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Gothenburg Considering FTTH in Nebraska, Survey Responses Needed

As the "Pony Express Capital of Nebraska," Gothenburg understands the value of speed. City leaders are now investigating the possibility of bringing a FTTH network to the community. Initiative leaders are asking the town's 3,500 residents to complete a broadband survey before April 15th.

According to a recent article in the Gothenburg Times, local schools will soon be surpassing the community's current telecommunications capabilities. The school district is considering a one-to-one Chromebook initiative:

Angie Richeson, an integrated technology integration specialist and Dudley Elementary librarian, said current telecommunications infrastructure has a glass ceiling.

“We can’t get bigger or faster without changing the infrastructure,” she said. “And speed is an issue in our community.”

Community leaders also want economic development benefits that flow from a fiber network. Four Fortune 500 companies operate in Gothenberg. CenturyLink, currently providing last-mile connectivity, has no plans to upgrade.

Nathan Wyatt, Chair of the Fiber Infrastructure Committee of the Gothenburg Improvement Company (GIC) recently told the Times:

"Right now the infrastructure that exists in Gothenburg is like the dirt roads. We don't have the fastest most direct infrastructure available that would give us the fastest speeds available. And as websites get more complex. We're going to need more data and more broadband to give our residents a better experience and we also need it to recruit businesses," said Wyatt.

GIC is a coalition of local businesses working to recruit new commerce to Gothenburg. Wyatt told the Times in another article that a local provider would be ideal:

“Can you imagine calling a local number to get service on your Internet, phone and cable?” he asked.

Wyatt said the GIC doesn’t want a call center but someone that people know and recognize in the community who would service the network.

Initiative leaders have already launched an aggressive grassroots campaign, "Get Up to Speed Gothenburg." The campaign Facebook page includes pics of information sessions, quotes from business owners, and promotional videos. Wyatt told the Times:

“Now we’re going 35 mph and with fiber optics, we could go 100 miles per hour,” he said. “As a community, soon we will need to drive 1,000 mph and new infrastructure will prepare us for this reality.”

Nebraska law makes many forms of municipal ownership difficult but we hope they are able to meet their local needs and wish the state would get out of their way.

ConnectArlington to Offer Dark Fiber Services to Local Businesses in Virginia

We last reported on Arlington County, Virginia, in the summer of 2012 when they were into phase II of their publicly owned fiber network deployment. At the time, the community planned to use the dark fiber network for public schools, traffic management, and public safety. That plan will now include local businesses.

ARLnow reports that ConnectArlington will work with a third-party consultant to manage dark fiber leasing to multiple service providers. They will also dedicate a portion of the dark fiber for government use. The County expects the project to be complete by early 2015. From the press release:

Additionally, the County will work directly with property owners and various businesses to ensure they have the opportunity for this high-speed and secure fiber line via direct access to buildings. Arlington universities, research centers, government buildings and Federal agencies will also be connected – providing additional collaboration opportunities at unprecedented levels of speed and security.

When the Arlington County government developed the network, they installed additional conduit for future use. A public safety initiative to connect several radio towers allowed ConnectArlington to expand the anticipated footprint. An Intelligent Traffic System (ITS), funded with a federal grant, required street excavation so the county installed additional conduit and fiber. Arlington County also took advantage of an electric power grid upgrade, co-locating dark fiber along the grid placed by the local electric provider.

Other communities have taken a multi-faceted long-term approach, considering their own needs with an eye on economic development. Capitalizing on unique opportunites can reduce costs, speed up a deployment, and allow the local community to better manage their projects.

Sandy, Oregon and Mount Vernon, Washington have maintained smart conduit policies for years. Developers are required to install conduit to reduce later costs. In Santa Monica, City Net began as a way to meet the needs of government and now offer lit and dark fiber to businesses. (Learn more about Santa Monica in Chris' interview on episode 90 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast or download our report.)

As smart communities realize broadband's increasing role in economic vitality, they explore local options. Arlington County takes a gigantic step forward as it opens up ConnectArlington to the business community. Also from the press release:

"World class cities are not only creating fiber networks to meet their own enterprise needs, but are also making dark fiber available to high technology companies to keep or attract these companies to their communities,” said Professor Joseph Pelton, Chair of the Arlington County IT Advisory Commission.

Jack Belcher, CIO of Arlington County's Department of Technology Services Leadership Team, sums it up:

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Connected Communities in an Age of Digital Learning: Webcast Archive Available

On February 27, the New America Foundation presented the live webcast, "Connected Communities in an Age of Digital Learning: A Vision for a 21st Century E-rate Program."

The webcast addressing the modernization of the E-rate program is now archived and available to view.

As technology advances, schools must find ways to keep up. At the root of their success is connectivity in the communities. From the announcement:

Yet many communities lack robust Internet connectivity, which is a key prerequisite to using these tools. Libraries and schools across the country report that they do not have the necessary speeds and equipment to support the digital learning environments of today, let alone tomorrow. Sustaining and upgrading the Internet infrastructure that supports these community anchor institutions is critical. And in addition to physical infrastructure, these communities need investments in social infrastructure: support systems in and around community institutions that help facilitate digital literacy, support broadband access, and encourage meaningful broadband adoption. 

The panel included experts in education, library science, and technology. Featured speakers were:

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MassBroadband 123 Complete in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) just announced that the 1,200-mile fiber network MassBroadband 123 is now complete.

According to the official announcement, the middle-mile network will eventually serve over 1,200 community anchor institutions. The open access network, constructed with $45.4 million in stimulus funding and an additional $40 million in state bond proceeds, lit up in March 2013. Schools, hospitals, and municipal government are some of the entities already connected.

Communities with a history of little or no middle-mile options will now have some level of connectivity via MassBroadband 123. The Commonwealth hopes to attract last-mile providers to connect homes and businesses, something we have yet to see succeed. We are afraid a more likely scenario will be a few providers seeking to connect the highest revenue customers with no intention to connect everyone, an outcome that would perversely make it more expensive to build financially sustainable networks in these areas.

A few places, like Leverett and Princeton, plan to invest in their own publicly owned infrastructure and will have the option to connect to the outside world through MassBroadband 123. This is an excellent approach that we applaud because it leads us to universal access.

According to a Bershire Eagle article, the state legislature plans to bring more funding to the initiative for last-mile connections:

But state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, pointed out in an interview that much investment is needed before individual homeowners and businesses can connect to the network.

The state Senate is poised to move on a bond bill which includes $50 million to be put toward the project's phase, Pignatelli said.

"The state has made a very big commitment in hopes that the private sector would step up," Pignatelli said. "The time is now."

In our experience, middle mile networks change the economics of the operating costs for fiber networks, not the capital costs. The high upfront capital costs are what deter investment and robust middle mile networks do little to change that reality, which is why communities are smart to step up and make the necessary investments.

OnLight Aurora Partners with the City for Better Connectivity in Illinois

Nine years ago, Aurora officials decided it was time to reduce telecommunications costs and upgrade to a faster, more reliable network. The local government built a fiber network to service municipal government, but developed long-term ideas for the network to benefit the entire community.

Nonprofit OnLight Aurora now uses the City's fiber optic network to provide high-speed connectivity to educational institutions, businesses, healthcare facilities, social service entities, and major non-profits. The organization leases fibers from the City's fiber optic network and provides Internet access at affordable rates.

Aurora is the second most populous city in Illinois. The municipal government spans 52 buildings over 46 square miles. Before the city's fiber network, connections were a patchwork of varying speeds and capabilities. Employees in a building with a slow connection would need to travel to City Hall to access a high-speed connections to use the city's bandwidth intensive applications. The network was old, unreliable, and expensive. The Director of Onlight Aurora recently spoke with Drew Clark from Broadband Breakfast :

"In 2005-2006, we came to the conclusion that we were paying $500,000 a year [to telecommunications providers] for leased line expenses,” said Peter Lynch, Director and President of Onlight Aurora.

The 60-mile network, constructed from 2008 - 2011, cost approximately $7 million to deploy. At the beginning of the process, payback was estimated at 10 years. While the short-term goal was to cut municipal connectivity costs, community leaders intended to expand its use in other ways. The City now saves approximately $485,000 each year from having eliminated leased lines. From a Cisco case study on Aurora [PDF]:

Conduit

“With local governments increasingly facing limited resources, you have to be able to find efficiencies in operations.” Although the cost savings are gratifying, [Ted] Beck,[Chief Technology Officer] notes that that was just the beginning: “The priority for the fiber optic network was initially cost savings; however we’re realizing that the benefits don’t end there. We’ve had some super wins with this technology, and we’re going to keep leveraging the infrastructure.” Mayor Weisner confirms these successes: “Pretty quickly, we saw a return on investment, both financially and otherwise. We have a much greater capability and fewer problems.” 

In 2011, Aurora received a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) administered through the Illinois Department of Transportation. When the FHWA sought communities for the pilot program and accompanying grant, Aurora's existing fiber network was a plus. During construction of the city network, Aurora had installed extra fiber strands in its conduit. City traffic engineers used several strands to synchronize intersections to improve traffic flow. The grant, of approximately $12 million, upgraded 60 traffic signals. It also allowed Aurora to eliminate all remaining debt on the network.

From the Broadband Breakfast article:

“We have been able to see better movement of traffic, which alleviates congestion and air quality,” said Eric Gallt, the city’s Traffic Engineer. The fiber loop enables city traffic officials “to see what is going on remotely, and it decreased the cost of the project by 50 percent or more.”

That same year, Mayor Tom Weisner formed a broadband task force to field specific ideas for best utilizing the fiber optic network. In 2012 the group created non-profit OnLight Aurora. The organization received a $25,000 grant and a three-year $150,000 loan from the City. OnLight and Aurora entered into a 20-year agreement for OnLight to lease network fiber strands from the City. OnLight would then lease access to the fiber backbone to other entities at affordable rates.

Aurora Illinois

In 2012, OnLight Aurora received a $1 million Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge award. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity awarded the grant as seed money. OnLight Aurora also received another $1 million in matching public and private funds. The organization used the funds to offset costs of connecting customers and to expand to better reach developing business parks and healthcare facilities. Schools, medical centers, social services agencies, arts & entertainment entities, and businesses now connect to the network at speeds of up to 10 Gbps.

In August 2013, Indian Prairie School District 204 announced its plans to expand its technology program. The connection allows the District to connect two of its data centers. District 204 obtains a 10 Gbps connection from OnLight Aurora for $39,600 per year. OnLight provides ample bandwidth for the district's bring-your-own-device initiative. A portion of the $1 million Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge grant paid for the cost of connecting the fiber.

OnLight also offers wireless connections as an economical way to serve small- and medium-sized businesses. OnLight uses city-owned towers and buildings that are already connected to the fiber for wireless point-to-point connections. The wireless complement will connect schools, businesses, and other entities when a lengthy fiber connection is too costly.

Businesses in Aurora are connecting to the fiber. An August Beacon-News article on the wireless plan also tells the story of security company Alarm Detection Systems (ADS). The company went from T1 connections at 1.5 Mbps to 20 Mbps connections from OnLight for approximately $500 per month. From the aricle:

While cases vary based on a number of factors, the upfront installation cost for Alarm Detection Systems offices to connect directly to the fiber network are about $19,000, according to [company IT Manager Mark] Schramm. But the reliable and fast connection will save the company money in the long run.

“We’re saving money and believe we’re getting a better product,” he said.

According the a recent Beacon-News article, OnLight Aurora is now reaching out to local businesses through seminars. An article about the January 29th seminar quoted a city official:

“Attendees will receive the necessary tools to better understand and employ the OnLight Aurora network resource for their businesses and organizations,” said Clayton Muhammad, Aurora Director of Communications.

OnLight Aurora's three year plan includes doubling it's current length to 100 miles. The network is completely underground and any carrier has access to the infrastructure.

Merit Collaborates With OARnet and Local Community in Hillsdale, Michigan

A recent press release from the Merit educational and research network in Michigan announces a new connection to its Ohio sister, OARnet. Member entities and local communities now enjoy better redundancy, expanded reach, and better services. Local communities continue to benefit from the presence of the middle mile infrastructure.

The network helps local Hillsdale College to cut connectivity costs; the Merit announcement quotes Hillsdale College leadership:

"Hillsdale College has been a Merit member since 1992," stated David Zenz, executive director of information technology services for Hillsdale College, "and it was always a dream to figure out some way to eliminate expensive data circuit costs to free up funds to purchase more bandwidth. In 2008 The City of Hillsdale, the Hillsdale Intermediate School District, Hillsdale College, and Merit figured out how to do just that."

Through a long term collaborative effort, Merit, the City of Hillsdale, Hillsdale Board of Public Utilities (BPU), Hillsdale College, and Hillsdale County Intermediate School District (ISD) came together to establish the Hillsdale Community Network. Each entity now benefits from lowered connectivity costs, better infrastructure, and improved opportunities. 

A 2009 story from Merit, describes the situation at ISD:

In 2006, Hillsdale County Intermediate School District (ISD) found that it was in desperate need of increasing its network bandwidth to meet the growing demands of its users. The District had 62 miles of fiber optic cabling strung around the county, but was looking for ways to increase its available bandwidth in Hillsdale without increasing its costs. This time, a partnership between the two organizations [ISD and Hillsdale College] and others in the area began to make sense. 

According to the article, Merit managed the project from start to finish. The City has cut costs and improved economic opportunity. Also from the article:

"We saw a cost reduction for the city," according to Eric Macy, contractor for the City of Hillsdale and Nonik. "We knew that we needed infrastructure for the future. We could have done a local network on our own, but we wanted to collaborate with others. If we had to do it all ourselves, it would have taken a lot longer to pull off." 

"We want to bill the city as a progressive place for economic development. As part of this project, we were able to provide some economic development." 

The expansion to bring OARnet and Merit together is part of the REACH-3MC project, funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants. We recently reported on Merit's completed segment expansion to rural Alpena, also part of the project.

Ohio Community Wants to Expand Use of Existing Fiber

In Springfield, Ohio, community leaders are looking for ways to use their share of a commercially owned fiber optic loop on the eastern side of town. The community hopes to secure a $50,000 Local Innovation Fund grant from the state to finance a feasibility study reports the News-Sun.

Approximately 60,000 people live in Springfield, located 45 miles west of Columbus. Advanced Virtual Engine Test Cell, Inc. (AVETEC) owns and operates a 19-mile fiber optic ring connecting downtown to its facility. The fiber route passes the Clark State Community College and at least one public school. Springfield owns 24 unused strands of the AVETEC network and wants to build off that asset to save public dollars, improve school connectivity, and encourage economic development.

From the News-Sun article:

“From an economic development standpoint, it’s definitely capitalizing on an amenity that’s already in the ground that we can use then to leverage as an additional incentive or perk to doing business in Springfield, especially business that’s proximal to that fiber in the near-term,” said Josh Rauch, the city’s deputy economic development administrator. “Then as it builds out, you get more and more connectivity throughout the city.”

“The goal is to take the fiber build-out we’ve got and look at other places you could build fiber,” Rauch said.

The Miami Valley Educational Computer Association (MVECA) is a regional nonprofit consortium of twenty-five local K-12 school districts. MVECA leases and maintains a fiber network for the Springfield City School District and other Clark County school districts. The Executive Director of MVECA, anticipating the need for 10 gigabit connections, hopes to see a collaboration with the City to bring the fiber to Springfield and area schools. He believes working together will reduce costs for local school districts and MVECA.

“With the continuously increasing technology demands that schools are placing on our network, finding more affordable ways and long-term solutions for really robust network connectivity is essential,” [MVECA Executive Director Thor] Sage said.

The next round of approved applications to the Local Government Innovation Fund will be announced in February 2014.

Palm Coast's FiberNET Produces Dramatic Savings Locally

We last took a look at Palm Coast’s FiberNET over two years ago when Broadband Communities featured the open access fiber network along Florida’s upper east coast. Due to its initial focus on community anchor institutions and incremental build out, FiberNET serves as an outstanding example of how to justify a network investment with cost savings. We recently spoke with Courtney Violette who created the initial business plan for FiberNET under his previous role as Palm Coast’s CIO; he is now a Managing Partner with Magellan Advisors, an international broadband planning firm.

A presentation on the Palm Coast government website shows how FiberNET generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual cost savings for the City of Palm Coast, Flagler County School District and Florida Hospital. The data is impressive. The City of Palm Coast alone saves around $160,000 per year by switching to FiberNET for its networking needs.

Flagler County School District is likely the biggest beneficiary of cost savings in the community. Before FiberNET came onto the scene, the District paid Bright House Networks more than $500,000 per year for network services over a hybrid fiber-cable network. Now Flagler County School District pays around $300,000 for faster, more reliable services over FiberNET’s all-fiber network. These savings paid for the schools’ initial cost of connection after just one year.

Florida Hospital and its affiliates are also saving big. Affiliated doctors’ offices and clinics are required to maintain a 10-Mbps (minimum) connection with the hospital. Before FiberNET, these connections cost around $900 per month from the local incumbent. FiberNET now offers them for $250 per month. Similarly, the Hospital itself saves tens of thousands on its annual networking costs by switching to FiberNET.

It is worth noting these initial figures are conservative by not accounting for growing internal demand for high-speed networking. In other words, as these entities ramp up usage of faster network services available through FiberNET, their savings will grow accordingly. In fact, their savings will actually accelerate as they use services only available over fiber which the incumbent could not offer without incurring major upgrade costs.

With the network mostly built, expanding incrementally on a business case basis, FiberNET is now paying for itself in cost savings to the City and revenue from anchor institutions and businesses that previously paid much higher prices for slower services from the incumbent. Revenue has nearly doubled each year since 2010, reaching $522,940 in 2012, against expenses of $161,260. At this rate, FiberNET is expected to break even in less than six years.

Charter Prices Inspire Washington City to Consider its Own Network

Ellensburg, located in central Washington, is considering the pros and cons of a municipal fiber network. A big pro for the community of 18,000 is the ability to predict costs rather than depend on Charter Communications. Charter wants to begin charging $10,300 per month for municipal connectivity it previously supplied at no cost in return for access to the public rights-of-way.

The Ellensburg Daily Record recently reported that the City Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that will allow the city to establish a telecommunications utility. The city began using Charter's fiber optic network in 1997 as part of the city's franchise agreement. Educational institutions, public safety, and the county public utilities district also use the network. Ellensburg owns and operates its own electric and natural gas utilities. Energy Services Director Larry Dunbar was quoted:

“It’s clearly in the city’s best interest to just build it on its own and own it, compared to leasing it,” he said.

The community needs approximately 15 miles of fiber optic network to replace Charter's institutional network. The two parties are still negotiating and may still reach an agreement for a new contract although the article reports:

In June, Council directed the city to solicit vendor proposals for building a city network, and Dunbar said the city is close to granting the contract.

He declined to share a total cost because contract negotiations are ongoing, but said it makes more sense for the city to build the network now rather than pay in perpetuity, he said.

“A telecommunications network is like a 35-year endeavor,” he said. “If we would have done a lease, we could have bought two or three networks over 35 years.”

Local median KIMA TV recently covered the story:

We would go further and note the many more advantages of owning rather than leasing. When the city owns the fiber network, it can expand it to connect local businesses and/or residents who feel that Charter is not meeting their needs. The network can be expanded at low cost over time in conjunction with other projects, for instance as part of an effort to create a new commercial or industrial park. Owning provides much more flexibility than leasing, particularly with a massive and inflexible corporation like Charter.

Cedar Falls Schools Get 1 Gig from Cedar Falls Utilities

As of December 2, students and staff in Cedar Falls schools have access to 1 gig Internet service from Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU). The WCF Courier reports that the Board of Education recently decided to switch from the Iowa Communications Network (ICN):

Doug Nefzger, the district's financial officer, said though Des Moines-based ICN has been a great partner for a number of years, it's always best to go with a local group.

"We may be paying a little bit more money but what this provides for our kids far outweighs the added expense associated with that," Nefzger said.

The District will pay CFU approximately $11,400 per year for gigabit Internet access to be shared between nine schools and three other District facilities. ICN provided 130 Mbps Internet service for $8,200 per year. The District will now have the capacity to provide a tablet or laptop to each student by 2015. The 1:1 goal is part of the District's five-year technology plan.

According to Rob Houlihan, Network Service Manager at CFU, each building is already connected via CFU fiber. As a result, District buildings will also enjoy a 1 gig WAN. Robust Internet access is important, but a high capacity WAN improves communication between facilities with no need to send data to the Internet. CFU provides fiber connections at no charge to the District, saving significant public dollars. Shane Paige, Supervisor of Technology Services at the Cedar Falls Schools noted via email:

That could easily cost us $5,000-$10,000 per month after discounts if we were leasing lines. We have been extremely fortunate in the fact that we have never been put in that position of having to deal with the extra costs of point to point connections for our buildings.

CFU also provides free cable television service to twelve District facilities, saving approximately $600 per month.

For more on how CFU is serving the community, listen to our recent conversation with Rob Houlihan, Network Services Manager, and Kent Halder, Communications Sales Manager. Christopher recently interviewed them on Episode 75 of the Broadband Bits podcast.

We also have numerous stories on the CFU network.