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:

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"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.

Fibrant Gets The "OK": Will Expand To Local Government, Manufacturers in NC

Salisbury’s fiber network, Fibrant, is about to connect to three more large customers in North Carolina.

The Salisbury Post writes that Rowan County government and two local manufacturing facilities will be connecting to Salisbury’s municipal fiber network. After considering the needs of several local manufacturers and the Rowan County Government, Rowan County Commissioners gave the necessary approval to expand Fibrant to serve their facilities.

Local Manufacturing Wants Fibrant

The manufacturing facilities, Gildan and Agility Fuel Systems, are both located outside of Salisbury’s city limits, but within Fibrant’s service area. State law requires they obtain permission from the Rowan Board of the Rowan County Commissioners to allow Fibrant to extend service to their location.

Rowan County government also wants to connect to Fibrant and the same law applies to them. The County will use Fibrant as a back-up to their regular Internet connection for a while before deciding if Fibrant should become their primary service service provider.

Meanwhile, Gildan and Agility Fuel Systems just want the high-speed and reliability of the Fibrant network. Gildan is a Canadian manufacturer that makes activewear clothing. Since 2013, the company has worked to expand its existing yarn spinning facility, bringing skilled manufacturing jobs to the region. Agility Fuel Systems makes alternative fuel systems for large trucks. Currently, Agility Fuel Systems uses a connection speed of 20 Megabits per second (Mbps). Fibrant can offer capacity connections up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps).

The Agility Fuel System’s North Carolina Director of Operations, Shawn Adelsberger, actively pushed for a Fibrant connection. According to the Salisbury Post, Adelsberger wrote to Rowan County in May:

“Such connectivity will help us to maintain our networked manufacturing equipment, to maintain operation for our global customers and to not have product deliver risk due to network slowdowns and interruptions.”

A Bit Of A Process

Connecting to Fibrant is not easy outside of Salisbury’s city limits. A 2011 North Carolina state law prevents the creation of new municipal networks and imposes restrictions on existing ones. Fibrant cannot extend outside of its service area, and any extension has to go through several layers of approval.

Although the two manufacturing facilities and most of Rowan County are technically within Fibrant’s service area, Rowan County still needs to approve any new extension of the fiber network. After that, each Rowan County municipality must also authorize any Fibrant extensions into their city limits.

After the County Commission approved the expansion, Fibrant Director Kent Winrich told local media, "In my opinion, this is a big deal for economic development for Rowan County.”

Islesboro and Rockport: So Near and Yet So Far (On FTTH Vote)

Rockport was the first community in Maine to build a fiber-optic network to serve businesses, but their pioneering initiative will not extend to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). At their annual town meeting on June 15th, the local Opera House was packed as citizens showed up to speak on funding an FTTH engineering and network design study. After an extended debate, attendees voted on the measure and defeated the town warrant to spend $300,000 on the project.

According to the Penobscot Bay Pilot, passions flared as a number of people stood up to explain their vote. Several people in support of the project had previous experience with life after fiber:

Deborah Hall, on the other hand, said she led an effort in another state to take fiber optics to 500 homes. That effort resulted in the fact that the “average resident is now saving 100 dollars every month in getting rid of Comcast.”

She recounted how the fiber optic system already in place in Rockport was a draw for her family to return to live in the town. They improved their Internet on Russell Avenue by personally spending the money to extend the fiber to their home, and consequently “reduced our collective Internet and television bills by $155 a month. That’s over 50 percent.”

Rockport’s youth described their dilemma, living in a place where connectivity was less than adequate:

Thomas R. Murphy said he also grew up in town but said: “I am leaving this town to seek a technology career, and am moving to Austin. I have to do this because we do not have technology in this town.”

He warned that sticking with the status quo, residents were paying a company “to make profits and take profits to shareholders in other places.”

“We can keep our resources here and improve lives of everyone. This is an investment we need to make for our future. Costs can be spread thoughtfully by the town, and we can pay forward to the future of the town.”

People at the meeting who did not support the project did not like the idea of paying an estimated $150 more per year in property taxes, even though it would significantly lower monthly Internet access rates while offering better service. The measure failed 59 - 92.

Meanwhile in Islesboro…Islanders Sing A Different Song

Across the water of the West Penobscot Bay is an island community of fewer than 600 people. Once Islesboro began taking steps to improve connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure in March 2015, they did not look back.

logo-isleboro-me.png

On June 18th, voters at the annual town meeting authorized $3.8 million in borrowing with a final vote of 143 - 23. The community will issue a municipal bond paid for with a slight increase in property taxes.

The GWI Blog reports that Islesboro’s plan will provide Gigabit per second (Gbps) Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) access to each business and residence on the island. The network should be completed by spring 2017 and all customers should be connected by the end of the summer. Gigabit connectivity will cost approximately $360 per year. GWI will provide Internet access via the city-owned fiber.

According to Town Manager Janet Anderson, the outcome of the vote relied on educating residents: “It came down to showing the voters how a municipally owned Internet system could be a benefit as well as a simple, good deal for them,” she said.

When folks in Leverett, Massachusetts, considered the financial implications of a fast, affordable, reliable municipal network, they also realized that owning their own infrastructure would give them the best deal. In addition to paying less overall, customers of LeverettNet are getting better Internet access than they can obtain from the incumbents. They keep dollars in the community and they make decisions about the services they will receive.

Page Clason, a member of Islesboro’s Broadband Committee who was instrumental in bringing the initiative this far said:

“We are building a digital bridge to the mainland. By making gigabit Internet available to everyone at an affordable price, we will step to the right side of the digital divide. By building and owning our own network, we control our own destiny. Self-reliance has always been a strong island value.”

Ammon's Network of the Future - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 207

On the heals of releasing our video on Ammon, Idaho, we wanted to go a little more in-depth with Bruce Patterson. Bruce is Ammon's Technology Director and has joined us on the show before (episodes 173 and 86). We recommend watching the video before listening to this show.

We get an update from Bruce on the most recent progress since we conducted the video interviews. He shares the current level of interest from the first phase and expectations moving forward.

But for much of our conversation, we focus on how Ammon has innovated with Software-Defined Networks (SDN) and what that means. We talk about how the automation and virtualization from SDN can make open access much more efficient and open new possibilities.

Check out Ammon's Get Fiber Now signup page or their page with more information.

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 27 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 3

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

Part 3: Positioning Click for the Future

If Tacoma leaders decide to move ahead with the “all in” plan that they're currently exploring, several factors suggest that Click can become an increasingly self-sustaining division of Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU). To recap, the “all in” plan would reportedly involve two major changes at Click. One, it would mean upgrading the network to enable gigabit access speeds. Two, the all in option would likely mean cutting out the “middlemen” private companies that currently have exclusive rights to provide Internet and phone services over the network. Instead of the current system, where Click only offers cable TV services while middlemen provide Internet and phone, the new all in plan would position Click as the retail provider for all three services.

Adapting to A Challenging and Changing Telecom Landscape

It makes sense for TPU to keep Click and improve it. TPU’s slide from Part 2 in this series reveals:

(1) Click’s subscriptions for Internet-only customers turned a corner in 2014 and started to exceed projections.  This data indicates that the most important component of Click’s future business prospects—its Internet access service—is growing.

(2) With a proposal on the table to upgrade the infrastructure to offer gigabit speed service, the city can expect Click to provide stronger local ISP competition on both broadband speed and price. In an age of increasing need for data access, any ISP that upgrades its infrastructure should reasonably expect to see increased demand for extremely fast Internet access services, a level of demand that didn’t exist 10 or even 5 years ago during the period when Click was having its greatest financial challenges.

logo-tacoma-power.png

(3) The ongoing growth in Internet subscribers for Click’s ISP partners runs parallel to the growing cord-cutting phenomenon, a development led by younger generations that industry experts predict could eventually lead to an Internet-only model for all media programming.

(4) If Click goes with the all in option, the triple play proposal figures to create new revenues as Click would more easily attract those customers who see the triple play option as simpler and more cost effective. Indeed, as a private consultant once suggested to Click, Click’s previous inability to offer triple play services was almost certainly an obstacle to achieving a higher take rate

A decision to instead lease Click out to a private ISP, would mean losing control over a business that is now primed for faster and more sustainable growth than ever before. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland agrees that a reshaped Click is the way to go:

“I can’t support doing something with Click when we haven’t presented the best possible Click” she said. “It’s about the quality of the product. We’re here to compete. We’re here to compete hard. And we’re here to win.”

Beyond the city’s efforts to restructure the network’s technology and business model, a common challenge for community networks like Click is the disadvantage that any small ISP has in its ability to market its services. Indeed, a poll TPU conducted last year showed that only a small minority of Tacoma residents even understand the services that Click provides. This fact underscores the reality that Click is competing against a Comcast's national brand with far greater resources for reaching potential customers. It also suggests that Tacoma Click could benefit from improved future marketing efforts that might become possible with stronger revenue flow from the expected growth of a revamped Click.

More than a Telecommunications Provider

While the financial health of Tacoma Click is of paramount importance to the network’s future success, it’s also essential that the people of Tacoma recognize the wide-ranging spillover effects for the community over its nearly two decades in existence. These spillover effects are the broad impact that Click has had and will continue to have on things like Tacoma’s varied economic development fortunes, Click’s impact on competition, and on lowering local telecommunications costs. These factors, which we discuss in Part 4, clarify that Click’s actual value extends far beyond internal financial reports.

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