Design Principles from Virginia's nDanville Open Access Network

The nDanville network of rural southern Virginia has long been a favorite of ours (previous coverage is available here). The network has helped Danville go from being notable for having the highest unemployment rate in Virginia to being ranked as the third top digital city in the nation, according to a recent article.

Danville's City Manager was honored by the Southern Piedmont Technology Council for developing the nDanville network:

Danville City Manager Joe King received the Chairman's Award for his leadership in advancing the development of a modern telecommunications infrastructure in the region, a key factor in Danville's economic development renaissance.

King had been the director of the city-owned utility when it drew up plans for a fiber-optic network to be built incrementally until it could connect every home, business, and community anchor institution in Danville Utility's territory. At the time, Danville was suffering tremendously from the loss of tobacco and textile industries.

Today, the nDanville net-work connects hundreds of businesses, has sharply re-duced costs for local gov-ernment, health care provid-ers, and local schools, and has introduced more competition into the telecommunications marketplace.

Danville Utilities has 44,000 electric meters, half of which are located in Danville (44 sq miles). The others are scattered across over 450 sq miles surrounding the city. The Southern Piedmont Technology Council serves the technology industry in Danville as well as nearby counties and another city.

Even in 2004, many in Danville did not have broadband access to the Internet, as outlined in an early document explaining the network. Verizon barely offered DSL and Adelphia offered limited cable modem service.

Andrew Cohill, a consultant assisting the project, has offered more background in a recent article of Broadband Communities. In it, he notes that the network was a piece of a larger strategy of investment in the community to develop local expertise in technology.

Danville was the first municipality to deploy a fully automated, Layer 3 open-access network; nDanville, with more than 135 miles of fiber, passes more than 1,000 business locations, including every parcel in all five business parks. Current customers have access to 100 Mbps fiber connections capable of delivering a wide variety of services, and 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps connections are available upon request.

And as we noted back in August, the network is starting to connect residents in a pilot project starting with up to 500 homes.

The network is profitable, connects over 150 businesses, and is creating significant economic development.

An interesting resource that Andrew shares are the principles behind the network. Communities just starting to consider a community broadband network may want to adopt a similar statement of principles.

  • Universal access: The long-term goal of the project is that every business and home should have the same level and quality of service. This commitment supports the open-access business model by aggregating the largest possible number of potential customers for service providers.
  • Level playing field: Every service provider should be able to play by the same rules. nDanville has a single public price list available to all providers. There are no special deals or unpublished rates.
  • Public-private partnerships: City investments in broadband infrastructure should create private sector business opportunities. The city sells no services to businesses or residents.
  • Multiservice network: nDanville is an open-access network that supports multiple providers and a wide variety of services well beyond the traditional triple play to create true competition and lower prices.
  • Symmetric bandwidth: The availability of services offering affordable symmetric bandwidth was viewed as critical to the economic revitalization of Danville. Any transport service requested by a provider can be configured with equal upstream and downstream data capacity to support business- class services and applications. This early decision is now becoming increasingly important with the rapid increase in the use of business videoconferencing, which requires symmetric bandwidth to perform adequately.
  • Unlimited bandwidth: Another early design goal was that any home or business should have the capacity to use any service needed to compete in the global economy. nDanville’s active Ethernet fiber network offers 100 Mbps, 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps connections as standard, and DWDM lightpaths are available on request.

Some of the high profile economic development achievements include an Ikea plant and the expansion of CBN Technologies, which produces secure identification documents. While Ikea and CBN did not choose Danville solely for the publicly owned fiber-optic network, they rely upon it and almost certainly would not have picked Danville in its absence.