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Carrier Neutral Facilities Creates Big Savings in Steamboat Springs

On July 6th and 7th, much of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, lost phone and Internet when a fiber line was cut, creating a public safety hazard. In order to aviod future massive outages and improve connectivity, Steamboat Springs has decided to develop a Carrier Neutral Location or CNL, much like a similar initiative in nearby Cortez.

In July a CenturyLink fiber optic line was accidentally cut by construction crews, disrupting the 911 emergency system for about 3 hours. No calls were missed, but it is a terrifying reminder of how small towns are dependent on incumbent providers like CenturyLink for basic services.

The community, located in the northwest corner of the state and home to about 12,000 people, is known as a popular ski destination in the winter months. Locations like Steamboat Springs have a natural beauty in the rugged terrain, but incumbent providers tend to see a poor return-on-investment rather than beauty.

The July incident was not the first. In October 2011, an 8-hour outage caused a potential $1 million loss to the economy. If the outage had taken place during peak tourist season, the estimated cost would have been $1 million per hour. In order to ensure their public safety and ability to attract economic development, leaders in Steamboat Springs have decided to end the possibility of massive outage caused by a single cut by investing in a place where multiple carriers can connect.

A CNL is a space owned and maintained by a neutral party where broadband providers can connect to each other to provide redundancy. Sometimes referred to as "meet-me rooms," CNLs are especially useful for middle- and last-mile providers to connect. The facility drives down the cost of bandwidth for community anchor institutions and service providers because they do not require a separate facility for connections and fees are typically reasonable. The CNL in Steamboat Springs went online on June 1st, 2014.

In the first year, the CNL allowed the school district, the city, and the county to buy from middle-mile providers Mammoth Networks and EagleNet. Formerly, the school district paid CenturyLink $23 per Mbps per month for 300 Mbps but now purchases 700 Mbps per month for $6.80 per Mbps from ISP Mammoth.

Funding for the CNL was provided by a private donation of $125,000 and $5,000 each from the city, the county, the chamber, the school district, and the medical center for a total of $150,000. The CNL’s operating costs are about $10,500. 

Northwest Colorado Broadband (NCB), a cooperative formed in 2012 includes local government, educational, utilty, and business entities from the region. The cooperative allows the project to function without running afoul of SB 152, the Colorado law passed that prevents local government from providing telecommunications services. NCB will manage the fiber connections and the CNL. By joining forces, the partners anticipate significant savings, better reliability, and access to more capcaity.

Tom Kern, CEO of the Steamboat Chamber and NCB President stated in a press release [PDF]:

This is a creative way to achieve expanded service for a significantly lower cost to critical community institutions...By consolidating demand, members will be able to obtain enormous broadband capacity at about a tenth of the cost they currently pay.

In addition to the CNL, Routt county has found a consultant to study broadband deficiencies throughout the county. The cost was partially covered by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. NCB, Steamboat Springs School District, the city of Steamboat Springs, Yampa Valley Medical Center and Yampa Valley Electric Association provided the remaining funding for the study.

For more information on Steamboat Springs and the CNL, check out Community Broadband Bits Episode 163, in which Chris interviews Tim Miles, the Technology Director at Steamboat Springs and South Routt School Districts.

Video on OpenCape: How Cape Cod Created a Fiber Network

Almost ten years ago, Dan Gallagher, a technology director at Cape Cod Community College, could not get the bandwidth the college needed from incumbent service providers. After communicating with others in the areas, it soon became clear that a number of others shared the same experience.

“We asked anyone who thinks this is a problem for their business or entity here on the cape to come to cape cod community college to talk about it and a hundred people showed up.” - Dan Gallagher in eSTEAMers

The community formed non-profit OpenCape, and created a 350 mile fiber optic network and a colocation data center with $40 million in combined BTOP grants, state grants, and private funding. Completed in late 2012, the project proved to be well-worth the wait. Three large entities almost immediately became customers on the network: the Joint Base, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and Hydroid, Inc, a private company.

Now the senior consultant for OpenCape, Dan Gallagher describes the project in depth in this episode of eSTEAMers by Cape Cod Community Media Center.

Introducing Our Institutional Networks Page

Community anchor institutions play a critical role in bridging the digital divide. These networks that connect government buildings, libraries, and schools are often called “institutional networks” or “I-Nets.” Since the start of, we have noted the ways these institutions have expanded services and saved money. Now, these stories have been compiled into one quick-reference resource.

As franchise agreements run out with incumbent service providers, public institutions often struggle to renegotiate contracts at sustainable prices. Other communities have been left behind altogether by large cable and telephone companies and cannot get the high quality Internet access needed for their libraries or schools.

With 30% of U.S. households without a broadband connection at home, schools and libraries are portals to digital learning tools, social services, and job applications. A local government self-provisioning a fiber network to connect these facilities is often the most cost-effective way to ensure these essential entities have affordable and reliable Internet access.

In this page, we detail the many times schools and libraries have used municipal networks to save money, increase Internet access, and provide better services. We also note how these municipal institutional networks can be incrementally expanded beyond institutions to businesses and homes, creating city-wide connectivity. Check out the page.

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.

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.