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Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, UC2B issues RFP: Intent to Respond Letters Due August 29

The Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband non-profit (UC2B) owns a community network in the southern Illinois sister cities of Urbana and Champaign. In 2009, these cities partnered with the University of Illinois to create the non-profit UC2B to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network using a federal stimulus grant. In 2014, UC2B partnered with iTV3 to operate the network, but CountryWide Broadband bought iTV3 in early 2016. Now UC2B is looking for a new partner.

On August 22, 2016, UC2B issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to find a partner to operate and expand the existing UC2B fiber network. Submit letters of Intent to Respond to the RFP by Monday, August 29, 2016 to RFP@UC2B.net. The goal is Gigabit-connectivity in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

Pass/Fail Requirements and Some Additional Key Criteria

Interested partners must honor the Three Core Principles of UC2B’s network:
1. An all fiber network; and
2. An open access network; and
3. Ubiquitous access, with no cherry picking.

Respondents will specifically be judged by 10 Pass/Fail Requirements and 9 Additional Key Criteria. These include:

An Initial $8.5 million Investment (p. 7 - 8 of the RFP)

$8.2 million will go to CountryWide Broadband (to buy out their interest in UC2B infrastructure, electronics, and customers), and the remaining $300,000 will be split equally among the City of Champaign, the City of Urbana, and UC2B to cover administrative costs. 

A Community Storefront (p. 10)

The new partner must open a storefront for at least forty hours a week. The store must also have friendly and knowledgeable customer service representatives. 

RFP Schedule 

(Note: the schedule is subject to change)

  • August 22, 2016 -- RFP released
  • August 29, 2016 -- Deadline to submit letter of Intent to Respond to RFP
    (send to: RFP@UC2B.net)
  • August 31, 2016 -- Deadline to submit questions to UC2B
  • September 6, 2016 -- Responses to questions due from UC2B
  • September 19, 2016 -- Deadline RFP responses due to UC2B

The full RFP and its appendices are available on the UC2B website.

Hudson, Ohio, Issues RFP for FTTH Study

Hudson is bringing better connectivity to local businesses with Velocity Broadband, its gigabit fiber network, and is now exploring the potential of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) for the rest of the community. The city recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study to review the possibilities for service to residents. Proposals are due August 26.

From the RFP Summary:

This project will result in the production of a Feasibility Study containing a residential needs assessment, deployment strategy options and construction cost estimates. The desired outcome of this planning effort is to provide a tool for the city to establish if Hudson residents want this service and determine a successful deployment strategy and the associated cost to implement fiber to the homes (FTTH) within the City of Hudson. 

The city wants the study completed by the end of 2016.

We’ve covered Hudson’s venture into accelerating connectivity for businesses since 2014. The community of 23,000 started by incrementally building out a fiber-optic institutional network (I-Net) over a period of about ten years, which it later expanded to offer gigabit service to businesses. Chris interviewed Hudson City Manager Jane Howington last December about the city’s Velocity service. Check out episode #181 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for that conversation. Since the launch, local businesses have been excited to obtain fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

The full RFP is available on the city's website.

SandyNet Increases Speeds, Keeps Low Prices

On July 4th, Sandy, Oregon’s municipal fiber-optic network, SandyNet, permanently increased the speed of its entry-level Internet package from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 300 Mbps at no additional cost to subscribers.

The city announced the speed boost for its $39.95 per month tier in a recent press release, calling it “one of the best deals in the nation.” SandyNet customers witness blazing fast download speeds at affordable prices and benefit from symmetrical upload speeds, allowing them to seamlessly interact with the cloud and work from home. 

Sandy is still home the “$60 Gig” (see price chart), one of the premier gigabit Internet offers in the nation. Without an electric utility, SandyNet’s unique model can be applied to “Anytown, USA.”

Read our report on Sandy, SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA, for details on the community's Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless networks and listen to Chris interview Sandy officials in Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 167.

Check out our video on Sandy:

Comment Highlights: Proposed HUD Rule To Expand Low-Income Residential Internet Access

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently asked for comments about a proposed rule to expand low-income access to high-speed Internet. The regulations would require building owners to install high-speed Internet infrastructure in HUD-funded multi-family rental housing during new construction or substantial rehabilitation, improving Internet access by promoting competition. Because the Internet infrastructure is not owned by one company, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can compete to provide residents with better options.

A variety of individuals and groups provided feedback for HUD, including local governments, nonprofit advocacy groups, ISPs, and professional associations. The majority of comments support HUD’s proposed rule, with many encouraging HUD to go further in their efforts to close the digital divide.

We submitted comments with Next Century Cities to articulate the importance of having reliable Internet access in the home:

Although Internet access may be available at schools, libraries, and other locations away from home, families with children - in particular single-parent households - face barriers to accessing those facilities. There is no substitute for having high quality home Internet access, where all members of a household can use it with privacy, security, and convenience. This high quality Internet access is what our organizations work with mayors and local leaders to achieve for residents and businesses everyday, which is why we feel so strongly about the proposed steps to close the digital divide and allow more residents to connect online.  

HUD correctly notes that installing telecommunications equipment during major rehabilitations or as units are being built creates an opportunity to ensure high quality access without significantly adding cost to the project. The ongoing benefits from high quality Internet access certainly dwarf the one-time low cost of installing appropriate technology. --Next Century Cities and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Promote Competition

Google Fiber discusses the importance of infrastructure to access, suggesting that HUD could take further steps to ensure choices are available to multi-family housing residents:

...HUD should expressly prohibit the public housing agencies (PHAs) and landlords supported by its programs from unreasonably interfering with the right of any multifamily rental housing resident to request or receive installation, operation, maintenance, or removal of a broadband service from a provider.  --Google Fiber

Comments submitted by Eric Null highlight the benefits of open access networks for lower-income families who are forced to pay high rates when there is no competition. Null’s submission represents the comments of several public interest groups including New America’s Open Technology Institute, New America’s Resilient Communities Project, New America’s Education Policy Program, Benton Foundation, Center for Rural Strategies, National Hispanic Media Coalition, and Public Knowledge:

Open access networks are critical in traditionally underserved areas where a dearth of choice has led to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers. Allowing any internet service provider to service new and substantially renovated buildings would increase the number of competitors and lower the barriers to entry for new providers, forcing providers to compete for customers by reducing pricing and improving offerings. --Eric Null, on behalf of several public interest groups

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The City of Seattle also highlights how infrastructure can support competition and discusses ways to provide quality, reasonably priced service:

Local housing providers should be enabled with options to provide the best, lowest cost service to residents as possible. The two primary means to do this are to 1) enable multiple competitive providers, or 2) enable the housing provider and residents to aggregate purchasing and delivery of service. To do this there either needs to be sufficient conduit and wiring from the entry point to each unit, or to a central distribution managed distribution system where either a single best provider can be selected or multiple providers can offer service through the building distribution system. --City of Seattle

Encourage Fiber For Future-Proof Connectivity

The National Association for County Community and Economic Development’s comments about the proposed rule suggest HUD encourage fiber service and negotiate with ISPs for service agreements:

When requiring the build-out of broadband infrastructure in HUD-funded multifamily rental housing the agency should seek methods to incentivize the highest level of broadband service, such as fiber service, to ensure the ability to keep pace with the increasing needs of connection speeds… we believe a significant opportunity exists to utilize HUD’s negotiating power to secure competitive broadband service agreements from providers. Aggregating demand among HUD-funded buildings and properties could potentially yield lower service rates for low- and moderate-income renters. --National Association for County Community and Economic Development

Funding

Comments from The National Housing Conference encourage HUD to consider broadband infrastructure to be an eligible expense for multifamily affordable housing developments:

HUD has made good strides in clarifying that broadband is an eligible expense, like the recent guidance on broadband in HOME, CDBG, and the National Housing Trust Fund. HUD should continue these efforts for all multifamily development programs. Building on these initial steps, HUD should explore treating cost-effective basic broadband as a standard operating cost for affordable housing properties... Put more simply, if use of a program requires a property to install broadband infrastructure, the funds provided by that program should also be allowed to cover the cost. --National Housing Conference

Other comments support HUD’s interest in Internet expansion, but disagree with the way in which HUD is promoting low-income access. A few Public Housing Authorities and professional associations state their concerns with HUD creating an unfunded mandate; however, the estimated cost for broadband infrastructure is only $200 per unit and the construction occurs during significant rehabilitation or new construction. 

To read full comments from organizations listed above as well as other comments, view the docket here.

Middle Mile vs Last Mile - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 214

As the next President considers how to improve rural Internet access, the administration will have to decide where to focus policy. Some at NTIA - the National Telecommunications Information Administration, a part of the federal Department of Commerce - have argued for more middle mile investment. NTIA oversaw major investments in middle mile networks after the stimulus package passed in 2009.

To discuss the relevance of middle mile investment against last mile investment, we brought Fletcher Kittredge back, the CEO of GWI in Maine. Fletcher has extensive experience with both middle mile and last mile investments.

We talk about whether more middle mile will actual incent last mile investment and, more importantly, how to build middle mile correctly to get the best bang for the buck. Along those lines, we talk about avoiding cherry-picking problems and one of my favorites, how to ensure that rural investment does not inadvertently promote sprawl.

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 30 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."

Lake Region Electric Cooperative: More Fiber in Oklahoma!

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

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

Expanding Reliable, Rural Internet Service

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

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

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

Positive Responses 

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

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

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

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

Tullahoma’s LighTUBe Connects 3,500th Customer

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

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

Lighting the Way for Tennessee

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

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

Congratulations TUB (and customer number 3,500)!

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Greenlight Upgrades Pinetops, North Carolina, With FTTH

In April, Wilson’s, municipal fiber network, Greenlight, expanded to pass every home in neighboring rural Pinetops. How is it going? Acting Town Manager, Brenda Harrell said, “We just love it!”

No Longer Out of Reach

Pinetops is about a 20 minute drive due east from Greenlight’s operations center, but more importantly, it is in another county entirely. Wilson serves six neighboring counties with its municipal electric services. Turning on internet service in Pinetops was an easy reach for Wilson, where fiber was being deployed as part of an automated meter infrastructure project.

Back in February 2015, the FCC preempted a North Carolina state law, known as H129, that prohibited Wilson from serving any residents outside of Wilson County. The preemption allowed Wilson to finish the project it had to suspend when H129 became law. In addition to the benefits of automated metering, Pinetops now experiences a higher quality of life with fast, affordable, reliable Internet access.

Greenlight To The Present

For Pinetops, bringing fiber services to its residents and small businesses was like snapping it from the late 1980s into the 21st century. Pinetops is a community with about 600 homes all located within one square mile. It is by all signs rural, surrounded by huge open fields of sweet potatoes, tobacco and soy plants. The average median income is $26,333; according to the census bureau, 30 percent of its residents live below the poverty line. Local officials, say that the community was desperately underserved with unreliable DSL service or dialup before Greenlight came to town. Thanks to Wilson, even the local Piggly Wiggly market has fiber-optic Internet from Greenlight.

Looking Ahead

The community is excited for its future. After watching a video of how quickly video homework can be uploaded on a Gigabit connection (8 seconds) versus DSL (2 hours and 59 minutes), the new Town Manager, Lorenzo Carmon, was full of ideas. Pinetops, with median homes valued around $78,000 and the option of Gigabit speeds (1,000 Megabits per second), could offer low cost affordable housing to professionals now living in Greenville, a nearby university community full of doctors, students, digital artists and knowledge workers.

 “If the private sector is not providing the services, the government has to step in,” said Pinetops new Town Manager, Lorenzo Carmon. “The internet is just like electricity. You can’t live without it.”  

Community Connections - Joey Durel: Lafayette, Louisiana

The city of Lafayette, Louisiana had an export problem. For years they had seen their young people become educated and move away from the small city, but local leaders like Joey Durel listened to experts like Terry Huval when they encouraged him to look into building a citywide fiber network.

In this video Christopher Mitchell interviews Joey Durel, former City-Parish President of Lafayette, Louisiana. In 2009 Lafayette Utilities System installed infrastructure for a fiber telecommunications network called LUS Fiber. The network provides digital cable, telephone service, and high-speed Internet to all households in Lafayette.

In the video, Durel emphasizes the hidden benefit of controversy when building advanced Internet networks: controversy educates the public. When local leaders are able to "think outside the box" and encourage discussion and debate, they are much more able to educate their constituents and in turn, make change. 

 

 

Tiny Mt Washington Builds Fiber-to-the-Home - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 212

Overlooked by the incumbent telephone company, Mount Washington in the southwest corner of Massachusetts is becoming one of the smallest FTTH communities in the country by investing in a municipal fiber network. A strong majority of the town committed to three years of service and the state contributed $230,000 to build the network after a lot of local groundwork and organizing.

Select Board member Gail Garrett joins us for episode 212 of the Community Broadband Bits to discuss their process and the challenges of crafting an economical plan on such a small scale.

It turns out that the rural town had some advantages - low make-ready costs from the lack of wires on poles and no competition to have to worry about. So they are moving forward and with some cooperation from the telephone company and electric utility, they could build it pretty quickly. We also discuss what happens to those homes that choose not to take service when it is rolled out - they will have to pay more later to be connected.

Read the rest of our coverage of Mt Washington here.

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 21 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."