Reclaim the Media has published a position paper making the case for a publicly owned fiber network in Seattle. Seattle is in a difficult position, being served by Comcast and Qwest's copper networks while the suburbs are being snapped up by Verizon's fiber-powered FiOS and nearby publicly owned Tacoma Click! has attracted more than 100 businesses.
Not only is Seattle underserved relative to its neighbors, it has a significant digital divide from neighborhood to neighborhood. Reclaim the Media offers a solution to deal with both problems.
Going in Seattle's favor is a significant amount of fiber assets and the public power utility, City Light. Compared to other cities of its size, Seattle is among the best poised to build a publicly owned citywide fiber-to-the-home network. Now it needs the motivation.
Last year, Verizon sold all of its landline assets in New England to a tiny company named Fairpoint. Even as Verizon was starting to wire suburban and urban areas with fiber-to-the-home networks, it continued to underinvest in rural communities, where those lucky enough to have DSL generally paid a lot for slow very slow speeds.
Rather than continue ignoring these properties, Verizon sold them to Fairpoint in a deal that some questioned as fraught with problems. Fairpoint has since met expectations: it is woefully unable to provide good service to people living in New England.
More recently, Fairpoint is hinting at future bankruptcy
Anyone who tells you that UTOPIA is a "success" or that it is a "failure" is probably minimizing important problems or victories for the network. The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, like so many other things in life, is a mixed bag.
For those new to UTOPIA, it is a large multi-community full fiber network that operates by only selling wholesale access to service providers. Due to a law designed to protect incumbent service providers under the guise of protecting taxpayers, UTOPIA cannot offer any services itself and is strictly open access.
For a variety of reasons - that have not and likely will not be repeated by other communities - the network has not yet met expectations. The costs have been greater than expected and the network does not yet cover its entire intended territory (some 16 communities and 140,000 people).
NATOA, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, comprises many people who are in, and work on, community broadband networks. Whether they are dealing with cable-company owned I-Nets or citizen owned networks, one of their jobs is to make sure the community has the network it needs.
Starting this year, NATOA has made its publication, the NATOA Journal, available to everyone, not just members. This will be a great resource for community broadband information.
This issue has important articles - from an in-depth comparison of the physical properties of copper and fiber to less technical arguments by Tim Nulty and myself. Tim Nulty wrote "Fiber to the User as a Public Utility."
He advances a number of important arguments:
Benoît Felton of Fiber Evolution says that Open Access makes Economic Sense - in four parts:
Some shorter news items from this weeks' news:
Salisbury may be a great example of just how a community should build a network. They have opened many chains of communication with citizens to keep everyone involved in the process:
To get the message out about their fiber-to-the-home cable utility now under construction, Salisbury city officials already have conducted radio, newspaper and magazine interviews.
In a quick followup, the Minnesota Supreme Court has affirmed the obvious by refusing to review the Appeals Court decision in the TDS (acting as "Bridgewater") v. Monticello case. This means the Appeals Court decision stands; Minnesota cities have the authority to bond for broadband networks. Read our previous coverage of this case here.
When TDS originally sued Monticello, the City had to place the investor money (raised via non-recourse revenue bonds) into escrow for the duration of the case. If the case were not resolved by June 19, 2009, Monticello would have had to return the funds to the investors, leaving it unable to finance the project. Bonding again would have almost definitely resulted in less favorable terms than those achieved before the economic meltdown.
Though Danville, Virginia, was hit hard by the simultaneously decline of tobacco and textile industries, the community has responded: Danville Utilities has been building a state of the art all fiber network. Like many communities, they built a backbone and connected the schools and government buildings first. They then started to connect businesses. This summer they will be rolling out a pilot project to connect a few thousand homes to their open services network. As they add more potential subscribers to the network, they will be more attractive to service providers. This should spur competition, increase innovation, reduce prices, and otherwise make the network more desirable to subscribers.
Chattanooga, Tennessee is predicting it will offer FTTH in its entire service area by next year. The public power company has used fiber-optics in the past to manage its electrical operations and has been planning to offer a full FTTH network for awhile.
"There are two primary components to building this system. One component is taking longer than we thought and the other is happening much faster than we anticipated", said Harold DePriest, President and CEO. "The end result is that services will be available to the entire cities of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Red Bank by summer of 2010."
DePriest says once in place, EPB's fiber optic network will be the largest of its kind in the country.
Salisbury, a city of nearly 30,000 in North Carolina, has started building its full fiber-to-the-home network. Salisbury had some difficulty in funding the network at first due to the collapsing economy last year. However, they securing financing in November 2008 and have now started building the network. A recent Salisbury Post article notes that Atlantic Engineering Group is installing conduit. However, residents will have to wait more than a year to take any services. They still have to build the multi-million dollar head end. They already have agreements covering access to the telephone polls -- which are owned by Duke Energy and AT&T.
To celebrate the launching of MuniNetworks.org, we wanted to highlight some of the best broadband available in the United States.
If you were looking for the best citywide broadband networks available in the United States, you would almost definitely find publicly owned networks. We just collected some data on top-performing networks in the U.S.
Though Comcast and Verizon have received a lot of attention for their investments in higher capacity networks, they still do not compare to some of the best community full fiber-to-the-home networks.
In comparing some of the fastest publicly owned broadband networks to some of the fastest national private sector networks, we found that the publicly owned networks offer more value per dollar. Update: A few weeks after this was published, Verizon upped its speeds and prices for several of the tiers.
Monticello, a small town in Minnesota just outside the metro area, once again prevailed in court against frivolous charges from TDS Telecom, the incumbent telephone provider (doing business as Bridgewater in the court case).
Monticello, after learning that neither TDS nor Charter were interested in building a modern broadband network in the community, spent years studying the issue and eventually opted to build their own network. After the city secured revenue bonds to pay for the project in spring 2008, TDS began a campaign to delay the network -- a tactic commonly used against community broadband networks across the country.
Cities investigating community fiber networks are used to scurrilous attacks from both incumbents and anti-government "think tanks," which are often directly funded by private service providers. Usually the attacks aren't as silly as the one that the John Locke Foundation levied against Salisbury, North Carolina.
Though attacks on community broadband from anti-government groups are common, this report betrays either a stunning lack or technical expertise on the part of the writers, or an assumption that the reader is totally ignorant. Fortunately, Salisbury has confronted them head on, as should any community in a similar position.
Welcome to MuniNetworks.org, a site dedicated to fast broadband networks in the United States that are accountable to their communities. We view broadband as the utility of the 21st century. As such, broadband networks must put communities before profits.
We will feature news, reports, and case studies that illustrate how communities can ensure they have a fast broadband network. We encourage local ownership of broadband networks; when network owners come from outside the communities, they tend not to prioritize local needs.