Bel Air, Maryland, Latest To Save With HMAN

Time to check in at Harford County, Maryland. When we last reported on the Harford Metro Area Network (HMAN) in July 2014, it had only been lit for a few months. Now, more than 100 public facilities are connected to the network and more are expected; the latest will be Bel Air, Maryland.

Saving With County Connections For VoIP

A recent GovTech article reported that the Board of Town Commissioners voted 4-0 to invest approximately $25,000 in a new VoIP system that will use HMAN for telephone service. The new system will serve 65 new phones and will include the software for the new system. Apparently, Bel Air sought cost estimates to replace their old traditional system with VoIP with a private provider and the estimates were more than $65,000 beyond what the city had budgeted for the project.

We often point to significant public savings when local government uses publicly owned infrastructure for Internet access, but switching from traditional phone service to VoIP via a muni can reduce communications costs even more. In places such as schools, government offices, and other administrative facilities where there are multiple lines, the budget for telephone service can be astronomical. VoIP eliminates leased lines and, because a fiber-optic network like HMAN is designed with redundancy in mind, users can expect reliable connections.

In addition to saving substantially, Bel Air’s new system will be compatible with the systems used by Harford County Government and the Department of Emergency Services.

HMAN connects schools, public safety facilities, libraries, government offices, and other public facilities in the northeast Maryland county. The network is 160 miles and four main rings with laterals off those rings. The network cost approximately $13.8 million, funded with general obligation bonds from the county’s capital improvement budget.

Dublin Residents Push for Residential Fiber, City Continues to Benefit

The Columbus, Ohio suburb of Dublin is home to Dublink, a fiber-optic network that serves local businesses, schools, and community anchor institutions. Dublink brought new jobs and research opportunities to the local economy while saving local institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. 

Just recently, Dublin City School District and City of Dublin struck a deal to allow public schools to use the network. Now, residents want Dublink to deliver high-speed access to their homes. 

Residents Want The Benefits, Too

This spring, Dublin residents expressed their discontent with incumbent Internet service providers (ISPs) Charter Communications and AT&T at two packed meetings. Doug McCollough, Dublin’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) summarized local sentiments in a memo to the City Council in April. In the memo and in a Columbus Business First article, McCollough downplayed the idea that the city would operate a network itself, but noted a growing impatience in his community:

"We are a city and should not be competing against telecom carriers, (but) the patience for that message is running out. Our residents want broadband service in their home for a reasonable price – now."

Extensive, compelling public discussions on the social network Nextdoor and in an online forum facilitated by resident group Dublin Broadband encouraged city officials to take up the issue at a larger public meeting in April. Community enthusiasm led to the addition of three more meetings in July, August, and September. The next step will be to survey residential Internet needs and to gather information from the Department of Commerce and incumbent ISPs.

Research & Deployment

Dublink started as a public private partnership to lay conduit in 1999. It originally connected 6 city buildings and the business district. Over the past 17 years, the network was crucial to attracting economic development to the region, as we wrote two years ago. A $1.1 billion Amazon data center, a new Costco Wholesale store, and numerous healthcare employers invested in Dublin in part because of its fiber-optic network. 

In 2005, Dublink began to collaborate with Ohio Academic Research Network (OARnet) to create the Central Ohio Research Network (CORN). The effort connects Dublink with over 1,600 miles of fiber-optic cable linking the region’s top academic research institutions. We wrote about the project last December, when Dublink upgraded speeds on its network to match OARnet’s 100 Gbps speeds (100,000 Megabits per second). 

Dublin City Manager Dana McDaniel foresees further economic development success, particularly in the West Innovation District, 

"We're starting to see those anchor tenants come to fruition. It's heavy in the health arena, information technology and R&D, so it's a great start. I would say it's probably only 25 percent built out so we have a lot of capacity out there." 

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Expedient, a network and data center operator, is currently forming an agreement with the city to lease fiber access and bring additional revenue to the city. Expedient’s CEO tied their decision directly to Dublink, "Because of the Dublink connection, we think that we will be able to grow our business faster and more successfully in Dublin.” 

Local officials are optimistic that all this tech development will spill into the local economy. McDaniel told Columbus Business First, "You drive into these big office parks and you have not place to get lunch and the services you need."

Development Drives City Savings and Revenues

The city eliminated leased lines to switch to Dublink and saved over $4.8 million during the first 12 years.

This year, the City Council decided to turn extra capacity into revenue; a May resolution makes additional dark fiber available for lease, estimated to deliver more than $5.4 million in revenue to the city in the coming decade. A recent Dublin Villager story highlighted the decision:

“A resolution City Council approved May 9 increases the number of optical fiber pairs the city is authorized to offer for lease from 9 to 15 pairs, generating an estimated $525,000 per year in non-taxable revenue, or a total of more than $5.4 million over 10 years with the inclusion of expired leases.”

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, UC2B issues RFP: Intent to Respond Letters Due August 29

The Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband non-profit (UC2B) owns a community network in the southern Illinois sister cities of Urbana and Champaign. In 2009, these cities partnered with the University of Illinois to create the non-profit UC2B to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network using a federal stimulus grant. In 2014, UC2B partnered with iTV3 to operate the network, but CountryWide Broadband bought iTV3 in early 2016. Now UC2B is looking for a new partner.

On August 22, 2016, UC2B issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to find a partner to operate and expand the existing UC2B fiber network. Submit letters of Intent to Respond to the RFP by Monday, August 29, 2016 to RFP@UC2B.net. The goal is Gigabit-connectivity in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

Pass/Fail Requirements and Some Additional Key Criteria

Interested partners must honor the Three Core Principles of UC2B’s network:
1. An all fiber network; and
2. An open access network; and
3. Ubiquitous access, with no cherry picking.

Respondents will specifically be judged by 10 Pass/Fail Requirements and 9 Additional Key Criteria. These include:

An Initial $8.5 million Investment (p. 7 - 8 of the RFP)

$8.2 million will go to CountryWide Broadband (to buy out their interest in UC2B infrastructure, electronics, and customers), and the remaining $300,000 will be split equally among the City of Champaign, the City of Urbana, and UC2B to cover administrative costs. 

A Community Storefront (p. 10)

The new partner must open a storefront for at least forty hours a week. The store must also have friendly and knowledgeable customer service representatives. 

RFP Schedule 

(Note: the schedule is subject to change)

  • August 22, 2016 -- RFP released
  • August 29, 2016 -- Deadline to submit letter of Intent to Respond to RFP
    (send to: RFP@UC2B.net)
  • August 31, 2016 -- Deadline to submit questions to UC2B
  • September 6, 2016 -- Responses to questions due from UC2B
  • September 19, 2016 -- Deadline RFP responses due to UC2B

The full RFP and its appendices are available on the UC2B website.

Just What is the Internet? Community Broadband Bits Podcast 216

The Internet is one of those things that is right there in front of our face but can be hard to define exactly. Community Broadband Bits Episode 216 answers that question and picks up right where episode 213 left off with Fred Goldstein, Principal of Interisle Consulting Group.

Having already discussed the regulatory decisions that allowed the Internet to flourish, we now focus on what exactly the Internet is (hint, not wires or even physical things) and spend a long time talking about Fred's persuasive argument on how the FCC should have resolved the network neutrality battle.

We also talk about why the Internet should properly be capitalized and why the Internet is neither fast nor slow itself. These are core concepts that anyone who cares about getting Internet policy correct should know -- but far too few do. Not because it is too technical, but because it does require some work to understand. That is why this is such a long conversation - probably our longest to date in over 200 shows.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

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

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

Open Access Muni On The Way In Campbell River, B.C.

Located on the southern end of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island sits the coastal city of Campbell River. The community recently received a $50,000 grant from the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) to pursue better connectivity through a municipal open access network initiative.

Retain and Attract

The “Salmon Capital of the World” is also home to other industries that increasingly need access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Approximately 31,000 people live in Campbell River. The island’s forestry and mining companies need to have the ability to transfer large data files, such as 3D renderings, detailed maps, and similar geographic files, to business associates. In addition to making the current situation better for existing industries, community leaders want to attract new industries. From a July Campbell River Mirror article:

“We need to retain our existing businesses and enable them to grow in place,” [Economic Development Officer Rose] Klukas said in a release. “We are also looking to attract and support technology and creative sector entrepreneurs – designers, programmers, software engineers, and more – and competitively priced, high-speed broadband is a must-have.”

The ICET grant will fund the completion of a fiber-optic ring that's owned by the city and currently used only for municipal operations. The city will expand the ring and allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer services to local businesses via the fiber-optic infrastructure.

The First Of Its Kind

This project will be the first open access municipal network on Vancouver Island. In addition to the more immediate need of better connectivity for Campbell River, ICET hopes to determine if this same model can be duplicated elsewhere on the island.

Hudson, Ohio, Issues RFP for FTTH Study

Hudson is bringing better connectivity to local businesses with Velocity Broadband, its gigabit fiber network, and is now exploring the potential of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) for the rest of the community. The city recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study to review the possibilities for service to residents. Proposals are due August 26.

From the RFP Summary:

This project will result in the production of a Feasibility Study containing a residential needs assessment, deployment strategy options and construction cost estimates. The desired outcome of this planning effort is to provide a tool for the city to establish if Hudson residents want this service and determine a successful deployment strategy and the associated cost to implement fiber to the homes (FTTH) within the City of Hudson. 

The city wants the study completed by the end of 2016.

We’ve covered Hudson’s venture into accelerating connectivity for businesses since 2014. The community of 23,000 started by incrementally building out a fiber-optic institutional network (I-Net) over a period of about ten years, which it later expanded to offer gigabit service to businesses. Chris interviewed Hudson City Manager Jane Howington last December about the city’s Velocity service. Check out episode #181 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for that conversation. Since the launch, local businesses have been excited to obtain fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

The full RFP is available on the city's website.

SandyNet Increases Speeds, Keeps Low Prices

On July 4th, Sandy, Oregon’s municipal fiber-optic network, SandyNet, permanently increased the speed of its entry-level Internet package from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 300 Mbps at no additional cost to subscribers.

The city announced the speed boost for its $39.95 per month tier in a recent press release, calling it “one of the best deals in the nation.” SandyNet customers witness blazing fast download speeds at affordable prices and benefit from symmetrical upload speeds, allowing them to seamlessly interact with the cloud and work from home. 

Sandy is still home the “$60 Gig” (see price chart), one of the premier gigabit Internet offers in the nation. Without an electric utility, SandyNet’s unique model can be applied to “Anytown, USA.”

Read our report on Sandy, SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA, for details on the community's Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless networks and listen to Chris interview Sandy officials in Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 167.

Check out our video on Sandy:

Community Broadband Media Roundup - August 22

Colorado

Lafayette eyes municipal broadband, EcoPass for November ballot by Anthony Hahn, Colorado Hometown Weekly & GovTech

Larmier County refers broadband-law exemption to November ballot by Dallas Heltzell, BizWest

El Paso County may ask voters to help bring Internet service to rural communities by Matt Steiner, Colorado Springs Gazette

 

Maryland

Maryland city to link up with county-owned high-speed Internet service by Erika Butler, GovTech

 

Minnesota

World-class broadband access is needed for a world-class city by Mike Schlasner, Rochester Post Bulletin

Rochester makes smart move by evaluating Internet options by Christopher Mitchell, Rochester Post Bulletin

Going back 20 years in Rochester, anyone could become an Internet service provider. You had buy some modems, lease a few telephone lines and set up a billing system. But today, after a series of deregulatory decisions, a few big cable and telephone companies basically control all high-speed Internet access in the U.S.

Building a network now requires a major investment, which is why there is so little private-sector competition.

Broadband for tomorrow by Karen Reisner, Fillmore County Journal

 

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North Carolina

Appeals court overturns FCC order on municipal broadband by Amanda Raymond, Salisbury Post

Court halts broadband in Pinetops by Lindell John Kay, Rocky Mount Telegram

 

Tennessee

Bridging digital divide: Stepping toward inclusive innovation in Chattanooga by Joan McClane, Chattanooga Times Free Press

EPB says those without broadband should make their voices heard by The Chattanoogan

 

Virginia

Montgomery County continues to discuss providing broadband by Yann Ranaivo, Roanoke Times

Last year, the county Board of Supervisors began exploring the possibility of letting its rural utility provider – the Public Service Authority – add broadband Internet to its services. Turning the PSA into a telecom provider requires General Assembly approval, and the people behind the idea decided to hold off on pitching a bill during the previous session because they didn’t think lawmakers had enough time to consider the proposal.

County seeks to map strategy for broadband by Don Del Rosso, FauquierNow

 

Wisconsin

State broadband grants will boost rural Wisconsin Internet service by Rick Barrett, GovTech

 

General

Gigabites: Farm towns find fiber by Mari Silbey, Light Reading

 

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Reverses Feb. 2015 Ruling

After court loss, FCC eyes its options on municipal broadband by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Cable and telecom firms score a huge win in their war to kill municipal broadband by Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

“State legislators talk about passing new barriers to public systems until it’s written about in the press,” Mitchell says. “Then they get letters from voters.”

Thanks to this week’s appeals court ruling, supporters of community broadband will have to continue their work without the assistance of the FCC. But by providing lousy service, the cable and telecommunications industries may make their job easier.

The FCC can't save community broadband - but we can by Corynne McSherry, TruthOut

EFF vows to take up muni broadband cause after FCC denied by Shaun Nichols, The Register

Markey: FCC should still target state muni broadband barriers by John Eggerton, MultiChannel News

Sixth Circuit kills FCC's municipal broadband state preemption order by Kyle Daly, Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs

Garrett County, Maryland: Access For Anchors In The Appalachians

Garrett County is the westernmost county in Maryland. High in the Allegheny Mountains of the Appalachian Mountain Range; winters are harsh and forest covers 90 percent of the county. Before the county deployed a fiber-optic network, high-quality connectivity was hard to come by for schools, libraries, and other community anchor institutions. By making the most of every opportunity, Garrett County has improved efficiencies for the many small communities in the region and set the stage to improve connectivity for businesses and residents.

Rural, Remote, Ready For Better Connectivity

The county is more than 650 square miles but there are no large urban centers and over time a number of sparsely populated areas have developed as home to the county's 30,000 people; since 2000, population growth has stagnated. Many of the tiny communities where businesses and residents have clustered are remote and do not have public sewer or water. These places tend to have a high number of low-income people. 

Unemployment rates are volatile in Garrett County, fluctuating with natural resources extraction industries. As the coal and lumber industries have waned, many jobs in Garrett County have disappeared. Garrett County Memorial Hospital and Beitzel industrial construction employ over 300 people and are the county’s largest employers. 

All of these characteristics make Garrett County unattractive to the large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that want to maximize investment and focus only on densely populated urban areas. Verizon offers DSL and Comcast offers cable in limited areas but many people rely on mobile Internet access and expensive satellite Internet access.

It Started With BTOP Fiber

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In 2010, the State of Maryland received over $115 million in grant funding through the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP). With a matching $43 million from state and in-kind contributions, Maryland deployed the One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN). In August 2013, the middle mile fiber-optic network was complete, stretching 1,324 miles across the state connecting 1,068 CAIs.

OMBN runs directly into Garrett County for approximately 50 miles. Since then, the county has added fiber when they have had the funds. They have not borrowed or bonded to fund deployment, but obtained a grant from the Appalachian Resource Council (ARC) to extend the fiber from OMBN and to purchase equipment to light the network. The largest expansion was funded with a $250,000 ARC grant. The County invested $250,000 of its own funds to total $500,000 for the initial investment into Garrett County’s fiber network. Since then, the county has collaborated with other entities to reduce costs and extend the network farther in a series of smaller expansions.

Getting Public Facilities Connected

BTOP funds were used to connect 32 CAIs, and the county’s efforts connected 18 more to Garrett County’s network. In addition to libraries, municipal administrative facilities, and the county hospital, all but two county schools are connected. The network also connects other public facilities, including a senior center, a local college, and a career center. Town halls across the county are also on the network and there is fiber connecting several industrial parks. In addition to connecting CAIs and public entities to the network, the county deploys wide area networks (WANs) between facilities so the larger institutions with the right personnel can manage their own internal networks.

Garrett County took an opportunistic approach to significantly reduce costs as they connected more facilities and entities. They were able to save approximately $17,000 when connecting the Airport and Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Nathaniel Watkins, Garrett County CIO of the Department of Technology and Communications (DoTCOM), told us the County Road Department dug the trenches, installed conduit, and handled all the physical plant. “I’m really cheap,” said Watkins. He’s developed a talent for collaborating with other state and county entities and staying on top of current and future projects so he can to work with other departments to cut costs.

DoTCOM funds and leads many of the projects. Two entities located in the Grantsville Outreach Center contributed 50 percent of the fiber so they could both obtain fiber connectivity. For connections to two other locations, Watkins discovered that conduit already existed to the buildings as part of the original design. DoTCOM purchased special terminated fiber and connected the facilities “for pennies on the dollar.” Another project included funds budgeted for security camera installation. By connecting that fiber project to the larger network, Watkins extended the reach of the county network at no extra cost.

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Yet another project involved partnering with the state for an emergency services project that included a 700 Megahertz fiber/wireless project. Watkins’ department is “riding their coattails” and installing county fiber alongside state fiber in places where they consider it to be potentially advantageous for the future. This means no cost for trenching or burying fiber.

Ok for MOU

Garrett County has limited personnel needed to manage a fiber network. They choose to transfer ownership of public fiber to the state of Maryland and obtain a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The arrangement allows them access to the fiber without the financial burden of maintaining it; Garrett County only needs to employ one person to handle pole attachments, breaks, and other tasks. Because federal funds have paid for most of the asset and the county does not have the resources to dedicate to long-term maintenance, the system is right for them.

Better Services, Better Savings

In addition to providing connectivity by deploying the infrastructure to CAI’s, Watkins says that the county also operates as an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The benefit for customers, especially for county schools, has been two-fold: better connectivity and lower prices. When Garrett County Public Schools obtained service from large private providers, they paid a broad range of prices for many different speeds. 

Before the fiber deployment, most schools needed to lease T1 lines at an average of $400 per month per facility just to get 1.5 Mbps, in addition to paying $50 - $150 per month for Internet access. Each facility ended up paying up to $550 per month for very slow access.

Now, there are ten schools that connect to the fiber and that share the cost of single Internet connection, which is a little more than $800 per month, or about $80 per facility. That connection feeds into a central data center and provides 300 Mbps symmetrical service to the school district as a whole. Each facility then decides what speed they want to connect back to the main data system. Some choose 500 Mbps Internet access from the county for $750 per month while others purchase 250 Mbps for $500. For a nominal increase, the schools capacity now is blasting away what they used to obtain from old, outdated T1 lines. The federal program that reimburses schools for telecommunications expenses, E-rate, covers approximately 70 percent of telecommunications expenses in Garrett County. The symmetrical speeds allow fast, reliable communication between facilities and to the main Internet connection at the data center.

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Connected entities also saved significantly by switching from traditional telephone lines to VoIP. The Board of Education (BOE) in Garrett County has cut telephone expenses to $9 per month per phone for unlimited calling. The BOE’s facility alone is saving $10,000 per year. DoTCOM is slowly installing VoIP in other school facilities to expand on the savings. We’ve discovered similar savings in a number of places. In Austin, Texas, school officials estimate that they have saved millions by transitioning to the Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network (GAATN) for Internet and telephone services.

Free Wi-Fi Is Expanding

The county is able to use the network to provide backhaul for free Wi-Fi to several public locations, including the County Courthouse and the Airport in Oakland, the Department of Utilities, and all of the County Roads' Garages. DoTCOM provides free Wi-Fi at the Adventure Sports Center International, a nonprofit recreation center in McHenry. There are two parks that are set to receive free Wi-Fi and security camera coverage, courtesy of the fiber network. Watkins wants to expand free Wi-Fi to as many locations in Garrett County as possible as a community service.

Better Business Connections In Garrett?

The county does not routinely offer connectivity to businesses but does provide services to one medical facility simply because it needs speeds that are not available from any private providers. Without high-quality Internet access from the county, the facility in Oakland would not be able to connect its facilities, which need to send data-intensive medical records to other healthcare offices and to each other. The county is “trying not to step on the toes” of the private providers while also bringing affordable, reliable connectivity to CAIs, says Watkins. Nevertheless, they are well positioned if the time comes when more businesses seek out fast, affordable, reliable connectivity from an entity they feel they can trust.

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Next Project - Connecting Residents and Businesses

Garrett County has also started a new project to bring connectivity to some of the areas of the county where residents and businesses have the worst coverage or, in some cases, no Internet access at all. After years of study, they have determined that a fixed wireless solution will work best for them.

With their home-grown experience and proven strategy to cut costs through efficiency, Garrett County can certainly tackle their next challenge - ubiquitous Internet access in the far-west hills of Maryland.

And the Award for Community Broadband Network of the Year Goes to-- Ammon, Idaho!

On August 1st, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) recognized Ammon, Idaho’s promise at the 2016 Community Broadband Awards. NATOA named Ammon’s open access network the 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year

Innovative Ideas in Idaho

It's a great recognition for the innovative little city in Idaho. They have been incrementally building an open access Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for years. In 2015, they won an award for designing an ultra high-speed application to use the network to coordinate responses to school shootings. And earlier this year, they approved an ingenious funding method: a Local Improvement District (LID). Residents will have the choice of opting into the costs and benefits of the fiber project or opting out completely. 

A New Model

It's all about people's choice; Ammon’s open access model itself empowers community members. Instead of making frustrating phone calls with large corporations, residents can change their Internet Service Provider (ISP) simply and quickly from a sign-up portal. The infrastructure remains the same, and the providers focus on offering the best customer service. Ammon’s open access model is the virtual end of cable monopolies.

For more details, listen to Ammon’s Technology Director Bruce Patterson explain the project in Community Broadband Bits Podcast episodes 86, 173, and 207. For even more information, see our in-depth coverage on Ammon.