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Valparaiso Embraces Dark Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 199

When Valparaiso, Indiana looked into solutions for a business that needed better Internet connectivity than incumbent providers were willing to reasonably provide, it quickly found that many businesses were lacking the access they needed. The market was broken; this wasn't an isolated incident.

Correction: Lisa misspeaks in the intro, saying Valparaiso is northeast of Chicago. It is southeast.

Valparaiso General Counsel & Economic Development Director Patrick Lyp joins us to discuss what Valparaiso is doing to ensure its businesses have the access they need in episode 199 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We discuss the need from local businesses and the dark fiber approach Valparaiso has started to encourage better choices in the ISP market. We also discuss the funding mechanism, which is tax-increment financing - a tool increasingly common in building dark fiber networks in Indiana.

Read the transcript from this show 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.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Kathleen Martin for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Player vs. Player."

Hudson's Velocity: Fiber For Local Businesses

In Hudson, Ohio, local businesses prepare for the expansion of the municipal fiber network, Velocity Broadband, and a large business relocates its headquarters to take better advantage of the fiber connectivity.

Excitement from Local Businesses

Thanks in large part to Hudson’s fiber network, a leading provider of recovery management services has moved within the small town to a new state-of-the-art headquarters. The Millennium Capital and Recovery Corporation provides recovery management services nationwide and depends on fast, reliable connectivity in order to meet clients’ needs. The new headquarters location provides for future growth and is equipped to utilize the city’s fiber connectivity. This is just one local business  benefiting from Velocity Broadband.

On January 27th, the city hosted an open house for business leaders to come and learn about the opportunities available through the gigabit fiber network. More than 40 businesses participated and received information on the current plans for Velocity Broadband in the downtown area. The Hudson Hub Times features an exclusive map of the downtown area where the service will soon be available. City Office Manager Maureen Reich described the elation for the high-speed service at the open house: 

“They [local businesses] are very excited… They ask 'when is it coming?' and 'how much does it cost?'"

Velocity Broadband Next Phase: Spring 2016 

Since mid-2014, the city of Hudson, Ohio, has investigated ways to support the connectivity needs of the community and boost economic development. After trying to partner with private providers, the city decided to build out its institutional network fiber which connected municipal buildings and anchor institutions. Throughout 2015, city leaders developed plans to launch Velocity Broadband to bring affordable, reliable connectivity to local businesses. City leaders expect work on the next phase to begin in spring 2016 with several customers connected in May.

This next phase will expand the network to commercial subscribers in the downtown area. In Community Broadband Bits Episode 181, City Manager Jane Howington described how the city has been developing the network. The city’s Public Power and Information Services departments are working together to bring about the success of this fiber-to-the-business project. In December 2015, the network had already connected 20 businesses.

"Fusion Splicing" to Light Up Village Network

Mahomet, Illinois, population 7,200, wanted to do something special to mark the official launch of its community fiber network. The network connects local public facilities as well as some area businesses. Instead of the old-fashioned ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Village held a very 21st century event in November to commemorate the occasion: a "fusion splicing" ceremony.

The local Mahomet Citizen described the proceedings:

With the press of a button, Acting Village President Sean Widener fused two strands of fiber about the width of a human hair. A computer screen showed the progress of the splice for the crowd, which included members of the Chamber of Commerce, elected officials and Mahomet-Seymour administrators.

It was an occasion that might otherwise call for a ribbon-cutting, “but in our industry, cutting is bad,” quipped Mark DeKeersgieter, executive director of the CIRBN.

A Collaborative Initiative

According to a press release, the network is a collaborative effort between the Village of Mahomet, the Mahomet-Seymour School District #3, and the Central Illinois Regional Network (CIRBN), a non-profit organization that operates a statewide fiber optic network in cooperation with the Illinois Century Network (ICN). The CIRBN connects more than 20 communities in Central Illinois with high-speed connectivity.

The Mahomet-Seymour school district initiated the first phase of the new network in 2013 when they connected area schools to the nearby CIRBN. In the next phase of the project, the Village extended the fiber network to reach other areas of the Village and provide gigabit service to businesses and other Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs). By the end of 2014, local hospitals, museums, and city government facilities also had gigabit connectivity. Village officials hope the network can eventually provide service to residents as well.

City leaders consider the project important to the community’s economic future:

“A reliable and affordable fiber-optic broadband network is important and fundamental for Mahomet to be competitive in our efforts to help drive economic development growth from new business attraction and to retain current businesses," Village of Mahomet Administrator Patrick Brown said. 

Saving

Connecting to CIRBN’s existing network allowed the Village of Mahomet and its schools to switch from an expensive private provider service contract. Mahomet-Seymour school district is getting ten times the bandwitdth while also saving $35,000 annually under the new agreement.

According to terms of the four year contract, the CIRBN will manage and maintain the network at a charge of just $1 per year. The school district and Village will retain ownership of the network. All told, the Village has spent about $300,000 on the project. 

Under the contract the CIRBN retains the right to choose either to provide Internet services over the network or to lease the lines to private entities. The CIRBN can also charge commercial customers a one-time infrastructure access fee. Proceeds from these fees will then be used for the purposes of expanding the infrastructure. 

Learning

Mahomet-Seymour school district Superintendent Rick Johnston also notes that the new community network’s core educational mission coincides with one of the CIRBN’s central objectives:

“The grant funding that started CIRBN targeted K-12 schools, so a child at school in Mahomet would have the same educational opportunities as children in large major metropolitan areas. Between our investment in the infrastructure and CIRBN’s gigabit Internet access, we have the foundation and are moving towards a 1:1 program where every student in grades 3 through 12 will have access to their own computer with internet access while at school.”

Going Faster, Farther, Safer

Prior to the installation and connection of the new network to the CIRBN, Mahomet already owned and used a limited amount of fiber optic infrastructure. The latest installation of this new fiber loop gives the Village redundancy over a larger geographic area and can carry the bandwith needed for faster speeds. The average speed for public facilities used to be about 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) but now is 250 Mbps. 

Mahomet Public Library Director Lynn Schmidt is trumpeting the impact of these upgrades for the quality of services she can deliver to the community:

“Since joining the Village of Mahomet and the Mahomet-Seymour School District in receiving internet services over fiber through CIRBN, Mahomet Public Library increased our internet speed fivefold, cut our monthly bill in half, and decreased downtime significantly. This allows us to better serve our community with fast, reliable internet access.”

Overall, the new network is fast, reliable, and affordable. The school district reduces connectivity costs while improving their curriculum, security procedures, and standardized testing. The Village is saving public dollars and increasing efficiencies.

“We’re going to be on a level playing field” with larger communities, [Acting Village President Sean] Widener said at the event.

Hudson Adds Velocity to Help Local Businesses - Community Broadband Bits Episode 181

When Hudson, Ohio, businesses couldn't get the connectivity they needed from the incumbent cable and telephone companies, the local government stepped up to provide what it calls a "service" rather than a "utility." Hudson City Manager Jane Howington joins me this week to explain their approach in Episode 181 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Hudson has a municipal electric utility already and is now investing in a fiber optic network to connect local businesses. Branded "Velocity," and launched earlier this year, the network is exceeding expectations thus far in terms of local business interest.

City Manager Howington and I discuss how they decided to build a network, their incremental approach, and how they will know if they are successful in coming years.

The transcript from this episode is available here. Read our full coverage of Hudson 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.

You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Another Washington Coastal City Considers Community Network

Out on the coast of the great state of Washington, community networks are making waves. Orcas Island residents recently made headlines with their homegrown wireless network, and Mount Vernon’s fiber network previously appeared in the New York Times. Now, the city of Anacortes is considering its options.

 

Anacortes: Fiber-to-the-Home?

The city is negotiating with an engineering firm to develop a fiber network that best provides connectivity for the 16,000 residents. The engineering firm is expected to present to the city council next on November 16th.

Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer estimates the cost of fiber optic installation at about $15 million. The city of Anacortes has applied for a $375,000 grant from Skagit County to help pay for the construction, but the city would likely need a take-rate (homes to subscribe to the network) of 35 - 40% to break even on the project. 

 

Mount Vernon: Open Access

Anacortes’ plan is rather distinct from that of its neighboring community Mount Vernon. The network in Mount Vernon is an open access fiber available to government and local businesses, not residents, in Mount Vernon, Burlington, and the Port of Skagit. 

Mount Vernon made the New York Times last year with the story of an information security firm relocating from Seattle to Mount Vernon thanks to the fiber connectivity available there. Currently, the network has 267 drops (locations with connections) throughout the three communities. In Mount Vernon alone, there are 185 drops with 37.3% being for government maintenance and the city of Mount Vernon. 9.7% are dark fiber leases, and all the rest are ISP service drops to businesses. 

 

What will Anacortes do?

We will have to wait to see the model laid out by the engineering firm next week in Anacortes. If the plans are approved, the city could start laying cable as early as next year. Bruce McDougall, an Anacortes resident who volunteered to lead the feasibility study, expressed hope that the project will be approved, saying: “small cities are good places for things like this.”

Hudson Brings Velocity to Businesses in Ohio

In mid-September, Hudson, Ohio launched its Velocity Broadband service, bringing 1 gig connectivity to a large business complex. The commercial site is the first in series of industrial areas where the city officials plan to bring the network in the coming years. The community, located near Akron, hopes to eventually bring Velocity Broadband to residential areas.

The network is already exceeding expectations. Less than a month after the initial network launch, City Manager Jane Howington said local officials expect to surpass their goal of 50 customers by the end of 2015:

"It's moving faster than we thought," said City Manager Jane Howington. "Demand has been much greater than we thought."

Merchants are embracing Hudson’s new status as a “Gig City,” offering “Giga Specials” during the month of October and the city’s mayor declared October “Gigabit City Month.”

According to the city’s Broadband Needs Assessment, Hudson is building the network in response to significant problems with the city’s existing broadband options. Small and medium sized companies complained to the city’s consultants on the network that they have “learned to live with” problems of poor reliability, performance, and affordability of the city’s broadband services. They said even the best available broadband service options over DSL and cable are inadequate and negatively affect their ability to do business.

City officials plan to continue rolling out access to the city’s downtown area next year and to other business areas soon after. Although the city of 22,500 has no timeline on residential service, city officials have expressed the intent to eventually bring the fiber optic network to every home.

We first reported on Hudson's plans in July 2014 when the community began exploring the idea of using fiber from its existing I-Net to serve local businesses. Hudson will deploy incrementally with its own public power utility crews and will provide only voice and data services to keep expenses manageable.

At a City Council meeting on September 16th when community leaders announced the network launch, Howington explained the importance of the project for the city’s business community:

“When no one else would provide it, we decided to do it ourselves; it’s that important to our business base,” she said. “The City’s investment in Velocity Broadband will continue to change Hudson for the better, ensuring continuous success for the future of our community. We are taking speed, reliability and affordability to a whole new level…. It’s clear that fast, efficient Internet drives business growth which is key to economic vitality of our City.”

Peachtree City, Georgia Approves Resolution to Establish Municipal Broadband Utility

At a September meeting, the City Council in Peachtree City, Georgia unanimously approved a resolution to construct and operate a fiber-optic broadband network.  According to the City Council minutes from the meeting, the initial 22.54-miles of fiber will provide 1 Gbps broadband access to various facilities in the City Service area.

In addition to providing connectivity for government buildings, utility services, and medical and educational buildings, the city will target business customers in the “high end user category.”

Officials estimate the network will cost $3.23 million. To pay for the project, the Peachtree City Public Facilities Authority, an independent local government authority created by the state legislature in 2011, will enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Peachtree City. According the August 2015 Fiber Initiative plan, capital for the project will come from the Authority; the city will issue a bond and pay installments to the Authority under an Agreement of Sale.

For several years now, the city located 30 miles southeast of Atlanta has explored options to improve local connectivity. City leaders tried and failed to bring Google Fiber to the community of 35,000 people in 2010. The city attempted repeatedly to urge private ISPs like AT&T to address the problem with no success. In February of this year, city leaders began work on a study to explore the feasibility of a publicly owned fiber network.

City Council members citizens at the recent City Council meeting expressed concerns that the network will not pay for itself and taxpayers will be left to cover unpaid costs. According to a recent survey of local businesses, 100% of respondents reacted positively to the prospect of a municipal network for connectivity.

In order to achieve the plan’s objectives, the network will need 12 “high-end” commercial customers by the end of year 2.  The city’s consultant expressed confidence in meeting that first goal:

“If we had a different experience, I would be standing up here in front of you saying 12 is going to be a stretch. However, we found exactly the opposite to be the case,” said Davis. “I was amazed by that. It’s a surprise to me that the demand was so great, and that the existing customer base out there was so positive about becoming a user. From a pure business standpoint, that gave me a lot of confidence to come in and say I believe we can hit this number and I believe we can exceed this number.”

The city’s Financial Services Director Paul Salvatore added that the business plan for the project is based on conservative assumptions.  It relies on a 20-year financial model projecting success for the network if the city secures at least 12 non-governmental customers in addition to 17 serviceable government sites. Thereafter, if it reaches at least 19 total non-governmental customers by year 6, the network will start to achieve positive gains, a 10-year bond payoff, and profitability after 16 to 20 years.  

City officials have no plans to bring the network to residential subscribers at this stage, choosing instead to focus on direct and indirect economic development benefits, public safety improvements, and better cell phone coverage that will likely result from the fiber deployment. They did not rule out the prospect of fiber for residents in the future. (Watch a complete video of the September 17th City Council meeting here, the city’s municipal broadband network discussion starts at 28:20.)

At a workshop earlier in September, city leaders met with the consultant to finalize the business plan for the network. At the meeting, Interim City Manager Jon Rorie quizzed the City Council about the risks involved with investing in the new broadband network. By the time the City Council met 9 days later, Rorie was convinced of the plan’s prospects for success: 

“We recognize this is a big decision, and it is of a visionary nature, but we also recognize that there is a risk exposure as a business model,” he said. “As far as providing an opportunity from an economic development perspective, I do think it is a huge opportunity as we move forward.

Rio Blanco County Has Big Plans for Open Access Network

In Rio Blanco County, you’re almost more likely to find a dinosaur fossil than a human being. This rural county in northwestern Colorado has about two people for every square mile, but its sparse population is not stopping it from advancing an ambitious open-access broadband initiative

More than a year into the rollout of the network plan, Rio Blanco County (RBC) has already succeeded in soliciting $2 million in matched funds from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), contracted a network operator, and secured easements (land-use rights) from the county’s two largest municipalities to begin construction on the FTTx network. The bulk of the funding will come for the County budgeting for the infrastructure.

The network will initially touch every block and ultimately be expanded to deliver a fiber connection to each premise in the two towns. 

Rio Blanco’s network will be a four-tier open access arrangement. The county will own the infrastructure - from the data center to the optical network terminal (ONT) within the home and everything in between. A private company, Colorado.Fiber.Community, will operate the network. And a combination of independent middle-mile Internet service providers and last-mile value-added resalers will offer services directly to residents. 

For Rio Blanco County IT Director, Blake Mobley, this arrangement is what makes Rio Blanco County’s initiative both unique and feasible. Mobley gave a presentation at the MountainConnect conference in Vail, Colorado, where he spoke about the challenges and the early successes of Rio Blanco County community broadband network. Because the network is open-access, he said, the county can focus on what it does best - laying the groundwork and setting larger policy objectives, not taking the mantle of Internet service provider: 

We look at this just like a county building county roads. You build those roads out. You as a county aren’t anticipating a large return on that investment from those roads up front. It’s the utilization of those roads that builds an economy that’s going to be to your benefit.

Mobley, who along with presenting at MountainConnect also spoke with Chris on the Community Broadband Bits podcast this week, emphasized that it was the business community that came to the county in search of better broadband options. In his words:

The drive to do this project originated with the community itself. They came to the commissioners about a year and a half ago...to say... "You’ve got to solve this problem. We have businesses that have come in and looked in communities, large and far-from-large ones, that said we don’t have the bandwidth we need and we’re not going to locate here. We have residents that are having challenges."

Community members demanding better broadband from municipalities is hardly a new phenomenon. Local demand for community broadband networks has forced the hand of municipal and county governments in multiple Colorado locations. In the state of Colorado, underserved communities that wish to build a network must vote to override a barrier (Senate Bill 05-152) that prevents municipalities from building their own broadband networks. Last November, a resounding 82 percent of Rio Blanco County citizens voted to override this barrier. Rio Blanco County joined five municipalities (Boulder, Yuma, Wray, Cherry Hills Village, and Red Cliff) and one other county (Yuma) in overriding SB05-152 and thereby exercising their right to build a community network.  

Along with providing FTTx capacities, Rio Blanco County’s open access network plan includes a goal of expanding of cellular towers and emergency services. The county intends to construct 11 towers initially, which will serve up to 80 percent of the community, and provide FTTB connections of 25 Mbps upstream and 5 Mbps downstream, slightly better than the FCC definition of basic broadband.

RBC believes that by the end of 2015, it will have begun construction on its FTTB network in the county’s primary urban areas, the towns of Meeker and Rangely, as well as its more rural areas. For Mobley, a 5th generation Rio Blanco County resident, it is important that the project is done in a way that is transparent for both community members and private partners. He joked: 

I’m building the solution for my friends and family so I have a vested interest to do a very good job because if I get fired and have to leave that will be very uncomfortable.

Hamilton Partners With Local Provider to Serve Businesses in Ohio

Hamilton, Ohio, has entered into a partnership with local firm, CenterGrid, to use city-owned fiber to boost economic development. The firm will offer Internet access and data transport to local businesses via existing infrastructure as the two enter into a five-year pilot project agreement, reports the Journal-News.

The city's business incubator, the Hamilton Mill, is the initial pilot site where emerging businesses are already receiving high-speed connectivity:

“As the initial pilot site, CenterGrid’s service has resulted in the Mill receiving network connectivity that is better than 83 percent of Internet connections throughout the US — that is huge,” Chris Lawson, executive director of the Hamilton Mill said. “For the types of companies that we are attracting, this level of connectivity is imperative for them to be successful.”

A press release from CenterGrid describes rates as economical, competitive, and determined by individual business requirements. According to the press release, entrepreneurs at The Mill are already taking advantage of the service:

"We've wanted a better high-speed internet option for quite some time. Now having something locally provided by the City of Hamilton and CenterGrid makes the idea that much more appealing. This high-speed circuit will allow us to transform our IT infrastructure and deliver value to our business," said Jon Corrado, IT Director at Tedia.

In 2014, the community of Hamilton connected local schools to city fiber allowing them to obtain Internet access from the Southwest Ohio Computer Association Council of Governments (SWOCA-COG). That opportunity decreased school connectivity costs while increasing bandwidth.

City leaders hired a consultant in 2012 who determined that opening up their existing 60-mile I-Net loop to schools and businesses was feasible and would contribute to economic development. Over the course of three years, the project estimate is $4.3 million for network expansion, equipment, ongoing capital, and operating and maintenance expenses. The community is on schedule and, if all goes according to plan, expects to see positive operating revenue in 2017 and net income in 2018.

“This initiative is a new beginning for Hamilton Fiber. Using the high-speed ‘fiber grid’ to connect its business community with our Hamilton data center, we can now deliver next generation computing solutions at previously unheard of cost,” [Director of Public Utilities Doug Childs] said.

Hamilton, located near Cincinnati in southwest Ohio provides electricity, gas, sewer, and water to residents and businesses. Located on the Ohio River, the community operates an extensive hydroelectric system to provide power to its 63,000 residents.

Danville's Incremental Strategy Pays Off - Community Broadband Bits Episode 166

Danville, Virginia, has long been one of the municipal network approaches that we like to highlight. Built in a region hard hit by the transition away from tobacco and manufacturing economies, the open access fiber network called nDanville has led to many new employers coming to town and has shown the benefits of a low-risk, incremental investment strategy for building a fiber network.

Jason Grey, Interim Utilities Manager, is back on the show to update us on their approach. He introduced the network to us three years ago on episode 22.

Since we last checked in, Danville has continued expanding the fiber network to a greater number of residents and Jason talks with us about the importance and challenges of marketing to residents. We also discuss how they lay conduit as a matter of course, even in areas they do not plan to serve immediately with the fiber network.

Read all of our coverage of Danville here.

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 20 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."