Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 25

Massachusetts

Leyden opens broadband discussions with MBI by Shelby Ashline, The Recorder

 

Tennessee

Tennessee needs more competition between Internet providers, according to state report by Emily Siner, Nashville Public Radio

But almost all businesses — more than 90 percent — reported that they're not happy with their current options for getting online and aren't finding affordable alternatives.

The study says one of the keys to better internet in Tennessee is increasing competition, noting that businesses with more internet options had much faster speeds. It recommended that the state to reduce regulations, making it easier for more companies to provide internet in more places.

Tennessee study shows state remains a broadband backwater thanks to AT&T lobbyists, clueless politicians, and protectionist state law by Karl Bode, TechDirt

Broadband is a key part of today's infrastructure by Johnson City Press

 

General

Are Public-Private Partnerships the best path to municipal broadband? by Jen Kinney, Next City & Public CEO

Municipal broadband has become a key issue among those who believe internet access is increasingly central to individuals’ and cities’ prosperity...Developing such networks can be prohibitively expensive, however, so more and more municipalities are turning to public-private partnerships to finance and build them. A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) takes a look at what makes those deals successful — and what causes them to fail.

Rural and urban America divided by broadband access by Jack Karsten and Darrell M. West, Brookings Institution

There's an obvious way to create more jobs by Susan Crawford, BackChannel

Nearly 80 community-based providers delivering Gigabit broadband to rural communities by Telecompetitor

TN Study Suggests Stamping Out State Barriers

The results of a statewide Tennessee survey on residential and business connectivity are in and they ain't pretty. Thirteen percent of the state - more than 834,000 people - don’t have access to 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, which is the FCC's definition of broadband. Authors of the study make a number of recommendations, the first of which is removing state barriers that stifle Internet infrastructure investment.

"...A More Open Regulatory Environment"

The study, commissioned by the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) earlier this year, includes feedback from more than 23,000 households and businesses. 

From page 13 of the report:

The State of Tennessee could consider lifting administrative burdens and restrictions to broadband infrastructure investment to fostering a more open regulatory environment. 

In the report, the authors provide detailed reasoning for why the state should embrace an open regulatory environment to encourage competition. They note that state barriers impact electric cooperatives, municipalities that operate electric utilities and cannot expand beyond their own service areas, and municipalities that do not operate electric utilities but can only build telecommunications infrastructure in unserved areas with a private partner.

The FCC came to the same conclusion in February 2015 and rolled back Tennessee state laws in order to encourage competition. Tennessee is leading the charge against the FCC's decision with North Carolina (even though NC's Attorney General criticized the law). The parties have filed briefs, attorneys have presented oral arguments, and now the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is considering the case.

The report goes on to recommend other policies, including dig-once, smart conduit rules, and one-touch make ready. Some of these policies have been challenged in other states by the big incumbents, such as the AT&T fight in Louisville against one-touch make ready. It’s no secret that Governor Bill Haslam has been content to let these same corporate gigantaurs effectively run the show in his state for some time now. 

Business Critical

Beyond recommendations, findings from the study were also revealing. The press release from the TNECD stated that the study shows fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is especially important to Tennessee’s businesses:

Businesses participating in the assessment reported broadband enabled 43 percent of all net new jobs and 66 percent of revenues. In addition, 34 percent of businesses classified broadband as essential to selecting their location, and 56 percent noted that it was essential to remain in their location. Sixteen percent of economic development agencies reported that businesses frequently chose not to locate in an area due to insufficient broadband. (emphasis ours)

Both business and residential participants cited reliability as the most important factor to them when analyzing their connectivity. Businesses also considered upload speed critical to their use of the Internet.

Urban vs Rural

While the survey determined that 13 percent of people in the state don’t have access to 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps, the “vast majority” were rural folks. According to the survey, 98 percent of urban participants DO have access. Those would include people who live in places such as Chattanooga, Pulaski, and Clarksville - all towns with municipal networks.

The survey found a correlation between access to the Internet and a number of factors, four of which were the most prevalent:

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  • The economic status of the community 
  • Number of ISPs (level of competition)
  • Type of connection
  • Population density 

Removing state regulatory barriers would allow a number of these rural areas to partner with municipalities that have already invested in Internet infrastructure. Nowhere else is this situation more apparent than in Bradley County. Cleveland Utilities (CU), the electric, water, and sewer provider in the county would like to partner with nearby Chattanooga EPB Fiber Optics to bring fast affordable, reliable connectivity to customers but state law forbids it. Bradley County and a number of other rural communities have appealed to state lawmakers because it is a matter of economic urgency and educational necessity for their children. They are still waiting.

Bills to eliminate the state barriers have been introduced but while the number of State Legislators supporting them has increased, the movement does not have the force to restore local authority...yet.

Break Down The Barriers 

Haslam referred to his administration’s report as “a starting point” and TNED Commissioner Randy Boyd cautioned that, “Not every option included in the report may be the answer for Tennessee, nor is there one simple solution.” 

It must be hard to hold the line as expert opinion and evidence chip away at the flawed logic behind Tennessee's state barriers. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the laws do not benefit the people of Tennessee; they are in place strictly for the big cable companies and telcos that operate there.

For the full report, visit the TNECD website.

Rewriting the Rules, Santa Cruz County Encourages Competition

South of California’s Bay Area with its buzzing tech startups and expensive housing, Santa Cruz County has been overlooked by the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The city of Santa Cruz had less than stellar connectivity, and the rest of Santa Cruz County was no better. That’s when county leaders decided to rewrite the rules.

Throughout 2014 and early 2015, the Board of Supervisors for Santa Cruz County developed a broadband master plan, created a “dig once” policy, and streamlined the regulatory permit process. Cutting down red tape at the county level encouraged both small and large ISPs to reconsider investing in Santa Cruz.

Streamlining To Increase Competition

Although large ISPs have enough money and personnel to focus exclusively on permit acquisition, smaller ISPs must find a way to contend with the permitting process with limited resources. Santa Cruz County's new policies and processes enable all ISPs interested in Santa Cruz County to compete on better terms. Under these new rules, ISPs have a more equal playing field.

The policies reduce the amount of time spent on the regulatory process for ISPs building fiber networks. A master lease agreement simplifies the procedure to use county assets for networks. Modified ordinances enable ISPs to easily install or upgrade infrastructure in the county’s right-of-way. (Right-of-way is public land managed for the public good, especially boulevards and medians along roadways.)

We spoke with Santa Cruz County Board Supervisor Zach Friend about the impact of these policies and the Santa Cruz County master broadband plan. He credited the new policies for encouraging providers to offer better services. (Cruzio is building a fiber network in the city of Santa Cruz, and Comcast decided to increase speeds without raising prices in Santa Cruz county.) Supervisor Friend also emphasized that the public discussions brought attention to the need for improved Internet access in the community.

A Model For Other Counties

In late 2014, the California Broadband Council highlighted the work of Santa Cruz County and the draft policies that Supervisor Friend presented. Now most jurisdictions within Santa Cruz County have adopted similar policies, and Supervisor Friend has presented drafts of the policies to several other areas throughout California. 

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Dig Once: The "dig once" policy lays out how all construction or repaving of a county right-of-way will include measures for installing cable or conduit. Any project that involves digging in or adjacent to the County of right-of-way has to include installation of cable or conduit. The policy puts the Director of Public Works in charge of administering the program, exempting projects, inspecting projects, and issuing citations. Violating the rule is considered a public nuisance.

Master Lease Agreement: The master lease agreement ensures that all providers get similar, fair treatment in getting access to County right-of-way, conduit, and other facilities. The lease is designed for a five-year term, with an option to extend another five years. Each year the payment increases by about four percent. Knowing how the County has treated other providers creates consistency, and a draft lease agreement cuts down on paperwork for the County. 

Necessary Infrastructure

Santa Cruz County wants to treat telecommunication infrastructure like a utility: less permits, less paperwork, and more access. Read the “dig once” draft policy and the draft conduit specifications, master lease agreement, and telecommunications ordinance as presented to the California Broadband Council.

In Rural Idaho, Co-op Delivers the Fiber

Co-op subscribers in Challis, Idaho are set to see faster speeds as Custer Telephone Cooperative, Inc. (CTCI) gained permission from city officials to install fiber-optic cable to local homes. With the member-owned telecommunications cooperative expanding its fiber optic network throughout Custer and Lemhi Counties, local residents will benefit from a future-proof network that promises higher speeds and low prices. 

How Did We Get Here?

The rural towns on the eastern side of Idaho’s Sawtooth Range are remote, sparsely populated, and mountainous - all factors which scare away investment from large Internet service providers (ISPs). Yet, they will witness construction of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, something that even their urban counterparts rarely see. CTCI, which has been delivering telecommunications services to the community since 1955, will provide 1,253 co-op members in Custer County and Lemhi County with high-quality Internet connectivity at competitive prices.

CTCI currently provides download speeds of 6-15 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 1 Mbps on its aging coax-copper network. Their initial goal is to achieve 100 Mbps on a 100 percent fiber-optic network, with speeds ultimately reaching 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) (or 1,000 Mbps). The co-op’s pricing chart currently lists a 100 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload fiber connection at $279.95/month. 

Federal Funds Point in the Right Direction

CTCI receives federal funding through the Universal Service Fund (USF), an FCC program designed to improve Internet connectivity in the rural U.S. CTCI’s receives the funding for operating expenses and investments because of the cooperative's contribution to the public benefit as stated in a 2012 report to the Universal Service Administrative Corporation (USAC):

“In light of Custer's longstanding record of outstanding past service, and its plans to continue upgrading, improving, and maintaining its network for the benefit of its customers, there is no doubt that Custer's status as an ETC [Eligible Telecommunications Carrier] is consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity.”

As a member of Syringa Networks, a consortium of 12 Idaho networks, CTCI leases special access lines to community anchor institutions like hospitals, schools, and public land managers across Idaho. Together, USF funding and access charges amount to 45 percent of annual CTCI revenue. Subscriber Internet access accounts for 12 percent of total revenue. 

Yellow Springs, OH, Releases RFP: Proposals Due August 22

Earlier this year, the grassroots group, Springs-Net, presented its white paper on a potential municipal network in their town of 3,700 people. The village, located in central Ohio between Dayton and Columbus, is taking up the suggestion and recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a broadband needs assessment and business plan.

The village already operates municipal electric, water, sewer, and storm water utilities, however does not own any municipal fiber. According to the RFP, Yellow Springs collaborates with several local schools and an educational computer association for connectivity to the village’s municipal office location. There is also fiber in the community owned by the Ohio Academic Research Network (OARNet) and a non-profit datacenter in the area.

Yellow Springs wants interested firms to answer their call and provide options for:

  • Mapping Needs Assessment
  • Business and Financial Model
  • Governance and Ownership Strategy
  • Funding and Financial Analysis
  • Public-Private Partnership Development
  • Infrastructure Recommendations

There will be an informal session for respondents on August 1 at 11 a.m. in the Yellow Springs Council Chambers and proposals are due on August 22, 2016. Check out the Yellow Springs website for more details on the RFP.

Why a Gig? The Video Response You've Been Waiting For!

With the increasing number of gigabit cities, a trend led by local governments, Google, and some cutting edge small ISPs, some are confused why a gigabit is important now when most applications do not need that much bandwidth to operate. We get this question frequently and decided to make a short video explainer for why a making a gigabit available to everyone is a smart goal. 

Please share widely!

 

Santa Clarita Leases Dark Fiber For Better Connectivity And Revenue

Santa Clarita, a community of 220,000 in Los Angeles County, California, recently signed a dark fiber lease agreement with Southern Californian telecommunications provider Wilcon. The city hopes to improve high-speed Internet access for local businesses; this ten-year contract allows Wilcon to provide services via publicly owned fiber-optic cable originally buried for traffic controls. 

The New Agreement

From the City Council’s June 28th agenda, the new agreement includes the following:

  • Initial anticipated annual revenues of $72,256 based on $840 per year per fiber mile.
  • Annual fiber lease rate adjustment based on [Consumer Price Index] (CPI) for the Los Angeles area.
  • Initial anticipated lease of 86.02 total fiber miles.
  • City maintains control and ownership of all fiber at all times.
  • Lease of dark fiber is not exclusive to Wilcon.
  • City may opt out of the contract without cause after ten (10) years.

Santa Clarita and Wilcon can extend their agreement on identical terms for three consecutive periods of five years following the original ten-year term, leading to a potential contract length of twenty-five years. 

Using Existing Assets To Promote Business Connectivity

The third largest city in Los Angeles County is home to the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, a handful of aerospace engineering firms, several medical equipment manufacturers, and a strong business community. Yet, local industry groups like Santa Clarita Business Journal (SCBJ) identified unaffordable Internet access as a major barrier for local businesses, as highlighted by its May 2015 publication

The City Council recently published its 2020 Goals, which include two Internet-specific objectives:

  • Work with the Economic Development Council (EDC) to provide recommendations and strategies on how to ensure high-speed Internet access to business parks.
  • Establish a revenue-generating program that utilizes existing infrastructure to leverage resources and potentially promote greater bandwidth access to the community. 

The lease agreement with Wilcon will move Santa Clarita toward achieving those goals. Although the lease will connect several business parks and individual businesses already located on the existing network, it will open the door for Wilcon or another Internet service provider (ISP) to expand the network to serve even more Santa Clarita businesses. 

Crosstown Traffic Lends a Hand

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As communities like Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Kane County, Illinois, have shown, extra fiber cables already laid for traffic controls can act as the foundation for better local Internet access. We’ve also written about the city of Aurora, Illinois, received a $12 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to construct 60 traffic signals. The city has now extended its network to schools, businesses, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions. 

Santa Clarita initially laid 96 strands of fiber to manage traffic signals and cameras starting in 2002, planning ahead for future growth. The City shared the initial expense of the $3.4 million infrastructure project with the Metro Transit Authority. Since then, Santa Clarita has incrementally expanded the network to over 70 miles, using state and federal grants to fund the expansions. Traffic operations take up less than one-third of the network's full capacity. For about four years now, the city has eliminated the cost of leased lines by using its fiber-optic network to interconnect its municipal facilities.

Freedom Dark Fiber Networks was the first private dark fiber provider to work with the city. Freedom used the network to provide services to a number of entities, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Southern California Edison, AT&T, and Verizon. The company leased small portions of city-owned fiber on a short-term basis to fill in gaps on its network. In 2013, Wilcon acquired Freedom Dark Fiber Networks. At that point, both the city and Wilcon decided it was time to renegotiate.

Dark Fiber = Bright Future

Even with up to eight strands dedicated to Wilcon’s network, about 50 percent of the city’s fiber remains unlit. Now it finds itself with a new revenue stream estimated at more than $700,000 over the course of the next ten years, thanks to its contract with Wilcon. In addition to reducing the cost of maintaining connectivity for its municipal facilities, Santa Clarita is providing an environment where businesses can get the fast, affordable, reliable, connectivity they need.

PBS Takes A Look At Internet Cooperatives

We aren’t the only ones noticing. As rural communities take control of their connectivity by banding together to form broadband cooperatives, their efforts are getting attention. Earlier this month, PBS News Hour featured a story on the Wired West and RS Fiber Cooperatives.

Ivette Feliciano visits with local residents, business owners, and community leaders in both western Massachusetts and rural Minnesota where both initiatives are rewriting the rules for rural dwellers. She visits with Jake Reike, a farmer from Renville County; he talked with Chris during the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #198. He described for us how improving local connectivity was what his family needed to maintain their farming lifestyle.

Feliciano also sought out expert Susan Crawford, who explained why people in these sparsely populated communities need high-quality connectivity and why they refuse to wait for big providers who may never come to their rescue.

Download a copy of our report RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative, to learn the details of one Minnesota farming region is bringing better Internet access to its people and businesses. There is much to be gained by joining forces.

For more on Wired West, we recommend WiredWest: a Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build a Fiber Optic Network, from the Berkman Center. Crawford helped author that report that dives deeper into the situation in western Massachusetts.

Fort Collins Mayor on Fort Collins Fiber Future - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 211

Fort Collins is a thriving community of over 150,000 and the home of Colorado State University. Despite gorgeous vistas and many high tech jobs, Fort Collins basically has the same cable and DSL duopoly the majority of communities suffer from. But they are making plans for something better.

Mayor Wade Troxell joins us this week for episode 211 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to talk about their situation and planning process.

We talk about their need for better access and how they are committed to taking action even if they are not quite sure yet what it will be. They exempted themselves from the Previously-Qwest-But-Now-CenturyLink-Protection-Act that requires a referendum for the local government to introduce telecommunications competition... with 83 percent support.

We end our discussion by talking again about undergrounding utility assets - which took them many decades but is very nearly complete.

Watch a video of Mayor Troxell at the Digital Northwest - where I was moderating a panel.

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 24 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."

Whip City Fiber Snaps To It: Yet Another Expansion In Westfield, MA

In the spring, Westfield, Massachusetts began to expand it’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, Whip City Fiber with a build-out to three additional neighborhoods. Earlier this month, Westfield Gas + Electric announced that they will soon expand even further to three more areas.

According to Dan Howard, General Manager of the utility, the demand for the symmetrical Internet access is strong:

"Every day we hear from residents of Westfield who are anxious for high-speed Internet to be available in their neighborhood," he said. "It's a great motivator for our entire team to hear how much customers are looking forward to this new service."

Gigabit residential access is $69.95 per month; businesses pay $84.95 for the same product but also get Wi-Fi for their establishments. Installation is free. If people in the new target areas sign up before August 31st, they will get a free month of service.

Like a growing number of communities, Westfield started with a pilot project in a limited area to test the level of interest for a FTTH network in their community. They are finding a high level of interest and gaining both confidence and the knowledge to continue the incremental expansion across the community. Other towns with the same approach include Owensboro, Kentucky; Madison, Wisconsin; and Holland, Michigan.

Westfield officials are asking interested residents and businesses to check out the pilot expansion page to determine if they are in the expansion area and to sign up for service. The page also explains how your Westfield neighborhood can become a fiberhood to get on the list for expansion.

For more about Whip City Fiber, listen to Chris interview Aaron Bean, Operations Manager, and Sean Fitzgerald, Customer Service Manager, from Westfield Gas + Electric. They spoke in June during episode #205 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.