Free Internet Access For Salt Lake City Low-Income Housing, Other Google Fiber Cities

Residents of Salt Lake City’s Lorna Doone Properties will be enjoying Internet speeds of up to one gigabit for no cost, thanks to a partnership between Google Fiber and the Utah Nonprofit Housing Corporation (UNHC). In July 2015, the company announced that the Google Fiber Gigabit Communities program would bring free access to select low-income housing locations throughout cities within their service areas, and the residents of Lorna Doone are newest to this list. 

Google will supply Internet access and UNHC has a computer rental program, which is in part supplied by the local business community. In addition, the City of Salt Lake has helped to fund mobile computer labs to bring more low-income households online.

Internet access is vital not only for entertainment, but more importantly for completing homework, keeping up with the news, and participating in the digital economy. "We do not have cable television or anything, so it's a way that we stay connected,” Kelli Nicholas, a Lorna Doone resident said during Google Fiber’s launch event. "I read about our current events online, my son and I do homework things… [Google Fiber will] allow people who weren’t able to connect, to connect with one another.”

Aside from providing Internet access in the Lorna Doone apartments, Google has partnered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome program to provide gigabit service to public housing projects. A Google Fiber blog post announced the partnership:

“The web is where we go to connect with people, learn new subjects, and find opportunities for personal and economic growth. But not everyone benefits from all the web has to offer. As many as 26% of households earning less than $30,000 per year don’t access the Internet, compared to just 3% of adults with annual incomes over $75,000. Google Fiber is working to change that.”

Check out local video coverage of the launch event:

Duck River Co-op Considering Rural Fiber Future

Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC) in Tennessee announced in September that it has launched a feasibility study to investigate ways to use a proposed fiber-optic network to bring better connectivity to members.

Exploring Added Value

According to the announcement, DREMC is considering investing in a fiber-optic loop to improve communications between its offices and substations. DREMC recognizes that this initial investment can be a first prudent step in considering the future of the cooperative and the vitality of rural Tennessee:

A fiber-optic loop has been proposed to connect all offices and substations, including the co-op’s emergency operations center. This project could also provide capacity for community purposes: fiber that could be leased to other parties, even Internet-to-home providers.

The broadband feasibility study will explore how the proposed fiber-optic loop might help improve connectivity in rural areas served by DREMC.

Within The Confines Of The Law

In Tennessee, electric cooperatives are prohibited from providing Internet access to residents, but DREMC still wants to use its publicly owned infrastructure for the benefit of members.

DREMC serves the areas south of Nashville. Columbia and Tullahoma are some of the more densely populated areas and have their own electric utilities, which also provide Gigabit connectivity. Rural areas outside of the cities rely on cooperatives like DREMC for electricity; the state restrictions will keep those communities in that last century for Internet access because national providers have no desire to serve them. 

From the announcement:

“This is a first but very important step,” says DREMC President and CEO Michael Watson.

“Today, so much depends on connectivity. Economic development, job creation and retention, healthcare, education, and public service are all enhanced by access to broadband Internet. But many rural households and communities do not have the connectivity they need.”

Watson describes the situation as very similar to the mid-1930s when electric cooperatives were created to bring central station power to rural America.

“Co-ops found ways to build power distribution systems at lower cost, using a non-profit business model based on member ownership, local control, innovation and dedication to community. We believe the same cooperative principles might be applied today to solve the broadband connectivity problem in southern Middle Tennessee,” he says.

Action In The State Capitol?

There is a faction of Tennessee legislators pursuing changes in state laws to improve local connectivity. Those changes focus on municipal network restrictions, but laws for cooperatives could be close behind. By investing in the infrastructure, DREMC is cleverly positioned to either lease to private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or offer services directly if the law changes in the future.

Update on Utah's Open Access UTOPIA - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 223

In the north central region of Utah, eleven communities are now served by a regional open access fiber-optic network operated by the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency or UTOPIA. UTOPIA’s Executive Director, Roger Timmerman, and Mayor Karen Cronin from member community, Perry City, take time to speak with us for Community Broadband Bits episode 223.

One of the great advantages UTOPIA has brought the region is the element of competition. Rather than facing a choice of only one or two Internet Service Providers like most of us, people in UTOPIA cities sign up for a connection to the network and then choose from multiple providers who offer a range of services via the infrastructure. Competing for business brings better products, better prices, and better customer service.

Since launching in 2004, UTOPIA has faced financial uncertainties created by onerous state laws that force a wholesale model on publicly owned networks. Regardless, Mayor Cronin has seen the network improve connectivity in her community, which has improved the local economy and the quality of life. After working with the network since the early days, Roger sees that UTOPIA’s situation is on the upswing but has witnessed firsthand how those harmful state laws limiting local authority can put a smart investment like UTOPIA in harm’s way.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 25 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Authors Discuss NC Report On PRX

We have extensively studied the connectivity situation in North Carolina and just released our report, “North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” Now you can hear from the report authors, H.R. Trostle and Christopher Mitchell, in our most recent PRX coverage.

We spoke with both authors who gave us a recap of the situation in urban and rural North Carolina. They explained how they examined the data and came to the conclusion that, while urban areas are served relatively well by big private providers, the same cannot be said in rural areas. Unless a muni or rural telephone or electric cooperative offers Internet access in a rural region, odds are rural residents and businesses just don’t have access to FCC defined broadband speeds. Audio coverage runs 5:22.

Listen to the story on PRX…

You can also download the report to dig into the details and learn more about connectivity in North Carolina.

Loveland On The Trail Of Better Connectivity

Loveland, Colorado, was one of nearly 50 communities that voted to opt out of SB 152 last fall. Ten months later, they are working with a consultant to conduct a feasibility study to assess current infrastructure and determine how best to improve connectivity for businesses and residents.

Examining Assets, Analyzing Options

According to the Request for Proposals (RFP) released in April, the city has some of its own fiber that’s used for traffic control. Loveland also uses the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) fiber network but wants to enhance service all over the community, focusing on economic development, education, public safety, healthcare, and “overall quality of life.” Community leaders also want recommendations on which policies would encourage more and better service throughout Loveland.

The city has its own electric, water, sewer, wastewater, and solid waste utilities, so is no stranger on operating essential utilities. Approximately 69,000 people live in the community located in the southeast corner of the state.

They want a network that will provide Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second or Mbps) connectivity on both download and upload (symmetrical) and 10 Gigabit (Gbps) symmetrical connections for businesses and other entities. The network needs to be scalable so it can grow with the community and its needs. Reliability, affordability, and inclusivity are other requirements in Loveland.

Loveland began the process this summer by asking residents and businesses to respond to an online survey. The city will consider all forms of business models from dark fiber to publicly owned retail to open access and public-private partnerships (P3). They should have results by early in 2017, according to the Broadband Initiative Calendar.

Staying Competitive

Fort Collins is just north of Loveland and the two communities continue to expand toward each other. Fort Collins is also taking steps to improve connectivity for residents, businesses, and local government. Just west of Loveland is Estes Park, where the town's broadband initiative is underway and has secured approximately $1.3 million from the state Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). Estes Park will use the funds for engineering design of a broadband utility. With these two adjacent communities taking steps to improve connectivity, Loveland has little choice but to do the same to stay competitive.

Things Are Rockin' In Colorado

We expect to see more activity this election season in Colorado; by last count, 22 towns and counties will hold ballot initiatives to opt out of SB 152. These communities are joining the growing list from the Centennial State who want to reclaim local authority looted by the state legislature 11 years ago when it passed SB 152. Many of these communities don’t have plans in place for projects, but they want the right to make their own decisions.

If the legislature would repeal the state restrictions, local communities would not need to waste taxpayer dollars with expensive referendums that typically pass in the 70 - 90 percent range. Towns and counties in Colorado, however, are not waiting for Denver to act; they are taking matters into their own hands.

North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Publication Date: 
October 11, 2016
H. R. Trostle
Christopher Mitchell

North Carolina's digital divide between urban and rural communities is increasing dangerously in a time when high quality Internet access is more important than ever. Rural and urban areas of North Carolina are essentially living in different realities, based on the tides of private network investment where rural communities are severely disadvantaged. The state has relied too much on the telecom giants like AT&T and CenturyLink that have little interest in rural regions.

Download the Report

The state perversely discourages investment from local governments and cooperatives. For instance, electric co-ops face barriers in seeking federal financing for fiber optic projects. State law is literally requiring the city of Wilson to disconnect its customers in the town of Pinetops, leaving them without basic broadband access. This decision in particular literally took the high-speed, affordable Internet access out of the hands of North Carolina's rural citizens.

The lengths to which North Carolina has gone to limit Internet access to their citizens is truly staggering. Both a 1999 law limiting electric cooperatives' access to capital for telecommunications and a 2011 law limiting local governments' ability to build Internet networks greatly undermine the ability of North Carolinians to increase competition to the powerful cable and DSL incumbent providers. 

In the face of this reality, the Governor McCrory's Broadband Infrastructure Office recommended a "solution" that boils down to relying on cable and telephone monopolies' benevolence. What this entire situation comes down to is a fundamental disadvantage for North Carolina's rural residents because their state will not allow them to solve their own problems locally even when the private sector abandons them.

"It's not as if these communities have a choice as to what they're able to do to improve their Internet service," says report co-author Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "There's a demonstrated need for high-quality Internet service in rural North Carolina, but the state literally refuses to let people help themselves."

Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks. You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.

From The Report:

  • Despite significant tax subsidies from the state and federal government, North Carolina's private providers are building their fiber-optic networks only in certain metro areas and none in rural regions.
  • Only 12 percent of North Carolina's rural population has a choice for their broadband access, the rest are stuck with only one option and no control over their Internet prospects.
  • All of North Carolina's telephone cooperatives are investing in fiber for members in their service territory, some have entirely replaced their copper lines with fiber-optic. 
  • While North Carolina has 26 electric cooperatives capable of bringing fiber-to-the-home to rural residents, a 1999 state law (N.C. Gen. Stat § 117-18.1) limits the co-ops' access to capital for telecommunications projects.

Download the Report

Lakeland, Florida, Takes Small Steps

This spring, Lakeland city officials began contemplating the future of the city’s dark fiber network with an eye toward making a firm decision on whether or not to expand how they use it. Rather than pursue a municipal Internet network, Commissioners recently decided to seek out private sector partners to improve local connectivity.

Too Much For Lakeland?

Kudos to Christopher Guinn of the Ledger for very thorough reporting on the issue. According to his article, the city will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a solution that provides Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity to replace the current speeds in Lakeland. Cable serves the community now with maximum speeds of 150 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and about 10 Mbps upload.

In addition to the difficulty of establishing an Internet access utility, City Commissioners appeared intimidated by incumbents:

“I look at us trying to develop and design a fiber-to-the-home (network), the marketing, the technical support and all that, and going up against current providers, and I don’t see it,” Commissioner Don Selvage said.

Pilot Won't Fly

One of the options the Commission considered was a pilot project in a limited area, but that idea didn’t catch on either. Commissioner Justin Troller advocated for the pilot project:

“I think we should have a test area. If that’s something that costs we can say we tried it, we invested in it, it didn’t work and we’re moving on and finding a private partner,” Troller said.

He added: “I’m not against going out and seeing what the private sector will offer us. I’m saying how do we know we can’t do it if we don’t do it?”

While a number of Commissioners agreed that high-quality Internet access is critical for both economic development and the residents’ quality of life, fear of facing off against incumbent Charter overcame any vision of how a municipal network could benefit Lakeland:

“For most of us there is not a philosophical problem with expanding utilities. This is a utility; we can pretty well justify it ... (and) when you look at the revenue possibility down the road to replace the hospital it makes good governmental sense,” [Mayor Howard] Wiggs said.


But incumbent providers are not obligated to play nice with new competition, Wiggs said, and he worried an operation like Charter Communications could severely drop prices and erode the city’s market edge.

Not A Total Loss

While Commissioners chose not to pursue the municipal network plan, they did support a number of items intended to encourage better connectivity in Lakeland:

  • It will submit a bid for supplying internet access to Polk County schools when its current contract expires with the goal of making money from existing assets while reducing the cost of the School District’s services.
  • To address the “digital divide” between rich and poor, Lakeland will consider expanding its free wireless service, SurfLakeland, into neighborhoods. The service is currently available in municipal buildings and in Munn Park.
  • Wiggs recently made a pitch to other municipal leaders in Polk County to join forces in encouraging broadband expansion throughout the county.
  • The city will continue its “dig once” policy for all infrastructure work — that when roads are closed and crews dispatched for underground utility work, conduit that could be used for fiber optics is put in place.
  • The city’s “dark fiber” network, which provides intra-city connections for companies and organizations with multiple facilities, will be more actively marketed. Currently the program generates about $4 million each year.
  • The city will also look at fees and licensing costs to determine if they are discouraging private investment.

The Lakeland Regional Airport will deploy its own fiber infrastructure and will offer Internet access to tenants. The project had been considered as a business pilot and, according to the article, costs are now going to be covered in part with federal and state grants specifically earmarked for airports.

Citizens Want Action

Gigabit Lakeland, the grassroots organization advocating for a municipal network, expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision. Shane Mahoney, one of the group’s leaders, talked to the Ledger:

A partnership with a private provider has not been his favored outcome, Mahoney said, but his group intends to continue pressuring the city toward better internet infrastructure in the city, particularly for residents who do not have quality access because of price or location.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - October 10


Breckenridge to vote on broadband ballot measure by Kailyn Lamb, Summit Daily News


Wellesley Municipal Light Plant seeking commercial customers to test broadband Internet service by The Swellesley Report

Broadband coming to Ashfield by Diane Broncaccio, Greenfield Recorder

New York

Gigabit Internet: 5 things to know by Jordan Fenster, Lohud Journal News

Gigabit: Why Westchester and not the Big Apple? by Avram A. Billig & Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, Lohud Journal News

Beneath the dense metropolis of New York City is a "rat's nest" of utility wires, according to Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Digging around these wires to install new cables is both costly and could lead to unintended outages. "If you're Verizon, there's a big incentive to have this kind of rat's nest because you already have your space," said Mitchell. Less densely packed communities are able to cut costs dramatically by using utility poles, which Mitchell cites as being around 10 times cheaper than digging.

North Carolina

Public housing broadband coming to North Carolina community by Olivia Neeley, GovTech

Pinetops loses high-speed Internet by Lindell John Kay, Rocky Mount Telegram

High-speed internet could have jump started Pinetops’ real estate market, Carmon said, adding that with homes valued around $78,000 and the option of faster internet speeds, Pinetops could have become a bedroom community for nearby Greenville. The town could have offered low-cost, affordable housing to city professionals like doctors and lawyers.



City approves $18,000 fiber survey by Melinda Stotts, Miami News-Record

Internet service sometimes shaky in rural communities by Rachael Van Horn, Woodward News


EPB says pubic demand will help change muni broadband laws by Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

EPB says that while it is still limited by Tennessee law to selling 1 Gbps FTTH service within its defined borders, the municipal fiber provider for Chattanooga is confident that growing demand for higher speed broadband could drive a change to current legislation. 

Despite the legal barrier, the service provider continues to get requests from nearby towns to get their broadband service.

Weak broadband access slows rural Tennessee's economy by Jamie McGee, The Tennessean

What's the best way to demonstrate high-speed Internet? Rock and roll by Dave Flessner and Tim Omarzu, GovTech


FCC proposal: Internet providers must ask to share your data by Tali Arbel, Seattle Times

Making the most of wireless Internet access by Todd O'Boyle, Medium

Yesterday's Internet isn't good enough for tomorrow's cities by Carly Berwick, NextCity

Photo of the horse courtesy of Norja Vanderelst via pixaby.

Santa Cruz And Cruzio Call It Quits

The city of Santa Cruz seemed well on their way to a productive partnership with Cruzio as the two entities hammered out an agreement for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) citywide open access network. We recently learned that both parties have stepped back from the partnership, leaving the multimillion-dollar vision in a dark limbo.

The Plan

The $45 million infrastructure was to be owned by the city of Santa Cruz and Cruzio would operate it while also offering high-quality Internet access to the community. For the first ten years, Cruzio was to have an exclusive contract after which the network would become open access. There are approximately 62,000 people living in the community situated near Silicon Valley and this project was one of the larger public-private partnerships (P3).

In July, Cruzio announced that it would begin deploying fiber in one of the city’s downtown neighborhoods by Thanksgiving, ahead of any agreement to use city-owned fiber. The deployment will bring FTTH to approximately 1,000 homes; Cruzio’s plan is self-funded.

Now What?

There is nothing that prevents the two parties from picking up where they left off and reaching an agreement some time in the future, but they would need to rebuild trust. Sadly, they lost over a year as the two parties negotiated while residents and businesses across the city happily anticipated better Internet access.

These events remind us that P3s are fragile unions that are the apex of many interlocking pieces. Like a house of cards, when one segment falls, the entire structure can come tumbling down. As more local communities consider P3s to bring high-quality Internet access to residents, businesses, and local government, they need to stay realistic, consider the long term, and keep risk in their sights.

Finance Leader Turns To RVBA

Now that the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) has its fiber-optic network offering services to local businesses, smart companies that want fast, affordable, reliable connectivity are signing up. The latest is finance company, Meridium, which was recently acquired by GE Digital.

We recently interviewed CEO and President of the RVBA, Frank Smith, who described what it’s like to be “the new kid on the block.” The RVBA has faced some opposition and dealt with highs and lows during deployment, but as news of the network spreads, we expect to see more press releases like this coming from the Roanoke Valley:

Meridium, Inc., the global leader in asset performance management (APM) software and services, announced today that they will rely on the Roanoke Valley's new Municipal Broadband Network to power the Internet and data transport service for their headquarters in downtown Roanoke. This announcement follows the 100% acquisition of Meridium by GE Digital announced September 14th.

"Meridium is deeply invested in this community, and we are committed to supporting the efforts of our local government to continue to invest in the technology infrastructure of the region," President and CEO Bonz Hart said. "The RVBA's open-access, carrier-grade network will help us keep up with the speed of industry and remain cost competitive as we serve clients all around the globe."

Meridium anticipates significant benefits as they switch from their incumbent internet service provider to the RVBA network.

"Faster speeds, lower costs, better customer service, greater security... what is not to like? We're really excited about what the RVBA is doing for our region and proud to sign on as an early customer," CTO Eddie Amos said.  "We have done well in the region with what has existed prior, but we need higher-end technology. High-speed fiber-to-the-door connectivity is critical to our continued global success."