Jonathan Feldman's "The State of Broadband," in a July Information Week cover story, is a breath of fresh air. Too often, these articles are written by someone with little background who extrapolates after discussions with the PR wing of several big companies. But Feldman has a keen grasp of reality and is aware of the many communities that offer far better services than the big companies like Comcast and AT&T.
Craig Settles kicks off this event with a 45 minute presentation discussing what community networks should do to succeed financially and how they can go beyond simply making broadband access available to more people. Bryan Sivak, Chief Technology Officer of the District of Columbia; Joanne Hovis, President-Elect of NATOA and President of Columbia Telecommunications Corporation; and Gary Carter, Analyst at City of Santa Monica Information Systems Department responded Craig Settles' presentation. One of the key points is something we harp on here: if community broadband networks run in the black according to standard private sector accounting procedures, that is great. But it is a poor measure of how successful a community network is. Community networks create a variety of positive benefits that are not included in that metric and those benefits must be considered when evaluating such a network.
Despite a coordinated campaign by cable incumbent Charter that offered little honest debate or accurate claims, the citizens of Opelika voted yes on their referendum to allow the city to build a broadband network. The City's public power utility will use the network for smart-grid services and a private company will likely contract to deliver triple-play services.
Opelika's Mayor had this reaction:
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Mayor Fuller also said:
It’s a great day for Opelika. It’s a great day for our future. It’s a terrible day for Charter,”
One gets the sense that the Mayor took some umbrage at Charter's tactics to prevent the community from building its own network.
If you can, come on out to influence public policy. The future of the Internet is indeed at stake - with massive corporations spending millions in a power grab for the future of the Internet. Take a few hours to show up and tell the FCC we want the Internet to be open to everyone. We'll be there to tell the FCC to ensure all communities have the right to build the network they need. Thursday, August 19 from 6-9PM at South High School. South High School 3131 19th Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55407 More Information here
In discussing the current options for broadband in the city, Governing Magazine notes lack of demand for Comcast's "up to" 50/10 EXTREME package:
The demand for this "Extreme" tier speed, however, is "extremely low," says spokesman Steve Kipp. Later this summer, the ISP plans to offer 105 Mbps download and 12 Mbps upload speeds.
A few thoughts on the Google-Verizon talks and behind closed doors FCC stakeholder meetings with industry...
First, neither the FCC nor Google is likely to defend the interests of the vast majority of us and the communities in which we live. Companies like Verizon don't dump millions in lobbyists and lawyers on a lark - they do it because that level of spending gets them access and action. Google, its don't-be-evil mantra notwithstanding, remains a company that looks out for its interests first.
And Google's interests may well be ensuring that its content is always in the "fast lane" despite their historic approach of pushing for an open internet where no business can simply pay to get get a higher level of service from an ISP.
Opelika, Alabama, is home of some 27,000 people and a public power utility called Opelika Power and Light. On Tuesday, Aug 10, the city will hold a special referendum to decide if the community can build a network that will cover telecommunications and smart-grid services.
Alabama is one of the states that preempt local authority to build broadband infrastructure, requiring a referendum and imposing limitations on the business plan for community-owned networks that it does not do for privately owned networks.
The local newspaper has a Q&A to answer questions about the project.
Highland Communications Services will soon be the newest community-owned FTTH network. It is on schedule to start offering services to businesses in September and some residences in October. A local news story details some of the costs and contracts behind the network.
The project will be paid for by a $9 million Electric System Revenue Bond issue, utilizing the Build America Bond program, created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as an incentive to communities to put people back to work. Build America Bonds will allow the City to issue taxable securities and then receive a subsidy from the U.S. Treasury equal to 35 percent of the interest.
Highland's population is approximately 10,000.
Please note the spelling error in the story - they are building a head-end, not a "dead-end" (despite the accusations of some).
On July 27, WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi show discussed broadband. They read a comment from me noting the successes of two community networks. You can listen to the show online from the above link.
The very best value connection in the country is in Lafayette, Louisiana, with 10Mbps symmetrical (up and down) for under $30 /month.
The fastest citywide connection is in Chattanooga, Tennessee - 150Mbps.
Both are provided by city-owned utilities.
A short video of Sascha Meinrath discussing the power of community networks, the need for broadband competition, and why the National Broadband Plan misses the mark.
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John at Lafayette Pro Fiber posted about an upcoming Lafayette TV ad. Apparently, this is an advance copy. It emphasizes the ways in which LUS differs from privately owned networks. Community networks, no matter how technically superior to incumbent offerings, must have an outreach or advertising strategy. Having the best network does little good if few people know about it.
In fact, Burbank generates substantial net income for its general fund through leases, including to major Hollywood studios.
Burbank first laid its fiber in the late 1980s and began leasing in the mid 1990s, said Robert DeLeon, a senior electrical services planner in Burbank. It currently leases to 15 studios, such as Warner Brothers and Disney, or studio-related businesses, like post-production companies. Like Santa Monica, Burbank's main goal in leasing its dark fiber was to attract business. But at $200 per strand per mile, Burbank is currently making approximately $1 million that is being put back into the general fund.
More towns in Utah are deciding whether to support UTOPIA's new plan to expand the network and recover from the significant errors of the first managers. Under the new management, UTOPIA has added new ISPs and thousands of new subscribers, a significant turn around for a network many had written off as a failure.
Unfortunately, UTOPIA has too much debt and no capital to expand the network to bring new subscribers online. As we have consistently maintained, building next-generation networks is challenging in the best of circumstances - and the circumstances around the towns in Utah are far from ideal.
The East Central Vermont Fiber Network is launching a pilot project to start connecting rural customers with a FTTH network. EC Fiber has long labored to find funding -- it was one of many projects to see funding avenues disappear with the economic collapse following the fall of Lehman Brothers. The Feds also failed to fund them (instead opting to fund middle mile after middle mile of projects that were less offensive to powerful incumbent companies.
But they have returned to the private markets and feel sufficiently confident about financing options to build this pilot project.
A few weeks ago, I joined Curtis Beckmann, host of "Minnesota This Week" on Radio City Networks to discuss broadband networks and what communities are doing to improve access to real broadband. The 30 minute program discusses problems with existing broadband networks, the lack of competition, how and why communities have built their own networks, and a variety of other topical subjects. Listen to or download the program here.
Image used under Creative Commons License, courtesy of Flickr's JSchneid