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More Feasibility Studies in Colorado and Ohio

Two more communities in Ohio and Colorado are seeking information through broadband feasibility studies.

The Aspen Daily News recently reported that Pitkin County has already completed phase one of its feasibility study. This past spring the primary Internet path coming into Aspen via CenturyLink fiber was severed causing widespread outage for 19 hours. The first half of the feasibility study sought ways to introduce a redundant path.

The first option was a 100 percent fiber solution and a hybrid fiber/microwave solution was proposed as an alternative. For option A, the consultants recommended a fiber backbone along Highway 82 with fiber lines running into Redstone, Marble, and Snowmass. Microwave could serve nearby Fryingpan Valley. Option B would travel the same route but make more use of microwave.

Early cost estimates:

Estimated operating costs for option A would be more than $122,000 per year, while option B would cost just over $92,000 annually. Yearly maintenance costs for the fiber-only model were projected at just under $62,000, and the hybrid model would run more than $123,000.

A survey or residents in several communities in Pitkin County indicated most are not happy with speeds or reliability of current Internet access. Approximately half of the region does not have broadband as defined by the FCC at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload

[One of the consultants] said that according to the survey, customer satisfaction in the area is “significantly low.” It also noted that 34 percent of responders said they run a business out of their home, and an additional 10 percent replied that they will start up an in-house business within the next three years.

Adams relayed that more than half of respondents felt that the county should build some sort of “state-of-the-art communications network.”

“It’s clear that the residents would like to see the county do something,” he said.

County Commissioners chose to instruct staff to pursue a $150,000 matching grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to help fund the second half of the feasibility study. The second phase ail focus on developing a financial plan and business models for a middle-mile network.

In Hancock County, Ohio, a collaborative effort between the county, the Findlay City Schools, and Findlay will investigate expanding a planned school fiber network.

The Courier reports that County Commissioners voted to hire a firm that will complete a study to create route plans, building entry sites, and project strategy. The Findlay and Hancock County governments hope to take advantage of the asset and connect government offices for more affordable, fast, and reliable voice, video, and data. There are 31 locations where the the city and county have indicated they would like to extend the fiber.

A local hospital is also expressed an interest in connecting its facilities, notes Martin White, Director of Information Technology at the Findlay City Schools.

Hancock County will contribute $7,894 toward the study and Findlay's share will be $8,855. The study should be complete in 5 weeks. Regardless of the outcome, the schools will deploy the network, reports the Courier:

White said the district plans to move forward with the project even if there is no other local interest. However, the fiber optics loop needed to connect Findlay schools puts the network within reach of city, county and hospital buildings, White said.

Schools can be jumping off points for wider I-Nets and even networks that extend out to business customers. In Ottawa, Kansas, the community built off a school fiber optic network to bring more affordable connectivity to a nearby college and an agricultural cooperative.

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.

CNS Expanding Fiber in Rural Georgia

Community Network Services (CNS) has been serving six rural southwest Georgia communities since the late 1990s. Recently, we learned that the network added two more communities to its service area when it took over a small municipal cable system in Doerun and purchased a private cable company in Norman Park.

CNS has been our radar since 2012 when we learned how Thomasville, Cairo, Camilla, Moultrie, Baconton, and Pelham joined together to create a regional network that reached into 4 counties. The network has brought better access to rural Georgia, improved educational opportunities, and helped lower taxes.

Mike Scott, Moultrie City Manager, gave us details on the expansions into both of these very small communities. Scott repeated the CNS philosophy:

We don't look at it as a just a business plan…we look at it as economic development for the entire county.

Doerun, population 774, had its own municipal DSL and cable TV system but it needed significant upgrades. Doerun also faced increased costs for content, technology, and personnel challenges, and customers wanted faster connectivity. CNS and the community of Doerun had discussed the possibility of a CNS take over of the system in the past but network officials hesitated to take on the investment until Doerun upgraded due to the condition of the system. Doerun's school was already connected to the CNS network.

In addition to the problems with the network, an upgrade required considerable make-ready work. CNS estimated that preparing existing utility poles for fiber would be expensive, according to Scott, and network officials did not feel comfortable making that additional investment. 

Like many other small rural communities, Doerun operates its own municipal electric utility. The electric system was also in need of upgrades but due to lack of available capital, the city would need to borrow to fund the work. CNS and Doerun worked out an agreement to transfer the cable TV and Internet access system to CNS for mutual benefit.

CNS paid $100,000 as an advance franchise fee for 10 years, which reduced the amount Doerun needed to borrow to upgrade its municipal electric utility. In exchange, Doerun entered into the pole attachment agreements with CNS in order to string fiber on electric utility poles. As Doerun electric utility crews worked to upgrade the electric system, CNS fiber deployment crews worked alongside Doerun's construction crews replacing the old cable lines with fiber in the correct positions on Doerun's utility poles.

Rates in Doerun are the same as in other CNS communities. Internet access is as economical as $19.95 for 3 Mbps / .5 Mbps but published rates also list 35 Mbps / 3 Mbps for $49.95. A variety of bundles are available that include video, Internet, and phone. For a complete list of packages and rates, check out the CNS Moultrie residential pricing brochure [PDF].

The story in nearby Norman Park was somewhat similar. A private cable TV provider that did not offer Internet access served Norman Park, population 972. The small local company had passed to the deceased founder's son but the system, which covered the town's 3 square miles, was outdated. Rather than invest in the necessary repairs and updates, he sold it to CNS. As in Doerun, CNS eventually decided the best choice was to rebuild with fiber.

Prior to the purchase, CNS had leased a line to connect the Norman Park school to the CNS backbone; this expansion eliminated the need for the lease. Now all the schools in Colquitt County are served by CNS and each has 10 gigabits of bandwidth.

CNS provides Internet access to the Doerun and Norman Park city halls and both are in the process of transferring over to VoIP.  Scott did not have figures for city halls in Doerun and Norman Park, but noted that the city of Moultrie cut its phone costs in half by switching to VoIP and eliminating multiple phone lines. In addition to eliminating lines for office phones, Moultrie was able to cancel lines to pump stations, lift stations, and other facilities used to monitor facilities for their SCADA system.

Now the citizens of Doerun and Norman Park can utilize the same fast, affordable, reliable services available in neighboring towns. These two rural communities with limited options needed better connectivity so CNS stepped in.

NoaNet Touches Every County in Washington State - Community Broadband Bits Episode 159

The Northwest Open Access Network in Washington has a long history of expanding high quality Internet access into rural areas and now reaches into every county in the state. NoaNet is a nonprofit organization originally formed by local governments and now operating over 2,000 miles of fiber.

This week we talk with Dave Spencer, NoaNet Chief Operating Officer, about the history of NoaNet, how it has impacted the state, and what the future holds for this organization.

We also discuss the NoaNet expansion enabled by the federal broadband stimulus, how their open access fiber network has led to improved wireless connections in many rural areas, and what it takes for a nonprofit organization to thrive in an industry that can be very competitive despite often having very few competitors.

Our previous stories about NoaNet are available here.

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 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."

Storm Lake, Iowa, Plans Community Anchor Fiber Network

Storm Lake’s city council recently approved a resolution to collaborate with other entities in Buena Vista County to install a fiber optic network. For this fiber project, the city, school district, and county have forged a partnership to share the costs and reap the benefits of the estimated $1,374,335 project.

As the county seat, the city has 10,600 residents, a waterpark, a college, and a small school district of 2,442. The project’s origins started with an effort to improve water and wastewater communication. In exploring their options, the city decided fiber would replace the wireless radios. The fiber will also provide more reliable and secure communications for the government and school facilities.

City leaders estimated the cost only for a contract to lay a system of ducts for the fiber. They will also consider trenchless methods of distributing the fiber throughout the city. The cost estimate does not include the hardware needed to connect the fiber at each school and government facility in Storm Lake. The city intends to purchase the fiber in a separate contract in order to minimize costs and ensure quality.

The City Clerk Yarosevich has said that they expect the base project to be completed this year with the currently available funds of $700,000-$800,000. The base project has five possible expansions to be completed with additional funding. Construction on the base project is  expected to be mostly finished by December 18th 2015. 

The collaboration between the City of Storm Lake, Buena Vista County, and the Storm Lake Community School District is anticipated to bring savings to the community. The $1.4 million cost will be split among the three agencies, and the network itself is expected to reduce costs for internet, phone, and hardware. By creating the network themselves, they intend to ensure collaboration in the future and save on costs. From the June 1st City Council meeting agenda item:

"Over time the investment in this infrastructure will provide reduced costs for internet, phone, and data hardware (such as servers) as we can combine and share resources across the network.  Additionally, the network will provide the opportunity for the three agencies to work together in the future for technology purposes as well as provide all the entities with a continuity of service options throughout the City."

An increasing number of communities are taking this approach to fund their networks. Last year, Monticello, IL used such a partnership to build the city’s fiber optic network. Monticello, IL is also a county seat and has 1,600 students, similar to Storm Lake. The city, county and school district chose to share the costs of building the network to increase Internet access and savings.  The school district increased its Internet access from 170 Mbps at $3,500 per month to 200 Mbps at $1,750 per month. As this approach proves to be cost effective, more cities may partner with their school districts and counties to bring better connectivity to their communities.

City and School Board Partner for Fiber in Maryland

Cumberland and the Allegany Board of Education are collaborating to improve educational, municipal, and business connectivity in the city's downtown area, reports GovTech.

The district's 23 schools are all connected, but the Maintenance and Facilities Warehouse is not yet connected. The location of the facility and the proposed fiber route will create an ideal opportunity to install fiber in a commercial corridor where ISPs can tap into the infrastructure, notes Cumberland's economic development coordinator Shawn Hershberger:

“It will expand upon the solid resources we already have and make us more competitive for future economic development projects,” said Hershberger

The project will cost approximately $220,000. Half of the funding will come from a federal Appalachian Regional Commission grant. The school board and the city will split the remaining cost.

The city will connect its public service buildings and provide splice points for ISPs, who will be responsible for the cost to connect the last mile to the customer.

“Providing additional options for high-speed Internet service in Allegany County can only be a positive move for economic development and growth. The downtown area specifically will benefit from competitive pricing available to private entities with reliable and redundant high-speed service,” said [Chief Information Officer for the school board Nil] Grove.

“It helps us toward the jobs we are trying to compete for and helps us keep the jobs we have here now,” said Hershberger.

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.

Read the transcript from our conversation here.

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."

Chanute's FTTH Project on Hold Indefinitely

Changes in leadership in Chanute have put the community's FTTH plan in suspended animation. In April, the City Commission decided to delay financing shortly before the scheduled bond sale. It is unfortunate that residents and businesses will lose the opportunities the fiber deployment would bring. Nevertheless, they deserve the right to make their own choices, good or bad.

The community of Chanute deployed a network incrementally with no borrowing or bonding in order to improve efficiencies, save public dollars, and control connectivity for municipal facilities. Local schools and colleges, struggling to compete, began taking advantage of technology in the classroom and expanded distance learning. The network eventually created a number of economic development opportunities when community leaders started providing better connectivity to local businesses. We told Chanute's story in our 2013 report "Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage." 

Chanute made history when it was the first municipality in Kansas to obtain permission from the Kansas Corporation Commission to issue bonds for the project. They also became the first municipality in the state to seek and receive "eligible telecommunications carrier" (ETC) status. Chanute was awarded over $500,000 in Rural Broadband Experiment Funds from the FCC. Whether or not they will still be able to take advantage of those funds remains a question. After taking action and putting so many of the necessary pieces in place, it is disheartening to see the plan abandoned by politicians.

Regardless of the future of the FTTH project, Chanute has the infrastructure in place to encourage more economic development, connect community anchor institutions, and allow the community to control its own costs. The FTTH project is still a possibility.

You can learn about the origins of Chanute's network in episode #16 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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.

Boston Globe Profiles Lafayette; OpenCape Inspired

In a recent Boston Globe Opinion, Dante Ramos notes that Boston has a reputation as a technology hub. When seeking options and affordability, however, Ramos recounts the successful approach of Lafayette, Louisiana:

Today, the top broadband speeds advertised to residential customers in Boston are about one-ninth of what’s available in Lafayette. A municipal network in Boston isn’t inconceivable; the fiber-optic network now connecting scores of government facilities could theoretically become the spine of a citywide system.

Ramos acknowledges the challenges Boston would face if it were to take up such a project, but he also notes that it was no small feat for Lafayette. The economic development gains have more than justified the investment:

Half a decade later, though, the benefits have come into view. A company serving an active Louisiana film industry can use the Lafayette network to transmit massive quantities of digital footage. Employees of a major jewelry manufacturer in town can get medical advice remotely without having to go in and out of a highly secure plant. And the presence of the network is shaping investment decisions in subtle ways.

Ramos shares the story of his encounter with the owner of a local Internet consulting firm who chose the company data center location because it was within the LUS Fiber service area. He also valued the network's speed, reliability, and quality customer service.

Lafayette's network has also continually drawn in new employers, including three high tech companies in the fall of 2014. Along with those approximately 1,300 well paying positions come the multiplier effect on the local economy.

Ramos' piece inspired a letter to the Globe from Art Gaylord and Dan Gallagher, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Senior Consultant respectively, from OpenCape. The two find inspiration in the story of Lafayette but lament what they see as a lack of enthusiasm in the Cape Cod region.

The 350-mile OpenCape network was developed throughout the Cape Cod region to serve community anchor institutions, municipal facilities, libraries, schools and private businesses. The project was developed by a nonprofit organization and funded with a combination of ARRA stimulus funds, state investment, and private investment.

OpenCape logo

When we last reported on OpenCape, their goal of attracting a high number of high tech jobs had not yet been realized. Gaylord and Gallagher point out the most difficult hurdle facing OpenCape and other stimulus projects: encouraging last-mile private investment:

The challenge is attracting investment to build out the so-called last-mile connections, which would enable other large data users, businesses, and ultimately residents to bring this critical resource to their doorstep.

According to a recent post on OpenCape's news blog, the organization announced that it will move more aggressively to pursue private and public capital investment to build out the network. In early May, Gaylord spoke about the next phase at the SmarterCape Summit:

“OpenCape has been and continues to be focused on fulfilling our vision of enhancing economic development and quality of life of the Cape and southeastern Massachusetts. However, it has become clear that OpenCape needs to do more to facilitate the public and private investment needed to complete the network’s vital ‘last mile’ connections.”

In their letter, Gaylord and Gallagher sum up what Lafayette has that they hope to acheive with OpenCape:

Ramos’s column captures the excitement and boundless economic opportunities brought to a small Louisiana community by a municipal-owned fiber-optic broadband network. We should be able to do better here.

Fortunately, communities in the OpenCape region already have a fiber backbone in place that many other communities lack. Last-mile connectivity is one step closer. Whether it is Lafayette, Cape Cod, or Boston, Ramos' question still applies:

When communities aren’t being served — or, as in Lafayette’s case, they want better service than they’re getting — why should they wait for Comcast Corp., Cox Communications, or other broadband giants to come to their rescue?

They shouldn't and they aren't. Ramos concludes:

If Google and other deep-pocketed companies ever build commercial fiber networks to compete with cable companies from coast to coast, they’ll spare market-oriented Internet junkies a lot of philosophical dissonance. Until that day comes, competition from local government is better than no competition at all.