Tag: "muni"

Posted March 25, 2017 by htrostle

Keeping with the spirit of March Madness, the nonprofit StrongTowns ran the second annual #StrongestTown contest based on the nonprofit’s Strength Test and Principles. Of the 16 communities that participated, almost a third have been featured on MuniNetworks.org for their Internet infrastructure plans: Ellsworth, Maine; Lafayette, Louisiana; Traverse City, Michigan; and Valparaiso, Indiana.

These five communities have battled their way forward against steep competition. Through articles and podcasts on Strong Towns, they tried to showcase how their residents are active in their communities and committed to change at the local level. All five overcame the initial rounds, and Traverse, City, Michigan made it to the final round against the Canadian city of Guelph. The winner will be announced Monday, March 27th on the contest page.

Community Networks Support Vibrant Towns

It comes as no surprise to us that these communities would be in the running for #StrongestTown. Building a community network takes public support and a realistic look at financials. Publicly owned networks encourage job creation, improve healthcare, and connect low-income residents. The towns that made the cut took different approaches to better connectivity. 

Lafayette, Louisiana’s fiber network follows a classic model: it’s a city-run utility serving both homes and businesses. The city incrementally built the network, funding a new section of the network with revenues from already connected homes and businesses. The ubiquitous connectivity attracted many... Read more

Posted March 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

Even though they don't have to chip in any local funds, the town of Shutesbury, Massachusetts, rejected Charter’s proposal to build a hybrid fiber coaxial network in their community. They don’t consider the proposal a “good long-term solution to bring broadband to our town" and prefer to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network for future-proof technology, provider accountability, and local control.

You Get What You Pay For

Unlike Charter’s proposal to serve only 96 percent of the homes in the community, the town made a commitment to include all members of the community some time ago. Charter would not extend its proposal to include about three dozen properties that are further out unless the town committed to providing funds above and beyond what the state offered to provide as part of the proposal. Board of Selectmen Chair Michael Vinskey went on to tell MassLive that Charter would not commit to a specific cost for extending a network to those additional homes.

In the words of Vinskey, committing to such an ambiguous arrangement, “would not be fiscally responsible.” No kidding.

Shutesbury authorized spending for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network once already. In 2015, folks at the annual Town Meeting voted to approve $1.7 million in bonding to pay for the infrastructure. They’ll take another vote this May for the debt exclusion authorization, as required by state law.

Community leaders estimate deployment to every property at approximately $2.57 million. Their share of the state grants that are to be distributed by MBI come to $870,000 for construction and professional services. Like the community of Leverett, Shutesbury intends to use a modest property tax increase to fund the infrastructure investment. 

A basic subscription for Internet access at speeds higher than those proposed by Charter would cost approximately $75 per month and would not include video services but would include Voice over IP (VoIP) services. A number of the local communities in the western Massachusetts region have dealt with sub-par telephone services due to aging infrastructure.

Shutesbury wants... Read more

Posted March 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

A new case study recently released by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University describes how the community of Concord, Massachusetts deployed its extensive municipal fiber-optic network and smart grid. In Citizens Take Charge: Concord, Massachusetts, Builds a Fiber Network, the authors offer history, and describe the benefits to the community from better connectivity and enhanced electric efficiencies.

 

 

Key Findings from the report:

  • In 2009 Concord Municipal Light Plant (CMLP) started work on a 100-mile fiber optic and wireless network to provide backhaul for a smart grid. The fiber passes 95 percent of homes and businesses in town. 
  • The $3.9 million project was paid for by electric ratepayers through annual payments that started at $418,000 per year and will decline to $207,000 in the 15th and final year of payments. The fiber will last for at least 30 years. 
  • In a second step, CMLP established a telecommunications division, called Concord Light Broadband, and borrowed $600,000 to fund startup costs of an Internet access business and fiber connections to customers. 
  • CMLP offers residential data plans of up to 200 Mbps, upload and download, for $89 monthly with a two-year agreement. CMLP competes with Comcast. CMLP doesn’t offer phone or video, but does provide much faster data upload speeds than does Comcast. 
  • The project is still being built: at the end of 2016, Concord Light Broadband served about 750 customers (a “take rate” of about 12 percent of the 6,000 customers CMLP estimates could take service) and earned 2016 revenue of $560,000, slightly less than operating costs of $583,000. (In 2016 the division also paid debt service of $60,000, including a $50,000 payment on principal.)
  • CMLP’s fiber helped the town save $108,000 in annual police and school communications costs and generated $88,000 in leasing revenue from a private school and two telecom companies. 
  • CMLP is only in the early stages of realizing the benefits of its fiber. The utility is now engaged in studies on how to use the infrastructure to realize more cost savings, increase revenue, provide new services, and reduce emissions in the coming decades.
  • David Talbot, one of the report authors, also recently... Read more
Posted March 20, 2017 by htrostle

This is the transcript for Episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher Mitchell speaks with Tom Stehn of West Plains, Missouri, on how the community is encouraging economic development. Listen to this episode here.

 

Tom Stehn: Businesses look to expand, move to other locations. There's usually five questions they ask, and one of them is always what kind of broadband do you have?

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. West Plains, Missouri, located in the south central part of the state, is situated in the Ozarks, and known for its beautiful terrain, forests, and vistas. Despite attracting outdoor enthusiasts, the community has suffered some economic losses in recent years and is taking steps to boost economic development. Recently the city began offering high quality connectivity to local businesses. Tom Stehn, City Administrator, talks to Christopher this week about the city's foray into municipal Internet infrastructure. Tom describes how the city's plan to update municipal services led them to discover that local businesses also wanted better connectivity. He describes the city's project, their plan, and how they're starting out slowly to address any challenges they encounter along the way.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey everyone. I just wanted to thank you for listening and helping out to create a stronger Internet ecosystem, making sure everyone has high quality access. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested, about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes, please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all of the comments, and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.

Lisa Gonzalez: Now here's Tom Stehn, City Administrator, of West Plains, Missouri, talking with Christopher about the community's municipal fiber project.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm talking with Tom Stehn, the City Administrator of West Plains in Missouri. Welcome to the show.

Tom Stehn: Thank you, glad to be here... Read more

Posted March 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

Out of 58 business applications, the city of Ellensburg, Washington, recently selected 30 local businesses to participate in their fiber-optic pilot project. Nineteen participants are business owners, 11 are business tenants; 22 are located at commercial locations and six are home-based businesses along with two telecommuters, reports the Daily Record.

The participants will obtain a credit of $5,000 to connect to the network from the city’s telecommunications utility. Any connection fees over and above the credit will be the responsibility of the pilot project participants.

Businesses will be able to purchase Internet access from the city at either 300 Megabits per second (Mbps) capacity or gigabit (1,000 Mbps) capacity. Service is symmetrical, which is critical for business, so speeds are just as fast on the upload as on the download. Month service fees will be $39.95 and $59.95 per month respectively. The city expects to begin connecting businesses in August.

Posted March 14, 2017 by christopher

West Plains is one of the many population centers of rural regions that have been left behind by big cable and telephone companies. Located in the scenic Ozarks of southern Missouri, they are taking their digital future into their own hands with a modest fiber-optic investment.

City Administrator Tom Stehn strolls by our podcast this week to discuss what they are doing and why with a municipal fiber network that will connect anchor institutions and local businesses with high-quality Internet access.

We discuss the need, how they are financing it, and why the state legislature should not enact new barriers to local solutions. The community has already been placing conduit as part of a larger undergrounding effort, which will help them to expand the network over time.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 17 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted March 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

Erwin Fiber is growing in stages and now that the utility in Erwin, Tennessee, has completed phase three of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment, about half of its electricity customers have access to high-quality Internet access. That’s not all - phase four this spring will bring gigabit connectivity to more rural customers in two nearby mountain communities.

Reaching Out In Steps

All told, Erwin Fiber more than tripled its service area in 2016. A December grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will allow the utility to complete the spring build out, which will serve an additional 680 homes and 30 businesses. The Temple Hill and Bumpass Cove areas located in the mountains outside of downtown Erwin will have access to Erwin Fiber's symmetrical Internet access. Due to the remote character of these neighborhoods, people here had little prospect of obtaining high-quality Internet access from other providers. The 35-mile expansion will cost approximately $400,000.

November’s expansion added 2,200 homes and businesses, while a similar effort last March included 1,300 homes and businesses. Both expansions came after the community successfully experimented with a 2015 pilot project in which the city’s electric utility connected an initial 1,200 customers. The utility needed the infrastructure for the electric system other utilities; it was the right to to invest in the equipment for high-speed connectivity and phone service 

Not An Impluse

The municipality of about 6,000 people had considered the investment some 15 years prior but couldn’t afford the investment until recent years when the cost of deployment decreased. In January, Christopher interviewed Lee Brown and John Williams from Erwin Utilities who discussed the community’s project and explained how the fiber infrastructure is benefitting all the utility customers, even those who don’t subscribe to FTTH services.

Posted March 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

Whip City Fiber has big plans to serve more residents in its hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts, and is already helping some of its neighbors as they seek better connectivity.

Expanding At Home

In February, Westfield City Council unanimously approved the municipal utility’s request for a $15 million bond to fund expansion to more areas of the city. Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity is currently available to approximately 15 percent of the city. The additional funds will allow Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) to expand the network to about 70 percent of the community, or about 10,000 additional households. WG+E is planning the expansion on a two-year timeline.

As in the past, WG+E will use the “fiberhood” approach, giving priority to neighborhoods with the highest interest. They will also consider seasonal practicalities and the locations of existing infrastructure. According to their announcement, they will be installing overhead services this month and will begin underground installation when the ground thaws.

As Westfield’s FTTH has grown piece by piece, they’ve had opportunities to work out the rough patches and determine what challenges communities in western Massachusetts may face when they build out Internet networks. Now, WG+E is reaching out to other communities who are looking for guidance.

State Finally Releases Funding

A change in recent policy from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has enabled Westfield and it's neighbors to have a little more control over their telecommunications future.

Since 2014, MBI has grappled with how it intends to distribute $50 million worth of state funding designated for communities in need of better connectivity. After several changes in policy, the agency required rural towns to get approval from MBI for business plans and to work with the organization before they could receive funding. The agency and the state have been widely criticized for its heavy-handed, yet slow-footed approach.

In February, representatives from a number of rural towns let MBI officials... Read more

Posted March 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

Residents and businesses in rural regions between Reno and Las Vegas recently learned that their odds at obtaining high-quality Internet access just went through the roof. A collaboration between county owned Churchill County Communications (CC Communications), the Valley Communications Association of Pahrump (VCA), and Switch technology company to deploy a middle mile fiber-optic backbone will open up a range of possibilities for rural communities along the U.S. Highway 95. The route runs north and south along Nevada's far west, passing through a number of small towns that are welcoming the new alliance.

A Backbone Running North And South

For the past 11 months, CC Communications and the VCA have been working to deploy more than 450 miles of fiber from north to south. Switch provided funding for the deployment to link its data centers in Las Vegas and the Tahoe-Reno area and will also provide funding for expansion to some rural communities. VCA will service the network in the south and Churchill will care for the north section.

Along the backbone, CC Communications and VCA will connect local communities. Beatty, in southern Nevada, plans to be the first use the new infrastructure and to deploy fiber in the community. The unincorporated community is home to about 1,000 people and is about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. According to Valley Electric Association, the rural electric cooperative that owns and operates VCA, they have plans to expand fiber throughout the Beatty community.

“With that backbone, you can link up any town anywhere near it,” said Michael Hengel, spokesman for the Valley Electric Association. “The first all-fiber community in Nevada will be Beatty.”

logo-valley-communications.png

Like other rural electric utilities that have chosen to offer broadband, Valley Electric will be using its existing fiber resources initially installed for managing electric distribution for customer connectivity. The cooperative is currently offering fixed wireless Internet access with plans to offer... Read more

Posted March 4, 2017 by lgonzalez

Tennessee State Senator Janice Bowling, a Republican from Tullahoma, has once again introduced legislation that would help bring high-quality connectivity to rural residents and businesses. The bill is not complicated and would allow municipal electric utilities that offer broadband connectivity to expand beyond their electric service area. In a video from 2015 Senator Bowling takes a few minutes to explain her proposal - to eliminate the restriction and allow places like Tullahoma, Chattanooga, and Clarksville to serve neighboring communities.

This year, the bill that eliminates the restriction is SB 1058 and its House companion is HB 0970 from Representative Dan Howell. For now, her bill is in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee waiting to be heard. Sen. Bolling has also introduced similar bill that allows municipal electric utilities to offer telecommunications service with no geographical limitations.

Senator Bolling gets it. She understands that the people of her district and the rest of rural Tennessee need high-quality connectivity to keep pace with areas that already have such access. We’d like to see more legislators like her who put the needs of their constituents before the interests of the big cable and telephone companies.

In the video Senator Bolling describes why the bill, which she has introduced several times, has not passed. She explains what the bill does legally and practically, and she gives a frank assessment of what the situation is now in many rural areas of her state. Even though the video is from 2015, her comments are still relevant.

The video is short and to the point - only 4:20 - check it out and share.

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