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BT Advisory Board and Community Agree: Local Is Best

As Burlington, Vermont, searches for a buyer for Burlington Telecom, the local residents and business owners continue to remain engaged in the future of their beloved Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Most recently, they made it clear that their first priority is finding a local company to own and operate the fiber network.

VT Digger reported that, according to a survey conducted by the BT Board of Advisors:

Several residents have said they would like to see Burlington Telecom sold to a locally owned co-operative and that their greatest concern is the utility being sold to one of its larger competitors such as Comcast, AT&T or FairPoint.

From the report:

Though the City is precluded by the terms of its settlement Agreement with Citibank from continuing to own the Asset, a carried equity interest is permitted. It is important that all ownership options be explored and considered in light of the legal requirements and the City’s goals for BT. However, the BTAB [Burlington Telecom Advisory Board] agrees with the vast majority of interested participants in this process that the sale of BT to one of its existing, national competitors would likely not be in the overall best interests of the City. 

At a recent meeting, David Provost, chair of the advisory board said, “The best option from our perspective is finding a buyer with ties to the local community that will allow the city to have a minority stake in Burlington Telecom."

A Troubled Past, An Uncertain Future

After years of cover-ups by the city's past leadership, CitiBank eventually sued Burlington for $33 million. The parties settled and, as part of the settlement, Burlington transferred ownership to Blue Water LLC, a company formed by Burlington businessman Trey Pecor. In exchange, Blue Water provided $6 million in bridge financing to allow the city to settle the lawsuit with Citibank. The city is still leasing the network temporarily but the ultimate goal is to find a partner to purchase the network. 

According to the terms of the settlement, Burlington can choose the new buyer but the sale must be finalized by January 2019. If not, Blue Water can choose the buyer and residents are worried it may end up being a company like Comcast, with no interest in the local community.

In December, as the BTAB wrapped up public meetings about the future of the network, VT Digger reported:

“We’ve heard very little to date about the $17 million,” Provost said, which is the amount of taxpayer money that was spent without authorization during Mayor Bob Kiss’ tenure to prop up Burlington Telecom. Provost said that’s come as a surprise, given the angry reaction from the public when that was revealed in 2009.

But at Wednesday’s meeting, participants weren’t evenly split on the issue. Most said they would like to see the city or residents retain some level of ownership in Burlington Telecom. One resident explained that, as a taxpayer, she would rather be able to use the asset than recoup the loss.

Residents Take Action

In late 2012, the Keep BT Local! Cooperative formed in an effort to maintain public ownership of the network. The co-op has been collecting equity and loan pledges with the long-term goal of obtaining approximately 4,000 residential and business membership pledges. The effort is ongoing and the group has said on their Facebook page that Members will be hearing more soon.

Sun Prairie Utilities' Pilot Project Shows Way to Better Connectivity

Welcome back to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. This town has brought to light the shocking stories of slack service from incumbent providers, the complicated decisions of community representatives, and the hopeful beginning of a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network

The City Council has just approved $16,000 to hire an engineering consultant for the estimated $27-35 million citywide plan. 

In the Pilot Project, So Much Demand!

In July 2015, City Council approved the $624,000 plan for the pilot project, but several factors brought the actual cost up to about $653,000. The pilot project area included the neighborhood Smith's Crossing, the Main Street Corridor, and the TIF District 9 area. 

Sun Prairie Utilities first slated the project for completion in early December, but that underwent several delays. For instance, an over-booked contractor started on the project a month later than expected. Meanwhile, rocky soil conditions and high-demand slowed the pace of construction while raising costs. The Sun Prairie Utilities Manager Rick Wicklund will present the final costs for the pilot project this month. 

The original budget had assumed a 30 percent take-rate that would see a positive cash flow in three years. In actuality, 54 percent of households in the pilot project area are requesting the services.

Forty-three percent have requested the 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.98 each month while 11 percent want the higher-speed service of 250 Mbps for $69.98 each month. The capital expenditure of these unexpected last mile connections brought the cost up, but the extra revenue from these connections will certainly help offset those costs. 

Pilot Project Teaches Lessons

In building the pilot project, the city council sought to learn if a municipal citywide FTTH network would be possible. With the overwhelming demand for Internet service in the pilot project area, a citywide network may be in the cards for this community of 29,000. 

The recently hired consultant will help determine the feasibility, while the city utility department will apply lessons from the pilot project. The city utility will continue to capitalize on their successes of the pilot project. Their outreach strategy worked very well, ensuring the high take rate, as Wicklund explained

“We did a really good job of marketing and contacting everyone, having neighborhood meeting and getting everyone excited about it, that has a lot to do with the high take rate.”

Sweet Sixteen: Waverly Utilities Hooks Up First Fiber Customers

This week in Waverly, Iowa, the local electric utility, Waverly Utilities, hooked up the first customers for its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. It’s been a long time coming for the town of 10,000 people. 

16 Years Ago: A Vision

The community first had the idea back in 2000 when they voted to form a municipal telecommunications utility after incumbent providers proved a letdown.  Reacting to the vote, those incumbent providers improved their networks a bit, so Waverly Utilities decided to hold off on building a fiber network. 

In 2013, residents and businesses found that the incumbent providers were again not providing necessary connectivity. Taking matters into their own hands, they pushed to create a new, publicly owned network. By 2015, the community had secured revenue bonds for the $12 million project.

Today: A Reality

Waverly Utilities already has 1,100 customers signed up to receive the service, and more homes and businesses will be connected over the next three months. By July 1st, Waverly Utilities’ network will be fully operational, delivering the next-generation connectivity that residents have long been waiting for.

For more about Waverly's project, take a few minutes to listen to Chris interview Mike Litterer, who was serving as Interim General Manager of Waverly Light and Power in 2013. He talked with Chris during Episode #53 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

More Colorado Communities Shut Out State Barriers At The Voting Booth

Once again, local communities in Colorado chose to shout out to leaders at the Capitol and tell them, "We reclaim local telecommunications authority!"

Nine more towns in the Centennial State voted on Tuesday to opt out of 2005's SB 152. Here are the unofficial results from local communities that can't be any more direct at telling state leaders to let them chart their own connectivity destiny:

Akron, population 1,700 and located in the center of the state, passed its ballot measure with 92 percent of votes cast supporting the opt-out.

Buena Vista, also near Colorado's heartland, chose to approve to reclaim local authority when 77 percent of those casting votes chose to opt out. There are approximately 2,600 people in the town located at the foot of the Collegiate Peaks in the Rockies. Here is Buena Vista's sample ballot.

The town of Fruita, home to approximately 12,600 people, approved the measure to reclaim local authority with 86 percent of votes cast. Now, when they celebrate the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival, the Fruitans will have even more to cheer.

Orchard City, another western community, approved their ballot measure when 84 percent of voters deciding the issue chose to opt out. There are approximately 3,100 people here and a local cooperative, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) has started Phase I of  its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the region. According to an August article in the Delta County Independent, Delta County Economic Development (DCED) has encouraged local towns, including Orchard City, to ask voters to opt out of SB 152. With the restriction removed, local towns can now collaborate with providers like DMEA.

In southwest Colorado is Pagosa Springs, where 83 percent of those voting supported the ballot measure to opt out. There are 1,700 people living in the community where many of the homes are vacation properties. Whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority was the only ballot issue in Pagosa Springs.

Silver Cliff began as a mining town and is home to only 587 people in the south central Wet Mountain Valley. Voters passed the ballot measure to opt-out of SB 152 with 80 percent of votes cast.

In the north central part of the state sits Wellington, population approximately 6,200. The community has some limited fiber and their ballot initiative specifically states that they intend to study the feasibility and viability of publicly provided services. Their initiative passed with 83 percent of the vote:

WITHOUT INCREASING TAXES, WITH THE INTENT OF STUDYING FEASIBILITY AND IN THE FUTURE EVALUATING THE VIABILITY OF THE TOWN OF WELLINGTON POTENTIALLY PROVIDING SERVICES, SHALL THE CITIZENS OF THE TOWN OF WELLINGTON, COLORADO, ESTABLISH A TOWN RIGHT TO PROVIDE some or ALL of the SERVICES RESTRICTED SINCE 2005 BY TITLE 29, ARTICLE 27 OF THE COLORADO REVISED STATUTES, DESCRIBED AS "ADVANCES SERVICES," "TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICES" AND "CABLE TELEVISION SERVICES," INCLUDING ANY NEW AND IMPROVED HIGH BANDWIDTH SERVICES BASED ON FUTURE TECHNOLOGIES, UTILIZING COMMUNITY OWNED AND PRIVATELY OWNED AND CONTRACTED FOR INFRASTRUCTURE INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO EXISTING FIBER OPTIC NETWORK, EITHER DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY WITH PUBLIC OR PRIVATE SECTOR PARTNERS, TO POTENTIAL SUBSCRIBERS THAT MAY INCLUDE TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICE PROVIDERS, RESIDENTIAL OR COMMERCIAL USERS WITHIN THE Town ?

Another small community, Westcliffe with 568 people, also took the issue to the voters. Of those voting on Ballot Question A, 76 percent voted "yes" to reclaim local telecommunications authority. The town is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Custer County.

Two weeks ago, we told you about Mancos where community leaders want to explore the possibility of using existing publicly owned fiber for better connectivity. In Mancos, the Board of Trustees of the community of 1,300 recognized that the bill was anti-competitive and passed a resolution urging voters to approve the opt-out. As the Town Administrator acknowledged, reclaiming local authority, "gives us a lot more leeway." Mancos wants to have the freedom to investigate public projects and public private partnerships. Voters agreed and 86 percent of those casting ballots approved the measure.

C'mon Already!

Last November nearly 50 local communities sent a message loud and clear to the state legislature that they want the freedom to make their own decisions about connectivity. Opting out of SB 152 does not mean a community will build a muni but allows them to explore the possibility of serving themselves or using their own fiber assets to work with private sector partners.

For these communities, there is no good that comes from SB 152. Its only purpose is to limit possibilities and restrict competition in favor of the big corporate providers who lobbied so hard to get it passed in 2005.

We've said it before and we'll say it again. Rather than force local communities to spend local funds on these referendums to reclaim a right that was taken away from them by the state in 2005, Colorado needs to repeal the barriers erected by SB 152.

It Takes a Village: Yellow Springs, Ohio Grassroots Group Wants Fiber

In the Village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, Springs-Net has created quite a stir among the 3,500 people. This grassroots group of villagers is advocating for a municipal network. Last year, they hosted a community Fiber Forum featuring our own Chris Mitchell. Now, they’re continuing the push for better home Internet access.

Springs-Net released a white paper on a possible municipal fiber network, bringing the results to the Village Council on February 16th. Although cautious of leaping into a large project, the Village Council recognized the benefits a network could have for the town and agreed to meet with the group in April to discuss next steps to improving connectivity.

Working From Home? Yellow Springs Says "Yes"

At the February 16th Village Council meeting, Scott Fife represented Springs-Net to provide an overview of the findings in the white paper. A retired Director of Information Technology at Centerville City Schools, Fife concentrated on information most relevant to the needs of the Yellow Springs community. 

According to Fife, over the last 15 years, the local business community has grown to include over 195 home-based businesses, an increase of 35%. In addition, the number of home-based engineering or scientific workers has increased 69% during the same period. Fiber connectivity could boost these existing businesses while attracting new ventures to the Village. 

As we've noted before on MuniNetworks, community networks can enable residents to work from home, avoid the commute, and increase family time. Much like Yellow Springs, Westminster, Maryland, wanted to improve Internet service for its citizens. The city decided to partner with a private company called Ting to build a community network. Now, some Westminster residents are able to telecommute rather than travel to their offices. With home-based productivity increasing in Yellow Springs, the village may indeed find a fiber network the best way to support this burgeoning aspect of the local economy.

Huge Benefit: Existing Assets

At the Village Council meeting, Fife also highlighted the community’s assets that will decrease costs and improve support if the village moves forward with a new network. The village already has the experience of a municipal electric utility, and a key component of the network - a data center - is available at the local nonprofit Miami Valley Educational Computer Association.

Many communities begin the process of building a fiber network through their municipal electric utilities: Pulaski, Tennessee; Hudson, Ohio; and Owensboro, Kentucky; are only a few. An existing electric utility facilitates a fiber network project because a community can draw on institutional knowledge. In the case of Yellow Springs, the utility already has access to the Right-of-Way and utility poles, both of which are vital for quick aerial deployment. Springs-Net has also been in communication with people at Sandy, Oregon, who built a network without the benefit of an electric utility.

What’s Next?

Currently, the group estimates the city would have to take out a $3 - 4 million revenue bond to pay for construction and there are other questions that need to be addressed. Council President Karen Wintrow summarized the situation:

“What you’re asking of Council and our staff is an incredible amount of work and financial support,”

Council member Judith Hempfling, however, reflected the optimism of the proposal, noting that the network could be a real asset to the village:

“If we could make this happen, it would be fantastic.”

In April, the Village Council will host a working meeting with the group to delve deeper into the possibility.

Holland, Michigan Pilot Project Could Lead to More

pilot project in the City of Holland, Michigan is now delivering gigabit speed Internet service via a dark fiber network built by the city more than two decades ago; three commercial buildings are connected. The project, led by the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW), is the first phase in an effort to develop a municipally owned and operated fiber network.

Holland is home to about 33,500 people and situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. The community is known for its roots in Dutch culture and is a popular summer tourist destination. Windmills and tulips dot the landscape.

Daniel Morrison, the president of a software company in Holland and a member of a local public interest group called Holland Fiber, recognizes that businesses need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity:

“Our whole business is online,” he told the Holland Sentinel newspaper. “We’re working with clients all over the world and we want to be able to work as quickly as possible.”

Morrison’s company is a pilot tester. After the testing program began in January, Morrison Tweeted out a screen grab showing his Internet speeds:

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Pretty darn fast.

Toward a Municipal Network?

Pilot testing is set to last for three months to allow Holland’s Board of Public Works (BPW) to test out network technologies and solicit feedback from testers. All of the pilot testers are getting free fiber Internet service during the testing period.

Holland's BPW plans to apply their findings from the test toward a business plan for a municipal network for the entire service area. They will also use the business plan to support an application to the State of Michigan to become an authorized Internet Service Provider. BPW officials expect state regulators to respond to their application by the fall of 2016.

History of Holland’s Fiber Network

Holland first installed a 17 mile, 48-count fiber optic ring in 1992. It successfully facilitated a “smarter” power grid for the city, improving the reliability of various electrical facilities and equipment. In 2003, the city extended the fiber network to most of the school facilities in the local school districts.

Since the mid-1990s, the BPW has also provided limited wholesale Internet services to a small number of businesses that need high capacity data services. After expansion and extension of the network over the years, Holland now has 76 backbone miles of fiber, more than 150 total route miles, and fiber counts of up to 288 strands.

Envisioning a Better Future

Holland was one of the many cities across the country that tried unsuccessfully to lure Google Fiber to their town in 2010. After that disappointment, BPW released a “Broadband Strategic Plan” in 2011 in which they laid out their objectives for providing improved Internet service in Holland. That plan resulted in a recommendation to invest $58 million in a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The Holland City Council never voted to adopt the plan.

Michigan has restrictions, but those state barriers apply when a community decides to invest in municipal Internet network infrastructure as was the case in Sebewaing. In those cases, a community can only build the network themselves if they receive fewer than three qualifying bids. Holland already has fiber in place.

The pilot project is an important step in developing a municipal fiber network in Holland. With the existing infrastructure already in place, the community can assert local authority over the development of a 21st century utility that will benefit the businesses, government services, and residents in this community for years to come.

ISP US Internet Gets More Respect Than Rodney Dangerfield - Community Broadband Bits 194

In Minneapolis, a small and privately owned ISP has been steadily building fiber across the city and developing a stunning reputation for great customer service, low and predictable pricing, and generally being a great company to do business with. Co-founder Travis Carter of US Internet joins us for episode 194 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We discuss their approach to building networks, especially their philosophy around customer service and just how poorly some of US Internet's competitors treat their customers. As a small firm that is carving out its own path in a world of giants, its experiences are important lessons and points of consideration for community networks.

We also discuss how US Internet interacts with local governments. Though the company has high praise for Minneapolis, it discusses where some of the challenges have been in navigating local government zoning and permitting. Travis also offers some advice based on how smart investments and a well-organized approach to leasing fiber have helped US Internet to begin expanding in suburb Saint Louis Park.

USI coverage map is available here. For more information on USI's pricing, see their website for Fiber-to-the-Home and telephone service.

We plan to have Travis back on in the future again, so if you have questions you would like us to ask, please tell us!

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 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 Kathleen Martin for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Player vs. Player."

UC2B At A Crossroads, Partner Selling Assets

In late February, private Internet service provider, Countrywide Broadband (CWB), announced that it and Seaport Capital together would acquire assets belonging to iTV-3, Inc. In addition to fiber networks developed in Peoria, Bartonville, and Bloomington, iTV-3 is deeply involved in bringing connectivity to the Urbana-Champaign community. The company leases fiber on the UC2B network, has expanded the network by deploying its own fiber off the UC2B fiber rings, and promised to expand the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network across the community.

In the agreement with iTV-3, the UC2B nonprofit has a right of first refusal to purchase any local iTV-3 assets deployed if iTV-3 is purchased by another company. In short, UC2B has 60 days from the date of the CWB and iTV-3 purchase agreement to decide if they want to purchase the iTV-3 fiber expansions. If the nonprofit decides not to purchase the fiber, it will continue to own the UC2B rings and CWB will own the expansion fiber.

It was only a few weeks ago that we wrote about the upcoming sale of Bristol's BVU Optinet. It is important for communities to recognize that as these networks are built, they are targets for purchase and consolidation. Fiber networks are a hot commodity and local governments may be tempted to plug short term financial problems with a sale that has implications for decades – long after those elected officials have left office. 

They Chose iTV-3

The open access (FTTH) network, one of the few last-mile projects awarded funding during the first round of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), cost $26 million to deploy. The network offered affordable access to residents - as low as $19.99 per month. At first, UC2B operated the network, but the organization later sought a private partner to manage and provide services. In 2014, UC2B chose iTV-3, Inc. as a partner to offer triple-play and to expand the network.

UC2B chose iTV-3 primarily because it was a local ISP; the Springfield company served other Illinois communities. iTV-3 was a subsidiary of Family Video which owns a number of video stores in the U.S. and Canada. For the past several years, the company has invested in the Internet service provider business, including purchasing smaller providers and deploying new fiber networks. The company appeared solid and had the expertise to manage the network. Under the terms of the UC2B partnership, iTV-3 agreed to lease the UC2B fiber to offer services, manage the network so other providers could offer services via the fiber, and continue to expand with its own fiber investments. 

Since the start of the partnership, iTV-3 has expanded in at least one neighborhood and several others reached the qualifying threshold for pre-subscriptions. Before iTV-3 agreed to schedule fiber construction, Urbana-Champaign residents and businesses in a target neighborhood needed to reach at least a 50 percent subscription rate.

The Community Has Another Choice

In a recent Telecompetitor article, CWB President and CEO Grier Raclin said that the company is looking for more companies like iTV-3 to add to its collection:

“We’re looking for broadband [companies],” said Raclin. The company is looking primarily for companies that have deployed fiber-to-the-home or hybrid-fiber coax, he noted. But he added that “we will consider twisted pair if we have the opportunity to do a triple-play and a growth opportunity.”

“We have an opportunity to add value . . . and grow,” said Raclin.

Right now, UC2B is an asset that belongs to, and serves, the people of Urbana-Champaign. CWB appears to be a company looking to add profitable investments to its portfolio, rather than become invested in the community. The UC2B community needs to consider the long term value of controlling the network and what is at stake if CWB takes the helm.

We encourage the community to carefully consider their position within the terms of the agreement with iTV-3. We hope that the Urbana-Champaign community will consider the long term consequences if they decline to purchase the iTV-3 expansion fiber. The situation in Urbana-Champaign highlights one of the risks of public private partnerships. Once those fiber assets change hands to a company with no local stakes, Urbana-Champaign subscribers have lost some leverage; their future connectivity is in the hands of an outsider. 

Listen to episode #160 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, from July, 2015, in which Chris interviewed Brandon Bowersox Johnson from UC2B and Levi Dinkla, Vice President and CEO of iTV-3.

Pulaski, Tennessee: "A Community Investing In Itself" With Better Connectivity

Pulaski, located in the area Tennesseans describe as the southern middle region of the state, has a fiber network other communities covet. When we contacted Wes Kelley, one of the people instrumental in establishing the network, he told us that the community always wanted to be more than "just Mayberry." Rather than settle for the sleepy, quaint, character of the fictional TV town, local leaders in Pulaski chose to invest in fiber infrastructure for businesses and residents.

A Legacy That Lives On

The county seat of Giles County, Pulaski has a long history of municipal utility service. The electric system was founded in 1891, and is the oldest in the state. The city also provides municipal water, sewer, and natural gas service. The electric utility, Pulaski Electric System (PES), serves most of Giles County, which amounts to approximately 15,000 customers. PES receives power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and then distributes it throughout the county.

Pulaski is now known for its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, PES Energize, but the city's first adventure in providing municipal Internet access began in 1993. The city developed dial-up service and within five years, 1,500 homes were using the service. The city abandoned the dial-up service to offer Wi-Fi but then sold that system to a private company.

Preparing PES

Leaders in Pulaski had their sights on connectivity beyond the limits of Wi-Fi. In 2002, Mayor Dan Speer and Dan Holcomb, the New CEO of PES, began exploring a publicly owned fiber network. Holcomb had previously lead a Michigan utility that offered cable TV and so used his experience to help establish the PES Energize network. AT&T (BellSouth at the time) provided DSL service and Charter offered cable Internet access but neither company performed to the satisfaction of the community. In fact, Pulaski had always suffered through poor quality service from its incumbents.

When Holcomb arrived, the community engaged a consultant for a feasibility study to examine in detail the idea of a publicly owned fiber network; Holcomb, Speer, and the rest of the city's leadership were not confident about the results. Before the community moved forward, Holcomb felt it was important they carry out a customer survey and a second feasibility study. In the spring of 2003, the organization undertook a survey and used the results to ready the utility to step into its approaching role as a municipal network utility.

seal-tennessee.png

Ready For The Next Step

Two years later, city and utility leadership felt that they were ready and completed a second feasibility study. This time, the results suggested a better outcome if Pulaski decided to invest in a publicly owned fiber network. In the spring of 2005, Pulaski developed a business plan that was approved in March by Tennessee's State Comptroller, as required by state law. In May, the city council voted to issue $8.5 million in General Obligation (GO) bonds to finance FTTH deployment and a data center.

Kelley had worked on a similar project in Hillsdale, Michigan, and even though Holcomb had asked him to work on the Pulaski project, Kelley was reluctant. Hillsdale had not pursued a network and Kelley did not want another disappointment. Once Pulaski's utility board and city council backed the plan, he knew the project had the support to move forward. Kelley accepted a position as Chief Marketing Officer for the utility. (Kelley talks more about his experience in Pulaski, Hillsdale, and his current role in Columbia, Tennessee, in episode 189 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Check it out to learn more.)

GO bonds are not one of the three most used types of financing for municipal networks but Kelley explained why they worked well for Pulaski. When a community chooses to fund any project with GO bonds, investors have an added measure of safety because the project and the loan are backed by the full faith and credit of the community. In other words, the issuing jurisdiction can use its taxing authority to pay back the debt, if necessary. As a result, the municipality, county, or other government entity issuing the bonds obtain very low interest rates. GO bonds require that the project developed be owned by the community and funds are typically used for projects that will be used by the entire community.

People Grow The Asset

Construction started in 2006, with fiber following the path of the existing power lines - when the lines were aerial, the fiber was installed on poles and when lines went underground, the new network followed suit. PES took the same approach with street lines and drops to homes. Line construction was completed in September 2006; the utility finished its Network Operations Center in November, and began testing right away. 

PES Energize began offering residential triple-play of cable TV, phone, and high-speed Internet services in January 2007 but its formal launch was not until the spring of 2007. When the network launched, it offered services at download speeds of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps), 10 Mbps, and 20 Mbps. Since then, speeds have increased. High-speed Internet access, video, and telephone are available in a variety of bundles or subscribers can purchase stand-alone Internet access for $35.95 (25 Mbps download / 5 Mbps upload), $75.95 (50 Mbps download / 7 Mbps upload), or $100.00 (100 Mbps download / 10 Mbps upload) per month.

By the time Wes Kelley left for his new position as Executive Director of Columbia Power and Water in 2012, PES Energize had achieved a 45 percent take rate. According to Mike Hollis, in charge of sales for PES Energize, the utility expands the network incrementally every year. By the end of January 2016, the network passed 5,609 homes and businesses. The utility's take rate is just under 49 percent in total with 2,729 of those properties passed subscribing to PES Energize.

According to Hollis, customers in rural areas are speeding up the expansions by footing the bill themselves. In PES' electric service area beyond the current network footprint, residents and business owners have approached the utility to ask for an estimate on the cost of expansion to their neighborhood. PES provides a figure for materials and pole attachment costs. Increasingly, these small pockets of rural neighborhoods, with nothing but dial-up or satellite, will chip in to pay for the construction. The neighborhood group cuts a check and the utility expands the network to that area.

Hollis noted that a local realtor is organizing the most recent example of a would-be subscriber funded expansion. He can't sell houses in his neighborhood where there is no high quality Internet access; homebuyers don't want houses with dial-up or satellite. He and his neighbors see the move as a necessary investment so he is leading the effort to obtain contributions from people in the neighborhood to pay for the fiber expansion.

Businesses In Mind

When PES launched, it also offered dark fiber leasing for organizations that wished to manage their own data needs. Most businesses in Pulaski purchase lit services and/or use the utility's data center. The facility housed a colocation facility, hosting services, and offsite data storage and was designed to withstand an F5 tornado.

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In 2011, Speers, who had transitioned from Mayor to Executive Director of the Pualski-Giles County Economic Development Council, discussed how the network had improved functionality for local businesses in an interview with Craig Settles. Whether a local printer sending artwork to Los Angeles or a graphic artist sending catalogue material to Canada, Pulaski businesses heaved a sigh of relief when they tapped into PES Energize. Businesses today overwhelmingly choose PES Energize - 82 percent of those passed subscribe.

From the interview:

"The golden rule of economic development is, take care of what you got. Take care of your existing industry first. There’s no question they will use it. If you’re lucky enough to get an industry to come in because they need the broadband, then that’s gravy.

During this current economic downturn, we’ve focused a lot of attention on our existing retail base and entrepreneur development. We’re teaching businesses how to maximize their use of the network so they can broaden their customer base nationally through the Internet. Our philosophy is to tie in the use of technology to help the businesses we have."

Looking At The Long Term

Pulaski has not experienced significant population growth since investing in PES Energize, but it has managed to avoid decline, a problem gripping similarly sized communities in the region. Tullahoma is a little over an hour away, Columbia is less than 45 minutes north; both communities offer potential employers municipal fiber connectivity. Pulaski made the investment first and can still compete for economic development opportunities in a peaceful setting.

When new businesses look for a location to open a facility where high-speed connectivity is a must, and search for a "Mayberry" to attract a quality workforce, Pulaski is on the short list because of its municipal fiber network.

Wes Kelley recognizes the long-term value of Pulaski's decision to create Internet network infrastructure. When we spoke with him for this article he reinforced what local officials and their constituents all over tell us - that the people of Pulaski knew the best course for themselves:

"It's a community investing in itself. Pulaski spent $8.5 million. They could have spent $8.5 million building a new rec center and a new pool but they didn't. They decided to put it in the air and in the ground to provide telecommunications infrastructure for the next 40 years. I think that's a powerful decision but it is a local decision…local control is critically important."

Update on Santa Cruz: Banana Slug City, Say Goodbye to Sluggish Internet

Back in June 2015, Santa Cruz announced a municipal fiber project with Cruzio, a local company that offers Internet access, colocation services, and a range of other data solutions. After finalizing details of the partnership, the city is officially moving forward with the plan. 

This past December, the Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously to begin the $45 million fiber network. Cruzio intends to complete the project in the next 3 years, bringing next-generation, high-speed Internet access to the home of the UCSC banana slugs.

International Excitement

With the network given the green light, the city was abuzz. The open access Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network will provide new opportunities for entrepreneurship throughout the city. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that the project is drawing interest from across the globe:

“Already, we haven’t even built the fiber network and people are already excited to work with us,” said Economic Development Director Bonnie Lipscomb, adding that a delegation from Beijing, China, visited Santa Cruz last week to discuss the project.

The Financial Plan

Through the partnership with Cruzio, the city will take out a financing bond that will be repaid by Cruzio’s customers on the network. Any funding gaps will be paid for 80% by Cruzio and 20% by the city. In the end, the city will own the infrastructure that Cruzio will manage. 

The decision to create the network has not been taken lightly. The Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Tysseling, spoke to the years of consideration and deliberation before this decision:

“It feels good to [have it] be passed, we had this conversation several decades actually.”