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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.

Sonic.net Lights Up In Brentwood CA

Last summer the community of Brentwood began working with Sonic.net 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 Sonic.net'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 Sonic.net, 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. Sonic.net 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.

North Carolina Files Petition Opposing FCC Ruling to End Anti-Muni Laws

It took a while, but the State of North Carolina finally decided to take its turn at the throat of the FCC. Attorneys filed a Petition for Review in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals similar to the one filed by the State of Tennessee in March. The Petition is available for download below.

Our official comment:

"Attorney General Cooper must not realize the irony of using state taxpayer dollars to ensure less money is invested in rural broadband, but we certainly do," says Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "State leaders should stand up for their citizens' interests and demand good broadband for them, rather than fighting alongside paid lobbyists to take away those opportunities."

Like Tennessee, North Carolina makes an attempt to stop the FCC's well-considered Opinion and Order by arguing that the FCC overstepped its authority in violation of the Consitution. The FCC addressed this argument in its Opinion and Order along with a myriad of other potential arguments. For detailed coverage of the FCC's well-considered decision, we provided information on highlights of the decision back in March.

According to WRAL, Wilson is taking the new development in stride:

The City of Wilson was not surprised that North Carolina sued.

"We are aware of the suit," said Will Aycock, who manages the Greenlight network. "We knew that this would be an ongoing process."

The Attorney general's has not contacted Wilson about the suit, he added.

We have to wonder if North Carolina is a bit embarrassed in arguing that rural areas should not be allowed to build their own networks even as the metro regions in Charlotte and the Triangle are seeing gigabit investment. State elected officials in North Carolina seem committed to two-tier Internet access: fast for the metro and stiflingly slow in rural regions.

"Wilson filed this petition [last year to restore local authority] not with immediate plans to expand into its rural neighboring communities, but to facilitate the future advancement of its critical Gigabit fiber-optic infrastructure over the long term."...Wilson does not expect to incur any legal costs related to the North Carolina suit, Aycock said. "We told our story," he explained.

Unfortunately, this is another example of big telecom dollars asserting influence over  state leaders. Wilson's Greenlight has proven itself over and over again to be an economic development tool, a way for the municipality to save precious public dollars, and an agent to encourage better connectivity for citizens

Indiana County Saving With Fiber in Pennsylvania

Indiana County, Pennsylvania's County Commission recently voted to use its fiber optic network for telephone service reports the Indiana Gazette. The change will allow the county to save $67,000 over the first five years. Indiana County is located on the west side of the state and is home to approximately 89,000 people.

The upgrade will allow the county to eliminate two-thirds of its phone lines by taking advantage of the network that was installed as part of Indiana County's public safety radio system. Phones in the courthouse, jail, district justices’ offices, a convalescent facility, the Indiana County Airport, the county parks and the departments of Children and Youth Services and Human Services will all be on the new system.

From the Gazette article:

“This is just the beginning of the savings we’ll see from the fiber optic network,” Baker said. Coming soon will be lower costs for county government’s Internet service.

Ammon Brings Local Connectivity to Idaho Schools as State Education Network Goes Dark

The City of Ammon's municipal fiber network recently stepped in to provide primary broadband access for School District 93 as the state's educational network went dark reports Local News 8. Watch the video of local coverage below.

When a judge ruled last year that the Idaho Education Network (IEN) contract between the state Department of Administration was void, an education broadband crisis loomed across the state. As the drama played out, however, local networks such as Ammon's muni, have come to the rescue to keep students connected.

Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham described an attitude characteristic of municipal networks:

"I think it's just something we do in the spirit of collaboration, and I think that's always important because when we talk about the school district and the city it's all the same people, and so anytime we can keep costs down it benefits everyone involved," Kirkham said.

CenturyLink and Education Networks of America (ENA) were providers under the contract voided last year. As CenturyLink and ENA cut off service to schools, forcing them to negotiate their own contracts, they have discovered better, more affordable broadband from local providers like Ammon.  A recent Idaho State Journal reported on several school districts:

The state, under the now-void IEN contract, had been paying Education Networks of America more than $6,000 a month for a 20 Mbps Internet service to Rockland School District. The school district will pay less than a third of that cost for a new 100 Mbps service next year.

The State Journal also discovered that numerous school districts had used fiber optic service from local providers but were forced to switch to slower service in order to obtain the IEN reimbursement. In order to get the reimbursement, West Side School District had to switch from fiber from Direct Communications, a local company, to a slow copper T1 connection from CenturyLink:

Once the IEN contract was in place, the Idaho taxpayers were saddled with paying over $8000 a month for outdated copper service to that same location.

[Direct Communications Marketing Director Brigham] Griffin said Preston [School District] was in the same boat. It had been getting fiber-optic Internet from Direct Communications, but had to switch to copper to have the state pick up the tab.

“Preston School District will now receive double their previous speed for about a fifth of the monthly cost,” Griffin said.

Though it is incredibly frustrating to see how Idaho has hurts its schools while funnelling extra tax dollars to CenturyLink, it is not as rare as you might think. Many states have these kind of "deals" with the large phone companies. We have long covered the depressing story in Wisconsin, where AT&T has successfully lobbied to hobble WiscNet, an arrangement that brings tremendous cost savings to local budgets and better connections to schools. 

This is more evidence for a point we have long made: building better networks does not necessary have to cost a lot more. We spend so much money inefficiently that eliminating these crony capitalism deals would free up significant funds to be spent more wisely.

In Ammon, Mayor Kirkham summed up the situation:

"This is always an argument for local control so whenever you have local control, then you aren't at the mercy of the decisions being made higher up the ladder and so this is one of those instances where you see that being played out," Kirkham said. 

Video: 
See video

San Francisco Looks to Expand Muni Fiber and Wi-Fi

San Francisco has long been considered a modern, glittering, tech capital. For years its leaders have struggled with ensuring residents and businesses actually had next-generation Internet access as AT&T and Comcast only provide the same basic services that are available in most cities. In a recent Backchannel article, Susan Crawford discusses how the City by the Bay is taking steps to develop its vision, its long-term plan, and hopefully a network that will improve connectivity in a city of over 800,000 8.5 million.

San Francisco has developed an Information and Communication Technology Plan, which still needs approval from the City Board of Supervisors. According to the article, the plan calls on the city to take an incremental approach on its path to improved connectivity. They plan to use a similar method as Santa Monica by connecting municipal facilities - many of which are already connected via fiber - and then shedding expensive leased circuits. By eliminating that expense, the city will cut $1.3 million for Internet access and networking services from its connectivity costs.

Last year the City also put dig once policies in place, a decision other communities attribute as one of the keys to a cost-effective deployment. Like Santa Monica, the City currently leases dark fiber to ISPs. They plan to entice more ISPs who want to bring broadband to residents and businesses by expanding that practice. San Francisco plans to streamline the process and work with developers on strategically linking new developments to Internet hubs with dark fiber.

As Crawford notes, the City has created free Wi-Fi in select areas of town with plans to serve public housing and commercial corridors. Miquel Gamiño, San Francisco's CIO, told Crawford they hope to make Wi-Fi available on a larger scale:

Gamiño’s dream is that San Franciscans and visitors will be connected to that service at all times: “I would love for people to come here, or live here, and feel as if they are just connected, woven into this fabric that exists in thin air,” he says. Consolidating the brand so that every public open network is labeled #SFWiFi will ensure that users perceive the city’s role in providing public WiFi. 

Crawford believes the City is on the right path by investing in more fiber throughout the community:

In the bigger picture, San Francisco will require fiber to businesses and homes. You can’t have a WiFi connection without a wire — that would be like having an airplane but no airports. And the WiFi connections used by both citizens and city infrastructure (“phoning home” via sensors about weather, water, air pollution, transport, energy use, and a host of other indicators of the city’s wellbeing) will be generating — uploading — mountains of data that will need wires on which to travel anywhere at all.

...

Fiber and WiFi are complementary, in other words. And that’s where long-term planning will be essential.

For more about Santa Monica's incremental approach, check out Chris's interview with CIO Jory Wolf in Episode #90 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. You can also learn about their strategy in our detailed report, Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network. 

Broward County Saves with Fiber Network in Florida

In 2014, Broward County completed its transition from an expensive leased data, video, and voice communications system to its own fiber network. The southern Florida county is now saving $780,000 per year with plenty of room to grow. With the transition to an IP-based telephony system, the County also saves and additional $28,000 per year.

Pat Simes, Assistant CIO of the county, recently contributed a profile on the project to Network World.

In 2009 when the network was too slow to be effective, county staff knew they had to act. Costs were increasing 15% each year as the number of lines grew and the demand for bandwidth increased. The County also had to provide funding to reach locations that the carrier's network did not serve. The situation made it difficult to budget; there was always a need to fund unexpected expansions and increasing service.

Several groups in Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) began working together to develop a way to improve systems for both groups:

Working together the teams developed a 3-year strategic initiative to upgrade Broward County to a 10 GigE core network infrastructure.   Part of the plan called for reducing complexity and duplication of infrastructure, so the County also decided to converge the voice and data networks and, with voice and data traversing the same circuits, network redundancy would have to be increased because a single line outage could cause a location outage for both critical services.

As Broward County developed the new network, they faced an 18 month deadline. The contract with the incumbent was set to expire and the parties would then move to a month-to-month arrangement. That plan would increase the County's costs by 50%. Martin County, located north of Broward, faced a similar situation when they set to develop their county-woe network. Read more about Martin County's incredible savings in our report, Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network.

Fortunately, the ETS Team was able to share conduit space with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to cut costs and reduce deployment time. Martin County struck up a similar working relationship to dramatically reduce time and expense.

After a six-month design phase and a four-year construction period, the County's 41-mile underground fiber optic backbone now provides voice, video, and data. The network provides 10 gig capacity to 21 county facilities. The County spent approximately $2.5 million to build the fiber network.

One of the most important characteristics of local government will always be accessibility to constituents; reliable telephony is a must. Broward County knew that the new network would mean a phone system change. ETS chose an IP-based system, which was half the cost of a non-IP based system.

County staff now engage in video conferencing and have access to soft phone technology, allowing them to make phone calls over the Internet. The IP system is scalable to tens of thousands of phones as the county's needs grow. 

The IP-based system cost a total of $2.3 million, which included telephones, applications, licenses, voice mail, call centers and servers for 30 locations. The system costs $100,000 per year as compared to the legacy system, which was $700,000 per year.

We have encountered a number of other agencies that found significant savings by using publicly owned infrastructure for telephony. Notably, Austin Independent School District (AISD) in Texas. AISD partnered with several other Austin area agencies to eventually deploy the Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network (GAATN), completed in 1998. AISD faced an estimated $3 million cost for telephones in 1988. Their $18 million contribution to the project paid for itself in less than 3 years.

Broward County has positioned itself to save millions over time, ensured a reliable system, and controlled its telecommunications costs. Florida has state barriers limiting how the county can use its fiber for economic development or to improve residential service but if that situation changes in the future, Broward County has a valuable economic development tool already in place.