Tag: "california"

Posted December 18, 2010 by christopher

Fred Pilot, founder of the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative, recently wrote about the importance of community ownership in California's oldest newspaper. An excerpt:

The Camino Fiber Network Cooperative was formed in 2009 with the recognition that unless county residents and businesses — particularly those located in underserved central portions of the county — step into the gap and build their own infrastructure, the county is in clear danger of being left without modern telecommunications services. That would render it an undesirable location to purchase or rent a home or operate a small business, degrading the county’s current and future economic viability.

To avoid this scenario, the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative intends to construct a consumer-owned, open access fiber optic to the premises network that will meet today’s needs as well as those of the future. For membership and other information including a consumer survey, visit the co-op’s Website.

Posted October 11, 2010 by christopher

David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick discuss the ways in which telephone companies have bilked Americans for over $300 billion - increasing their profits while failing to deliver the services they promised.

The scam was simple. Starting in 1991, Verizon, Qwest and what became AT&T offered each state -- in true "Godfather" style -- a deal they couldn't refuse: Deregulate us and we'll give you Al Gore's future. They argued that if state Public Utility Commission (PUCs) awarded them higher rates and stopped examining their books, they would upgrade the then-current telecommunications infrastructure, the analog Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) of aging copper wiring, into high-speed and two-way digital optical fiber networks.

State regulators, like state politicians, are seduced by the sound of empty promises -- especially when sizable campaign contributions and other perks come their way. Hey, what are a few extra bucks charged to the customer every month for pie-in-the-sky promises? And who cares about massive tax breaks, accelerated depreciation allowances and enormous tax write-offs? The promises sound good on election day and nobody, least of all the voter, reads the fine print.

Few have the expertise necessary to decipher the many scams these companies have pulled as ineffective public utilities commissions do little to safeguard the public interest. This is the larger problem with embracing regulation as a solution for ensuring essential infrastructure benefits the many rather than the few. PUCs are inevitably "captured" by the industries they are supposed to regulate (think BP Gulf Oil Spill). Public ownership is a structural solution that offers fewer opportunities for massive companies to game the system to their exclusive advantage.

The article offers some in depth examples of how this regulation system has failed.

New Jersey state law requires that by 2010, 100 percent of the state is to be rewired with 45-mbps, bi-directional service. To meet this goal, Verizon collected approximately $13 billion in approved rate increases, tax break and other incentives related to upgrading the Public Switched Telephone Networks. To cover its tracks, Verizon submitted false statements year after year, claiming that it was close to fulfilling its obligations. For example, in its 2000 Annual Report, it claimed that 52 percent of the state could receive "45-mbps in both...

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Posted September 4, 2010 by christopher

A brief update from the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative of El Dorado County in California - the Sacramento Bee ran an article earlier this summer covering the coop's approach to expanding broadband (though they may no longer use the term broadband).

Fred Pilot has spear-headed this movement, recognizing that if the community does not pull together and build something themselves, they are not likely to gain access to modern communications.

Currently the co-op is surveying the community through the website, www.caminofiber.net; trying to sign up members for the cooperative; and seeking funding for a technical study of how and whether they could connect to a middle mile source.

To hire an expert will cost $30,000 to $50,000, Pilot said.

Stay up to date via the Camino Fiber Network website.

Posted July 28, 2010 by christopher

We've previously noted the successes of the Santa Monica approach to leasing dark fiber, but a new article reveals that Los Angeles, Burbank, and Anaheim also lease city-owned fiber assets.

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.

Santa Monica's revenues from leases have been more modest, but the benefits of leasing go far beyond regular payments. The network increases economic development and improves the quality of life with free Wi-Fi in a variety of public areas. Further, the city no longer has to overpay for the data connections it needs for municipal functions.

Santa Monica is also leasing to 15 businesses that include hospitals, entertainment companies and new media outlets, among others, but is only making $270,000. It was never Santa Monica's intention for the leasing of dark fiber to be a major source of revenue, Wolf said.

Santa Monica - UCLA Medical Center uses city-owned fiber because the city has better customer service:

Though there are other options for obtaining a fiber optic connection, such as AT&T, Kacperski said the hospital decided to lease from City Hall because hospitals are community based and because City Hall has better customer service than private carriers.

As we have often maintained, locally owned networks win on customer service (and often reliability). Community networks may not always win on prices because massive incumbents can engage in predatory pricing by cross-subsidizing from non-competitive markets, but they can win on providing a better experience for subscribers.

Moving forward, Santa Monica is starting to go beyond simply leasing dark fiber to actually...

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Posted June 20, 2010 by christopher

While most of the information on this site is about broadband networks at a citywide level, there are a variety of groups that are working to supply broadband at the neighborhood level (often in large metro areas). I have worked with folks in Saint Paul that want to establish a coop to deliver symmetrical broadband much faster that Comcast and Qwest (I hesitate to even include them because it will OF COURSE be faster than Qwest).

I just learned of the North East Los Angeles Internet Service Cooperative that is attempting to bring better broadband to a number of neighborhoods in LA. They have run into many of the same barriers I saw in Saint Paul - organizing people for better broadband is difficult. People are intimidated by technology and reticent to pledge the necessary funds needed to launch a cooperative.

At this point, the NE LA Coop is more of an idea than an entity that can deliver service, but it is educating people about the benefits of moving beyond monopolistic incumbents. The person responsible for the idea, Jared, has a number of innovative ideas that may prove very interesting and demonstrate the innovative potential of networks freed from the rules of incumbents.

For instance, by aggregating or sharing the connections of multiple subscribers, individual users may find a boost effect in their surfing. By sharing connections, users can take more control over their networks (and their privacy) - but massive companies like Comcast and Time Warner don't allow users to do this. Community networks may be more accommodating -- especially if required to be when created. To any who find this improbable, remember that when we own the network, we make the rules.

Posted June 12, 2010 by christopher

Santa Monica has built an impressive fiber network to connect local government buildings, schools, parks, and local businesses. With local jobs dependent on massive media studios that require very robust connectivity, Santa Monica has responded by building an impress community broadband network. That network is now offering 10Gbps connections - if such a connection were available from the local cable company, I shudder to think what they would charge for it.

Posted March 30, 2010 by christopher

I added these links to our link section in the right column, but wanted to note them explicitly. One of the goals of this site is to catalog what groups around the country are organizing for better networks that put the community first - if you know of groups, please let us know.

In California's El Dorado County, the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative is seeking ways to finance building broadband to people who currently have no options. Thanks to Eldo Telecom for tipping me off.

In Massachusetts, many communities in the western half of the state have no or poor broadband access, which is why Wired West is investigating options for a publicly owned, open access network.

Posted December 1, 2009 by christopher

It looks like Palo Alto should move quickly on expanding its publicly owned fiber-based I-NET - as the city renegotiates the cable franchise with Comcast, the private cable company is trying to rip-off taxpayers with exorbitant prices for community anchor tenants.

California is one of several states to recently take negotiating power on cable television franchises away from communities and grant it to the state. Historically, communities negotiated a free or reduced rate for connectivity to schools, public safety buildings and other key community anchors in return for access to community Right-of-Way - an essential permission necessary to build a cable network.

However, as these agreements come up for review, the regulatory landscape is significantly different than it was when they were negotiated in the past. Federal and state decisions have limited the power of communities to gain concessions from cable companies as they continue to raise prices and post large profits.

In response, many communities have embarked on smart efforts to build their own fiber-optic networks connecting key institutions. These networks often save money while greatly increasing available bandwidth, allowing local governments to be more efficient and use cutting-edge applications. In some communities, these Institutional Networks have formed the backbone of next-generation networks that extend full fiber-to-the-home network access to businesses and citizens. Palo Alto has not yet connected all the necessary buildings with its network and still depends on Comcast for bandwidth to those areas.

Communities should beware - network ownership means power. The network owner can decide what price to charge schools - prices that must be paid with tax dollars. Communities building their own networks have slashed these prices and reduced pressure on the tax base. They don't have to worry as much when cable franchise negotiations are up again - like Palo Alto is now.

Joe Saccio, deputy director of Palo Alto's Administrative Services Department, said Comcast's proposed rates for I-Net would essentially enable the cable company to bill the communities twice for the fiber network. The network's construction was funded by cable subscribers and according to the staff report, Comcast has already largely (if not completely) recouped those costs.

"It's felt...

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Posted November 20, 2009 by christopher

Tropos is a California-based company that sells wireless networking gear, frequently to municipalities. They filed comments with the FCC regarding the National Broadband Plan in response to the request: "Comment Sought on the Contribution of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Government to Broadband."

We fully support their framing of the issue:

Municipalities that own and control their wireless broadband networks, operate public services more efficiently, prioritize broadband traffic for emergencies, and put unused bandwidth to use to attract new businesses, afford educational opportunities to students and in many cases, provide free broadband access to unserved or underserved residents.

Tropos calls for an end to preemption on community networks.

Congress should not adopt legislation that would prohibit local governments from building and operating broadband networks to provide services within a community. Local governments should have the freedom to make decisions on how they want to provide broadband within their community.

And finally, Tropos harkens back to the same political battles from one hundred years ago:

A century ago, when inexpensive electricity was available to only a small fraction of the U.S. population, incumbent suppliers of electricity sought to prevent the public sector from offering electricity for many of the same reasons incumbent broadband providers now argue against community broadband deployment and services. Back then, incumbents sought to limit competition by arguing that local governments didn’t have the expertise to offer something as complex as electricity. They argued that their own businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. Local community leaders recognized that their economic survival and the health and welfare of their citizens depended on wiring their communities. They understood that it would take both private and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans. Fortunately, they prevailed. Just as municipal electric systems proved critical to making access to electric service universal in the 20th Century, municipal networks can be part of the solution in making broadband access universal in the 21st Century – and should be included in the build-out of a national broadband infrastructure.

The...

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Posted September 30, 2009 by christopher

On the Daily Yonder - offering coverage of rural issues - Craig Settles offers advice to community networks on the need to attract institution and business customers because networks rarely generate enough revenue to make debt payments by focusing solely on residential subscribers.

When communities compare the costs of different technologies, they often get too caught up in the upfront costs and ignore the ongoing costs (operating costs, or opex). He offers an example of a modest wireless network:

It’s important to understand that while it costs a lot of money to create a broadband network, over a five-to-ten-year period, it costs even more to operate that network than to build it. Say it costs $1 million to build a wireless network. During the municipal wireless heyday, it was estimated to cost 20% of buildout expense to operate the network annually – to pay for customer service, maintenance, upgrades, etc. That’s $200,000 a year.

This is a great intro article for those who may not be used to thinking about the economics or business plans networks need.

For the rest of us, it is a strong reminder of how many networks start (and a good path for those who want to create a network):

Santa Monica, California, had a legacy PBX phone system and slow connection circuits from incumbents. The city pooled money it was already paying for voice and data services, using this capital to build a fiber network and implement new communication technology.

City CIO Jory Wolf states, “By switching to fiber we realized a $500,000 savings in data circuits and $250,000 savings in voice circuits, all of which stayed in our fund. Ongoing savings enabled us to provide our police with video streaming in their vehicles. We have excess bandwidth, so we provide (a) large number of sites with free wireless access.” Wolf said that the city is also selling companies fiber lines that haven't yet been turned on. “Our network budget is self-sustaining,” he said, “and I have $2.5 million in capital.”

I remember Tim Nulty saying that Burlington Telecom started the same way. They figured out how much they were paying each month for telecom as a city. They used that number to compute how much they could spend...

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