"The Big Easy" Wants I-Net Design, Releases RFP: Proposals Due Oct. 24

Last week, the city of New Orleans, through the Foundation for Louisiana (FFL), released a Request for Proposals (RFP) in its search for technical expertise to provide a fiber-optic network design and services related to its construction. Proposals are due October 24th.

The Vision

The Institutional Network (I-Net) design vision encompasses the entire city and will also provide wireless services. It will serve traffic light and advanced camera systems, streetlights, in addition to Internet, VoIP, video conferencing, and a list of other services cities use on a regular basis. From the RFP:

Ultimately, this new fiber network will help meet New Orleans’ goal to serve city-owned and operated buildings and facilities located throughout the 350-square mile city. This new network will improve services to residents, support implementation of Smart City applications and assist the City to achieve cost efficiencies in daily operations while helping disadvantaged residents to bridge the digital divide.

As part of this project, high-speed Internet access may also be offered for public use in city-owned or supported facilities like parks, libraries and New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC) centers. The City imagines working with community organizations to offer new services such as digital skills training in these spaces. Additionally, this project will explore design options that allow the network to be leveraged for future potential public private partnerships.

A Number Of Tasks To Tackle

As part of the arrangement, FFL expects some specific tasks from the firm that will be awarded the contract. They will strategize network design process, create a geodatabase documenting in detail where infrastructure will be needed. The firm will have to develop a detailed infrastructure assessment and strategic plan so city leaders know what resources they have and what they can use for the new network. As part of the project they will have to identify the network requirements to meet the city’s goals, craft a design, and develop a business plan. Lastly, the entity that obtains the contract will recommend a network governance structure.

Important Dates:

Deadline for Indication of Intention to Respond:

tgarcia(at)foundationforlouisiana.org 

5 p.m. (Central Time) on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016

 

Deadline for Questions:

tgarcia(at)foundationforlouisiana.org 

5 p.m. (Central Time) on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016

 

Deadline for Proposals:

Tanya Gulliver-Garcia

Manager, Special Initiatives and Evaluation

Foundation for Louisiana

4354 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd. Suite 100 

Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70816

5 p.m. (Central Time) on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016

In The Hopper: Community Broadband Bill of 2016 From Rep. Eshoo

In order to allow local governments to help communities get the connectivity they need to compete, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (Dem.-CA) introduced the Community Broadband Act of 2016 on September 13. The bill is designed to preserve local authority for municipalities, tribal, and local governments that wish to serve community anchor institutions, businesses, and residents with advanced telecommunications capability.

From Rep. Eshoo’s official statement:

“I’m disappointed that a recent court ruling blocked the FCC’s efforts to allow local communities to decide for themselves how best to ensure that their residents have broadband access. This legislation clears the way for local communities to make their own decisions instead of powerful special interests in state capitals.”

“Rather than restricting local communities in need of broadband, we should be empowering them to make the decisions they determine are in the best interests of their constituents. Too many Americans still lack access to quality, affordable broadband and community broadband projects are an important way to bring this critical service to more citizens.”

Rep. Eshoo introduced “dig once” legislation last fall and has long advocated for federal legislation to support Internet network deployment and increase universal access. This legislation would pair with Senator Cory Booker's 2015 Community Broadband Act.

When Christopher spoke with Sam Gustin for Motherboard about the bill, he said:

[He’s]“excited to see Rep. Eshoo's bill that would restore local authority to communities. Local governments need to be empowered to decide how to improve internet access rather than leaving their businesses and residents at the mercy of a few big monopolies.”

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice also responded positively:

CLIC applauds Congresswoman Eshoo for her efforts to protect local Internet choice and the options of all local communities to deploy critical broadband infrastructure.

Introducing a bill at the federal level, however, is only the first tentative step in restoring local authority. As Christopher told Gustin, the devil is in the details:

“However,” Mitchell added, “the big cable and telephone companies are so influential, with campaign contributions especially, that the path for this bill is quite challenging.” He warned of potential unintended consequences if lobbyists for AT&T, Comcast, and Charter are able to insert language that “could make investment and competition more difficult.”

Read the text of Rep. Eshoo's Community Broadband Act of 2016.

Saint Louis Park is Prepared for the Fiber Future - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 219

Saint Louis Park, a compact community along the west side of Minneapolis, has built an impressive fiber network, a conduit system, and several deals with developers to ensure new apartment buildings will allow their tenants to choose among high speed Internet access providers. Chief Information Office Clint Pires joins me for Community Broadband Bits podcast 219.

In one of our longest episodes, we discuss how Saint Louis Park started by partnering with other key entities to start its own fiber network, connecting key anchor institutions. Years later, it partnered with a firm for citywide solar-powered Wi-Fi but that partner failed to perform, leaving the community a bit disheartened, but in no way cowed.

They continued to place conduit in the ground wherever possible and began striking deals with ISPs and landlords that began using the fiber and conduit to improve access for local businesses and residents. And they so impressed our previous podcast guest Travis Carter of US Internet, that he suggested we interview them for this show.

Clint Pires has learned many lessons over the years and now we hope other communities will take his wisdom to heart. Well-managed communities can make smart investments that will save taxpayer dollars and drive investment in better networks.

Read the transcript of the 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."

Examining Connectivity Alternatives: Op-Ed In Rochester

When the Rochester Post-Bulletin published Christopher Mitchell’s opinion piece in August, it wasn’t only because he is an expert on municipal networks. Christopher’s interest in all things geeky started in Rochester - he went to Rochester Mayo High School.

A Budding Idea

For the past few years, various elected officials, and member of the community-at-large have expressed dissatisfaction for services offered by incumbent Charter Communications. In addition to poor services, City Council members have faced complaints from constituents about awful customer service. Over the past year, the community began showing that they will not abandon the idea of publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

The city, home to the world-class Mayo Clinic, is a hub of healthcare discovery. As medical technology becomes more intertwined with fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, Rochester’s expensive and lackluster incumbent Internet providers are showing that they just aren’t cutting it.

Local Support And Early Analysis

In June, the Post Bulletin Editorial Board published their support for a review of the options:

We'd encourage the council and Rochester Utilities Board (RPU) board to make every effort to explore the costs and benefits of installing municipal broadband Internet services as a way of ensuring our community stays effectively connected to the world around it.

Considering Rochester's economic dependence on science and technology, having access to the highest speeds possible is crucial to the city's future. Unfortunately, existing services lag behind those being offered in other cities, putting Rochester's businesses and residents at a competitive disadvantage.

Many questions and concerns remain, but finding answers is the best way for the city to make sure it is serving the needs of its constituents to the fullest.

RPU staff consulted experts as it investigated options and presented their estimates to the City Council and the RPU Board in July. They concluded the city would need to invest approximately $53 million in capital to build a fiber-optic network. With the cost of bonding, staff estimates the total cost for a citywide municipal fiber-optic network would be $67 million.

Smart Move

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Soon after the city heard RPU staff’s findings, the Post Bulletin published Christopher's piece. He points out that the city makes a smart move in evaluating the options. Businesses and residents are lacking choice and the community’s economic foundation is likely at risk unless connectivity improves:

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 3 out of 4 Americans only have one choice of high-speed Internet provider. If you hear claims that Rochester has many providers, dig deeper. Those statistics are aggregated, which means that while you could have four different providers in a single neighborhood, most homes probably only have access to one or two of them.

Another challenge that Rochester faces is that some nearby communities like St Charles have HBC, a private provider from Winona with an excellent reputation, that is expanding a gigabit fiber-optic network throughout smaller towns in the region. Those communities will increasingly draw high-tech people out of Rochester, trading a commute for far better Internet access.

Christopher points out that there are a number of possibilities and that the city is already ahead because they have an electric utility. He reminds them that they need to consider the future of the community and that the greatest peril comes from inertia:

None of these approaches comes without risk — but then, many communities have found that doing nothing is an even greater risk. Just don't let anyone fool you into thinking the choice is between borrowing $67 million and doing nothing.

Rochester should continue examining its options and decide on the best step forward for it as a whole for the long term. We all want a solution to meet our needs in the near term, but as RPU demonstrates, smart investments can continue benefiting the community decades upon decades later.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 12

Ohio

Pioneering a digital destiny for Stark County by Marc Scheider, Canton Repository

Our country is at its best when we as a people come together for the benefit of all. My family has seen the advent of municipal water, regional sewer, and the electrification of the United States. All of these resulted in enormous wealth creation and the improvement of living standards. The Internet is the fourth utility. Our team thinks of it as the forth utility, and I count myself lucky to see this once-in-a-lifetime technology transcend from a luxury to a public utility able to advance us all.

 

Washington

Seattle residents continue to push for city-owned broadband by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

 

Wisconsin

Madison looks to close digital divide by Shamane Mills, Wisconsin Public Radio

A company hired by the city of Madison called ResTech will use fiber optic cable to offer Internet starting at just under $10 a month in a new pilot program called Connecting Madison. City officials hope the program will reduce the number of homes in Dane County without Internet access, which is currently 14,000 residences.

Madison municipal Internet pilot project in underserved communities moves forward by Abigail Becker, The Capital Times

 

General

Why no one likes Comcast, but everyone has it by Jess Bolluyt, Gear and Style Cheat Sheet

FCC, America lose big on municipal broadband by Joan McCarter, Daily Kos

AT&T is refusing to offer low-income discounts for slower Internet despite FCC mandate by AJ Dellinger, Daily Dot

AT&T's already happily Tap Dancing around its DirecTV merger obligations by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Laws prohibit or restrict municipal broadband networks in 20-plus states by Richard Chang, T.H.E. Journal

Chesterton, Indiana: Dark Fiber Investment, Seeks Operator

Chesterton, Indiana, plans to deploy a dark fiber network to serve municipal facilities, anchor institutions, and local businesses. Like their neighbor to the south, Valparaiso, they hope to boost economic development, improve local services, and help the community compete in the race to draw in new industries. “We learned if we didn’t have that in the ground ready to go, we couldn’t compete,” said Town Manager Bernie Doyle.

Taking It One Step At A Time

The Chesterton Redevelopment Commission released a Request for Proposals (RFP) in late July as part of Phase II of the project christened the Chesterton Fiber Optic Network (CFON). The community is looking for an entity to operate and maintain, provide last mile connectivity, and perform other services typical of an Operator. Late last year, the community released the Phase I Request for Information (RFI), for a firm to design the fiber backbone of approximately 15 miles. They chose a company in March. The final phase will seek out a firm to construct the network.

Chesterton wants Gigabit connectivity for municipal, public safety, education, and other public buildings. The network must also provide similar services to community anchor institutions and local businesses; the community wants to attract high-tech, bio-medical, and financial firms to diversify its local economy.

The community's priorities include retaining ownership, increasing economic development, and deploying an expandable network. Chesterton wants to have the entire project lit and offering services by June 1, 2017.

Future Funds, Present Projects

Like Valparaiso, Chesterton is banking on tomorrow's dollars to finance today’s investment. The city will use Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to fund the project. TIF will permit the city to finance the network with future gains in property or sales tax expected to from the geographic area that will obtain the redevelopment or infrastructure project. They will be able to borrow the funds, build the network, then use the funds generated from the network to pay off the debt.

The contract for the design cost just under $125,000 and, because the project is divided into several phases, the community will still need to determine remaining costs. The city will seek out an Operator who will agree to a revenue sharing arrangement, much like the agreement between Ting and Westminster, Maryland.

Local School District Participating

Duneland School District has an aerial fiber-optic network in place; the district uses Comcast for Internet access. According to the Phase I RFP, the existing network lacks redundancy and the school wants a network with better scalability. In February, the School Board agreed to participate in the project. The design RFP required any consultant to try to integrate the school districts needs into the overall design.

On The Shores of Lake Michigan

chesterton-IndianaDunesBathHouse.jpg

Located along the southern bank of Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore runs for approximately 25 miles along the shore in Chesterton. The area, known for its ecological diversity, draws vacationers who want to enjoy camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, and cross-country skiing. Bird watching is popular due to the high number of species in that live in or travel through the area.

In addition to the industries that benefit from recreational visitors, Chesterton’s 13,000 inhabitants work primarily in the areas of educational services, health care, social assistance, and manufacturing. The town is about 8.6 square miles in Porter County.

This is Chesterton’s second investment in its fiber future. In 2012, the city partnered with Porter County on a utility extension project that included installing fiber-optic conduit to a commercial area on the edge of town.

Photo, licensed under Wikimedia Commons, is of the Indiana Dunes Bathhouse and Pavilion in Chesterton and courtesy of JoeyBLS.

Culver City: Construction Begins For Better Connectivity

Culver City officially broke ground on its new municipal fiber-optic network in August and expects to finish the project within one year. The beginning of construction marked the realization of a process that started some time ago in “The Heart of Screenland.”

Enter Culver Connect

Culver Connect will integrate existing publicly owned fiber to improve connectivity for municipal facilities, the Culver City Unified School District, and local businesses. The design for Culver Connect includes three rings and will add 21 miles to ensure redundancy and expand the footprint of the existing network.

The open access network will connect with carrier hotel One Wilshire and a hub in El Segundo. In addition to improving capacity and spurring economic development, Culver City community leaders want to encourage competition by lowering the cost of entry for Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

In 2013, the city hired a firm to draft a fiber network design and business plan framework. Soon after, members of the business community and leaders in education spoke out in the media, encouraging elected officials to take steps to improve Culver City’s connectivity. In November 2015 the City Council established a Municipal Fiber Network Enterprise Fund to be used for construction costs.

Staff estimated that the capital costs of the network backbone would be approximately $4.9 million and initial lateral builds would be another $2 million. Staff determined operating and maintenance costs would be $150,000 per month and projected revenues from leases after three to four years of operations at around $7.1 million in total. They also estimated that revenues will cover the cost of operation and equipment depreciation once the network is fully operational. The city hopes to lease to ISPs to offer choice to local businesses.

Nashville: One Touch Make Ready Moves Forward

On September 6th, the Nashville Metro Council approved a proposed One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance by a wide margin of 32-7 on a roll call vote (computers were down). This was the second vote to advance the ordinance, designed to streamline deployment of fiber-optic networks in a city looking for better connectivity. Elected officials responded to Nashville residents who flooded their council members’ offices with emails.

The Nashville Metro Council will take up the ordinance one last time; passage could speed up competition in the country music capital. Google Fiber has been pushing for a OTMR, while incumbents AT&T and Comcast look for a non-legislative solution to the problem of the poles while protecting their positions as dominant Internet Service Players (ISPs).

Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Stick

The city of Nashville sits on limestone, a rock that cannot support the trenching and underground work of fiber deployment. The only other option is to use the utility poles. Eighty percent of the poles are owned by the public utility Nashville Electric Service (NES), but incumbent provider AT&T owns the other 20 percent. Google Fiber says it needs to attach fiber to 88,000 poles in Nashville to build its network and about half of those (44,000) need to be prepared to host their wires. 

Pole attachments are highly regulated, but there are still gray areas. Susan Crawford provides an overview of the policies and regulations on BackChannel; she accurately describes how poles can be weapons that guard monopoly position. Currently, each company that has equipment on the poles must send out a separate crew to move only their own equipment. This process can drag on for months. The OTMR ordinance is a deceptively simple solution to this delay. 

Deceptively Simple, But Regulated

At its simplest, OTMR means that one crew moves everything; the ordinance under debate in Nashville is actually more complicated than that. (Read the Nashville OTMR ordinance here.)

If Company A wants to add equipment to the poles, it still has to go through an attachment application process. Once approved, the owner of the pole (let's call them, PoleCo) can then require Company A to use specific contractors. 

If Company A rearranges or alters equipment that belongs to PoleCo or some other company that may have equipment on the pole, then they have to notify the owner of the equipment within 30 days. The company whose equipment has been altered, has another 30 days to conduct a field inspection with PoleCo.  

utility-pole-workers.jpg

If the pole requires complex work, then every company already on the pole gets 30 days notice to move their equipment. If those companies do not comply after 30 days, then Company A can perform the complex make-ready work. If there are any errors or problems from Company A's make-ready work, the companies already on the pole can recoup expenses. 

NES explained the basics of the current process and the idea behind OTMR in their newsletter. The public utility did not take a positive or negative position on the ordinance, choosing instead to focus on the final result:

"NES is dedicated and cooperative towards finding a resolution that will accommodate the efficient and effective deployment of broadband services that promote customer choice and competition and improve the lives of the citizens of Nashville."

The Incumbent Providers: Comcast and AT&T

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has remained neutral on the policy, but has encouraged NES and the tech giants to reach a mutually beneficial solution for the good of the community. If the councilmembers approve the ordinance a final time, it will go to her desk for a signature.

AT&T may be preparing for a lawsuit against Nashville if this is the case. They already have an ongoing legal fight in Louisville, Kentucky, over OTMR. AT&T argues that the ordinance change would conflict with their contracts with NES and the union. The Nashville Metro Council Attorney Mike Jameson analyzed the ordinance for the Council and determined that Nashville clearly has the power to regulate the NES’s utility poles, but perhaps not the privately owned utility poles. 

Comcast, meanwhile, has claimed that the NES’s attachment application process is a source of delay (i.e. that Google Fiber is blaming the wrong process). Comcast is experiencing 90-100 days of processing for their applications to NES. The contractual obligation between Comcast and NES is 45 days to process applications, but Comcast has also “exponentially” exceeded the number of poles that they can apply for in a month under that contract, according to NES official Nick Thompson in the Tennessean.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Anthony Davis, a cosponsor of the OTMR ordinance also told The Tennessean that Google Fiber is not experiencing the permitting delays because it has already worked out a contract with NES. 

The Final Vote

In two weeks, the bill returns for a final vote on September 20, 2016. Councilmember Jeremy Elrod, one of the bill’s cosponsors, described the last vote on September 6, 2016 in The Tennessean:

"This is an extremely big step forward, an extremely big net positive for Nashville, for internet competition. … It increases competition, increases telecom and Internet investment for [us] as a city and our citizens as a whole."

Photo of utility workers courtesy of FEMA through a Creative Commons license.

Unanimous Dissent Radio On Munis, The FCC Decision, And State Barriers

Last week, Christopher was a guest on the Unanimous Dissent Radio Show. Sam Sacks and Sam Knight asked him to share information about the details on state barriers around the country.

The guys get into the nitty gritty on state level lobbying and anti-muni legislation. They also discuss how a growing number of communities are interested in the local accountability, better services, and improved quality of life that follows publicly owned Internet infrastructure.

The show is now posted on SoundCloud and available for review. Christopher’s interview starts around 17:00 and runs for about 15 minutes. Check it out:

 

Vallejo Releases RFP: Responses Due October 7th

Vallejo’s Fiber Optic Advisory Group (FOAG) and the city manager are in the middle of developing the details of a citywide fiber-optic network master plan. As part of the process, the city recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a dark fiber connection to an Internet Point of Presence (POP). The RFP also includes calls for wholesale Internet services. Responses to the RFP are due on October 7.

Intelligent Integration

As we reported in 2015, the community already has a significant amount of publicly owned fiber in place controlling the city’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). Vallejo also owns a considerable amount of conduit that can be integrated into any fiber network. As part of the master plan the city adopted in February, they intend to build off that infrastructure and offer better connectivity to businesses, community anchor institutions, and municipal facilities. Vallejo is considering a municipal utility, operating as an Internet Service Provider (ISP), or engaging in some form of public private partnership. They are still considering which route is best for the community.

More specifically, this RFP asks for proposals for either leased fiber or those installed and to be owned by the city. The connection will link City Hall with a carrier hotel or a POP managed by a third party so Vallejo can obtain wholesale bandwidth and Internet services. For questions, contact Will Morat in the Office of the City Manager: will.morat(at)cityofvallejo.net.