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.

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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.

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(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

Community Broadband Media Roundup - June 20

Florida

Polk Vision hosts Smart Communities Summit by John Ceballos, The Ledger

The key to giving everyone in Polk County access to affordable high-speed Internet has less to do with bandwidth and more to do with community leaders banding together to achieve that goal.

 

Idaho

Municipal fiber network will let customers switch ISPs in seconds by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Ammon has completed a pilot project involving 12 homes and is getting ready for construction to another 200 homes. Eventually, the city wants to wire up all of its 4,500 homes and apartment buildings, city Technology Director Bruce Patterson told Ars. Ammon has already deployed fiber to businesses in the city, and it did so without raising everybody's taxes.

 

Louisiana

Reps from Cox, AT&T meet with city-parish officials to exporess concerns about broadband plan by Ryan Broussard, Baton Rouge Business Report

 

Massachusetts

Selectmen appoint group to study broadband by Marty Green, The Harvard Press

New Mass. broadband chair stresses 'flexible' solutions for each town by Shira Schoenberg, MassLive

 

Minnesota

More support needed for Austin Gig effort by Greg Siems, Austin Daily Herald

 

North Carolina

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Against municipal broadband? That's just wrong by David Post, Salisbury Post

Citing Salisbury’s problems with Fibrant, they argue that municipalities should not have their own broadband systems and that the Federal Communication Commission was wrong when it ruled that North Carolina’s “level playing field” violated federal law. They are wrong. Not because Fibrant is losing money. But because municipal broadband is the right thing for small cities or towns where the big boys won’t build it.

 

Ohio

3 ways Ohio cities overcame the telecoms to set up broadband networks by Ben Miller, GovTech

 

Tennessee

Chattanooga - the high speed city by BBC World Service

Chattanooga credits its gigabit network for city's turnaround by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Chattanooga's 'explosion' of tech growth driven by gigabit municipal fiber, mayor says by Samantha Bookman, FierceTelecom

 

General

How much do ISPs hate competition? They'll sue the FCC to prevent it by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Broadband: 21st-century infrastructure by Tod Newcombe, GovTech

Net neutrality wins: Federal court upholds FCC open Internet rules by Sam Gustin, Motherboard

Small business broadband bill clears Senate committee by Kayla Nick-Kearney, FedScoop

"That would curb many abuses since most people only have one large ISP as an option for high quality Internet access," Christopher Mitchell wrote, "but it would leave many subscribers in smaller cities with only one option for high speed Internet — a smaller monopoly typically — and few basic protections."

Dark Fiber Available In Lewiston But Rivers Slow Expansion

The Port of Lewiston’s dark fiber network is up and running and now has connected a commercial customer, reports 4-Traders, but achieving the maximum reach has hit some resistance.

Warehousing and distribution company Inland 465, is operating a 150,000 square-foot warehouse and obtaining Internet access from First Step Internet, which leases dark fiber from the Port of Lewiston’s network. Community leaders hope this is the first of many commercial customers.

Last summer the community announced that they intended to deploy an open access dark fiber network to spur economic development opportunities. The network plan called for a connection to nearby Port of Whitman’s fiber network, which has operated for more than a decade.

Bumps On Bridges

According to 4-Traders, the Port of Lewiston is encountering issues deploying over the optimal route for expanding to serve more commercial clients. The community is near the Clearwater and Snake Rivers and must cross bridges en route to connect with nearby networks in the ports of Whitman County and Clarkston. Both communities have their own fiber networks and would like to connect to Lewiston’s new infrastructure. The collaborations would allow a larger loop and better redundancy for all three networks.

The Port of Whitman has an agreement with Cable One to use the provider's hangers on the bridge across the Clearwater River. In exchange, Cable One is allowed to access certain Port of Whitman County conduit on a different bridge. The state of Idaho issued the permit to Cable One to allow them to install the hangers and now the Port of Whitman County is applying to the state to have those same permits issued in its name. Once the Port of Whitman County has the permits, the Port of Lewiston will be able to use the hangers to connect to the Port of Whitman County network.

CenturyLink's Conduit...Or Is It?

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In order to achieve the maximum reach, Port of Lewiston officials and Port of Clarkston officials will have to contend with a less-than-eager CenturyLink. There is ample conduit space on the Southway Bridge that crosses the Snake River, but the incumbent provider controls all of it. The 20 conduits on the bridge are legacies from the time when it was part of AT&T. 

Clarkston Port Manager Wanda Keefer told 4-Traders that CenturyLink is only using five of the 20 conduits and the Port of Lewiston would like to take advantage of that empty space to link up to the Port of Clarkston’s fiber-optic network. Before they can do that, however, they have to learn more about CenturyLink’s rights to be on the bridge and where on the bridge any potential ownership may end. In order to obtain that information, the Port of Clarkson filed a Freedom of Information Act with the bridge builder, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The Wires Have To Go Somewhere

The situation in Idaho underscores the importance of access to rights-of-way and fiber routes, be it bridge, boulevard, or pole. New York State, filled with bridges and opportunities to host dark fiber over waterways, has its own Bridge Authority that deals with such issues. In Minneapolis, the Park and Rec Board are stalling deployment of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network as a local ISP seeks to bury conduit in boulevards that are off limits due to protective agency policy.

Occasionally, incumbents take advantage of pole ownership or dispute pole position to delay municipal networks as a sabotage strategy. Frontier did as much in Lake County, Minnesota.

According to Clarkston's Keefer, however, there are agreements in place that all the ports consider priority. Port of Lewiston and Port of Clarkston have set a September 1st target date for having the connections linked and communicating.

Calories? Carbs? Data Caps? ISP Nutrition Labels From BroadbandSearch

Depending on where you live, you may be able to choose between two or three big name ISPs. No matter which one you ultimately select, you might face some difficulty obtaining the kind of service you deserve. If you know what to expect, it’s easier to prepare yourself and, in the event you DO have a choice, pick the one that’s right for you.

BroadbandSearch has likened transparency in the telecommunications industry to nutrition information on food packaging. They have produced a set of “Nutrition Labels” for your Internet access diet.

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They describe the project:

We believe that anything that makes buying broadband Internet service easier is a good thing, and for that reason we've created these ready-made broadband nutrition labels to help you choose from the biggest providers in the nation. 

Here is Comcast’s Xfinity label, a big provider in our Minneapolis area.

Of course, rates from Xfinity and other providers vary from place to place and they offer introductory deals that depend on a number of factors. For more on how BroadbandSearch obtained their data, check out their Sources page.

Now that the FCC’s network neutrality rules have been challenged and upheld in the Appellate Court, providers are required to be more transparent. These labels can help them share the information that subscribers need to make informed decisions. Check out the complete set at BroadbandSearch.

Haywood County, NC, Releases Feasibility Study RFP

Last month, the Haywood Advancement Foundation (HAF) sowed the seeds for a long-term broadband strategy in Haywood County, North Carolina. The nonprofit foundation posted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study as part of their strategy to develop a master plan and improve local connectivity. A $10,000 grant from the Southwest Commission and a matching $10,000 grant from HAF will fund the early stages of Haywood’s broadband initiative. The due date for proposals is July 15th.

Living In The Present, Planning For The Future

Located about 30 minutes west of Asheville, Haywood County is home to approximately 60,000 residents. Asheville’s status as a cultural hub might be driving up Haywood County property values, but it has failed to bring high quality Internet access to its rural neighbors. 

State law complicates local municipalities' ability to provide fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via municipal networks. North Carolina’s HB 129, passed in 2011, and is currently under review in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overruled the state law in early 2015, citing the bill’s burden on the national goal of advancing ubiquitous Internet access. North Carolina and Tennessee challenged the FCC’s decision, oral arguments were heard in March, and all participants are now waiting for a ruling. A master plan can help the community establish different courses of action, depending on the ultimate outcome of the court case.

Mark Clasby, executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Council, reiterated just how important universal access and higher speeds would be for the community:

“We are committed in making our county have high speed access to the Internet for our citizens, it’s a must for our future. Schools will also be going more digital and kids will need broadband service for their homework. Then there are people who want to move to Haywood to work and have our quality of life. They want to live in Crabtree or Newfound but they have to have Internet access.”

A 2015 countywide survey shed light on the current state of connectivity. More than 20 percent of county households remain unconnected to the Internet, 31 percent connect exclusively through mobile, and 83 percent of those who are connected report insufficient speeds. Local officials are determined to seek educational opportunities, drive up property values, and bring jobs to the region with a fast, affordable, reliable network. 

Fixed Wireless Helping Out In The Hills

Wireless technology may play a factor in serving rural residential pockets. The Smoky Mountain News reported:

“After talking to cable providers like AT&T and Charter and wireless providers like Skyrunner, Clasby said it’s clear that Haywood County needs some kind of hybrid service to offer better speeds and rural access.”

There are isolated Haywood neighborhoods that obtain Internet access from local fixed wireless providers using mountaintop towers. Homeowner Jake Robinson, who uses Skyrunner, told Smoky Mountain News, “We were not prepared for [such difficulties connecting our home to broadband] — had we known, our decision on buying that house may have been different.” 

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We recently spotlighted Highlands, North Carolina, a community located in the Appalachians. Highlands uses its municipal fixed wireless service to provide Internet access to homes where Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) is not practical. Fiber is serving businesses in Highlands downtown area and plan to extend it to residents. Their long term goal is to bring FTTH to as many properties as possible, but they are using fixed wireless to serve the immediate need.

RS Fiber Cooperative, a rural Minnesota broadband cooperative, is using fixed wireless to temporarily extend to cooperative members in hard to reach areas. Eventually, they will connect all members with fiber.

RFP Deets

So far there are no estimates for what it may cost to build a broadband network in Haywood. The upcoming broadband assessment and feasibility study will provide more information about estimated costs and network structure in the coming months. Clasby hopes to compose a final broadband master plan by year’s end. 

Final proposals are to be submitted to HAF by July 15th at 5:00 pm.

You can get more information by checking out the RFP online or by emailing Mark B. Clasby: mclasby(at)haywoodchamber.com.

Network Neutrality At 80 mph

It’s good for you, it’s good for all of us, and for many people, discussing it is as thrilling as watching paint dry. We’re talking about the principle of network neutrality, if course.

Stephen Colbert has found a new way to share this important issue and he has found a thrilling way to do it - on a roller coaster with Professor Tim Wu!

Check it out!

"Lafayette Pro Fiber Blog" Lives On!

In January, our friend John St. Julien from Lafayette, Louisiana, passed away. Without John to help organize the people of Lafayette, the LUS Fiber network would not have had the strong grassroots support that made the project a success.

One of the ways John helped get the project going and spread the word about the many benefits of a municipal fiber network was through the Lafayette Pro Fiber Blog. The blog was a collection of resources, writings, and comment fights that shed light on the local issues that affected, and were affected by, Lafayette's previously poor connectivity and the municipal fiber network project.

The blog is a walk through one community's historical record as they took the initiative to invest in their future.

Even though John St. Julien has passed on and the fight for LUS Fiber is over, we want to preserve the record as an important historical document. We have obtained permission from John's loved ones to keep the blog archived online. Those who are new to the story of Lafayette, LUS Fiber, and John St. Julien, now have access to the stories that helped the community make the smart choice and move forward. The blog and its posts are archived here. Unfortunately, we only have stories from the beginning of the blog until 2011. 

As an educator, John knew that teaching people on the front lines was the best way to garner support for a movement to improve local connectivity. He used the blog to raise awareness about a range of matters from basic telecommunications terminology to the shady astroturf techniques meant to misinform voters. For a decade, John used the Lafayette Pro Fiber blog to set the record straight on incumbent lawsuits, strategic delays, and twisted criticisms. The resulting LUS Fiber network has brought jobs to the community, inspired affordable Internet access for all, and saved public dollars.

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In order to celebrate John, his family has established a fund with the long-term goal of establishing an endowed chair in the education department at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, with connections to work involving educational technology.

In the words of his family:

We envision a professorship being awarded to someone with extensive work in technology, who will promote cross-discipline work by the university, i.e. involving the computer science department, the Moving Image Interdisciplinary Group, our high school technology academy, etc. 

You can donate to the fund online or via mail at UL Lafayette Foundation, P.O. Drawer 44290, Lafayette, LA 70504-4290. Contributions should be marked for the "John St. Julien Endowed Fund for the School of Education." Checks should be payable to UL Lafayette Foundation.

Be sure to check out our stories on Lafayette and don't miss Chris's interviews with John about community organizing during Episode #94 and Episode #19 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.