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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.

Small ISPs and Paperwork - Community Broadband Bits Episode 151

Back in March, I spoke at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Telecom conference, which is always an event with interesting people. While there, I met Doug Hammer and Krista Allen of Harlan Utilities. With just over 5,000 people, Harlan is small but they actually have better Internet and cable choices than most of us, in large part due to the municipal utility.

Doug is the Director of Marketing and Krista the Director of Finance & Customer Service. We spoke again for this week's show about the challenge small ISPs have in just completing the paperwork required of ISPs by the federal government. Though small utilities like Harlan have only a few staff people, they are subject to many of the same forms as much larger companies.

We talk about the paperwork, but also some of the benefits that Harlan's municipal utility brings to the community.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 22 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Decorah, Iowa, Considers the Future of MetroNet

Decorah, named an "All-Star Community" in part due to benefits from their internal fiber network, is now exploring new ways to utilize MetroNet. According to a recent Decorah Newspapers article, the six community anchor institutions (CAIs) that collaborated to deploy the network recently met with the city council to discuss the future.

The 11-mile network began serving CAIs and an additional 18 facilities in 2013. After a 2008 flood that knocked out communications, the city, county, and school district began planning for the network. Eventually, the project grew to include Luther College, the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and the Winneshiek Medical Center. BTOP funds paid for much of the approximate $1 million deployment but contributions from participants supplied an additional $450,000.

According to the article, MetroNet supplies each institution with its own fiber, leaving plenty to spare. Decorah City Manager and Chair of the MetroNet Board Craig Bird says that the network has a "vast amount" of dark fiber available that is not being used. Members of the community have approached the Board about using the fiber for better connectivity beyond current uses:

Bird said the MetroNet Board has to decide how to respond to a grassroots petition committee of citizens “demanding access to the MetroNet and faster broadband speeds and fiber capacities” for Internet access to private homes and businesses.

“The MetroNet Board is now starting to look at the future and what the MetroNet holds for the six anchor members, but also for the community,” he told the Councils.

At the city council meeting, Bird discussed the possibility of creating a municipal Internet utility, creating a cooperative, forming a nonprofit, or leaving MetroNet as a service for the existing members and facilities. They also considered the option of leasing dark fiber to private providers.

Bird also told the council that the MetroNet Board has agreed to participate in a regional feasibility study to include northeast Iowa. The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities has commission the study that will include a number of towns:

“The feasibility study is going to look at a lot of things. Basically, what our current capacities are and what assets we already have. We know what the MetroNet has, we know what (the other communities have), what impact does that have for Northeast Iowa and what would it take to connect these existing infrastructures together so that we can take advantage of the traditional economies of scale for purchasing. Some of these communities are already purchasing video. They’re competing directly with Mediacom,” Bird told Decorah Newspapers.

“Part of the feasibility study is how can we collectively come together and do that same thing with larger volume and more efficiency. There is power in numbers – not just for video, but for the triple play as it’s called in the industry – video, voice and data (television, phone and Internet),” Bird said. 

Waverly will also be included in the study. The town of 10,000 is commencing deployment of its municipal gigabit fiber network and expects to be serving the community in 2016. Whether Decorah follows the same path remains to be seen:

Bird said the process of determining the MetroNet’s future is just starting.

“It needs more discussion – there’s no question on that,” Mayor Don Arendt said.

“We can make a better decision once we know if forming a utility is what is best for us and what the other entities want to do,” Niess said.

Waverly: The Next Gigabit Community in Iowa

Remember Waverly, Iowa? We introduced you to the town of 10,000 back in 2013 when they revived the community choice to develop a telecommunications utility. Recently in February, the Waverly Light and Power Board of Trustees approved a long awaited gigabit project reported American Public Power.

According to a WLP press release, the $12 million project will be financed with revenue bonds which have already been secured. As we note in our Financing Municipal Networks fact sheet [PDF], this is one of the most common ways of funding deployment. Revenue from subscribers pays the private investors that buy the bonds used to finance the deployment.

Construction is scheduled to begin in May and WLP expects to begin serving customers in 2016. WLP serves approximately 4,800 customers in town and in the rural areas around Waverly. Early plans include incentives for early sign-ups such as a free first month of service and a reduced installation fee. The fiber network will also be used for smart metering.

From the WLP press release:

“It may have taken 15 years of planning and hard work to finally come together, but knowing what’s to come, it’s worth the wait,” explains Ael Suhr, Waverly Light and Power Chairman of the Board. “This approval opens the door for new alternatives for high-speed internet, cable and phone services in Waverly for both residents and businesses.”

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 1

The mayors of 38 US cities came out this week to let the FCC know they want the authority to build high speed Internet networks. Jon Gold with Network World covered the story and reminded readers of the more heavy-handed tactics of our Comcast and TWC. 

Three U.S. senators introduced a Community Broadband Act this week. Mario Trujillo with The Hill reported that the bill would forbid state and local governments from “creating a ‘statute, regulation, or other legal requirement’ that bars communities from creating their own municipal broadband network.”

Kate Cox with the Consumerist broke it down:

“In other words, the Community Broadband Act makes it legal for a town to start a network and illegal for the state to stop them, but doesn’t provide any assistance for towns who want to build networks. It simply gives them the opportunity to pursue their own funding. To that end, the bill specifically encourages public-private partnerships.”

Henry Grabar with Salon wrote about the ideological debate that is “taking the country by storm.” 

Broadband Definition

Jon Brodkin with Ars Technica wrote about the FCC decision to raise the definition of broadband speed: “Tons of AT&T and Verizon customers will no longer have ‘broadband’ tomorrow.” This after the FCC upped the definition of broadband from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps download speed. 

Under the proposed definition of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up (which is opposed by Internet providers), 19.4 percent of US households would be in areas without any wired broadband providers. 55.3 percent would have just one provider of “broadband,” with the rest being able to choose from two or more. Rural areas are far less likely to have fast Internet service than urban ones.

In another article about the decision, Brodkin explains why the cable industry is opposed to the changes.

Alina Selykukh with Reuters covered the increase as well.  The new definition should force upgrades to fiber to the home, but it could also have a real impact for lower-income families. 

“The FCC could also press Comcast to commit to faster speeds in its Internet Essentials program, a discounted Internet service for low-income families, if they decide to use it as part of the merger review, analysts said.”

 

Muni Editorials

This week several prominent newspaper editorial boards have come out in favor of community broadband. 

The Boston Globe’s board wrote that Congress should let cities provide their own Internet

“A better approach would be for Congress to settle the issue itself, by preventing states from interfering with cities and towns that want to start their own Internet services. On Jan. 22, Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Ed Markey of Massachusetts filed a bill that would invalidate the state laws, and prohibit states from enacting new ones. This effort will almost certainly face stiff resistance from Congressional Republicans. But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and it isn’t one on the local level. Red states like Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah all have successful municipal Internet programs. Politicians tempted by campaign contributions from the telecommunications lobby, or skeptical of any proposal backed by President Obama, should remember that consumer protection is an issue that voters of all stripes support.”

The LA Times also weighed in: 

"Just as advances in microchip speed and hard drive capacity have led to more powerful software programs, faster broadband networks lead to more data-intensive applications and services. But the shortage of broadband competitors and the high cost of building networks in the United States have slowed the spread of the kind of ultra-high-speed services such as the ones found in much of Asia and northern Europe… Regardless, the decision about whether a local agency should get into the broadband business should be left to the people who bear the risk — local officials and the people who elect them." 

The Iowa State Daily praised Republican Governor Branstad’s “Connect Every Acre” proposal: 

“Bringing Internet access to all Iowans or Americans will only increase the number of educational and economic opportunities in our state. Cedar Falls is already a powerhouse in Iowan and national E-commerce, so expanding similar capabilities across the state will strengthen Iowa’s standing on the national economic stage."

More residents and op-ed writers have chosen to write about community broadband as well. Andrew Kocis wrote in the Eastern Echo that he wants to see faster speeds, more competition and better service.

Ansel Herz continues to bite at the heels of Seattle’s decision-makers.

“Seattle is a bustling, high-tech metropolis with a highly regarded public utility company. We're the fastest growing large city in the country, according to census data, and the city expects that over the next 10 years, 75 percent of the city's new residents will move here for jobs in the tech sector. So why, when it comes to the internet, are we so far behind cities like Cedar Falls and Chattanooga—or closer to home, for that matter, towns like Mount Vernon or Sandy, Oregon?”

David Amor wrote to keep his paper, the Galesburg Register-Mail, in check after a recent article only told half of the story about broadband in his Illinois community. 

The South Coast Today out of Massachusetts is introducing a series devoted to helping residents learn more about municipal networks:

The first question is "Why would Middleboro want to become an ISP (Internet Service Provider?".  The simple answer is:  To provide quality high speed Internet at the lowest possible price and to protect our citizens from the blood thirsty piranhas that they currently have to contend with.  A municipal ISP would have the effect of keeping the other providers honest.  Competition would force everybody to offer the best possible rates instead of what we have today - Internet superhighway men and corporate grifters who are charging as much as they can get away with after luring you in with temporarily low rates.

 

Community Broadband City Update

Paul Bunyan Communications in Bemidji, MN connected its first “gigazone” customer this week. Zach Kayser with the Forum News Service reported on the technological revolution that is happening in rural northern Minnesota. Once completed, the GigaZone will be one of the largest gigabit networks in the United States.

Bryan Lund with the Rochester Post Bulletin is reporting about his city taking steps toward community broadband. Rochester, MN city council member Mike Wojcik says he’s been bombarded with letters from residents disgusted with their Charter service, and that’s sparking them to look into other options. 

"Broadband is key for information for a lot of people, particularly younger generations, and going forward, it becomes more and more critical… Ultimately, if the city of Rochester, if the citizens of Rochester, are not willing to invest in broadband themselves, nobody else is going to invest in it for us. There are more than 30 cities around the country now that have jumped in and are positively cash-flowing broadband for their citizens. Typically, they have better service, better speeds and better pricing than Rochester gets."

Barbara Rodriguez with the Associated Press reported on Gov. Branstad’s broadband legislation. In the Quad City Times, Barb Ickes wrote that the Iowa city’s leaders have a responsibility to understand how broadband service can benefit their constituents. 

Allison Oligschlaeger with the Deseret News reports that the mayor of Murray, Utah has a plan to increase UTOPIA customers.

In Albany, New York, Chelsea Diana with Biz Journals wrote about how Albany businesses have fallen behind for competitive speeds. She found that 70 percent of upstate New Yorkers cannot get access to broadband at 100 Mbps, which many European cities enjoy. 

Richie Davis with GazetteNet in Massachusetts wrote about Leverett’s community broadband success, which was featured in the White House’s broadband report.

“President Obama’s call Tuesday for Internet expansion to “help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world,” had a special ring for people in this town.

Obama’s State of the Union shout-out to the 21st-century businesses’ need for “the fastest Internet,” and his visit to Cedar Falls, Iowa, last week to spotlight that city’s municipal gigabit-per-second broadband service, came as little surprise to Leverett Broadband Committee members, who are gearing up for 1-gigabit-per-second LeverettNet service — 100 times faster than the national average — to be turned on this spring for residents.”

Boulder, CO residents will soon be reaping the benefits from their recent Internet ballot initiative. Erica Meltzer with the Daily Camera writes that the city will launch free public wi-fi in downtown areas this Spring. 

And in Loveland, CO, Saja Hindi with the Reporter Herald reports on elected officials there are discussing how municipal broadband could improve the town’s economy. 

“[City councilor John] Fogle said it's not just large cities taking advantage of this idea but smaller ones as well because it's about being a catalyst for business and for education... A business developer at the retreat affirmed Fogle's comment, stating there's a possibility of a company looking to locate the manufacture of helicopters in Loveland at the airport next year and because the headquarters are in Switzerland, having a fiber optic line would be very beneficial.”

Fourth Annual IAMU Broadband Conference: March 18th - 19th in Des Moines

Spring is the time for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU) Broadband Conference in Des Moines. This year is it scheduled for March 18th and 19th at the Ramada Tropics and Resort Center downtown. Don't forget your swimsuit!

Chris will be presenting again this year. He has been there 2 out of the last 3 years and it is always a good time with lots of great energy. This year they are particularly welcoming people from outside Iowa as well - so put it on your calendar if you are nearby!

The agenda is still being developed but will include a variety of topics including the proliferation of the connected home, legislative and regulatory updates, and marketing for small broadband utilities. You can view a working agenda [PDF] at the IAMU website.

You can register now for special rates. Call 515-278-0271 and ask for the IAMU room block.

National Press Follows President Obama to Cedar Falls, Iowa

On January 14th, President Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to share his strategy to expand high-speed connectivity to more Americans, encourage competition, and galvanize economic development. Obama's plan centers around community networks and he announced that the next step will be eliminating barriers in 19 states that usurp local authority to invest in publicly owned infrastructure.

From his remarks [C-SPAN Video below]:

Today, I'm making my administration's position clear on community broadband. I'm saying I'm on the side of competition. And I'm on the side of small business owners... I'm on the side of students and schools. I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to. Nobody is going to force you to do it, but if you want to do it, if the community decides this is something that we want to do to give ourselves a competitive edge and to help our young people and our businesses, they should be able to do it.

The Obama Administration, through the Department of Commerce, recently sent a letter [PDF] to Chairman Wheeler to request the FCC use its authority to end state barriers that block local public investment. The Hill noted the letter and the President's speech together put gentle pressure on the FCC to take steps to restore local authority. The Hill also gave space to the cable industry, naturally opposed to restoring local authority after millions of lobbying dollars invested in passing anti-competitive legislation.

InfoWorld also pointed out cable industry opposition to the Obama proposal, noting that they were ready to mount a strong offense and will likely join Congressional Republicans to fight any roll-back of state barriers. A decision from the FCC on whether or not to change state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee is expected in February.

As for the incumbents, there was no love lost between the President and the big players, as Multichannel News reported:

He said in many places big companies are "doing everything they can to keep out new competitors."

…they were at the whim of whatever Internet service provider happened to be around, and and when they had problems they got stuck on hold watching a spinning icon, waiting and waiting and waiting and wondering why rates keep getting "jacked up." Ouch. 

Other national outlets that covered the speech included the New York Times, the Washington Post, Ars Technica, Fierce Telecom, and NexGov. We came across so many stories we stopped counting.

Local coverage included stories from the Sioux City Journal, the Quad City Times, the Gazette, and the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. Mayor Jon Crews told the Courier:

“This is good for attracting companies that have higher wages for technical positions,” Crews said. “Obviously to be recognized by Google and the president of the United States in two months time is pretty awesome.”

As the President noted in his speech, Google named Cedar Falls the best city in Iowa for e-commerce due to its municipal fiber optic network.

Marc Reifenrath, local business owner of a web design, development and digital strategy agency called Spinutech introduced the President:

In our early years it would have been easy to move our headquarters to another city, really anywhere. Thanks in part to its high speed internet, Cedar Falls has always made it easy for us to grow our business. Today, Spinutech has clients in all 50 states and eight countries. In talking with these clients, time and again it is proven just how fortunate we are.

Whether or not local authority is restored in the 19 states in question, it is important that local communities remember the role of vision, which the President pointed out in his speech:

Now, in Cedar Falls, things are different. About 20 years ago, in a visionary move ahead of its time, this city voted to add another option to the market and invest in a community broadband network. Really smart thing you guys did. It was a really smart thing you guys did. And you've managed it right here at Cedar Falls Utilities. And then a few years ago, you realized that customers were demanding more and more speed. All the movies, all the increased data, Instagram -- all this stuff suddenly is just being loaded up, and basically, you guys were like the captain in Jaws, where he said, “We're going to need a bigger boat.” 

 

A Transcript of the script is available at the C-SPAN video page in the transcript box below the video window.

FACT SHEET: Broadband That Works: Promoting Competition & Local Choice In Next-Generation Connectivity

Publication Date: 
January 13, 2015
Author(s): 
White House Office of the Press Secretary

In January 2015, President Barak Obama appeared in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to present his administration's plan to encourage local choice and competition through community networks. The President's strategy includes eliminating barriers to local telecom authority that now exist in 19 states. 

The Broadband That Works: Promoting Competition & Local Choice In Next-Generation Connectivity fact sheet, released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary on the eve of the appearance, provides info on several communities served by munis and the benefits they have enjoyed. The fact sheet also outlines five steps the administrations proposes to improves access, adoption, and investment.

For more detailed information, download the accompanying report by the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors.

Community-Based Broadband Solutions: The Benefits of Competition and Choice for Community Development and Highspeed Internet Access

Publication Date: 
January 13, 2015
Author(s): 
National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors

Affordable, reliable access to high speed broadband is critical to U.S. economic growth and competitiveness. Upgrading to higher-speed broadband lets consumers use the Internet in new ways, increases the productivity of American individuals and businesses, and drives innovation throughout the digital ecosystem. As this report describes, while the private sector has made investments to dramatically expand broadband access in the U.S., challenges still remain. Many markets remain unserved or underserved. Others do not benefit from the kind of competition that drives down costs and improves quality. To help fill the void, hundreds of towns and cities around the country have developed their own locally-owned networks. This report describes the benefits of higher-speed broadband access, the current challenges facing the market, and the benefits of competition – including competition from community broadband networks. - Executive Summary

On January 13, 2015, President Barak Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to discuss his administration's plans to bring better connectivity to American residents and businesses. The centerpiece of his strategy involved removing state barriers to municipal networks and promoting local authority.

In tandem with that speech, the White House released this report. The report includes significant research from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, including community profiles, economic data, and the role if municipal networks in competition.

President Obama Speaks Against Barriers to Community Networks

When we started to hear rumors that the White House was investigating community owned networks, we were excited but not sure what to expect. I have to admit that seeing President Obama - the President of the United States - saying that Cedar Falls was smart to invest in themselves was much more powerful than I ever expected (see the video below).'

President Obama will visit Cedar Falls on Wednesday to address his plans to increase access to affordable, high-speed broadband across the country. Tune in at 3:40 Eastern to the White House Briefing Room to watch the live event.

The efforts of so many people to legitimize community networks are now paying off. Belittled by the big cable companies and their paid experts, we certainly were not destined to reach this point. But we are here - and everyone now recognizes that local governments can play an important role in ensuring we all have great Internet access.

The White House has released a fact sheet with some information on what the Executive Branch will do to increase competition and restore local authority.

Laws in 19 states — some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors — have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity. Today, President Obama is announcing a new effort to support local choice in broadband, formally opposing measures that limit the range of options available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure, including ownership of networks. As a first step, the Administration is filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to join this effort by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens.

And the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisers have released a report discussing the important contributions of community owned networks [PDF]. You might see some familiar references in the report - we are excited to see our work contributing to national policy.

This is a great moment for everyone that has worked on these networks - from local government employees and elected officials to the activists and local business owners that have volunteered their time to make it happen in their community. This is a great moment for the principle of local self-reliance.

Video: 
See video