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Traffic Project Gets Fiber in the Ground in Winston-Salem, NC

Winston-Salem struck up a smart deal with the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2011. Four years later, that agreement allows the city to move forward with its vision for an I-Net.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports that the City Council recently approved $826,522 for networking equipment to light up city owned fiber installed by the NCDOT. The agency has been upgrading area traffic control systems, a project estimated at around $20 million. Winston-Salem took advantage of the opportunity and paid the agency $1.5 million to simultaneously install its own fiber in the state conduit.

“The city was able to have the network built at only the cost of the fiber,” [city information systems department Chief Officer Dennis] Newman said. “They (state traffic contractors) are running fiber optic cable all around the city to where all the traffic lights are at. This will enable us to connect to all facilities all over the city – fire stations, public safety centers, satellite police stations – right now there are about 40 locations that we have targeted to connect to.”

As is typically the case, Winston-Salem currently pays private providers for connections at each facility but when the new I-Net is up and running, they will be able to eliminate that expense. The new voice and high-speed network will outperform current connections, described in the article as "out-of-date." City officials also told the Journal that some municipal offices have no Internet access at all but will be connected to the new I-Net.

A number of other communities have taken advantage of partnerships with state and federal transportation agencies during traffic signal upgrades. Martin County, Florida; Aurora, Illinois; and Arlington, Virginia saved considerably by collaborating during similar projects.

Modest Investment Yields Results in Steamboat Springs - Community Broadband Bits Episode 163

When Steamboat Springs resolved to improve Internet access for key community anchor institutions and businesses, they decided to make an economical investment in a carrier neutral facility to allow multiple ISPs to invest and compete with each other. In episode 163 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Tim Miles explains what that means and how they did it.

Tim is the Technology Director at Steamboat Springs and South Routt School Districts in Colorado. He tells us about the poor connectivity the community had from CenturyLink and how they opened a bottleneck to encourage more investment. In part because of how Colorado limits local authority to build networks, they formed the Northwest Colorado Broadband Cooperative with the local Chamber of Commerce.

They are already seeing benefits in the form of lower prices for anchor institutions and reduced outages - Tim describes just how painful those outages had been when there was no local Internet choice.

Read the transcript from this discussion here.

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

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Storm Lake, Iowa, Plans Community Anchor Fiber Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chanute's FTTH Project on Hold Indefinitely

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

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

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

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

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

Gigabit Internet for North Central Ohio Schools

Consolidated Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit, member-owned cooperative, will soon offer gigabit broadband in rural North Central Ohio. They intend to first offer the gigabit to local schools and then to businesses.

According to eSchoolNews, Consolidated Electric Cooperative will provide 15 school districts with gigabit connectivity. The school districts will then have greater access to online resources and be better able to comply with mandated online testing in Ohio. In the article, Doug Payauys, vice-president of information systems for Consolidated Electric Cooperative, described the need for improved Internet access in schools:

"Technology is creating a shift in today’s classroom, and it’s transforming the way teachers educate and students learn. As the country becomes a more digital-based society, schools must work to transform lesson plans and accommodate new technologies” 

The gigabit broadband will also improve the Wi-Fi in the school districts, providing more bandwidth for wireless learning devices. Wireless connections almost always depend on wireline backhaul to ensure each access point does not have a bottleneck between the user and the larger Internet. With better Wi-Fi, the schools hope to support an online curriculum for students to learn at their own pace.

Consolidated Electric Cooperative also intends to offer the gigabit connectivity to local businesses. They already offer some broadband connections to businesses through their Enlite Fiber Optic Network. They first began to develop this network in 2010 with some costs covered through the Broadband Initiatives Program created by the stimulus effort. Since then, they have expanded the network which now consists of 200 miles of fiber optic cable from Columbus to Mansfield, spanning five rural counties in North Central Ohio.

They currently do not offer residential fiber, focusing instead on providing a middle mile connectivity to governments, schools and businesses. They are, however, prepared to adapt to support residential services in the future:

Payauys noted that the network has been designed to enable Consolidated to easily deploy residential broadband if the company were to choose to do so at a future time. And already some other network operators – including three wireless Internet service providers – have stepped up to offer residential broadband using the Consolidated network for aggregation and Internet connectivity.

Consolidated Electric Cooperative expects about a four-year payback on the network and appears ready to continue expanding broadband access in rural Ohio.

Boston Globe Profiles Lafayette; OpenCape Inspired

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OpenCape logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Mitchell to Speak in Syracuse on March 4th

Chris will travel to Syracuse, New York to speak on March 4th as part of Syracuse MetroNet's Broadband Speaker Series. If you are in the area and interested in attending, the lecture will be at 7 p.m. at Grewen Auditorium at the Le Moyne College campus. A PDF of the press release is available online.

Syracuse MetroNet serves fifteen community anchor institutions, including hospitals, educational institutions, government agencies, and community organizations. Unfortunately, the connectivity situation for businesses and residents needs a better solution.

Last fall, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner expressed interest in developing a municipal network to improve connectivity in this community of 147,000. Residents now depend on Time Warner Cable for service and do not treasure the idea of dealing with an even bigger behemoth, should the merger with Comcast come to pass.

OneCommunity's Middle Way - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 135

OneCommunity is a nonprofit organization in northeastern Ohio that has connected thousands of community anchor institutions with high capacity connections. Created as OneCleveland before expanding, it has remained a rather unique approach to expanding high quality Internet access. This week, CEO Lev Gonick joins us to talk about OneCommunity and its contributions to the region.

As neither a private company nor a local government, Lev believes that OneCommunity offers a third way, something they often call a "community-driven" approach. We discuss how a big city like Cleveland needs to think about solving the problem of expanding Internet access broadly.

OneCommunity has just announced the recipients of its Big Gig Challenge and Lev shares some of the lessons they learned in evaluating proposals and working with the communities that competed for the prize.

Lev and I will be on a panel together again with some other great folks in Austin for Broadband Communities in the middle of April. Great deal to attend here.

Read the transcript of this show here.

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

This show is 23 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 previous episodes here. 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."

Open Access Network Proposal Goes Before Bozeman City Commission

At a December 15 Bozeman City Commission meeting, broadband advocates, local incumbents, and city staff all had their say on the idea of an open access network. The hearing was part of a process that began last year, when the idea of a public network was first brought up. Bozeman issued an RFP last spring for help in planning their next steps, and eventually selecting a consultant to shepherd the process from a feasibility study and public input through to final planning. We wrote in more detail about the start of this planning phase back in August.

At the December meeting, Bozeman Economic Development Director Brit Fontenot asserted that "The existing model of Internet service provision is outdated," and laid down for the Commissioners the broad outlines of plan for a public-private partnership to create an open access network involving anchor businesses, the city, the local school district, and Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. A memo submitted by Mr. Fontenot in advance of the meeting, as well as a series of other documents relating to the planning process including a consultant summary report, are available on the city’s website [PDF]. 

Several local citizens spoke on the proposal at the Commission meeting in addition to Mr Fontenot. According to the consultant, a survey of city businesses found that nearly two-thirds were dissatisfied with their current Internet service. This claim was supported by local business owner Ken Fightler of Lattice Materials, who according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle

said that [his] company employs 50 people in Bozeman but struggles with "really abysmal Internet." They've talked to every major provider in town trying to find a better option, he said, but have found everything available involves either mediocre speeds or unaffordable pricing. 

Perhaps the most interesting comments came from a representative of one of the local incumbents:

Jason Weathers, with Charter Communication, one of the city's major Internet providers, told the commission that he agreed with much of what was being said.

The company has 130 miles of fiber cable in operation already, he said, but installing the final section to connect the existing network to homes or businesses tends to be expensive, driving up the price

The open-access network proposal "has a lot of things that benefit us as a provider," Weathers said.

By providing neutral last mile infrastructure for multiple independent ISPs to use, publicly-owned networks can lower barriers to entry and facilitate competition, driving down prices and improving service. There is nothing revolutionary in this idea, but it is unusual to hear an incumbent admit that it has merit. More often, incumbents who have already paid off their inferior copper or coaxial cable networks are reluctant to open themselves up to competition on a level playing field. 

The meeting concluded with the Bozeman City Commissioners directing Fontenot’s Economic Development Office to come back in February with a draft of an amendment to the city’s “Growth Policy” that incorporates elements of the Bozeman Master Fiber Plan - in effect, to draft a way to put the plan into legal action. With neighboring cities like Butte, Missoula, and Livingston in various phases of consideration or construction of their own networks, Bozeman is feeling the pressure to move forward and stay economically competitive.