Tag: "muni"

Posted October 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

Once again, restrictive state laws designed to help big ISPs maintain their monopolies have helped push a publicly owned network to privatization. Opelika, Alabama, recently announced that they will sell their OPS One fiber optic network to Point Broadband, headquartered in West Point, Georgia. They expect the deal to be finalized in early November.

The Road to Now

The city of Opelika installed the network to overcome poor services from Charter and to improve municipal electric services with smart grid applications. In 2010, Charter’s astroturf campaign to stop the network failed when local voters supported the ballot initiative to build the broadband infrastructure to allow the city to provide services. By 2014, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was making Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) available for residents and businesses; folks in the community were loving the service from Alabama’s “Gig City.”

Nearby communities still stuck with poor Internet access wanted OPS to serve them also and OPS wanted to add more subscribers, but state law prevents Opelika from expanding beyond their current coverage area. As in the case of Bristol, Virginia, when a state prevents a municipal network from growing and increasing revenue, the state makes it difficult for the network to remain sustainable.

Mayor Gary Fuller recently told WLTZ:

“We attempted on three occasions to get the legislature to [allow us to] expand beyond our city limits, into North Auburn and rural Lee County, Beauregard, and we could never do that because we couldn’t get the law changed.”

seal-alabama.png Each attempt to convince lawmakers that Opelika’s neighbors deserve more options than what the incumbents offer have evoked attacks from misinformation groups,...

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Posted October 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

Located only 30 miles east of Houston, it’s hard to believe that Mont Belvieu, Texas, ever had poor Internet access. Faced with complaints from residents and businesses, city officials decided to deploy fiber and bring fast, affordable, reliable gigabit connectivity directly to the community via MB Link.

How to Fix the Problem

While it’s not far from the center of a large metro area, Mont Belvieu is still considered a rural community. The town’s history is based in the oil and natural gas industry, which began in the early 1900s. As City Manager Nathan Watkins told Christopher Mitchell in episode 326 of our podcast, approximately 85 percent of natural gas liquids in the U.S. travel to Mont Belvieu for processing. With more than 10,000 miles of pipeline within their salt domes, the town of 8,000 has become a centerpiece of oil and natural gas processing.

Before MB Link, the community dealt with a patchwork of services offered by several different providers. Even though more than one provider operated in town, they didn’t compete with each other. Without competition, ISPs had no impetus to improve services. Residents complained about DSL download speeds of 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) and cable Internet access download speeds topping out at 5 Mbps. There were even premises that could not obtain Internet access because ISPs reported saturated networks and were not willing to make investments to serve more subscribers.

In 2016, a feasibility study in Mont Belvieu revealed that 60 percent of residents and 79 percent of businesses felt that local Internet access wasn’t adequate for their needs. In the same survey, 90 percent of residents and 100 percent of business respondents opined that high-speed Internet access is an essential service in the same manner as electricity and water.

logo-mont-belvieu.png In addition to the problems that Mont Belvieu was already having with poor Internet access, the community was growing — something city leaders wanted to encourage. New subdivisions were planned but incumbent ISPs didn’t want to deploy infrastructure to the new areas,...

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Posted October 16, 2018 by lgonzalez

It’s been a while since we last visited with Reedsburg Utilities Commission General Manager Brett Schuppner. He’s back on the show again to help us spread the word about this Wisconsin town’s decision to switch all their muni network subscribers to affordable gigabit connectivity and to eliminate all other tiers.

Brett and Christopher get into why the RUC decided that going all-gig would benefit the community’s residents and businesses and how they decided that their role was to provide the service and let the community run with it. RUC has been offering high-quality connectivity for about 15 years, making it one of the oldest publicly owned networks in the U.S.

When Brett was on the show in 2015, he and Christopher talked about the RUC’s plans to expand. "Deja vu" as the same topic comes up again on this week’s episode. The RUC has been awarded funding to help pay for expansion to two nearby communities that need Internet access for the 21st century. Brett shares information about those communities and the logistics behind the projects.

Located about an hour from Madison, RUC’s affordable LightSpeed provides the connections that area Wisconsinites need to telecommute. Brett and Christopher also touch on Reedsburg’s recent designation as a certified Telecommute Forward! community. The certification lets companies know that the city and areas served by LightSpeed have the capacity to support remote employees.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this...

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Posted October 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Close to connecting subscriber number 500, Owensboro, Kentucky’s OMUFibernet is also ready to continue expansion to more neighborhoods as they develop their publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) gigabit network.

Incremental Growth

In 2016, Owensboro Municipal Utilities (OMU) decided to experiment by engaging in a pilot project that offered gigabit connectivity to approximately 500 premises. The project also allowed businesses within the geographic areas to lease fiber if they chose a more flexible option. 

The success of the pilot project encouraged OMU to expand OMUFiberNet to the rest of the city. Now that almost 30 percent of potential subscribers have signed up, OMU is ready to move into yet another neighborhood. OMU Telecommunications Superintendent Chris Poynter recently told the Messenger-Inquirer:

"We have been very deliberate in how we grow our service area. It has to be both cost-effective and fair. What we really did not want to do is cherry-pick desirable demographics. What we said from the very beginning was that we are a municipal utility and we’re all about serving the community, so we’re going to let technology and cost determine how we deploy it."

OMUFiberNet offers three tiers of service with all speeds symmetrical. A one-time installation fee of $49.99 applies:

50 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.99 per month

100 Mbps for $69.99 per month

1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $99.99 per month

"Can We Go to Grandma's?"

Subscriber Connie Singer and her grandkids have been using OMUFiberNet for about a year; Singer moved into a new home that was already connected to the network. Her grandchildren are gamers, she says, and OMUFiberNet provides “the fastest Internet service she’s ever seen.” The symmetrical gigabit service allows the household to run two gaming computers at once.

She also likes the fact that all her utilities, including Internet access, are on one utility bill. “It’s amazing,” she says.

Deliberate Growth

OMU installed fiber optic infrastructure in the...

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Posted October 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

We don’t often get the opportunity to interview people from Texas, so when we heard about Mont Belvieu’s gigabit fiber optic network we knew we had to have them on the show. When we learned that four officials from the east Texas town would join us we said, “Even better!” City Manager Nathan Watkins, Director of Broadband and IT Dwight Thomas, Assistant City Manager Scott Swigert, and Communications and Marketing Director Brian Ligon are on the show this week to talk about their publicly owned network, MB Link.

Before they were able to provide the fast, affordable, reliable service to residents all over town, Mont Belvieu had to assert themselves in a legal proceeding against the State of Texas. In this conversation, the guys discuss their elegant argument that won over the court. You’ll also hear why community leaders decided that, even though Mont Belvieu had a thriving oil and gas industry, they felt that investing in high-quality Internet access for residents was a goal they aimed to achieve for the public good. The residents in Mont Belvieu drove this project.

People in Mont Belvieu have clambered to sign up for the network. Our guests discuss how they’ve used their town’s strengths to market the services they offer and how they continue to use communications to help subscribers get the most from MB Link. The guys also talk about how the city plans to add businesses to the network and the reactions from incumbents.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice ...

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Posted October 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

In September, Reedsburg Utility Commission (RUC) in Wisconsin announced that they’re simplifying life for subscribers. They’ve eliminated service tiers and now everyone who signs up for the service receives affordable, symmetrical gigabit Internet access from their recently rebranded LightSpeed service.

Rebranding, Redefining Fast and Affordable

Back in May, RUC decided that they would renew their efforts at marketing by launching the new LightSpeed brand. At that time, they were already signing up new customers for the great gigabit deal, which translated into prices as low as $44.95 per month for 1,000 Megabits per second (Mbps or one gigabit) when purchased as part of a bundle. RUC also offers voice and video.

RUC has been offering Internet access to Reedsburg’s approximately 10,000 people since 2002. In 2014, they were the first in Wisconsin to offer gigabit connectivity. Over the past 16 years, they've expanded into different areas around the city in order to share the benefits of the network.

Growing That Gig

With the new gigabit offering to all, Reedsburg will venture out to two new areas. They received two grants from the state to expand to the Village of Spring Green and the Town of Delton.

logo-Lightspeed-Reedsburg-small.jpg In Spring Green, located about 30 miles due south of Reedsburg, town officials have been working with the RUC to obtain the funding to bring high-quality Internet access to town. The grant will help fund the first phase of the project, which will bring better connectivity to several community anchor institutions, the school district, and multiple government facilities. In bringing LightSpeed to Spring Green, approximately more than 260 residential and 35 commercial premises will also have access to fiber.

Lake Delton, which is south of the Village of Delton,...

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Posted September 12, 2018 by lgonzalez

In episode 320 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, aired on August 28th, we shared news about an opportunity regarding funding local Internet network infrastructure. Jase Wilson and Lindsey Brannon of Neighborly announced that the online investment platform had recently launched the Neighborly Community Broadband Accelerator. Applications to participate in the program close on September 28th, so we want to encourage local communities, Internet Service Providers, or community advocates interested in new ways to develop better local connectivity to check out the program.

More Than Money

For a quick recap, Neighborly is a technology company that provides an online investment platform to give individuals and entities the ability to invest in projects funded with municipal bonds. The projects are publicly owned and centered on improving the quality of life on the local level. Project areas include transportation infrastructure, schools and libraries, housing, and utilities. The accelerator program specifically aims to help local communities develop their own open access municipal networks to improve connectivity and encourage competition for broadband on the local level.

As Jase and Lindsey described in our interview, the numerous moving pieces associated with developing a fiber optic municipal network create a layered and complex project; a key element is financing. While it’s often left as a later consideration — one that makes or breaks the project — chances of success improve when community leaders address funding early and throughout projects development. 

One of the goals of the Accelerator Program is to help local communities interweave funding throughout the process. The program also provides additional resources throughout the process to help ease broadband network development. Applicants accepted to the program pay no fee and receive:

  • Tools to map, multiply & accelerate community engagement, including demand aggregation technology and marketing collateral to build a grassroots movement
  • Education sessions with leading experts who will share best practices for generating local support, working with civic leaders, overcoming legislative...
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Posted September 5, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

What started as a pilot project back in 2014 has consistently expanded to more addresses. Now the “Little Gig City” has put a date on when they expect to complete the final phase of their community-wide fiber network — early 2020. “Right now we feel like we’re kind of in the home stretch,” says Erwin Utilities fiber optic engineer John Williams. 

When The Time Was Right

The small town of Erwin, Tennessee first explored the possibility of bringing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to its residents in 1999. At the time, however, the community chose not to pursue a publicly owned network because only 20 percent of homes in the area had a computer and the initial estimated cost of over $20 million was too high for local palates. The market changed over the next few years and in 2012, the town finally felt it was time to invest. They constructed a fiber backbone that connected 45 SCADA locations and six county schools. By 2014, the city announced plans to develop a pilot project for business and residential connectivity in the downtown area.

The pilot project reached approximately 1,000 premises; the utility’s goal was to achieve a 25 percent take rate to ensure the service would be self-sustaining. According to Williams, the utility swiftly surpassed their goal and are now at 36 percent subscribership in the original deployment area. Erwin Utilities has expanded, passing a total of approximately 5,000 premises out of 9,000 total potential premises, which are also electric service customers.

logo-erwin-fiber.jpg Because Tennessee municipal utilities are subject to state law that limits their Internet service area to their electric service footprint, Erwin can only provide connectivity to a limited number of premises. The law creates a situation that protects incumbent monopolies, but forces rural folks who obtain electric service from a different provider to rely on ISPs that generally offer poor Internet access options via DSL or expensive satellite service.

The Ultimate in Self-Reliance

Williams, who designed the network, ...

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Posted August 29, 2018 by lgonzalez

FiberNET, the municipal fiber network serving Morristown, Tennessee, has been serving the community since 2006 with fast, affordable, reliable Fiber-to-the-Home service. FiberNET is one of those networks that quietly went about its business bringing top notch services for residents, businesses, and institutions without a lot of fanfare. If you don’t live or work in the area or follow developments in broadband policy and implementation, you may not be familiar with Morristown’s FiberNET.

Now is your chance to learn more.

The community has produced a short, high-quality film about the network and the many ways it enhances living in Morristown for residents, businesses, and local entities. Business leaders describe how the network has enhanced and advanced their operations. Jody Wigington, who we’ve hosted on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, describes how the schools and local institutions have access to a network to rival any connections available in urban areas.

What’s the best part, in his opinion?

“We’re not-for-profit and locally owned. So FiberNET was built for the people through the vision of community leaders. And remember, FiberNET provides local jobs for the community and our employees are are part of the fabric of life in the Lakeway Region.”

Check it out:

Posted August 28, 2018 by lgonzalez

Plenty of local communities are interested in the possibilities of creating publicly owned Internet infrastructure but pause when it comes to funding. This week on the podcast, Christopher interviews Jase Wilson, CEO, and Lindsey Brannon, Head of Public Finance, from Neighborly. The firm is working with local communities and using an innovative approach to financing publicly owned infrastructure projects, including broadband networks.

Neighborly provides an online investment platform that allows individuals to invest in projects funded through municipal bonds. In addition to more traditional projects suited to the muni bond market, such as transportation, education, and housing, Neighborly is working with local communities that want to develop open access municipal networks. In this interview, Jase and Lindsey describe how the open access network fits so well with the firm's philosophy.

In addition to helping drum up the capital for muni deployment, Neighborly sharpshooters recognize that the opportunity for individuals to invest directly in a municipal project in their community will help the project ultimately succeed. After all, the investment is about more than turning profit when it’s providing fast affordable, reliable connectivity in your own hometown.

Lindsey and Jase discuss some of their past work and talk about the new Community Broadband Accelerator program that offers additional tools to communities investing in open access fiber networks. Specifics about the program are available on the Neighborly website and during the interview we get to hear more about the advantages of participating in the Community Broadband Accelerator program.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to ...

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