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Kentucky City Transfers Ownership of Network, Still Under Local Control

The city of Franklin, KY transferred ownership of its fiber optic network to the Franklin Electric Plant Board (EPB) for $2.5 million. The Franklin City Commission unanimously approved a resolution for the transfer of ownership at the June 8th meeting. The network, although no longer maintained by the city, is still under local control. The EPB is an extension of city government, but has its own board of directors. Pleased with the city’s decision, Mayor Ronnie Clark stated:

"Broadband is now the new utility, and who better to deliver those services than the local infrastructure experts, EPB. They have the manpower and the equipment, as well as the community's confidence in providing reliable utility service and exceptional local customer support."

The city developed the 32-mile fiber optic network to encourage economic development by providing broadband to local businesses. The network attracted to new businesses including a distribution center from Tractor Supply Company. Currently, the network supports Internet connectivity to more than 40 business and industry customers in Franklin. The EPB hopes to continue to expand the services: 

"This network will be an excellent fit for us operationally, and will enable us to expand our role in serving our customers with the most robust broadband services available. We have big plans to add new services and grow our broadband customer base," said General Manager of EPB Bill Borders.

In this $2.5 million deal with EPB, the city will recoup the $2.5 million cost of constructing the network. Originally, the city funded $1.5 million with bonds and received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The sale of the network to the EPB will pay off a $1.3 million bond issued to create the network and the remainder will go into the general fund. 

Municipal Networks and Economic Development

Economic Development and Community Networks

When a community invests in a municipal broadband network, it often does so because it hopes to reap economic benefits from the network. Much has been written about the positive relationship between municipal Internet networks and economic development, including a White House report published in January 2015. Municipal networks create jobs by serving existing businesses and attracting new businesses to local communities, increase productivity by allowing individuals to telecommute and work from home, support advanced healthcare and security systems, strengthen local housing markets, and represent long term social investments in the form of better-connected schools and libraries. They also create millions of dollars in savings that can be reinvested into local communities. 

When municipalities choose to deploy fiber networks, they introduce Internet services into the community that are not only significantly faster than Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and cable, but more reliable. With fiber connections, businesses and individuals are far less likely to experience temporary blackouts that can harm their ability to provide services to customers. And because these networks are locally-owned and operated, business owners do not have to spend hours on the phone with an absentee Internet Service Provider like AT&T in the (albeit unlikely) event of a problem. 

Community Broadband Networks and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have catalogued numerous examples of economic development achievements that have occurred as a result of cities and counties deploying a municipal broadband network. Below, you can find a wide range of articles, studies, blog posts, and other resources that speak to the economic successes enabled by municipal networks, organized by topic:

* Job Creation

* Attraction of New Businesses

* Expansion of Existing Businesses

* Home-based Productivity 

* Healthcare, Education, and Research

* High Tech Industries and Entrepreneurship

* Savings 

* Property Values 

* General Resources

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.

Chattanooga's EPB, Local Cooperative, and Athens Utility Board Collaborate For Better Internet

Athens, Tennessee, has struck a deal with Chattanooga's EPB and the Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) that could facilitate the city's interest in a municipal fiber network. According to the Times Free Press, the Athens Utility Board (AUB) hammered out the final agreement earlier this month.

AUB is leasing fiber from VEC that carries a gigabit signal from EBP to the AUB system.

According to the article, AUB has explored the prospect of developing their own fiber network as early as November 2013 and now offers Internet access to one business in a local business park. AUB General Manager Eric Newberry told the AUB Board that they plan to approach other local businesses to set up additional commercial accounts. They plan a slow buildout and urge local businesses, many of them clamoring for a reliable connection, to be patient as they take next steps.

Athens is part of the Chattanooga-Cleveland-Dalton area in the southeast corner of the state and home to around 13,500 people. In March, the City Council voted unanimously to pass Resolution 2015-11 supporting local authority for telecommunications. [See the PDF of the Minutes p.1]

Thusfar, the investment has cost $58,258.69 for labor, materials, and equipment. The Board had budgeted $100,000 for the project.

Amherst, Massachusetts Exploring Fiber for Economic Development Downtown

The Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) recently hired a firm to prepare an engineering study aimed at bringing fiber connectivity to its downtown reports MassLive. 

In 2007, the community began offering free Wi-Fi downtown after receiving a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a wireless mesh network. The city worked with UMass Amherst, DARPA, and NSF to deploy the system. In 2013, the city invested in upgrades which increased speeds and extended the network's geographic coverage area.

Community leaders feel Amherst needs fiber to boost economic development now and in the future. Sean Hannon, Amherst Information Technology director, told MassLive:

"Fiber is needed because it's the only medium that can support those speeds at the distance we need.  It also should support new network equipment 20 to 30 years from now."

The study will examine optimal routes, methods, and cost estimates for deployment.

The Amherst BID is a nonprofit economic development organization whose members include local property owners, business owners, and residents. Their focus, as defined by the community's 2011 Improvement Plan, is to improve the downtown area through economic development, events, marketing, beautification, and special projects.

Hudson Developing Plans for Muni Fiber Open Access Network in Ohio

Hudson is moving ahead with plans to develop a publicly owned fiber network, reports the Hub Times. The City Council recently approved a contract with a consultant to develop a conceptual design, implement the plan, and recruit service providers interested in operating over an open access network.

In January, the town of about 23,000 conducted a residential and business survey to determine the overall state of broadband in the community. At a February meeting, the Council reviewed the survey results. Almost 1,000 residents and 133 businesses answered the survey which revealed that Internet services were lacking in coverage, speed, performance, and reliability. From a February Hub Times article:

Hudson's small and medium business community reported many issues with their current broadband services, citing poor reliability and performance as negatively affecting their ability to do business in the city. Many businesses wanted to upgrade to a better service but found that they could not afford to do so.

Consultants recommend building off the community's fiber I-Net to improve connectivity for local businesses. According to the city's Broadband Needs Assessment and Business Plan, Hudson will also consider offering services as a retail provider if no ISPs express interest in using an open access city infrastructure.

If the city  decides to pursue the open access model, consultants estimate Hudson will need to spend approximately $4.9 million to four commercial areas of town. With the added expenses and responsibilities as a retail provider, the costs would likely run closer to $6.5 million. The plan suggests deploying to businesses first and later add a residential buildout.

Bozeman's Public-Private Approach In-Depth - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 142

In Montana, local businesses and the city of Bozeman have been working on a public-private partnership approach to expanding Internet access that is likely to involve the city building an open access fiber network. We discuss their approach this week with Brit Fontenot, Economic Development Director for the city of Bozeman; David Fine, Bozeman Economic Development Specialist; and the President of Hoplite Industries, Anthony Cochenour.

Bozeman has long been known as a city with opportunities for outdoor activities but it also has a significant tech presence though like nearly every other community in the United States, many recognize the need for more investment in better options for connectivity.

A group of citizens, local businesses, and city staff have been examining their options, how they might finance it, and how to encourage the existing providers to work with them in improving Internet access.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 22 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 previous episodes here. 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."

Missoula Maps Local Fiber Assets, Encourages New Installation

Last August, we wrote and podcasted about the results of a broadband feasibility study for the City of Missoula, which recommended developing an open access network with approximately 60 miles of underground fiber through a public private partnership. The study also demonstrated a significant need for improved connectivity in the central business district, with almost 40% of businesses saying their connections were insufficient for their needs. The study also recommended a variety of fairly small policy changes to encourage the spread of fiber optics, such as a “dig once” conduit policy. 

Early in December, the Missoula City Council acted on at at least one of those recommendations by lowering the fee the city charges for excavating and installing new fiber optic lines in the public right-of-way by 75 percent. City Councilwoman Caitlin Copple, who has spearheaded the efforts for better connectivity in Missoula and appeared on our Broadband Bits podcast in August, described lowering the fee this way to the Missoulian newspaper

“It’s a gesture of good will to the service providers that we want to work with them,” said Copple, who chairs the city’s Economic Development Subcommittee. “It was a unanimous vote, and it shows Missoula is serious about business.”

The city also released a map, compiled by a third party, that shows all the privately-owned fiber assets in Missoula’s central business district. It is purposely unclear which company owns which segments of fiber, as the providers would only participate if their information was anonymized to protect their competitive edge. While certainly not present on every street, the map shows that there is a significant amount of fiber already in the ground. From the Missoulian:

“What this map shows is that we don’t need to build an entirely new network,” said Copple. “We need to piece together what’s there and solve the ‘last mile,’ or 100-foot problem in an open-access way.”

Connecting to the network can be expensive for Main Street businesses. When construction fees are considered, tapping into the network can run as high as $20,000, experts said, and monthly service fees can run as high as $1,500.

Having fiber in the ground is nice, but ultimately unhelpful if it is owned by private providers who do not make connections available and affordable. The director of the Bitter Root Economic Development District (one of the parnership entities overseeing the network planning process) said that an RFP will be issued this summer soliciting plans for addressing the problem. 

“We’ve continuously heard from the providers that there’s a lot of fiber in the ground in Missoula,” said Marcy Allen, director of BREDD. “The big obstacle here is that it’s not being utilized. We want to reduce the costs and incentivize the private sector to deploy that to their customers.”

New Article on Economic Development and Fiber: "The Killer App for Local Fiber Networks"

Time and again, we share economic development stories from communities that have invested in fiber networks. A new article by Jim Baller, Joanne Hovis, and Ashley Stelfox from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) and Masha Zager from Broadband Communities magazine examines the meaning of economic development and the connection to fiber infrastructure.

Economists, advocates, and policymakers grapple with how to scientifically measure the link between the two but:

As Graham Richard, former mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., observed, “From the point of view of retaining and gaining jobs, I can give you example after example [of the impact of broadband]. … What I don’t have is a long term, double-blind study that says it was just broadband.” But, “as a leader, sometimes you go with your gut.”

In addition to presenting examples from a number of communities such as Chattanooga, Lafayette, and Santa Monica, the article nicely summarizes key information from recent reports on links between broadband and real estate value, household income, and local economic growth.

As the authors note:

Communities increasingly recognize that fiber networks also provide critical benefits for education, public safety, health care, transportation, energy, environmental protection, urban revitalization, government service and much more. But only in revitalizing and modernizing local economies and creating meaningful, well-paying jobs do community leaders, businesses, institutions and residents consistently find common ground. In short, economic development and job creation can fairly be called the “killer app” for local fiber networks.

Worth reading and sharing!

Howard County Fiber Encourages New Jobs, Competition in Maryland - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 133

While at the Broadband Communities Economic Development conference in Springfield last year, I had the good fortune to catch a panel with Chris Merdon, the CIO of Howard County, Maryland.

Howard County has become an Internet Service Provider, not just to itself, but to private firms as well. To improve Internet access for businesses, it is both leasing dark fiber to existing providers and directly offering services to businesses and buildings.

We are grateful that Chris could join us for a Chris2 interview! We discuss how and why Howard County chose this strategy and how it is benefiting the community.

Read the transcript of our discussion here.

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

This show is 19 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 previous episodes here. 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."