. LCOG's contribution came from an $8.3 million BTOP grant.

The fiber shares conduit space with EWEB's electrical lines; the dark fiber is leased to private ISPs who provide retail services. XS Media and Hunter Communications are serving customers; other firms have expressed an interest in using the infrastructure.

Moonshadow Mobile, a firm that creates custom maps with massive amounts of data, saves money with the new connection while working more efficiently.

To upload just one of the large files Moonshadow works with daily — the California voter file — used to take more than an hour. Now it can be done in 77 seconds, [CEO Eimer] Boesjes said.

“This completely changes the way our data engineers work,” he said.

“It’s a huge cost savings, and it makes it much easier for us to do our work. We can do our work faster.”

The upgrade also will help spur innovation, he said.

“We can start developing tools that are tuned into fiber speeds that will be ubiquitous five to 10 years down the road, so that gives us a huge advantage,” Boesjes said.

The upgraded fiber also could bring more work and jobs to Eugene, he said.

“In December one of my customers said, ‘You can hire another system administrator in Eugene and we’ll move this work from Seattle to Eugene if you have fiber,’ and [at that time] I didn’t have fiber so that opportunity went away,” Boesjes said.

A 2014 EugeneWeekly.com article notes that EWEB began installing fiber to connect 25 of its substations and 3 bulk power stations in 1999. At the time, it installed 70 miles of fiber with the future intention of connecting up schools, the University of Oregon, local governments, and long-haul telecommunications providers. There is some speculation that the EWEB Board considered developing a municipal network to offer Internet access to residents and businesses and that the vision was abandoned shortly thereafter.

As word spreads, Eugene officials expect to see more retail customers and more ISPs sign on as participants.

“We had kind of a bidding war going on and that’s what the project was designed to do was to create competition,” [Milo] Mecham [from the LCOG] said.

...

“We’ve got prices that are competitive with Portland, Chicago, San Francisco — any place you want to go — and for Eugene they’re record breaking,” Mecham said. “These products are similar to what Google is offering in bigger markets, like Austin (Texas) and Charlotte (North Carolina).”

ZipRecruiter has already named Eugene one of the Top 10 Up-and-Coming Cities for Tech Jobs in 2015. As news of its efforts to spread gigabit connectivity take off, more entrepeneurs will head toward to his community of approximately 156,000.

The city plans to connect a third building this year with telecom revenue from the project.

Longmont Gig Finds Many Takers - Community Broadband Bits Episode 161

The community reaction to Longmont's NextLight gigabit municipal fiber network in Colorado has been dramatic. They are seeing major take rates in the initial neighborhoods, driven in part by the opportunity for a $50/month gigabit connection if you take service within three months of it becoming available in the neighborhood.

This week, Longmont Power & Communications General Manager Tom Roiniotis joins us to tell us more about their approach and how the community has responded, including a block party celebrating freedom from a well-known monopoly.

We discuss how they have connect the schools, the history of the network, and how incumbent providers are reacting. Along the way, I make a case for why what Longmont is doing is substantially different from the upgrades that CenturyLink and Comcast are making in some areas. See our other stories about Longmont here.

Read the transcript from this discussion here.

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

This show is 24 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."

Comcast's Big Gig Rip-Off

For some five years now, many have been talking about gigabit Internet access speeds. After arguing for years that no one needed higher capacity connections, Comcast has finally unveiled its new fiber optic option. And as Tech Dirt notes, it is marketed as being twice as fast but costs 4x as much (even more in the first year!).

We decided to compare the Comcast offering to muni fiber gigabit options.

Comcast's Big Gig Rip-Off

For more information on the great offer from Sandy, see the video we just released about their approach.

Cambridge Broadband Advocate at the Summit: "We Are the Perfect Testbed"

In April, Chris spoke at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin. If you were not able to attend, Saul Tannenbaum's Readfold.com article gives you a taste of what it was like. Tannenbaum is a member of the Cambridge Broadband Task Force, recently set up by the city's City Manager to investigate the possibility of municipal broadband connectivity.

Tannenbaum describes his experience there and some of the typical discussions he encounters while investigating a muni network. What role should the local or state government play in bettering connectivity? What is preventing the U.S. from excelling at ubiquitous access for all income levels? Why a municipal network? For Tannenbaum, and other residents of Cambridge, those questions are especially significant because the town is historically a place of technological innovation. Gigabit connectivity may be the gold standard, but in a place like Cambridge, it is the minimum:

Cambridge has companies and institutions for whom high capacity, high speed networks are mission critical. MIT, Harvard, the Broad Institute, Google, Microsoft, Biogen-Idec, Novartis, and many others who are not yet household names, move large amounts as part of daily work. With partners like those, Cambridge can become a true testbed for the network of the future. Cambridge, where the Internet was invented, can be where the next Internet is developed.

We encourage you to read the entire article, which also offers up some great resources, but Tannenbaum made the case for his home town:

[Cambridge] pairs a legacy of being on the frontiers of social justice with an economic sector whose future health requires a free and open Internet. It is a rarity in Cambridge politics to find the interests of our innovation community and our social justice community to be so closely aligned.