Tag: "success"

Posted March 19, 2013 by christopher

We have long been impressed with Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) in Iowa. They built an incredibly successful municipal cable network that has now been upgraded to a FTTH network. CFU transfers $1.6 million into the town's general fund every year, reminding us that community owned networks often pay far more in taxes than the national cable and telephone companies.

Last week, Moody's Investor Service gave an investor-grade A-3 rating to revenue debt from CFU, another sign of its strong success.

Moody's rating report noted the utility's large market share, competitive pricing and product offerings, expansive fiber optic network, long-term financial planning and conservative budgeting practices as reasons for the continued strong rating of the utility's revenue debt.

CFU also compiles the community savings resulting from each of its services by comparing its rates to nearby communities (see most recent comparison [pdf]). The benefits total $7.7 million each year, almost $500 per family. This includes a $200 difference in cable TV bills and a $130 difference in Internet service.

Posted April 5, 2012 by christopher

Siloam Springs, sporting 15,000 people in the northwestern corner of Arkansas, could be the next community to build its own community fiber network. But first they have to pass a referendum in May in the face of stiff opposition from Cox Cable, which would prefer not to face real competition.

For over 100 years, the city has provided its own electricity via its electrical department. Now, it wants to join the more than 150 other communities that have done so. After last year's changes to Arkansas law, Siloam Springs has the authority to move forward if it so chooses.

Pamela Hill at the City Wire has covered the situation with a series of stories, starting with an explanation of why they are moving forward:

David Cameron, city administrator, said the proposal is not so much about dissatisfaction with current providers as it is about finding new revenue for the city. Cameron said revenue from electric services has been a key source of funding for various projects and necessities for the city. That “enterprise” fund is getting smaller, Cameron said, and an alternative funding source is needed.

“We have done a good job managing accounts, building a reserve,” Cameron said. “We want to keep building on the programs we have. It takes money and funds to do that.”

City officials discussed the issue for the last 18 months and decided to put it to a referendum. Voters will decide the issue May 22.

That is a fairly unique reason. Most communities want to build these networks to encourage economic development and other indirect benefits to the community. Given the challenge of building and operating networks, few set a primary goal of boosting city revenue.

Map of Siloam Springs

If approved by voters, the city plans to spend $8.3 million to install 100 miles of fiber optic cable directly to homes and businesses. The city should be able to repay the debt in 12 years, if things go according to a feasibility study presented to the city’s board of directors in January. Cameron said projections show the system could begin making a profit... Read more

Posted March 8, 2012 by christopher

Chattanooga's EPBFi community fiber network has been one of the most celebrated muni networks in the nation. They were the first to offer a gigabit to anyone in the city and have launched a bounty for geeks that relocate to the "Gig City."

They have connected 35,000 subscribers to the network, blowing away their original goal of 26,000 by the third year. They have attracted thousands of new jobs that would not have materialized if they simply accepted the AT&T/Comcast duopoly for their community.

The Times Free Press reports:

At the current rate, EPB can shave seven years off the time it will take to pay off its telecom debt, becoming virtually debt-free by 2020 instead of 2027 as projected, Eaves [EPB CFO] said.

Even so, the government utility still is spending money to sign up new customers, a process that will increase debt until 2013, Eaves said.

The utility has $51 million in total debt so far, but it only needs 30,000 customers to break even on operational costs, Eaves said.

"We are currently cash- flow positive from an operations standpoint, but still increasing debt to fund the capital associated with signing up new customers," he said.

As we frequently remind our readers, finances are complicated. Even though the network continues to do very well, its debt will increase for a few more years while it continues rapidly acquiring new subscribers. Each subscriber takes years to pay off the debt of connecting them.

Recall that EPB unexpectedly got a Department of Energy stimulus grant to deploy its smart grid much more rapidly than planned for. As the electric division owns much of the fiber fabric, the grant does not impact the finances of the Fiber-Optic division, aside from allowing EPB to roll the network out to more people more rapidly. The changed plan increased their costs and their revenues over the original plan.

Posted June 21, 2011 by christopher

If you the take a look at our community broadband map, you'll see that Texas has only one citywide wired network owned by the public: Greenville. The story behind it is the same story we hear from just about every other community - but they actually spelled it out on their history page.

In 1999, Greenville, Texas' economic development leaders were unable to attract certain businesses and on the verge of losing existing companies due to a lack of high speed Internet.

In response, Mayor Sue Ann Harting asked SBC for a commitment to deploy DSL. That request was denied. The city's cable franchise, Time Warner, also declined to commit to cable modem Internet deployment.

Greenville found itself in a situation similar to one that many towns had faced years ago when railroads changed transportation. If the railroad was not routed through a town, that town just might die. What would happen to Greenville if the information superhighway did not come through the city?

Incumbent cable and telephone companies, their lobbyists, and associated "think tanks" like to claim that communities are somehow "duped" into building publicly owned networks. The truth is that just about every community wants to avoid the hassle of building a network but incumbents refuse to invest sufficiently to keep the community competitive for economic development and a high quality of life.

They build networks when backed into a corner, not because they want to. Fortunately, all that hassle almost always pays off with far more benefits than problems over the long term as communities transition from depending on some distant corporation to solving their own problems locally.

In fact, the results are often like that of Greenville:

Greenville citizens were not willing to take that chance. They took destiny into their own hands by amending the city charter to allow their revenue-only supported, municipally-owned electric system to build a hybrid fiber coaxial system to make high speed Internet available to everyone. Digital cable TV was offered as an option on that same system.

Once the citizens had committed to this venture, the city's incumbent telephone and cable franchises found ways of deploying that high speed Internet that they had only recently declared not feasible in Greenville.

In... Read more

Posted May 30, 2011 by christopher

nDanville, the open access fiber-optic network operated by the City's public power company, has been quietly succeeding in southern Virginia. This network has already connected half of the communities health care facilities, allowing them to improve medical care with 100Mbps and gigabit circuits at affordable prices.

The medical network connects Danville Regional Medical Center and about half of the area’s medical facilities to nDanville, a fiber optic network established by the city. The high performance fiber allows real-time access to patient medical records and allows for the exchange of CT and MRI scans instantly.

Another article notes praise for the city's efforts:

"It enables us to better serve our patients by having their information available across multiple sites," Deaton [CEO of Danville Regional Medical Center] said. "We will continue to support the city's efforts in linking our medical community together, and I want to commend the city for the success of this network and making healthcare a top priority."

The Intelligent Community Forum brought the above success to my attention in awarding Danville a recipient of its 2011 Founders Awards. (Chattanooga is in the running for Intelligent Community of year and really, how could it possibly lose?) But ICF details more impressive details from nDanville:

logo-icf.gif

On average, fiber connections for these facilities provide twice the bandwidth of the previous connection but at a 30% savings. More than 90% of the medical facilities (approximately 125 locations) are to be connected by December  2011, said Jason Grey, the Broadband Network Manager of Danville Utilities, who led Danville’s charge to become a recognized intelligent community by ICF.

ICF further noted that the nDanville Network provides a crucial link between the Danville Diagnostic and Imaging Center and the Danville Regional Hospital. This high capacity connection allows the two facilities to exchange CT and MRI scans... Read more

Posted April 16, 2011 by christopher

Chattanooga's impressive publicly owned FTTH network can take credit for yet more jobs being created in the community, following an announcement last month from HomeServe, a call center that wants to keep jobs in the United States.

"When a HomeServe customer is in need of assistance, we want them to have the convenience and reassurance of being assisted by a representative based here in the United States," Jonathan King, chief executive for HomeServe, said in a statement. "We decided on Chattanooga because of the availability of high-quality employees combined with the robust telecommunications and data infrastructure available in the area."

Posted March 29, 2011 by christopher

Minnesota Public Radio, as part of its Ground Level Broadband Coverage has profiled WindomNet with a piece called "Who should build the next generation of high-speed networks?"

Dan Olsen, who runs the municipal broadband service in Windom, was just about to leave work for the night when he got a call. The muckety-mucks at Fortune Transportation, a trucking company on the outskirts of town, were considering shuttering their office and leaving the area.

"They said, Dan, you need to get your butt out here now," Olsen recalls. "I got there and they said, 'You need to build fiber out here. What would it take for you to do it?'"

Fortune, which employs 47 people in the town of 4,600, two and a half hours southwest of the Twin Cities, relies on plenty of high-tech gadgetry. Broadband Internet access figures into how the company bids for jobs, communicates with road-bound truckers, controls the temperatures in its refrigerated trucks and remotely views its office in Roswell, New Mexico. Fortune even uses the Internet to monitor where and to what extent drivers fill their gas tanks in order to save money.

Yet, when it was time to upgrade company systems three years ago, Fortune's private provider couldn't offer sufficient speeds.

That's where Windomnet came in. Though Fortune was a mile outside the municipal provider's service area, "We jumped through the hoops and made it happen," recalls Olsen. "The council said, "Do it and we'll figure out how to pay for it.' We got a plow and a local crew. We had it built in 30 days."

I have thought about this story frequently when I hear claims that publicly owned networks are failures. For years, lobbyists for cable and phone companies have told everyone in the state what a failure WindomNet has been - they crow about debt service exceeding revenue while ignoring the fact that all networks -- public and private -- take many years of losses before they break even because nearly all the costs of the network are paid upfront.

Toward the end of the article (which should be read in its entirely rather than in the snippets I repost here), Dan puts the matter in context:

Dan Olsen retorts that Windomnet was never designed to make money; one... Read more

Posted February 8, 2011 by christopher

Following 9/11, Washington DC built a muni fiber network for government use.  We wrote about it Breaking the Broadband Monopoly -- noting its strong record of success.  The Washington Examiner has noted that DC-Net is looking for expansion opportunites.  

The city invested $87 million into D.C.-Net to get there. It now has 350 miles of fiber optic cable connecting city agencies at 355 locations in all eight wards. More than 33,000 District employees use it every day, and it handles calls to the emergency 911 call center and the city's 311 information line. The District also hasn't spent a dime on it since 2007. Instead, the network runs on a surplus, which is reinvested into its infrastructure, officials said. Now, the city stands to earn millions by leasing access to the network out to federal agencies.

While private companies constantly claim that local governments have no capacity to run fiber broadband neworks, DC-Net has proven not only can munis run these networks, they can offer faster speeds, lower prices, and better reliability.  Now DC-Net has a $1.6 million contract with US Office of Personnel Management.  

Posted July 10, 2009 by christopher

In two articles, Jesse Harris offers some insight as to how one can evaluate UTOPIA as a success or failure. In the first article, "Defining UTOPIA's Success," he looks at some of the indirect benefits from the network.

Financial success is the most obvious kind. It’s very easy to look at expenditures and revenues and come up with a bottom line figure. I don’t mean to discount the importance of coming up with a positive number at the end of that statement, but it really isn’t the entire financial picture. (Take a look at my breakdown of Provo’s real and potential savings from iProvo for a good example.) Orem, for example, is saving somewhere in the neighborhood of $600K per year in telecommunications costs by using UTOPIA fiber in their city. None of the other cities have released similar figures (at least not that I am aware of), but I think it safe to say that they are experiencing similar savings. Such an approach also fails to recognize that incumbent providers are forced to offer better service and pricing to attract and retain customers. Based on national figures, a UTOPIA-served neighborhood is likely to save 25% or more off of telecommunications costs.

In the second and longer article, "FUD Alert: Utah Taxpayers Association Continues to Bend and Cherry-Pick the Truth," he directly answers one of the fiercest critics of UTOPIA - the UTA.

His response is well worth a read as a model example of how to respond to these ignorant attacks. We cannot allow lies against community broadband to go unchecked - thank you Jesse for your strong response.

Posted June 3, 2009 by christopher

Jim Baller and Casey Lide are two of the foremost experts on municipal broadband systems in the United States. This report offers a clear and rational defense of publicly owned broadband systems. The discussion takes on philosophical, economic, and pragmatic arguments and comes to the conclusion that communities should not be prevented from building their own networks.

From the Intro:

The Tennessee Broadband Coalition has asked the Baller Herbst Law Group to respond to the main criticisms that opponents of public Fiber-to-the-User (FTTU) initiatives have raised in Tennessee and elsewhere. The Coalition would like to know whether any of these criticisms is valid, and, if so, what lessons the Coalition can learn from them to avoid or mitigate similar problems in Tennessee.

Over the last decade, Baller Herbst has been involved in most of the leading public communications projects in the United States. In almost all of these projects, the incumbent telephone and cable companies have rejected or ignored the locality’s invitation to join in cooperative efforts that would benefit all concerned and have instead mounted massive media and lobbying campaigns in opposition to the proposed public network. Often, the incumbents have funded support from industry “experts” and artificial “grassroots” groups (which have come to be known as “Astroturf”).

In their campaigns, the incumbents and their allies have typically included emotional appeals to private-enterprise ideology; flawed statistics; complaints about supposedly unfair advantages that municipalities have over the private sector; attacks on the motives and competency of public officials; and false or incomplete, misleading and irrelevant examples. In many cases, these arguments have mirrored the unsuccessful arguments that the major electric power companies and their allies made against municipal ownership a century ago, when electric power was the must-have technology of the day, and thousands of unserved or underserved communities established their own electric utilities to avoid being left behind in obtaining the benefits of electrification.

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