Yellow Springs’ Fiber-to-the-Home Project is No Joke

Named for its iron-rich natural springs, Yellow Springs is a hip and diverse village of approximately 3,600 Central Ohioans that most recently made headlines because of the controversy over comedian and actor Dave Chappelle’s opposition to a housing development proposal in the hometown of its most famous resident.

While the Village Council ultimately sided with Chappelle and other resident opponents in scaling back the planned development, in January the council gave their unanimous support for a different project that promises to connect village residents.

The vote gave the green light to move forward with a plan to bring municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service that will offer more affordable and reliable high-speed Internet connectivity (and competition) in a market already served by AT&T and Spectrum about 30 minutes east of Dayton.

Last fall, as Yellow Springs pursued state grant funding, Village Manager Josué Salmerón told WHIO-TV they were moving forward because “we felt we needed to do this from a business perspective and a human rights perspective. There’s a problem when our folks couldn’t do the essential things. They couldn’t go to work online. They couldn’t go to school online, and they couldn’t visit their doctors online. That’s a problem we were trying to solve. That’s why we went down this path.”

Thinking Big, Starting Small

The plan is to start with a small pilot project by connecting to the fiber backbone of the Miami Valley Educational Computer Association (MVECA), which has been expanding a 44-mile fiber ring in the region, having built one of the country’s first multi-jurisdictional networks, the GATEWay Public Fiber Network.

In partnership with MVECA, the citizen-led Springs-Net, Yellow Springs Schools, and the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, the village has now established a municipal broadband utility and secured a $300,000 grant from the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program set up by state lawmakers and signed into law by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in May of 2021

Using that money to pay for last mile network construction, the pilot program will deploy fiber to pass 250 Yellow Springs residents and businesses in targeted parts of the village.

As Salmerón told The Yellow Spring News:

We are responding to a challenge in our community. We wouldn’t embark on such a program if there wasn’t such a critical need for it.

Local Knowledge Best Source of Connectivity Data

Salmerón added that network planners are working with residents to bring fiber lines first to those who need it most, pointing to several apartment complexes in Yellow Springs (the Hawthorne Apartments, Lawson Place Apartments and the Corry Street apartments).

Salmerón said those residences were identified thanks to input from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation and school district whose maps of areas most in need of service overlapped, which offers an important but easily overlooked lesson for communities elsewhere across the nation contemplating building community networks.

While Yellow Springs is using state grant money for its pilot project, states and local municipalities now have access to federal American Rescue Plan funds to build community-owned networks. And in those instances where states or local communities tap Rescue Plan funding to expand broadband access, the U.S. Treasury’s rules give states and local governments wide latitude in putting Rescue Plan funds to use for a variety of broadband infrastructure investments, especially to resolve affordability challenges. As we wrote about here when the final rules were released, we noted that a good source of data that can demonstrate an affordability or other connectivity problem comes from school officials who know exactly where students unable to fully participate in remote learning live.

In Yellow Springs, that is precisely what local officials there did so that when service is available in the coming months, it will be less expensive than what the incumbent providers are offering.

While Spectrum offers 400 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $70/month for the first 12 months and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for an introductory rate of $110/month, subscribers to Yellow Springs municipal fiber service will be able to get 300 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical service for $45/month or symmetrical gig speed service for $65/month.

Low-income households will be eligible for a $20 discount on both speed tiers. That’s in addition to the discount eligible households get from the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable  Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides a $30/month subsidy for qualifying low-income households to pay for Internet service. This will effectively make the base tier on the network free, and the symmetrical gigabit tier just $15/month.

In the Zone with First-Come/First-Served Approach

As construction gets underway, network planners are following a roadmap that splits the village into 12 zones. It’s an approach that, Salmerón said, will allow network builders “to hit higher density areas and go across town.”

Meanwhile, Scott Fife of Springs-Net, who has been working with Spring Hill officials to execute the village’s plan, noted they have identified 410 potential locations that should be targeted inside the 12 zones. However, the pilot program will first target 250 of those locations, which involves not only building out to those premises, but also outreach work.

“We will be sending out letters inviting residents to sign up in the coming weeks,” Salmerón told The Yellow Spring News last month. “We will sign people up on a first-come, first-served basis until we hit 250 customers.”

The cost to build out the network across the entire village is estimated to cost about $3 million, which is the amount of Yellow Spring’s grant request that the village submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in fall 2021. If that grant is awarded, it would allow Yellow Springs to bring fiber connectivity to all 1,800 residential and business premises in the village and do so within an 18 month time-frame.

“The pandemic has shown how critical Internet services are and how much we are lacking in this region and throughout the country. I’m grateful that the Village will be able to provide this service.”

And we presume Dave Chappelle is not opposed to this particular development.

Read Springs-Net white paper laying out the case for a municipal network in Yellow Springs here.

Inline image of Yellow Springs Historic District courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Inline image of relative Internet speeds by carrier courtesy of Springs-Net

Inline image of Dave Chappelle courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)