Communities across America have built their own broadband networks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, and fast networks. We tell their stories and defend their authority to build these networks.
Located in the Denver metro region and shaped like a barbell, Centennial has effectively used dig once policies to build conduit and fiber assets that have attracted Ting to the community. Tim Scott is the Director of Fiber Infrastructure for the city and joins us on Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 222.
Centennial took advantage of a project installing fiber for Intelligent Transportation Signaling. But just putting in more fiber was not sufficient to establish a carrier-grade network that ISPs would want to use. Tim explains what they had to do to attract ISP interest.
Centennial's shape is very conducive to their strategy (which may be a tautology - they chose that strategy because it works for them). At any rate, their arterial corridors run quite close to the majority of premises and therefore a well-designed fiber backbone network is more attractive in that community than others.
About a year ago, we shared details about the plan to deploy what will be the largest publicly owned fiber-optic network in the state. The 45-mile network will run through Sanford, but will also travel through Alford, Kennebunk, and Wells and will connect to Maine’s statewide network, the Three Ring Binder. “We’re creating the fourth ring on the 3-Ring Binder,” said City Manager Steve Buck, in a recent Journal Tribune article.
The city of Sanford will own the infrastructure and GWI, headquartered in Biddeford, will operate the network. GWI does not have an exclusive agreement, so other providers could also offer Internet access or other data services over the infrastructure. For the time being, the network will serve primarily community anchor institutions (CAIs), government facilities, and business customers.
GWI also intends to offer residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to properties along the fiber route in areas where there is sufficient demand. They will make Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) symmetrical connectivity available so speeds will be the same for download and upload. Other providers may use the backbone to offer similar services; the backbone will have 10 Gigabit symmetrical capacity.
Economic Development Needed
For the time being, serving businesses and boosting economic development are the main priorities. Sanford has a history in textiles and manufacturing, with the population stagnating around 20,000 over the past two decades. Community leaders hope to diversify the economy by encouraging entrepreneurship and help Sanford grow. The network will serve downtown's Mill Yard complex, a 600-acre industrial park, and at least 80 additional sites including the Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC) Goodall Campus, local schools, and a new technical center, now under construction.
The EDA grant will fund approximately half of the cost of the project. Sanford will pay for the remainder with proceeds from a recent sale of a retired school property. They had considered using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in the past, and have not completely ruled out the possibility, but the EDA grant provides secured funding that may eliminate the need to consider TIF.
More Information Available
Sanford officials hope to begin construction next spring and estimate the project will be complete within 12 months. You can learn more details about the SanfordNet Fiber project from their new fact sheet.
For more on Sanford and municipal networks in Maine, check out episode #176 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher talks with Fletcher Kittredge from GWI, who describes Sanford, and also discusses some other projects in Maine, including the Tree Ring Binder.
Internet data doesn't disappear when it's used the way an Oreo disappears when you eat it. It's true that there is only so much bandwidth an ISP can provide at any given moment, but a monthly data cap doesn't solve that problem. The per-second bandwidth limitations are addressed by the different speed tiers imposed by ISPs: Customers already pay more to get a higher number of megabits per second.
“The key is to look for opportunities to piggyback onto what’s already been built,” says Mitchell. He notes that some rural areas actually have faster and more robust infrastructure than many cities, though its availability is usually uneven. “If you can interconnect with a power co-op or another organization, you no longer have to think about building a 100-mile network across your county; you just have to build a three-mile network to that existing infrastructure.”
Missouri law has severely restricted municipal networks, but local entrepreneurs decided to create their own fast, affordable, reliable community connectivity. The City of Cape Girardeau has made new plans in its Marquette Tech District: free public Wi-Fi and a tech-hub for startups. Although the city is already home to more than 100 large employers, city officials want to also encourage small businesses and entrepreneurship. Underneath all the possibilities is publicly owned dark fiber.
The Marquette Tech District will utilize the City of Cape Girardeau’s dark fiber to connect the new tech-hub and provide free public Wi-Fi. The project hopes to bring new vitality to the Marquette Tower building, a center of the city's old economy, transforming it into a space for new technology-based companies. Local entrepreneurs have created a nonprofit to develop the project and the local Internet Service Provider (ISP) Big River Communications is on board. The city, meanwhile, owns the essential infrastructure - the fiber.
The City of Cape Girardeau, population 40,000, has always been a regional commercial hub on the Mississippi River in southern Missouri. In the late 1920s, travelers could stay downtown at the upscale Marquette Tower hotel. More than 100 employers in the city each provide jobs to more than 100 people, including Southeast Missouri State University and several healthcare systems. Community leaders hope the new tech district will attract and retain young professionals; the university next door is an excellent resource for educating and keeping a talented tech workforce.
Downtown small businesses will also have access to affordable high-speed connections. In July, the city council approved the agreement with the Foundation for the use of the dark fiber and for the installation of a new fiber line.
According to the agreement (July 5, 2016, Resolution No. 2995, Bill No. 16-111), the Foundation will own the hardware to “light” the fiber, but the city will own all of the fiber, including the fiber to be installed by the nonprofit. All plans and specifications must be approved by both the Foundation and the city, ensuring local control.
The Foundation has up to two years to install the new fiber and commence the public Wi-Fi project. If the Foundation doesn’t follow through, the nonprofit will pay $25,000 to the city to install the fiber. If the Foundation fails to deliver on its promises, the city will install the fiber itself and recoup some of its expenses from the Foundation.
The entrepreneurs behind the Foundation, however, have a strong interest in completing their part of the agreement. The nonprofit's executive director is a cofounder of Codefi, a successful co-working space and tech incubator. Codefi is also an anchor tenant of the renovated Marquette Tower tech-hub. Local Internet service provider Big River Communications also agreed to provide gigabit (1,000 Mbps) Internet service to the Marquette Tower.
In early August, the Marquette Tech District received a $200,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority. The authority is a federal-state collaboration established in 2000 by an act of U.S. Congress to promote economic development in the eight state Delta Region. The funding will cover planning costs and connecting the public spaces.
While announcing the grant, Mike Marshall, the alternate federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, spoke about the potential of the Marquette Tech District:
"Cape Girardeau is an important economic and entrepreneurial hub for Southeast Missouri, so we are proud to make this investment in boosting digital connectivity for students, residents and businesses with fiber optic cable in the downtown area."
For more information on the Marquette Tech District, check out their video below.
Ridgefield, Washington, a community of about 4,800 located about 25 miles north of Portland, is one step closer to establishing a dark fiber network for the Port of Ridgefield after taking advantage of state funding for community revitalization. On September 15, the state’s Community Economic Revitalization Board approved a $50,000 grant for the project, and the city has approved matching funds to initiate the planning process.
“A unanimous decision by the board to award us the grant in the full amount we applied for is much appreciated,” Port of Ridgefield vice president of innovation Nelson Holmberg said. “It recognizes our disciplined approach and smart policy we’ve established as we work to ‘light up’ the Discovery Corridor.”
As planned, the dark fiber infrastructure would include the Ridgefield Port District (also called the Discovery Corridor), reaching the Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center and Washington State University Vancouver. While the port is not interested in operating the infrastructure, several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be able to compete to provide services through leasing space on the public fiber network.
For the past year, Eugene has worked on a pilot project to bring high-quality connectivity to businesses in its downtown core. Now that community leaders and businesses have seen how a publicly owned network can help revitalize the city’s commercial center, they want to expand it.
The Proof Is In The Pilot
The project is a collaboration between the city of Eugene, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), and the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB). As we reported last year, each entity contributed to the project. EWEB owns the infrastructure and uses its electrical conduit for fiber-optic cable, reducing the cost of deployment. EWEB also has the expertise to complete the installation, as well as manage and operate the infrastructure. They lease dark fiber to private Internet service providers (ISPs) to encourage competition over the shared public infrastructure.
The pilot project brought Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity to four buildings in the pilot area. Vacancy rate for those four building is at zero while typical vacancy rate in Eugene is 12 percent. Matt Sayre of the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) notes that speeds in one of the buildings, the Broadway Commerce Center, increased by 567250 percent while costs dropped by 60 40 percent. TAO joined the other pilot project partners in 2015.
The Search For Funding
The expanded project will cost approximately $4 million to complete. In June, the City Council approved a measure to make the project eligible for Urban Renewal Funds. Urban Renewal is another label for what is also known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which has been used in other places for fiber infrastructure. Bozeman, Montana; Valparaiso, Indiana; and Rockport, Maine, all used Urban Renewal or TIF to help finance their builds.
Eugene provides a helpful explanation for Urban Renewal on their website; they describe it in three steps:
Step 1 - The District is created . The value of ALL the properties inside the district is calculated. This becomes the frozen base amount of property tax for the area.
Step 2 - Redevelopment and Improvements. Public and private investments generate improvements. As property values increase, all new tax revenue above the frozen base amount go to the urban renewal fund to reinvest in the area.
Step 3 - District is retired. Once the City Council is finished investing in the area and the debt of the district has been repaid, the district is retired. Property taxes are distributed among the taxing districts.
Eugene offers more information about Urban Renewal and how the city applies it to help revitalize strugging areas. They also provide this illustration:
The city will also apply for federal Economic Development Assistance Program Investment grant funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The grant they pursue requires a 50 percent match which will include Urban Renewal Funds and the value of EWEB’s existing electrical infrastructure. In July, Eugene and its partners submitted a pre-application and the EDA invited them to submit a full application; they hope to obtain approximately $2.1 million.
Businesses are not the only ones expected to benefit form the community investment. The expanded project area also includes several multi-dwelling units (MDUs), and the network will help improve the city’s free Wi-Fi:
Anne Fifield with the city of Eugene says three low-income housing projects are in the service area, and she has been in communication with the building managers. One of the goals of Eugene’s broadband plan, she says, is to “bridge the digital divide” and bring internet access to low-income households. An added bonus, she says, is users of the city’s free wifi should eventually see an increase in speeds.
If all goes according to schedule, the project will be completed in late 2017 or early 2018.
AT&T lawyers filed suit against Nashville just two days after Mayor Megan Barry signed the new One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance into law. The Metro Council passed the proposal for the final time, and sent it on to the Mayor, on September 20th.
Seeking Out Streamlining
OTMR was proposed by Google Fiber, which wants to enter the Nashville market by deploying an aerial fiber network. In order to do that, they need to attach fiber-optic cables to utility poles around town, but the current process is cumbersome and will significantly delay the rollout. OTMR streamlines the procedure but would allow some one other than AT&T to manage the rearrangement of wires on all poles in the Nashville rights-of-way. The telecom giant owns about 20 percent of the poles in Nashville; the city’s electric utility, NES, owns the rest.
AT&T seeks a permanent injunction to stop the city from enforcing the new ordinance. They argue the city does not have the authority to enforce the ordinance - that role is within federal jurisdiction through the FCC.
They go on to state that the Metro Council does not have the authority to pass the ordinance because, according to the city charter, only the Electric Power Board the has the right to pass regulations that deal with issues related to equipment, such as poles and the cable on them.
AT&T also asks that the court grant a permanent injunction on the basis that they already have a contract with the city relating to AT&T’s wires that are on NES poles. The contract allows the company to handle its own wires and enforcing the ordinance would basically nullify that component of the contract.
What This Is Really About
AT&T filed a similar suit in Louisville earlier this year when the Metro Council there passed OTMR; that suit is still ongoing. Google Fiber wants to serve both communities and, in typical AT&T fashion, the telecom giant is attempting to use the courts to put a block on them. Even before the final Metro Council vote, AT&T threatened to sue if the measure passed. “The short answer is the One Touch Make Ready proposal Google has offered is a proposal that we expect would result in litigation,” said Joelle Phillips, President of AT&T Tennessee. Mayor Barry had asked that the ISPs and NES all work together to come up with an agreement but AT&T was determined to slow Google Fiber’s deployment, hindering its success.
“Google Fiber is disappointed that AT&T has threatened to go to court in an effort to block Nashville’s efforts to increase broadband competition should the OTMR ordinance pass,” Fleur Knowlsey, senior counsel of Alphabet’s Access group, which manages Google Fiber, wrote in an email to the council on Monday.
“We believe the city's commonsense initiative will be upheld in the face of any litigation. We know, however, that litigation can be challenging and expensive. In the event of OTMR litigation, Google Fiber will therefore be glad to share the capabilities of its in-house and outside attorneys, including some of the most experienced and accomplished regulatory attorneys in the industry.”
Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe recognized the community of Roanoke and the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) for their work in bringing better connectivity to the region. McAuliffe presented the Governor’s Technology Award at the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) in Richmond on September 7th.
The award recognizes the project because it has improved government service delivery and efficiency. In addition to serving local government, the network provides high-quality connectivity for businesses, offering affordable dark fiber, transport service, and dedicated Internet service. Christopher spoke with President and CEO Frank Smith about the network in episode #221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
“We are honored to be recognized by the state for the work we're doing to ensure the Roanoke Valley continues to be a great place to live, work, and start or grow a technology business. This affirms that as a community we have found yet another creative way to ensure our region is competitive on the national scene.”
Having few options for high-quality telecommunications service, Virginia's Roanoke Valley formed a broadband authority and is building an open accessfiber-optic network with different options for ISPs to plug-in.
In addition to being our guest on Community Broadband Bits episode 221, Frank Smith is the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority CEO and President. We discuss their various options for ISPs to use their infrastructure and the various services their network is providing, including access to conduit and dark fiber leases. We also discuss why they formed a state authority to build their carrier-grade network.
Though they have had some pushback from incumbents - something Frank seems unphased by in calling the Authority "the new kid on the block" - they have built local support by building relationships with local organizations like Blue Ridge PBS.
We have recently covered state laws preempting local control, especially in North Carolina and Tennessee. State governments are supposed to be “laboratories of democracy” and municipalities are sub-parts of the state. Preemption is ostensibly to prevent problems, but instead these state laws limit local governments’ solutions for ensuring better connectivity.
At the same time, people trust their local government more than their state government to handle problems. That’s the latest finding from Gallup’s most recent Governance Poll, and that makes sense for all of us following community networks.
It's no surprise that trust starts with local community leaders. We have spoken to a number of public officials that acknowledge that when you know your elected official - perhaps live down the street from them or run into them at the grocery store - it's much easier to know that they share your hopes for the community.
Polls, Trends, and Republicans
Gallup’s September 7th-11th Governance Poll found that 71 percent trust their local government to handle problems, but only 62 percent say the same about their state government. This continues a fifteen-year trend of people putting their faith in local government more than in state government.
Seventy-five percent of Republicans stated that they have a "great deal/fair amount" of trust in local government. (Compare to only 71 percent of Independents and 66 percent of Democrats.) This corresponds with what we found in January 2015 while analyzing our data. Most citywide, residential, municipal networks are built in conservative cities. They trust local governments to solve connectivity problems when the big providers can't or won't deliver.
The question should not be whether to invest in fiber or wireless any more than one would ask whether shoes are “better” than hats. Ultimately, they solve different problems and neither one offers a one size fits all solution.