Tag: "muni"

Posted May 13, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Yesterday, the Transnational Institute (TNI) released The Future Is Public, a book that explores international municipalization efforts and the benefits of public ownership. In addition to tracking the successful transition of water, waste, energy, and other essential services to public ownership in hundreds of communities, the book describes how local governments in the United States have increasingly invested in municipal broadband networks.

Chapter 9, “United States: Communities providing affordable, fast broadband Internet” [pdf], analyzes the significant growth of publicly owned broadband networks across the country. The co-authors Thomas M. Hanna, Research Director at the Democracy Collective, and Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Network initiative, explain in the chapter:

In the United States, one of the fastest growing areas of municipalisation and local public ownership is high-speed broadband Internet networks. This is due, in part, to the failure of the highly concentrated, corporate-dominated telecommunications sector to provide fast and affordable service in many parts of the country – especially rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and communities with low levels of income and economic development.

Download The Future is Public and the chapter on municipal broadband on TNI’s website.

Municipal Broadband’s “Proven Track Record”

Tens of millions of Americans still don’t have access to broadband, and Hanna and Mitchell point to telecom monopolies as the reason for the disparity. “A corporate oligopoly in the telecommunications sector is a major reason why wide swathes of the country (both geographically and socioeconomically) are left with inferior or unaffordable service,” they argue.

As case studies, the chapter features several local governments that have responded to inadequate connectivity by building their own fiber optic networks to connect residents and businesses, including Wilson, North Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and...

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Posted May 7, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Lighting up the first phase of middle-mile network Project THOR isn’t the only good news coming out of northwest Colorado recently. Glenwood Springs, a city of 10,000 forty-five minutes north of Aspen, is once again looking to secure the future of its information infrastructure.

In a recent 6-1 decision, the city council voted to replace and expand the reach of its existing fiber system, which currently serves businesses and a select number of residents. The resulting network of 150 miles is projected to cost around $9 million and take two years to complete. Once done, current users will be switched over with no disruption. The new network will be citywide and have the capacity to handle Glenwood Springs’ 4,800 residences and commercial premises. Hopes are, many will sign up.

Building up a Fiber Legacy

This isn’t the first time Glenwood Springs has taken such initiative. Almost twenty years ago the city had access to speeds below one megabit per second (Mbps) and — after being told by Qwest (now CenturyLink) there were no plans for investment or upgrades — it built its own fiber backbone to community anchor institutions with a wireless overlay to provide service to residential customers. The city later expanded the fiber network to connect businesses and some households and opened up the network for participation by private Internet service providers (ISPs).

In defiance of a 2005 state law intended to prevent municipalities from building and operating their own networks, Glenwood Springs was also the first community to opt out of Senate Bill 152. That was 2008. Since then more than 100 communities have followed suit. Longmont, a city of 90,000 five miles north of...

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Posted May 5, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

After a bitter battle with Comcast and a successful referendum to reclaim local authority back in 2017, Fort Collins, Colorado, is moving forward with its municipal fiber network, Connexion. The city is starting to connect residents to the network, so we wanted to check back in with local activists and Connexion staff to find out how it's going. In this episode, Christopher interviews community advocates Glen Akins and Colin Garfield as well as Colman Keane, Connexion executive director, and Erin Shanley, Connexion marketing manager.

Glen and Colin discuss their grassroots organizing efforts from the 2017 referendum, and they share what it's like to finally watch the network being built. Colin, who has Internet access from Connexion now, describes the installation process for his new fiber service. The pair also tell Christopher how incumbent providers are reacting to the municipal network.

Speaking from the city's point of view, Colman and Erin explain how Connexion differs from other municipal networks, including that it faces competition from other broadband providers in Fort Collins. Christopher praises the city's decision many years ago to underground all utilities, and Colman tells Christopher how that has introduced challenges to the network fiber build. Erin shares how the Connexion is marketing services and engaging with the community, while keeping information away from competitors and staying mindful that the network isn't yet available citywide.

For more on Fort Collins and...

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Posted April 2, 2020 by shrestha

According to a recent article in Bluebonnet News, the City Council of Dayton, Texas, has approved a $13.7 million bond to operate its own fiber optic system. The city aims to make residents and businesses more self-reliant and less dependent on big cable companies.

Located 15 miles east of Houston, Dayton has a population of nearly 8,000 people. Once the 70 mile fiber network is complete, it will meet the connectivity needs of Dayton's residents and businesses now and well into the foreseeable future.

Slow Start in Texas

Texas is one of 19 states that have laws restricting cities from offering their own telecommunications services to residents. In Texas, state laws prevent municipal networks from offering voice and video services, but they can still provide Internet access to households. Mont Belvieu became the first city in the state to deploy its own citywide fiber network, after successful court rulings clarified the city's authority to offer broadband access. Since the city of Mont Belvieu created its high-quality fiber optic network, MB Link, it has connected about half of its residents and has inspired other rural areas and towns in the country. Dayton, Texas, is one of those communities which shares Mont Belvieu's vision, as per the article from Bluebonnet News:

Like Mont Belvieu, the City of Dayton will provide the Internet service as another utility, like water and sewer service. Theo Melancon, City Manager, believes the cost of the service will be more affordable for Dayton residents and businesses.

Dayton Dreams of Speed

Dayton TX water tower

Residents of Dayton are currently relying on DSL and cable service from...

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Posted March 24, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

John Lester, General Manager of Clarksville Connected Utilities (CCU) in Clarksville, Arkansas, knows a thing or two about the value of a municipal broadband network.

“Just keeping the dollars in Clarksville is gonna have a big impact. Do you have a calculator handy?” Lester asked me, when I called him earlier this month to learn more about the city’s planned foray into residential broadband services.

“Let me talk you through something,” he replied, after I said I did. “Let’s say we’ve got 4,500 potential customers and 75 percent of them get high-speed Internet, in some fashion. What’s that number?”

From there, he ran through a handful of calculations to illustrate the economic benefit of Clarksville’s new Fiber-to-the-Home network. Assuming residents save about $20 per month and the savings continue to circulate locally, the network could grow the city’s economy by $4 million every year.

“That stays in our consumers’ pockets right here in Clarksville, Arkansas,” Lester explained. “There is an economic impact today and every year going forward.”

Residential broadband service is only the most recent evolution for Clarksville’s municipal fiber network, which already connects utility infrastructure as well as area businesses and community anchor institutions in the city of nearly 10,000. Home installations are due to start soon, depending on delays caused by the global Covid-19 outbreak.

Starting With a Plan

CCU logoClarksville’s fiber journey began in 2016 when the city utilities department (which rebranded last year to Clarksville Connected Utilities) deployed a SCADA system to connect its electric, water, and wastewater systems. At the time, Lester was already thinking about how the rest of Clarksville could benefit from the utility’s fiber network, drawing on his prior experience as the city manager of Chanute, Kansas. “We absolutely needed a communications system for our utility infrastructure,” he explained, “but we leaned strongly on one of Stephen Covey’s...

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Posted March 17, 2020 by lgonzalez

When Paul Revere rode through Concord, Massachusetts, to warn the Colonists about the Red Coats, horseback was the fastest way to move information. More than 240 years later, the community that was so instrumental to founding of the United States as we know it now sends information via their own fast, affordable, reliable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal network. This week, Concord's former CIO Mark Howell joins Christopher to talk about the community and their investment.

Mark discusses the community's history and the story of the network, which includes their reasons for investing in the infrastructure. He talks about the local citizens' enthusiasm for the project and what it was like to go from operating an electric utility to adding Internet access for the public. Mark also discusses the funding mechanism that Concord used to pay for the project and shares a few of the many benefits that the network has brought to Concord and its people.

Christopher and Mark review the reasoning behind the different service offerings available to subscribers and the rationale behind choosing these tiers. They also talk about some of the challenges Concord has faced and Mark gets into the possibilities of regional efforts in order to maximize the possibility of reaching more households.

Read more about the network in the 2017 report published by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, ...

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Posted March 10, 2020 by lgonzalez

Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, provides traditional cable TV service, Internet access, and phone service to the community through its utility, Shrewsbury Electric & Cable Operations (SELCO). As the utilities board consults with their subscribers and looks forward, they've come to the conclusion that it's time to invest in fiber optic upgrades to improve operations and remain competitive.

From 1907 to 1983

The community launched SELCO in 1907 as a "Street Lighting Committee" which, after negotiations with a local electric company, led to a local election. The local company had offered to supply power to the community if they would build their own "plant" — poles, wires, and lines. Both first and second town votes in support of the measure and the authorization to borrow $16,000 for construction of the plant led to what would become SELCO. 

While community leaders first considered the possibility of developing a publicly owned cable television network in the mid 1960s, significant steps toward implementing the plan didn't happen until 1982. By then, the town had already been operating an electric utility for 75 years, had conducted a feasibility study, and knew they wanted to pursue the cable TV project. According to SELCO History: The First Hundred Years [PDF], "confusion and disarm of the cable industry at the time" made community leaders delay their decision to move forward in 1970. The project was shelved until 1982 when the Board of Selectmen created Shrewsbury Community Cablevision (SCC) with strong support from people in the community.

The community faced interference from incumbent cable providers, which required a court challenge. Eventually, the town received a CATV license and activated their first subscriber on September 9, 1983. They served 5,600 households by the end of 1984.

logo-SELCO-ma.jpeg By 1999, SELCO was offering Internet access to subscribers. At the time, the community invested $6.3 million into the system in order to offer their service dubbed "TownISP." In 2006, SELCO started offering voice services through a partnership with Sprint/Nextel...

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Posted February 11, 2020 by lgonzalez

Auburn Essential Service (AES) is one of those networks that has been serving the community for years with a steady presence and a strong commitment to the community. This week, Christopher talks with AES General Manager Chris Schweitzer about their fiber optic network, how they're innovating, and their recipe for consistent growth.

AES began with fiber infrastructure for their electric utility. They entered the broadband business first for municipal facilities, and later for businesses when the incumbent providers couldn't deliver necessary connectivity to one of the city's prominent employers. The company was ready to relocate until AES stepped in. Rather than face the economic impact of substantial job losses, AES connected the company and never looked back.

That was in the early 2000s and now AES offers Internet access to large segments of residents and businesses. Christopher and his guest talk about the way AES has taken a deliberate approach to expanding the network citywide and how they're implementing new technologies as they refresh the infrastructure. They discuss the network’s financial health (hint: it’s doing great) and how AES seeks grant funding to aid in further expansion.

Chris describes the new partnership that AES and nearby Garrett, Indiana, have developed to bring fiber broadband to the residents in the small community of about 6,300 people. The utility has a philosophy that other munis also embrace — straightforward pricing and customer-centered services — that have helped drive their success in the residential market.

Check out our first interview with...

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Posted February 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

Almost six years ago, we told readers about Ottawa, Kansas, where the community of around 13,000 people had invested in publicly owned fiber optic connectivity for local businesses. We recently touched base with IT Director Paul Sommer, who updated us on the progress of their broadband utility and how it has impacted the community.

Steady as it Grows

When we first met Ottawa, they had worked with the local school district and Franklin County to capitalize on existing fiber infrastructure and expand to more locations. Local leaders had learned from Ottawa businesses that the best options available from incumbent AT&T were T1 lines for approximately $600. Higher capacity connections were scarce and financially out of reach for local establishments, and AT&T could not be convinced to upgrade their infrastructure. As Bigham put it, AT&T was "milking the cow."

Once the city, school district, and Franklin County established a partnership, Ottawa began to expand fiber to other municipal facilities and businesses as requested. Sommers, who has taken over as IT Director, says that now all 10 city buildings are on the network. In addition to an industrial park on the original infrastructure on the north end of town, the network now reaches an industrial park to the south.

The electric utility has trained their own staff rather than hiring external fiber deployment personnel. In addition to enriching skills, their employees are able to respond quickly if there are downed cables or other maintenance issues. Sommers recalls an instance when a car, which had caught fire, sent shrapnel flying into the air. By a twist of fate, one piece severed the fiber optic cable hanging some distance away. His team was able to rehang and splice the cable that same day and get the subscriber back online.

By using electric utility staff, Ottawa has reduced the cost of their incremental build over the years. They typically budget around $100,000 each year for expansion of the network, have never gone over, and often don’t spend the entire allotment. Sommers says that, since they own the utility poles in town, have necessary personnel on hand, and equipment at the ready, unnecessary bureaucracy doesn’t slow down maintenance, repairs, or expansion efforts.

Bursting at the Streams

...

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Posted February 3, 2020 by shrestha

In  November 2017 we reported that Mount Washington, a town of roughly 200 people in southwestern Massachusetts, had deployed its own infrastructure for broadband service. More than two years after the initial setup, a recent article in Government Technology on municipal broadband in Massachusetts takes us back to the tiny town. We learn how fast affordable, reliable publicly owned Internet infrastructure has brought positive transformation to the citizens of Mount Washington, located in the Taconic Mountains.

You Could Barely Use It

The article covers several layers of how high-speed Internet access has provided a jumpstart for the local economy. The small town with its remote landscape and inherent challenges had only two options before broadband: dial-up or a long-distance Wi-Fi service, which provided download speeds of less than 1 Mbps. 

“You could barely use Wi-Fi calling, and it was impossible to stream anything,” said Brian Tobin, Mount Washington select board member. “You could send emails, and you could do Internet searches that just took a long time.”

In spite of the fact that they're the third smallest town in the state, the Mount Washington Broadband Network now offers fiber optic infrastructure and contracts with an Internet access provider to offer speeds which surpasses those in some of the state's much larger communities. Funding for the network is part of a larger state plan to bring broadband to rural towns in need of Internet service. The Government Technology article notes that: 

“Mount Washington benefited from the Last Mile Program, which provided more than $35 million in grants for rural broadband. The program is run by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), which is part of the state agency Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech).”

...

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