Preliminary Study Puts Charles City Back on Track to Digital Self-Determinism

Local officials in Charles City, a town of 7,500 in northeastern Iowa, approved a preliminary study of community broadband interest late last month. The study will determine whether additional funds should be allocated toward a more comprehensive study. This announcement comes on the heels of increased regional interest in the Iowa Fiber Alliance, a proposed multi-community fiber ring. 

The preliminary study will cost the city $18,500 and should be completed before the end of the summer. The Community Broadband Engagement and Education Project seeks to engage key community stakeholders, educate the public on high-speed community networks, and ultimately measure the interest of local residents, businesses, and government leadership. 

Third Time’s the Charm

Local interest in community networks has peaked twice in the past decade. In 2005, Charles City residents approved a referendum to create a telecommunication utility with a 62 percent majority. Under threat of losing revenues to a community network, incumbent Internet service providers (ISPs) promised local officials that they would improve the network. Stopgap measures from Mediacom and CenturyLink marginally improved local connectivity in the short-term, but Charles City residents soon realized that they hadn’t escaped the letdowns of the telecom octopus. 

Waverly, Iowa, a town of 10,000 residents, 30 miles south of Charles City, experienced a nearly identical letdown from Mediacom and CenturyLink in the 2000s, only to launch its own community network earlier this year. For rural county seats like Waverly and Charles City, a community network offers an opportunity to stimulate economic development and improve local quality of life. Historically, Charles City is a manufacturing town. The White Farm-New Idea Equipment Company produced tractors and employed up to 3,000 locals during the 1970s before closing its doors in 1993. With manufacturing jobs leaving town, local officials are looking for new ways to bring jobs to town and revitalize their local communities. 

In 2010, interest peaked again when the city conducted a community broadband survey and discovered strong local support for a municipal network. A 2014 Technology Action Plan assessed and outlined a more connected future for Charles City. City officials realized that Internet technology had changed significantly since 2010, however, and are evaluating their options in light of new innovations.

Munis On The Plains

Iowa is home to more than two dozen municipal networks. Thanks in part to their can-do attitude and their self-reliant streak, Charles City, Waverly, and many other Iowa communities have stopped waiting for incumbent providers and taken control of local connectivity. Charles City officials are enthusiastic about the upcoming feasibility study; council member Delaine Freeseman told Charles City Press that, “very interesting things could come out of this, long-term, for the city.”

Community Connections - Terry Huval from Lafayette, Louisiana

"We Speak French, Eat Crawfish, and Have the Fastest Broadband in the World." 

Terry Huval's fascination with fiber started with the fiber on his fiddle strings, so it's pretty appropriate that he regailed Christopher with his skills during this Community Connections episode. 

In the previous episode you heard from former Mayor, Joey Durel about overcoming controversy and Lafayette's LUS Fiber.

In this episode, Huval emphasizes why ownership is so important for cities to control their fiber infrastructure. He also touches on the other benefits of the public fiber network: faster response for outages, better connectivity for public safety and traffic control, and more than $13 million in cost savings for residents and businesses!

We hope you enjoy!

Nashville Considering One Touch Make Ready

In 2015, Nashville welcomed Google Fiber with open arms, anticipating all the possibilities gigabit connectivity could mean for businesses and residents. The deployment is moving slowly, however, in part because of time consuming make ready work on utility poles. In order to speed up the process and establish better policy for the city in general, Nashville has just introduced a one touch make ready ordinance.

Too Many Wires

A recent Nashville Scene article described the situation, common in a number of communities where utility poles already carry a number of wires:

The thousands of poles that stand around the city, most of which are owned by Nashville Electric Service, are arranged with power on top and communications equipment in a line below that. In Nashville, this means NES equipment pushes electricity up top, while broadly speaking, gear from Comcast and AT&T — whether for home phone, cable or internet service — operates below. 

Enter Google Fiber. Because Nashville largely sits on a massive bed of limestone rock, running cable underground is, for the most part, not a viable option. That means Google has to join its new friends in the industry on the poles, through a process known as Make Ready. In a typical scenario, that involves Google — or any other new company trying to enter the market or get on a particular pole — notifying NES, which will then notify each telecom company that it needs to send a crew to the pole — one after another — to move their equipment and accommodate the new party. The process can take months, even if contractually mandated time frames are followed. Google Fiber officials and operatives working on their behalf suggest that’s not always the case. 

One-Stop Approach

One touch make ready will allow one entity the ability to move all the wires from all the entities at one visit. Louisville, Kentucky, has enacted one touch make ready but AT&T and Frontier have joined forces to sue the city to stop it. The policy cuts costs and streamlines deployment for new entrants, thereby encouraging competition, so incumbents are not fond of the idea.

Nevertheless, the state's Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) recently released the results of a study which included one touch make ready one of several recommendations. Enacting the policy is a way to control poles and proactively handle many of the disputes that can arise between entities that use them.

Learn more about Louisville's approach to one touch make ready; listen to Christopher interview Ted Smith, the city's Chief Innovation Officer, in Episode #193 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Lake Region Electric Cooperative: More Fiber in Oklahoma!

Electric cooperatives are bringing high-speed Internet service throughout northeast Oklahoma. In 2014, Bolt Fiber, a subsidiary of Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, started building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout their service area. Now, slightly to the south, Lake Region Electric Cooperative is planning to expand their FTTH network.

Lake Region Electric Cooperative is about to begin another phase of construction on their FTTH network in the area around Tahlequah, Oklahoma, capital of the Cherokee Nation. The subsidiary or the electric co-op, Lake Region Technology and Communications, is managing the project.

Expanding Reliable, Rural Internet Service

In late 2014, the co-op began two pilot projects for FTTH service. After the success of those projects, the co-op decided to expand. They have divided their service area into 11 zones and are seeking sign-ups. The co-op will expand the FTTH network to the zones where the most people pre-register. The network provides high-speed Internet access, HD video, and high-quality phone service.

The electric co-op requests a $50 deposit with pre-registration, but will waive the $250 installation fee with a pre-registration. If someone signs up after construction starts, they pay a reduced installation fee. Residents and businesses who decide to sign up for services after the network is up and running in their zone will pay the full installation fee. The co-op might also charge a line extension fee depending on the distance from the existing fiber line.

Rates are still subject to change, but the co-op's website suggests Internet access will be symmetrical, offering the same speeds on the upload and download, starting at $49.95 per month for 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for residential customers. Business Internet access will start at $99.95 per month for 50 Mbps. Both include a free Wi-Fi router.

Positive Responses 

More than 700 members are already online. Lake Region Electric Cooperative serves the communities around the city of Tahlequah. With this project, the electric co-op hopes to bridge the digital divide between the urban and rural areas. In a September 2014 newsletter, one of the pilot project customers expressed enthusiasm at having fiber: 

“I am extremely pleased with my Internet service! It’s been very exciting to have high speed reliable Internet so far out of town, and at such an affordable rate!!”

The electric cooperative expects the build out to most of their service area to take two to three years. A previous survey noted that 83 percent of the electric co-op’s members believe that it’s important for the co-op to offer this service. And 75 percent support the electric co-op getting into the business. In a March 2016 Tahlequah Daily article, Hamid Vahdatipour, CEO of the Lake Region Electric Cooperative, talked about the positive response to the FTTH network: 

“Some of them have switched to us and say they don’t ever want to go back to anyone else, or that they didn’t know how much they really needed Internet [until they signed up].” 

Smart FCC Decisions Helped Create the Internet - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 213

We originally planned this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to answer the question of "What is the Internet?" But as we started talking to our guest, Principal of Interisle Consulting Group Fred Goldstein, we quickly realized we first had to dig into a little bit of history.

This is not the story of how the Department of Defense and university researchers created the ArpaNet. We are focused on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and telephone companies and how the FCC's Computer Inquiries allowed the Internet to thrive.

Fred lived it and offers a passionate retelling of key events, motivations, and more. This conversation is setting the stage for a future show - later this month - focused on answering the original question: "Just what, exactly, is the Internet?" And we'll also talk about network neutrality and other hot topics in answering it. But for now, we hope you enjoy this show. We went a bit long and it is a bit technical in places, but we think the history is important and a reminder of how good government policy can lead to great outcomes.

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 35 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."

Bozeman Fiber Transitions from Construction to Operations

Local officials are preparing to light a highly anticipated municipal fiber-optic network in Bozeman, Montana. Over the course of three years, nonprofit Bozeman Fiber, Inc. laid about 30 miles of fiber optic cable in downtown Bozeman, connecting local government, businesses, and schools to a high-speed, fiber-optic network. According to local news provider MTN News via KBZK, Bozeman Fiber will be completely operational within the next 60-90 days. 

For Bozeman, affordable fiber-optic Internet access presents an important opportunity for local economic development. Anthony Cochenour of Bozeman Fiber explained the project’s goal to MTN News, 

"More bandwidth at lower costs, and better availability for higher bandwidth than we can get today. It’s one of the barriers to entry that Bozeman has to attracting increasingly large and interesting businesses, the business that we want to be here.”

A Unique Arrangement

Bozeman recently amended its ten-year old Downtown Urban Renewal Plan to prioritize fiber-optic infrastructure. When the city decided it needed a better network, locals created a private nonprofit entity, Bozeman Fiber, to oversee fiber deployment. Instead of the city running the network itself, they felt that a nonprofit would be better suited for the role. A majority of its seven board members come from the public and private sector, with just one seat for the city. The project’s $3.85 million budget was funded exclusively by private equity investments from local banks. 

We’ve been closely following Bozeman’s unique public-private collaboration:

Check out video coverage from local channel KBZK.com.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - August 1

Minnesota

City studies $50 million broadband plan by Andrew Setterholm, Rochester Post Bulletin & GovTech

 

Tennessee

Broadband service is vital for Tennessee businesses, new study shows by Dave Flessner, Times Free Press

 

Vermont

ECFiber Awards Design and Engineering Contract by BBC Wires 

 

General

A Broad(band) reach: Bringing the Internet to rural America by John Breeden II, StateTech Magazine

For the most part, large cities don’t have a major problem with broadband installation. The populations are so dense that many private broadband providers will take on the expense of building and maintaining networks, confident that customers will follow. But smaller, more rural areas, or those in traditionally economically disadvantaged areas, may not attract a major internet provider right off the bat.

The answer might be for a city’s IT leaders to roll up their sleeves and do it themselves.

How cities can strike smarter deals with private broadband network providers by Alex Koma, StateScoop

In the report, “Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships,” institute analysts Christopher Mitchell and Patrick Lucey charge that there’s been a good deal of “irrational exuberance” about the potential of public-private partnerships, commonly known as “PPPs.” While they see a partnership with the private sector as an avenue that localities certainly should consider as they weigh the possibility of building a broadband network, they also caution that “PPPs are never without risk.” The also highlight some essential lessons from the experiences of other communities.

North Carolina Communities Create West-Next Generation Network

Drawing inspiration from a previous project in the Research Triangle, communities around Asheville are joining forces. The goal is high-speed Internet access.

West - Next Generation Network (WestNGN) is a multi-government collaboration in the Asheville area to encourage investment in fiber-optic networks for Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) connectivity to the region.

An Established Model

The Research Triangle, the area around Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, started a new collaborative model to bring Gigabit connectivity to their communities. Six municipalities and four universities there established the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN). The project encourages private sector providers to develop ultra-fast networks.

The Land of Sky Regional Council is an Ashville-based multi-jurisdictional development organization that includes Asheville, Biltmore Forest, Fletcher, Hendersonville, Laurel Park, and Waynesville. 

A Wide Impact

The Land of Sky Regional Council will provide project management by setting up a steering committee, analyzing regional data, and drafting a Request for Proposals (RFP) for Gigabit service. The group hopes high-speed Internet service will boost economic development. 

They want to reach 125,000 customers south and west of Asheville. As Smoky Mountain News reported the project costs for the first year total $35,000. Each community will pay $4,000 and then contribute proportionally based on population. For instance, Asheville will pay $11,893, and Waynesville will pay $4,877. 

Waynesville is the seat of Haywood County, which is working to improve connectivity by developing a broadband master plan. While the Haywood County Economic Development Council’s planning focuses on opportunities for the county, Waynesville is collaborating with communities in nearby counties through the WestNGN project. 

"An Awesome Opportunity"

Andrew Tate, President and CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, explained how the WestNGN model works to local news BlueRidgeNow:

“It allows our local units of government to apply leverage to the private sector to further deploy broadband, especially to areas that wouldn't get it otherwise or that wouldn't see it. ... Most of those areas are not the areas we focus on in terms of employment or industrial development, but I think it's a wise move. I think it's an awesome opportunity for local governments to collaborate with one another and look for an opportunity to improve the region."

Port of Ridgefield, Washington: Dark Fiber Network On Deck

The Port of Ridgefield is planning to build a municipal open access dark fiber-optic network that could provide access to high-speed Internet connectivity for the Washington state community of 7,000. 

Planning Stage

Town officials held a public informational meeting in late June to update residents and businesses on the fiber project, which is still in the planning stage. Estimated cost of the proposed 42-mile fiber backbone is $2.4 million, Nelson Holmberg, Port of Ridgefield vice-president of innovation, told us.

Currently, the Port has budgeted $500,000 from town funds for this year’s portion of the project, the Vancouver Business Journal recently reported. Holmberg told us:

"We are moving  forward with construction design and policy work. The Port will not be the operator, nor will it offer service on the backbone. Retail service will be offered by the [Internet Service] providers  who ride on our fiber. We're simply building the infrastructure and making it available to providers."

Holmberg told us that a firm construction timeline has yet to be set. According to the Business Journal, the Port of Ridgefield will make use of existing assets and take advantage of opportunities to reduce costs. The Port hopes to work with Clark Public Utilities and the Clark Regional Wastewater District to plant conduit whenever there is new trenching and pull fiber through conduit that is already in place.

A Mixed Bag

Currently, Internet service in the Port is a "mixed bag," Holmberg told us, with the offerings including Comcast Business, Comcast or CenturyLink to the home, satellite and point-to-point wireless and even dial-up.

The Port's fiber development project is needed to help retain and attract business, Holmberg continued. The availability of high-speed Internet connectivity is especially important to modern industries that depend on being able to transmit and receive large amounts of data.

Holmberg told us:

"Businesses [in the Port] complain they can't get the bandwidth or speeds they need, and are excited about the opportunity that they see in our system. As an anecdote, Washington State University Vancouver - at the south end of our planned loop - has a need to send 1 Terabyte (over 1,000 Gigabytes of data) of research to the main campus in Pullman, Washington once a week. Because they don't have the bandwith they need, they are literally downloading to a hard drive and overnighting the hard drive to Pullman."

Keeping Up With The Speed Of Dark Fiber

Port of Ridgefield is among a growing number of communities that are seeking to make high-speed Internet connectivity available to businesses and providers via dark fiber, i.e. fiber optic cable that is not currently active or “lit.” In the Northwest, the Idaho towns of Port of Lewiston, Port of Clarkston, and Port of Whitman are working together to use dark fiber assets for commercial connectivity via a similar open access model.

As more communities in the region invest in essential Internet infrastructure, those that don’t have publicly owned networks or private providers to provide high-speed connectivity in their communities will be disadvantaged.

“Accessible and reliable high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity is a critical component of successful economic development activity in our region,” said [Columbia River Economic Development Council president, Mike] Bomar. 

“Our region’s ability to add fiber connectivity to our list of business amenities will provide a direct competitive advantage to our existing companies and in our ongoing work to attract and recruit new enterprise into the area across a diverse array of industries.”

Tullahoma’s LighTUBe Connects 3,500th Customer

Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB) recently celebrated its 3,500th Internet customer, rewarding the lucky LightTUBe subscriber with a $350 bill credit. TUB has offered Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) triple-play services to the Tennessee town of 19,000 since 2009. 

LightTUBe now boasts an estimated market penetration rate of 39 percent, despite competition from publicly-traded incumbents Charter, Comcast, and AT&T. LightTUBe delivers $90 per month symmetrical gigabit connectivity (1,000 Megabits per second), so upload and download speeds are equally fast. LightTUBe also offers other affordable options and has repeatedly lowered prices and increased speeds.

Lighting the Way for Tennessee

TUB successfully stimulated economic development with its LightTUBe service, attracting businesses like J2 to Tullahoma. It has also enabled smart metering and other cost-saving measures that are a boon to the local community. Yet, Tennessee state law preempts public utility companies from providing Internet services to communities beyond their electrical grid. With little meaningful competition, neighboring communities have no alternative to incumbent providers. 

Although the FCC overruled the State of Tennessee in 2015, both Tennessee and North Carolina are in the process of appealing to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. A recently published study showed that 13 percent of state residents do not have access to broadband services and recommended removing barriers to broadband infrastructure investment. TUB, Bristol’s BTES, and Chattanooga’s EPB are increasingly making the case for overturning the state law in favor of community self-determination. 

Congratulations TUB (and customer number 3,500)!

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