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DC-Net Delivers Public Savings

Washington, DC, continues to operate an incredibly successful municipal network. Created in 2007, the municipal government’s 57-mile fiber optic network, DC-Net, provides connectivity to government buildings and community anchor institutions that are health or education based. DC-Net started providing public Wi-Fi hotspots in 2010. We covered some of the savings of DC-Net itself in our 2010 report, and we recently found a report from 2012 that details an example of public savings from the network.

In 2008, the Office of Personnel Management in D.C. needed to replace its aging phone system with state-of-the-art Voice over IP and a video conference system. These two telecommunication systems require a high capacity network. After a market analysis found that prospective vendors would cost more than the budget could handle, they had to find an alternative solution. That’s when they connected with DC-Net. The network kept costs down - the initial cost-savings from the project were about $500,000. 

DC-Net also provided more than Office of Personnel Management had originally anticipated: redundancy, more connectivity, and better coverage. With the added redundancy, the phone and Internet have had less outages. DC-Net then provided gigabit ethernet to the headquarters and Wi-Fi coverage. 

The total cost savings for the Office of Personnel Management over the first 6 year period (from 2008 to 2014) are estimated at $9.25 million. They came in at budget with more connectivity than they had anticipated by using a municipal network that was committed to meeting their needs. Sounds like a good deal to us.

Dark Fiber Network Saving Money, Generating Revenue in Burbank

ONE Burbank, the dark fiber network that has provided connectivity for studios since 1997, is bringing a number of benefits to Burbank schools and taxpayers, reports the Burbank Leader. The network is saving public dollars, generating revenue, and providing better connectivity to schools and public facilities.

Five years ago, we reported on Burbank's asset and its primary customers - Hollywood studios. That trend has continued but now the network generates even more revenue. As a result, all electric customers served by Burbank Water and Power save with lower utility bills:

Last year, ONE Burbank generated $3.4 million in revenues for the utility, [General Manager Ron] Davis said in May. That’s compared to roughly $205,000 in 1997 and about $1.5 million five years ago, according to data Davis presented to the City Council.

“The bulk of that [$3.4 million] is all margin and helps keep electric rates down,” Davis said. “[We do] basically zero marketing and collect that margin.”

By connecting city facilities rather than leasing from a private provider, Burbank has all but eliminated past telecommunications expenses, lowering costs by 95% and saving, $480,000 in total thusfar. The school district has saved $330,000 since connecting to ONE Burbank.

ONE Burbank is also providing four times as much bandwidth to the school at a much lower rate that it once paid to the private sector, cutting its costs from $18,000 per year to $9,000 per year.

In August, Burbank Water and Power began using the dark fiber network as backhaul for free Wi-Fi service available throughout the city. There is no service level guarantee but it is open to any device:

“It’s just out there if you can get it,” Ron Davis, the utility’s general manager, told the City Council last week.

The dark fiber has helped retain and attract business, reports city leaders, and they want to continue the current trajectory to bring in high-tech companies and turn Burbank into a "Silicon Beach."

Louis Talamantes, president of Buddy’s All Stars, said his business has been using the service for about 18 months. While it’s more expensive than the prior service provider, he said, it makes up for it in reliability. The Internet would go down three or four times a month, sometimes for half a day, with his previous provider.

Though he was skeptical at first, Talamantes said the service “delivered” and he’s had no downtime with ONE Burbank, allowing him to keep his 24 employees productive, and it’s helped keep up morale.

Boise to Collaborate With BSU and Highway District For Downtown Fiber

Boise, the Ada County Highway District (ACHD), and Boise State University (BSU) have entered into an agreement to deploy fiber along a busy downtown Boise corridor. The high-speed lines will supply connectivity to a new building BSU intends to lease as a facility for Computer Science Department students. The fiber will also connect the BSU Bookstore.

The city will use the fiber to connect its City Hall and a Police Department substation located on the BSU campus while ACHD will add this fiber line to its current fiber network to control traffic throughout the city.

According to an Idaho Statesman article, the city has been installing conduit on campus, connecting it to ACHD conduit situated in the downtown core during the past year. Conduit installation cost the city approximately $47,000; BSU will now install fiber in the conduit at a cost of approximately $75,000. ACHD will contribute a  section of its own conduit to complete the connection and will provide the permits to install the fiber.

When deliberating the joint venture, Boise leaders considered the economics and the future possibilities of the presence of the fiber. From the Statesman article:

“Providing the same data connectivity from a telecommunications provider would cost each agency close to $36,000 (per) year,” deputy city attorney Elizabeth Koeckeritz wrote in an Aug. 20 memo to the City Council. “By working together to connect these four locations, the (return on investment) is less than one year.”

At some point, Reno said, the city wants to connect the Boise Depot, the original railroad depot on the Bench south of the BSU Campus that the city owns and rents out as a venue for business meetings, weddings and other events.

This agreement will allow each entity to own one-third (48 strands) of the entire fiber line (144 strands). The city will continue to own the conduit that is in place and will own all newly-installed conduit and vaults located on city property or in the ACHD rights-of-way; any conduit installed on University property will belong to BSU.

NYSBA Building (Economic) Bridges with Dark Fiber

The New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA) expects to bring in over $900,000 over the course of the next ten years in revenue from dark fiber leases. The agreements, which allow private companies to access publicly owned dark fiber spanning the bridges, will also help maintain low tolls and allow regional telecom operators to expand their data transmission networks. The NYSBA announced on August 4 that it would be leasing dark fiber on two new bridges - the Bear Mountain and Rip Van Winkle bridges in upstate New York. These will be the third and fourth NYSBA bridges that generate revenue from fiber leasing.

The NYSBA dark fiber leasing program is now in its fifth year. Since the Authority does not receive any state or federal tax money for the operation and maintenance of its bridges, it has sought creative solutions to finance the upkeep of its infrastructure. It has now leased dark fiber on four of five intended bridges, with plans to lease more on a fifth - the Kingston­-Rhinecliff Bridge - in the near future.

In March, the Authority leased the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge to QCSTelecom, Inc. for $535,000. While such dark fiber leases are one-time fees, and usually last for at least ten years, the immediate benefit to the community takes the form of lower tolls for everyone who crosses the bridge. One editorial, posted in the Daily Mail, considered the locally-scaled benefits of the project:

Locally, we don’t have much to worry about from another toll hike in the immediate future. Although the lease won’t replace tolls as a principal source of revenue, it will help the bottom line and help keep tolls at current level. It’s clear that getting to the other side of the Hudson River can be costly over time and, as energy and transportation costs rise, we are not prepared for another toll hike. But with the success of the dark fiber leasing program, now in its fifth year, we can believe with some certainty that the drive to Columbia County won’t cost more.

The NYSBA’s strategy seems to be working at keeping tolls low - really low. Kathy Welsh reported in the Hudson Valley News Network that the $1.25 toll on Authority bridges is lower today (in real dollars) than it was in 1925 when the NYSBA started operations.

The success of the NYSBA dark fiber leasing project points to the economic viability of dark fiber networks. Dark fiber networks appeal to both proponents of municipally owned networks and private sector telecom advocates. We wrote about the growing interest in dark fiber in July.

In places like Ammon, Idaho dark fiber infrastructure has provided a major economic spark, as Susan Crawford reports in Backchannel:

For cities, the existence of dark fiber networks — basic, passive infrastructure available on a neutral basis to any operator — could drive down retail access prices, make available reliable, world-class communications to every business and residence, and cause a steady stream of leasing revenue to flow into city coffers.

Dark fiber networks can be a safer investment than city-wide lit fiber infrastructure, and, as the NYSBA project shows, can have a positive economic impact. The project already boasts revenues of over $2 million in less than five years. However, the gains from a dark fiber network across an entire city tend to be more limited than lit services. Unless a community is willing to take dark fiber to every residence as Ammon is, the dark fiber seems to only appeal to a limited number of businesses.

But when it comes to crossing bridges - or other challenging crossings like interchanges and railroads, passive strategies like conduit or dark fiber may be a very smart investment.

Institutional Networks

Community Anchor Institutions, such as public libraries and schools, are among the first places people go to access the Internet when they cannot access it at home. With 30% of the United States without a broadband connection at home, libraries and schools are essential for access to social services, job applications, and digital learning tools.

Sun Prairie Passes Resolution to Begin Initial Stage of Fiber Project

On July 21, the City Council of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin passed a resolution to fund construction on a segment of what could become a citywide, high-speed fiber optic project. Construction will take place in the city’s Smith’s Crossing subdivision, parts of Main Street, and the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District 9/St. Mary’s development area. It is slated to begin in early September and last through December 1, weather permitting, and will cost an estimated $640,000.

The mayor of Sun Prairie, Paul Esser, believes that going through with this project is the correct move for the City. He was recently quoted in the Sun Prairie Star

Moving ahead with the pilot project in Smith’s Crossing is the right way to go. I believe that as an early adopter of this technology we will have an economic development advantage which will attract companies that require this broad bandwidth.

The fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) construction at Smith’s Crossing is seen as a testing ground for a larger FTTP network construction that would extend 200 miles of fiber and have the potential to connect all of the city’s homes and businesses. Currently Sun Prairie has about 30 miles of fiber. If Sun Prairie can successfully build out this citywide network - costing an estimated $26.7 million for the whole city - it could rival that of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, which began construction on its fiber-to-the-home network in 2003. Reedsburg has seen numerous economic development benefits and has created a considerable amount of community savings from lower prices.

The city of Sun Prairie initially invested in fiber optic technologies in 1999. In that year, the City built a fiber ring for the school system. Rick Wicklund, the manager of Sun Prairie Utilities, estimates the fiber ring will save the school $2 million by 2019. The fiber also runs to about 28 businesses and more than 130 Multiple Dwelling Units (MDUs), according to Wicklund. Now, Sun Prairie Utilities is looking towards residential markets. 

Officials are calling the Smith’s Crossing construction a “pilot program.” They chose the location on account of its pre-existing physical infrastructure and population density. According to the Sun Prairie Star:

Wicklund said Smith’s Crossing is a good location because the neighborhood has existing ducts through the subdivision and is a dense area with positive demographics for the service: those who have dropped phone land lines and cable.

An upgrade to fiber could be exactly what Sun Prairie residents need in order to stimulate economic development and attract businesses to the city, which sits just more than 10 miles from the college town of Madison. Sun Prairie residents are currently served by incumbents Charter and Frontier - ISPs that rely on outdated technologies unable to provide the gigabit speeds that fiber can supply. Sun Prairie Utilities initially wondered if these incumbents might be willing to build a fiber optic network themselves, but they were unwilling to offer fiber optic services. City alder John Freund, speaking in 2014, indicated the incumbent’s unwillingness to make the switch to fiber:

It was a good conversation and certainly as we looked at partners they would be the most likely partner in the community, but it was pretty clear that they weren't interested in taking this project on themselves and providing us this service at no cost to the city. 

Now, it appears these industry competitors are actively opposing the proposed municipal network. In early July, incumbent ISPs pitched city officials about the negatives and past failures of municipal projects. As the Star reported earlier this month:

Industry competitors spent more than 90 minutes telling city officials why it’s a bad idea, highlighting failures in other municipalities, questioning the utilities’ ability to handle operations, and even hinting, if it goes through, they’ll cut jobs in the Sun Prairie area. 

Incumbent pressure is nothing new for municipal networks, but it is more unsettling in the case of Sun Prairie, where City officials have gone out of their way to work with these companies - as we reported back in January of 2014. Incumbents often threaten to invest less if faced with a municipal network, but an increase in competition often spurs more investment, not less, as they suddenly fear losing customers that have a real choice in providers.

Wicklund believes that the pilot project would be cash positive within three years if it can achieve a 30 percent take rate. According to a feasibility study, a city-wide network would be cash flow positive by year four and net income positive by year six, assuming a 35 percent take rate across the 13,500 homes passed.

Gig City Sandy: Home of the $60 Gig

Located at the foot of Mount Hood in Oregon, Sandy's municipally-owned full fiber network offers gigabit Internet service for under $60 to every resident in the city. Sandy is one of the few municipal FTTH networks that has been built without having a municipal electric department.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance released this short video this week about the city’s approach—it should be a model for others who want faster Internet, but remain paralyzed by the big telecom monopoly stranglehold.

City managers, frustrated that they couldn't even get a DSL line in to City Hall started off by building their own wireless and DSL network, beginning in 2001. Today, 60% of the community has already subscribed to the Fiber-to-the-Home network, or is on a waiting list. View the video below, or on YouTube here.

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. Lights Up In Brentwood CA

Last summer the community of Brentwood began working with in a plan to use publicly owned conduit for a privately owned fiber network. Earlier this month, the partners celebrated completion of part of that network and officially lit-up the first residential neighborhood served by's fiber gigabit service.

The Mercury News reports that residents are much happier with the new Internet service provider than they were with incumbents Comcast and AT&T:

"I had no lag, no buffering, no waiting -- it almost feels like the Internet's waiting on you, rather than you waiting for the Internet," said Brentwood resident Matt Gamblin, who was one of the first residents to sign up for the service. "The hardest part about the process was canceling my old Internet."

Brentwood began installing conduit as a regular practice in 1999; the community adopted the policy as a local ordinance, requiring new developers to install it in all new construction. The city has experienced significant growth and the conduit has grown to over 150 miles, reaching over 8,000 homes and a large segment of Brentwood's commercial property. As a result, they have incrementally developed an extensive network of fiber ready conduit. 

As part of their agreement with, Brentwood will save an estimated $15,000 per year in connectivity fees because the ISP will provide gigabit service at no charge for City Hall. will fill in gaps in the conduit where they interfere with network routes. In school jurisdictions where 30 percent or more of households subscribe, public schools will also get free Internet access. (We have grave concerns about the impact of only extending high quality Internet access to schools where households are better able to subscribe to Internet access at any price point.)

City officials hope to draw more of San Francisco's high tech workforce to town. Over the past two decades of population growth, the city has prospered but community leaders want to diversify:

Officials don't expect the population growth to stop anytime soon, but they also don't want to rely too heavily on property tax revenues and risk having budgetary shortfalls during a housing crisis, such as what happened to Antioch in recent years. They're hoping things like this new high-speed Internet will attract more tech workers to town, and city leaders will be working this year to see if Brentwood can truly become an epicenter for business.

"That's the basic question: Are we a bedroom community or are we something else?" City Manager Gus Vina said. "And that 'something else' needs to have that balanced economy -- diversification is the key."

Dublin Plans Upgrade Dublink to 100 Gbps

Dublin, Ohio's Dublink has been saving public dollars and spurring economic development since 2002. The gigabit fiber network is on the verge of a 100 gigabit upgrade. The Dublin Villager reports that in early May the City Council voted to implement the 100-Gigabit Dublink Ignite program.

According to the Villager:

The city has budgeted $865,000 over the next six years to complete the project, [City Manager Dana] McDaniel said, and will also use $300,000 in state funds and $360,000 from the Ohio Academic Resource Network for use of additional fiber optics for the project.

Increasing the city's fiber capability will allow the Dublin to provide fiber optics to older office buildings and make then more attractive, McDaniel said.

In addition to bringing fiber to a greater number of office buildings, the project may even lead to "fiber to the cubicle." 

As we reported in 2014, Dublin collaborated with the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet) to create CORN, also known as the Central Ohio Research Network. This new 100 gigabit initiative plans to encompass those partnerships so companies can potentially access OARnet and CORN.

Dublin operates a "meet me" room at a local data center and anticipates using that facility as a place were a number of ISPs can compete for commercial customers. 

According to a detailed memo from Dana McDaniel [PDF], the city has calculated significant benefits for local businesses. Here are just a few (emphasis ours):

  • Backhaul to the local data center (Metro Data Center). This represents monthly cost savings to the company in the form of avoided carrier costs. Such cost savings are estimated to be $400/month or $14,400/3 year for 10 Mbps level of service; $800 /month or $28,800/ 3 year for 100 Mbps level of service; and $2000/month or $72,000/3 year for 1 Gbps level of service
  • Provide server space, at not cost, to local companies so they can create a presence in the local data center. Average cost per month for this service is estimated to be $1,013 per month. The company not only gets free space in an N+2 data center environment, but it also would get a value of $1,013/mo or $36,468 /3 years
  • Once a presence is created in the data center, companies and institutional users can choose among internet service prices. It is not yet known the effect of choice and increases capacity for a company. It is anticipated to lower the cost by $20-30/mo per Mbps which would save a small business with 10 Mbps on Internet services and additional $200/mo or $7,200/3 years.

The city will also increase connection speeds for Dublin City Schools and Washington Township Schools and connect them to each other. Institutional users will have connectivity to the data center, which will allow them the opportunity to connect with OARnet. They will be able to choose from ISPs and can avoid carrier costs with the connection to the "meet me" room provided by the 100-Gigabit Dublink Ignite Program.

McDaniel told council. "We think that we will be off the charts for incentives we can offer to our businesses."

Places like Dublin are thinking ahead. Their foresight years ago positioned them so they are already able to offer connectivity to attract potential employers. This program takes Dublin to the next level ensuring their competitive edge.