Saratoga Springs Launches Smart City Commission

Saratoga Springs, New York (pop. 5,600 28,000), has launched a Smart City Commission, whose mission is to enhance telecommunications and help the city become a leader in high-speed Internet service.

The startup of the Smart City Commission, which held its first meeting in March, comes as Saratoga Springs pursues becoming a model Intelligent Community. City leaders have determined that the best way to acheive Intelligent Community status, is to join Next Century Cities (NCC), and to adopt the organization's six guiding principles:

  1. High-speed Internet is necessary infrastructure.
  2. The Internet is nonpartisan.
  3. Communities must enjoy self-determination.
  4. Broadband is a community-wide endeavor.
  5. Meaningful competition drives progress.
  6. Collaboration benefits all.

The Commission’s members include chief information officers from the city, library, hospital, school district, as well members of the city’s convention and tourism bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and local business community.  

Learning From Other Communities

“It’s something I had been thinking about for about two years,” City Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan told us, speaking about the Smart City Commission. A key task of the Commission will be to “fill out the questionnaire to ICF [Intelligent Community Forum] and develop a road map to becoming a Smart City,” she told us. “It seemed the best way to move forward on this project was to get a core group of stakeholders involved from the city.”

Membership in NCC will allow Saratoga Springs access to a network of knowledge from other cities that have the same desire to bring ubiquitous high-quality Internet access to their communities. The Intelligent Community Forum is a worldwide association of cities and regions dedicated to helping communities use information and communications technology to, among other things, address social problems and enhance the economic quality of local life. 

Goal: Gig Speed, Wi-Fi For Now

Currently, Saratoga Springs has a franchise agreement with Charter Communications (formerly Time Warner Cable) with the ISP providing maximum Internet access speeds of 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) down and 10 Mbps up, Madigan said. She described those speeds as “not very fast,” adding, “We have very limited public Wi-Fi. It’s a problem.”

She went on:

“I am looking forward to the road map we develop as a first phase to planning to become smart and intelligent. I would like to become a Gig [1 Gbps] city, but cost is an issue. A good goal, at this point, could be 300 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up."

Road Map Key Item  

Asked if Saratoga Springs is thinking about starting its own municipal network, Madigan responded, “Our road map will provide the city with how to do public Wi-Fi in various locations throughout the city.”

According to the Commission’s mission statement:

Broadband and Internet access at globally competitive speeds are no longer optional luxuries, but have become essential resources for residents, businesses, service providers and government.

Soon, Faster Internet Service For Santa Cruz's Small Businesses

As the city of Santa Cruz and local Internet service provider Cruzio bring their negotiations to a close, the parties have been working diligently to dot all the i's and cross all the t's. Announced in June 2015, this public private partnership intends to build a multi-million dollar fiber network throughout the city.

According to Cruzio's most recent blog update:

[W]e’ve been locked away in our Santa Cruz Fiber Project underground bunker with our partners at the City, engaging in high-level cogitation, extreme fine-tuning and the general hashing out of every little detail of the project and the agreement.

Local news station KION covered the benefits of faster Internet service, especially for the small business community in Santa Cruz. The news station also includes a clip from a recent “City Hall to You” community meeting where people learned more about the network.

A Small Business Town

“It's absolutely critical. Without high-speed Internet activity here, we would be dead in the water,”

Explained Susan Pappas, the owner of True Olive Connection, a local olive oil store. She described how her business would fall apart without high-speed Internet access. Everything from printers to inventory would stop working.

At the “City Hall to You” meeting, Santa Cruz Economic Development Manager J. Guevara laid out the facts, emphasizing how Internet access is not just for tech startups. High-speed Internet access makes small businesses function and helps job-seekers find employment. Guevara told KION,

“Over 82 percent of the businesses in the city of Santa Cruz are 10 or fewer employees. This is a small business town and Internet is the infrastructure that makes it all possible.”

Infrastructure from Santa Cruz and Cruzio

The $45 million dollar infrastructure project is a public-private partnership where the city will own the network and Cruzio will operate it. For the first few years, Cruzio will be the sole service provider. After that initial period, the network will become open access and other providers will be invited to offer competitive services. In December 2015, the city council unanimously voted to move ahead with the project.

Check out these Power Point slides from Guevara’s presentation in a May webinar presented by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice.

CityLink Telecommunications in Albuquerque Prefers Open Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 208

A small telecommunications company in Albuquerque embodies much of the philosophy that has powered the Internet. And CityLink Telecommunications President John Brown credits Vint Cerf for some of that inspiration.

John Brown joins us for episode 208 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, where we talk not just about how enthusiastic he is for open access, but how he writes open access requirements into contracts to ensure CityLink would continue to operate on an open access basis even if he were struck down by an errant backhoe.

We also discuss the Internet of Things and security before finishing with a discussion of how he thinks the city of Albuquerque should move forward with his firm to save money and improve Internet access across the community. We also touch on Santa Fe's decision to work with a different company in building their short spur to bypass a CenturyLink bottleneck.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 36 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 Forget the Whale for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "I Know Where You've Been."

The Tacoma Click Saga of 2015: Part 4: Accumulating Spillover Effects

This is the last in a four part series about the Click network in Tacoma, Washington, where city leaders spent most of 2015 considering a plan to lease out all operations of this municipal network to a private company. Part 4 highlights Click’s often unseen “spillover effects” on the City of Tacoma’s economy and telecom marketplace over the network’s nearly 2 decades in operation, contributions that Tacoma should expect to persist and even expand in the future.

We published Part 3, an analysis of why the municipal network is positioned to thrive in the years ahead within the modern telecommunications marketplace on June 21st. In Part 2, published on June 7, we reviewed why Tacoma Public Utilities considered the possibility of leasing out all of the Click operations. On May 31, we published Part 1, which reviewed the community's plans for the network.

Part 4: Click’s Accumulating “Spillover Effects”

Regardless of any impending changes with Tacoma Click’s operations, it’s clear that the network has and will continue to support and enhance the overall economic interests and the public good in the City of Tacoma. “Spillover effects” - the benefits to the community that don’t show up clearly in any financial statements - tend to appear after communities developing their own municipal broadband networks.

Click’s spillover effects start with the broad economic development benefits that arose when Click appeared. Before Click came to town, Tacoma was a city in economic decline. Many businesses had fled downtown for the suburbs over the 50-plus year period after World War II. 

While we can’t give Click all of the credit for the city’s efforts to rebound from that period of economic downturn, analysts like the U.S. Conference of Mayors cite the $86 million Click network as a major component. The network was part of an ambitious and highly successful economic development effort in the 1990s that helped to revitalize Tacoma. In 2005, the Sierra Club named Tacoma’s revitalization effort one of 2005’s top 12 economic development projects in the nation

As part of Tacoma’s revitalization project, the city opened a new downtown branch of the University of Washington that remains successful today. And as we noted in a 2010 article about Tacoma Click, more than 100 high-tech companies arrived in Tacoma within a couple of years after the network launch. This means that many current Tacoma citizens also arrived in town through jobs that Click helped create.

tacoma-east-21st-st-br-tacoma-afreeman.jpg

Broadband Competition Spills Over Too

A recent study from the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) shows that the arrival of a municipal network in a city typically improves competition in the local broadband market. That is, municipal networks tend to prompt private broadband companies to lower prices and improve services in places where there are municipal networks. Indeed, a Tacoma resident reported a few years ago that Comcast customers had been consistently paying about half of what Seattle Comcast residents were paying for the same services. It’s also likely that Comcast would have delayed its 2008 upgrade of its infrastructure in Tacoma if the city had never built Click in the first place.

This evidence suggests that, were it not for Click’s impact on the ISP marketplace, the city’s Internet services from private ISPs like Comcast would likely be slower and more expensive than they are today. If Click disappeared and the city had no municipal broadband service to compete with Comcast, citizens, businesses, and government agencies in the city could expect prices to increase while customer service declines.

What many people in and outside of Tacoma may not realize is that, like most community-owned networks, Click strives to keep prices for telecom services below market rates for the good of the community. The city of Tacoma also saves on telecommunication costs because it uses Click rather than leasing. Click has essentially contributed untold savings to the City of Tacoma.

So who would be the big winner if Tacoma decided to lease out Click to a private company? Tacoma businesses and residents? The private ISP that would take over the Click’s operations? Leasing Click to a private company would almost certainly benefit Comcast more than any other party. The company with the dubious distinction as both the largest media company in the world and a perennial contender for most hated company in America has the most to gain.  

Another Historical Moment for Click

As the importance of broadband access expands, we expect the City of Tacoma to see the wisdom in the words of Tacoma’s former mayor Bill Baarsma, who in 1999 described Tacoma Click’s historical significance for the city and its potential for the future:

“This is the single biggest economic decision the council has made since the turn of the last century, when the City Council decided to move forward with the construction of the first hydroelectric dam on the Nisqually River. Things are happening here that are happening nowhere else."

In the years immediately following Click’s launch, this municipal network helped the City of Tacoma to re-emerge from a decades long economic slump. The question facing Tacoma between leasing Click to a private ISP and keeping Click as a publicly owned and operated asset will once again culminate in a pivotal decision with far-reaching implications for Tacoma’s future.

Our observation of community-owned networks around the United States suggests that the benefits of keeping and remaking Click as a city-owned asset will only become more apparent in the years ahead. A renewal and restructuring of Click operations to meet the needs of the changing telecom landscape would help to optimize the network’s potential as a driver of local economic development and cost savings. These changes will allow the Tacoma leaders of today to carry on the legacy of the city officials who took the initiative to create the historic Click network nearly 20 years ago.

tacoma-skyline.jpg

Photo of Tacoma Skyline: Dean J. Koepfler, Tacoma News Tribune Staff Photographer, through Creative Commons

Photo of East 21st Street Bridge at Night: AFreeman, through Creative Commons

Warren County, KY, RFI: Responses Due July 8th

Warren County, Kentucky, issued a Request for Information (RFI) in June to find partners in order to improve connectivity for local businesses and residents. County officials want to develop a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network and are willing to consider both publicly owned and privately owned options. RFI responses are due July 8th.

The community has prioritized the following in its RFI:

  1. A community-wide FTTP work to serve both businesses and homes
  2. An open access model to encourage competition
  3. A financially sustainable network
  4. A network that provides affordable base-level service for everyone

Warren County

There are approximately 120,500 people in Warren County with about half living in the county seat, Bowling Green. After Louisville and Lexington, Bowling Green is the most populous. Located in the south central area of the state, Warren County is about 548 square miles. This region of the state had a relatively high growth rate of 24 percent between 2003 and 2014 and Warren County officials want to continue that trend with better connectivity.

In addition to Western Kentucky University, there are several other colleges and technical colleges in the region. STEM education at both the college and K-12 levels is prevalent in Warren County. The area is home to the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematic and Science,  which was named best high school in America three years in a row by Newsweek.

There is a range of industry, including finance, health care, agriculture, and manufacturing. The community seeks to improve connectivity to retain a number of its employers as well as diversify its economy further, encourage better services for residents, and spark competition.

Don't Delay

Get the details on Warren County's RFI by accessing their Bids Calendar. Responses to this RFI are due by July 8th. You can also contact Brenda Hale with questions: brenda.hale(at)ky.gov.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 27

Arkansas

Telecom, utility partnership pursues Arkansas gigabit by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

The rural telco is South Arkansas Telephone (SATCO) and the power company is Ouachita Electric Cooperative (OECC). The telecom, utility partnership has formed a new company called Arkansas Rural Internet Service (ARIS) – and according to ARIS Director Mark Lundy, each owner has a 50% share of ARIS.

 

Colorado

Broadband initiative moving forward by David Persons, Estes Park Trail Gazette

 

Idaho

Open Access Idaho broadband network lets customers switch to a new ISP in seconds by Karl Bode, TechDirt

 

Minnesota

Lincoln County Board talks broadband by Jody Isaackson, Marshall Independent

 

North Carolina

North Carolina's new broadband plan forgets to include 'Don't let ISP lobbyists write Shittty state telecom laws' by Karl Bode, TechDirt

The FCC's action specifically targeted bans in both Tennessee and North Carolina, both states where incumbent telecom lobbyists quite literally control state legislatures. Both states' dysfunction on this front is legendary, yet both chose to sue the FCC in court to, they claim, defend "states rights" from federal government "overreach.”

 

Tennessee

Consumers reports surveys rate EPB best in the nation for TV, Internet by Tim Omarzu, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Chattanooga mayor credits muni-broadband with aiding city's revival by Shaun Nichols, The Register

Colorado Communities Opting Out: The List Grows...and Grows...and Grows

Recently, Christopher spoke with Glenwood Springs, Colorado, about their venture into providing high-quality Internet access for the community. They were, to our knowledge, the first Colorado community to pass a referendum reclaiming local telecommunications authority. The voters in Glenwood Springs chose to opt out of SB 152 and reclaim that authority in 2008.

Last fall was a banner season for local communities deciding to no longer be limited by the state restrictions borne out of big cable lobbying. More than four dozen municipalities and counties voted on the issue and all of them passed, many with huge margins. In the spring of this year, nine more towns joined the fray, including Mancos, Fruita, and Orchard City. There are also over 20 counties and number of school districts that have taken the issue to voters and voters responded overwhelmingly saying, “YES! WE WANT LOCAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS AUTHORITY!”

Most of these communities have not expressed an intent to invest in publicly owned infrastructure, but a few places are engaged in feasibility studies, are raising funding, or even in the midst of projects. For most of them, the question of autonomy was the overriding issue - local communities want to be the ones to make the decisions that will impact them at home.

The Colorado Municipal League (CML) has assembled a list of municipalities that have held referendums on the question of 2005's SB 152 and whether or not to reclaim local authority. They list each community’s election by date and include the language of their ballot questions. Some community listings provide the percentage of pro and con votes. You can download the PDF of the list from the CML’s page created specifically for the local telecommunications authority question.

Wasted Dollars, Wasted Time

Referendums are costing each community dollars they could spend on important services. In 2015, the referendum in Fort Collins cost taxpayers more than $60,000. Those are precious dollars that could be dedicated toward a feasibility study, a school district technology program, or some other program designed to improve their quality of life.

Cities and towns are not alone in reclaiming local authority. Here is the list of counties that have passed the referendum, opting out of SB 152 restrictions:

Archuleta County Clear Creek County Custer County
Delta County Gilpin County Gunnison County
Huerfano County Jackson County La Plata County
Lake County Moffat County Ouray County
Park County Pitkin County Rio Blanco County
Routt County San Juan County San Miguel County
Summit County Washington County Yuma County

We’re not sure what it will take for the Colorado Legislature to see the light and strike SB 152 from the books but we hope they open their eyes soon. We think Colorado will be an epicenter of change and we will be watching.

Old Town, Orono Release Broadband Survey in Maine

Nonprofit Old Town Orono Fiber (OTO Fiber) is awaiting responses to a recently posted broadband survey. A fiber-optic network is in the works for both Orono and Old Town, but funds are limited. Local officials seek input from local residents and business to “determine both the interest in this project and where the Internet infrastructure would need to be established.”

Approximately 7,800 people live in Old Town; a little over 10,000 people are in Orono and there are also over 11,000 University of Maine students who attend classes there.

Old Town, Orono, and the University of Maine lost a funding battle against Time Warner Cable in 2015. That incident dealt with an area where only about 320 potential subscribers could be served with approximately four miles of fiber. A recent $250,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission put the consortium back on track to finish that project. OTO Fiber is now gathering more information about where to best deploy a broader network; they have funding for about six miles of fiber in each community.

Locals are enthusiastic about high-speed fiber’s potential benefits to the community. OTO Fiber’s survey page states, 

“The purpose of having this infrastructure in our community is to bolster existing businesses that can take advantage of this connectivity and to attract and foster entrepreneurs, students and recent graduates to create new businesses and enterprises that rely on high-bandwidth connectivity. To help us advance this project, please complete one or both of the following surveys.”

A fast, reliable, affordable connection can promote job growth and keep college-age talent in the region. Residents can look forward to symmetrical high-speed connections (the same speeds on the upload and the download) that will open the door to improved video streaming, telemedicine, virtual reality gaming, and a number of other high bandwidth technologies.

The local towns' networks will connect to Maine’s Three Ring Binder middle mile dark fiber open access network.

Sampling the Food and Fiber at Annual DMEA Meeting

In Colorado, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) saw record crowds at their Annual Meeting of Members. Hundreds of people came to check out the event on June 16th and try out the super fast speeds of Elevate Fiber, DMEA’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project.  The project will bring speeds of up to a Gigabit per second (Gbps) to DMEA’s 27,000 members. 

Elevate Fiber

During the event, members were able to check out the speed in person and preregister their homes and businesses. It requires a 12-month contract at a minimum of $49.99 each month according to the DMEA’s website. Residents can sign up at https://join.elevatefiber.com/

Providing Internet access is a new role for the electric cooperative but DMEA has a plan: the co-op will build out the fiber incrementally. Phase I will encompass about 7,500 homes and businesses in Paonia, Cobble Creek, and the Montrose downtown business district. These locations are test cases of overhead and underground installations in urban and rural areas. 

Celebrate the Times

The Montrose Press reported that over 500 people came to the meeting, making it one of the largest in recent memory. The Annual Meeting of Members celebrated the past accomplishments of the co-op and looked ahead to the fiber future. In addition to free hamburgers and hot dogs, and an appearance by former American Idol contestant Jeneve Rose Mitchell,* attendees could see live demonstrations of Elevate Fiber.

In December 2015, the DMEA Board of Directors unanimously voted to proceed with the FTTH project. At the time, they considered building a middle mile network, but wisely chose to deploy last mile connectivity to members' homes and businesses.

The June 16th event culminated with the announcement of the winners of the election to the co-op’s board of directors. Over 5,026 ballots were cast (in person and by mail). Although that’s a small percentage of their membership base, it’s actually a lot for a cooperative. The report Re-member-ing the Electric Cooperative from ILSR’s Energy Program found that 72 percent of electric cooperatives have less than 10 percent turn-out.  

“A New Era for DMEA”

A week before the meeting, DMEA CEO Jasen Bronec explained to the Delta County Independent why this meeting would be different:

JeneveRoseMitchell.jpg

"This year's annual meeting is so much more than a traditional business meeting. It is truly a celebration of a new era for DMEA and the cooperative business model. We're no longer talking about bringing electricity to the far reaches of the county, but rather a new necessity -- high-speed Internet. DMEA's service will be the fastest available in the country."


* Former American Idol Contestant, Jeneve Rose Mitchell: A long lost relative of Christopher Mitchell? Hmmmmm...

Ten Cities Honored For RS Fiber Cooperative Project

The League of Minnesota Cities has honored ten communities in the south central part of the state for their role in assisting to launch the RS Fiber Cooperative.

At its annual state conference on June 16th, the League awarded its “City of Excellence Award” in the 5,000 to 19,999-population category to the cities of Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, Gaylord, Gibbon, Green Isle, Lafayette, New Auburn, Stewart, and Winthrop.

 In a news release, League officials said: 

“These 10 cities, along with 17 townships, worked collaboratively for five years to provide South Central Minnesota residents with access to high speed, affordable, and reliable “gigabit internet service. The cities created a joint governance structure that aligned local taxpayer interests across entities, and initiated a public/private financing structure that enables residents to obtain internet broadband services at minimal risk.

The cities developed grassroots support for the project by hosting more than 150 meetings and by personally contacting hundreds of residents, local businesses, and government officials. Over the next five years, thousands of households and rural farm sites and hundreds of businesses and community organizations will be able to receive high-speed internet service access that greatly exceeds previous services provided by national telecommunications firms.

Communities need reliable broadband access to attract and retain new businesses and residents. The success of the “RS Fiber Cooperative Project” confirms the value of small communities working together with private interests to make a positive difference in lives of constituents.” 

Mark Erickson, former Winthrop city manager who was instrumental in developing RS Fiber, told us he was excited about the award.

"It was a cool award to get; an important recognition for our little towns," said Erickson, currently Winthrop economic development director. "I'm just proud of the mayor and councils in the ten communities for having the vision and patience to make the RS Fiber project happen. When communities take steps to insure better futures for their residents, good things can happen."

Officials for the RS Fiber Cooperative, named after Renville and Sibley Counties, expect the fiber-optic network to be completed by the end of 2016 for residents and businesses in the ten cities; build out to the 17 townships should be completed by 2021. Estimated cost for the total project is $45 million. 

We expect this won’t be the only accolade for the RS Fiber project, which is gaining national attention for having formed a new telecommunications cooperative. This spring, we released an in-depth report on the RS Fiber Cooperative that notes some of the highlights of the project and why it's so special. You can download the report at RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperatives.

Check out our other ongoing coverage of the project.