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Port of Ridgefield, Washington: Dark Fiber Network On Deck

The Port of Ridgefield is planning to build a municipal open access dark fiber-optic network that could provide access to high-speed Internet connectivity for the Washington state community of 7,000. 

Planning Stage

Town officials held a public informational meeting in late June to update residents and businesses on the fiber project, which is still in the planning stage. Estimated cost of the proposed 42-mile fiber backbone is $2.4 million, Nelson Holmberg, Port of Ridgefield vice-president of innovation, told us.

Currently, the Port has budgeted $500,000 from town funds for this year’s portion of the project, the Vancouver Business Journal recently reported. Holmberg told us:

"We are moving  forward with construction design and policy work. The Port will not be the operator, nor will it offer service on the backbone. Retail service will be offered by the [Internet Service] providers  who ride on our fiber. We're simply building the infrastructure and making it available to providers."

Holmberg told us that a firm construction timeline has yet to be set. According to the Business Journal, the Port of Ridgefield will make use of existing assets and take advantage of opportunities to reduce costs. The Port hopes to work with Clark Public Utilities and the Clark Regional Wastewater District to plant conduit whenever there is new trenching and pull fiber through conduit that is already in place.

A Mixed Bag

Currently, Internet service in the Port is a "mixed bag," Holmberg told us, with the offerings including Comcast Business, Comcast or CenturyLink to the home, satellite and point-to-point wireless and even dial-up.

The Port's fiber development project is needed to help retain and attract business, Holmberg continued. The availability of high-speed Internet connectivity is especially important to modern industries that depend on being able to transmit and receive large amounts of data.

Holmberg told us:

"Businesses [in the Port] complain they can't get the bandwidth or speeds they need, and are excited about the opportunity that they see in our system. As an anecdote, Washington State University Vancouver - at the south end of our planned loop - has a need to send 1 Terabyte (over 1,000 Gigabytes of data) of research to the main campus in Pullman, Washington once a week. Because they don't have the bandwith they need, they are literally downloading to a hard drive and overnighting the hard drive to Pullman."

Keeping Up With The Speed Of Dark Fiber

Port of Ridgefield is among a growing number of communities that are seeking to make high-speed Internet connectivity available to businesses and providers via dark fiber, i.e. fiber optic cable that is not currently active or “lit.” In the Northwest, the Idaho towns of Port of Lewiston, Port of Clarkston, and Port of Whitman are working together to use dark fiber assets for commercial connectivity via a similar open access model.

As more communities in the region invest in essential Internet infrastructure, those that don’t have publicly owned networks or private providers to provide high-speed connectivity in their communities will be disadvantaged.

“Accessible and reliable high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity is a critical component of successful economic development activity in our region,” said [Columbia River Economic Development Council president, Mike] Bomar. 

“Our region’s ability to add fiber connectivity to our list of business amenities will provide a direct competitive advantage to our existing companies and in our ongoing work to attract and recruit new enterprise into the area across a diverse array of industries.”

The Tacoma Click Saga of 2015: Part 4: Accumulating Spillover Effects

This is the last in a four part series about the Click network in Tacoma, Washington, where city leaders spent most of 2015 considering a plan to lease out all operations of this municipal network to a private company. Part 4 highlights Click’s often unseen “spillover effects” on the City of Tacoma’s economy and telecom marketplace over the network’s nearly 2 decades in operation, contributions that Tacoma should expect to persist and even expand in the future.

We published Part 3, an analysis of why the municipal network is positioned to thrive in the years ahead within the modern telecommunications marketplace on June 21st. In Part 2, published on June 7, we reviewed why Tacoma Public Utilities considered the possibility of leasing out all of the Click operations. On May 31, we published Part 1, which reviewed the community's plans for the network.

Part 4: Click’s Accumulating “Spillover Effects”

Regardless of any impending changes with Tacoma Click’s operations, it’s clear that the network has and will continue to support and enhance the overall economic interests and the public good in the City of Tacoma. “Spillover effects” - the benefits to the community that don’t show up clearly in any financial statements - tend to appear after communities developing their own municipal broadband networks.

Click’s spillover effects start with the broad economic development benefits that arose when Click appeared. Before Click came to town, Tacoma was a city in economic decline. Many businesses had fled downtown for the suburbs over the 50-plus year period after World War II. 

While we can’t give Click all of the credit for the city’s efforts to rebound from that period of economic downturn, analysts like the U.S. Conference of Mayors cite the $86 million Click network as a major component. The network was part of an ambitious and highly successful economic development effort in the 1990s that helped to revitalize Tacoma. In 2005, the Sierra Club named Tacoma’s revitalization effort one of 2005’s top 12 economic development projects in the nation

As part of Tacoma’s revitalization project, the city opened a new downtown branch of the University of Washington that remains successful today. And as we noted in a 2010 article about Tacoma Click, more than 100 high-tech companies arrived in Tacoma within a couple of years after the network launch. This means that many current Tacoma citizens also arrived in town through jobs that Click helped create.

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Broadband Competition Spills Over Too

A recent study from the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) shows that the arrival of a municipal network in a city typically improves competition in the local broadband market. That is, municipal networks tend to prompt private broadband companies to lower prices and improve services in places where there are municipal networks. Indeed, a Tacoma resident reported a few years ago that Comcast customers had been consistently paying about half of what Seattle Comcast residents were paying for the same services. It’s also likely that Comcast would have delayed its 2008 upgrade of its infrastructure in Tacoma if the city had never built Click in the first place.

This evidence suggests that, were it not for Click’s impact on the ISP marketplace, the city’s Internet services from private ISPs like Comcast would likely be slower and more expensive than they are today. If Click disappeared and the city had no municipal broadband service to compete with Comcast, citizens, businesses, and government agencies in the city could expect prices to increase while customer service declines.

What many people in and outside of Tacoma may not realize is that, like most community-owned networks, Click strives to keep prices for telecom services below market rates for the good of the community. The city of Tacoma also saves on telecommunication costs because it uses Click rather than leasing. Click has essentially contributed untold savings to the City of Tacoma.

So who would be the big winner if Tacoma decided to lease out Click to a private company? Tacoma businesses and residents? The private ISP that would take over the Click’s operations? Leasing Click to a private company would almost certainly benefit Comcast more than any other party. The company with the dubious distinction as both the largest media company in the world and a perennial contender for most hated company in America has the most to gain.  

Another Historical Moment for Click

As the importance of broadband access expands, we expect the City of Tacoma to see the wisdom in the words of Tacoma’s former mayor Bill Baarsma, who in 1999 described Tacoma Click’s historical significance for the city and its potential for the future:

“This is the single biggest economic decision the council has made since the turn of the last century, when the City Council decided to move forward with the construction of the first hydroelectric dam on the Nisqually River. Things are happening here that are happening nowhere else."

In the years immediately following Click’s launch, this municipal network helped the City of Tacoma to re-emerge from a decades long economic slump. The question facing Tacoma between leasing Click to a private ISP and keeping Click as a publicly owned and operated asset will once again culminate in a pivotal decision with far-reaching implications for Tacoma’s future.

Our observation of community-owned networks around the United States suggests that the benefits of keeping and remaking Click as a city-owned asset will only become more apparent in the years ahead. A renewal and restructuring of Click operations to meet the needs of the changing telecom landscape would help to optimize the network’s potential as a driver of local economic development and cost savings. These changes will allow the Tacoma leaders of today to carry on the legacy of the city officials who took the initiative to create the historic Click network nearly 20 years ago.

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Photo of Tacoma Skyline: Dean J. Koepfler, Tacoma News Tribune Staff Photographer, through Creative Commons

Photo of East 21st Street Bridge at Night: AFreeman, through Creative Commons

The Tacoma Click Saga of 2015: Part 3

This is Part 3 in a four part series about the Click network in Tacoma, Washington, where city leaders spent most of 2015 considering a plan to lease out all operations of this municipal network to a private company. In Part 2, published on June 7, we reviewed the main reasons why Tacoma Public Utilities considered the possibility of leasing out all of the Click operations. On May 31, we published Part 1, which shared the community's plans for the network. Part 3 covers why we believe the Click municipal network is positioned to thrive in the years ahead within the modern telecommunications marketplace.

Part 3: Positioning Click for the Future

If Tacoma leaders decide to move ahead with the “all in” plan that they're currently exploring, several factors suggest that Click can become an increasingly self-sustaining division of Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU). To recap, the “all in” plan would reportedly involve two major changes at Click. One, it would mean upgrading the network to enable gigabit access speeds. Two, the all in option would likely mean cutting out the “middlemen” private companies that currently have exclusive rights to provide Internet and phone services over the network. Instead of the current system, where Click only offers cable TV services while middlemen provide Internet and phone, the new all in plan would position Click as the retail provider for all three services.

Adapting to A Challenging and Changing Telecom Landscape

It makes sense for TPU to keep Click and improve it. TPU’s slide from Part 2 in this series reveals:

(1) Click’s subscriptions for Internet-only customers turned a corner in 2014 and started to exceed projections.  This data indicates that the most important component of Click’s future business prospects—its Internet access service—is growing.

(2) With a proposal on the table to upgrade the infrastructure to offer gigabit speed service, the city can expect Click to provide stronger local ISP competition on both broadband speed and price. In an age of increasing need for data access, any ISP that upgrades its infrastructure should reasonably expect to see increased demand for extremely fast Internet access services, a level of demand that didn’t exist 10 or even 5 years ago during the period when Click was having its greatest financial challenges.

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(3) The ongoing growth in Internet subscribers for Click’s ISP partners runs parallel to the growing cord-cutting phenomenon, a development led by younger generations that industry experts predict could eventually lead to an Internet-only model for all media programming.

(4) If Click goes with the all in option, the triple play proposal figures to create new revenues as Click would more easily attract those customers who see the triple play option as simpler and more cost effective. Indeed, as a private consultant once suggested to Click, Click’s previous inability to offer triple play services was almost certainly an obstacle to achieving a higher take rate

A decision to instead lease Click out to a private ISP, would mean losing control over a business that is now primed for faster and more sustainable growth than ever before. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland agrees that a reshaped Click is the way to go:

“I can’t support doing something with Click when we haven’t presented the best possible Click” she said. “It’s about the quality of the product. We’re here to compete. We’re here to compete hard. And we’re here to win.”

Beyond the city’s efforts to restructure the network’s technology and business model, a common challenge for community networks like Click is the disadvantage that any small ISP has in its ability to market its services. Indeed, a poll TPU conducted last year showed that only a small minority of Tacoma residents even understand the services that Click provides. This fact underscores the reality that Click is competing against a Comcast's national brand with far greater resources for reaching potential customers. It also suggests that Tacoma Click could benefit from improved future marketing efforts that might become possible with stronger revenue flow from the expected growth of a revamped Click.

More than a Telecommunications Provider

While the financial health of Tacoma Click is of paramount importance to the network’s future success, it’s also essential that the people of Tacoma recognize the wide-ranging spillover effects for the community over its nearly two decades in existence. These spillover effects are the broad impact that Click has had and will continue to have on things like Tacoma’s varied economic development fortunes, Click’s impact on competition, and on lowering local telecommunications costs. These factors, which we discuss in Part 4, clarify that Click’s actual value extends far beyond internal financial reports.

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Photo Credit: Dean J. Koepfler, Tacoma News Tribune Staff Photographer, through Creative Commons

The Tacoma Click Saga of 2015: Part 2

This is Part 2 in a four part series about the Click network in Tacoma, Washington, where city leaders spent most of 2015 considering a plan to lease out all operations of this municipal network to a private company. Part 2 explores the major reasons why Tacoma Public Utilities has considered the move to lease out all Click operations. Part 1, published on May 31, examines possible plans for Click in the immediate future.

Part 2: TPU’s Challenges with Click

When TPU officials proposed last March to lease the network to a private ISP for 40 years, they cited revenue losses for Click as high as $7.6 million annually, indicated by troubling financial reports in recent years. Some critics, however, such as those with the advocacy group “Stick with Click,” countered that this figure is inaccurate. They say that TPU manufactured the revenue losses through an accounting decision that resulted in a deceptively bleak picture of Click’s financial performance.

To shed light on the disagreement, we're examining relevant facts about Click.

Allocating the Costs of a Shared Infrastructure

When Tacoma first built the Click network in the late 1990s, the Hybrid Fiber Coax (HFC) infrastructure was to support services for two divisions of the TPU: TPU Power and Click. Besides the infrastructure’s function for supporting Click’s services, the city designed the HFC infrastructure to support a smart electrical metering program for TPU Power services.

This dual purpose meant that for accounting purposes, TPU had to allocate the costs of a shared network based how much each division would rely on the network. This cost allocation (a common accounting practice) would assign each division a portion of the original capital construction costs for building the network and a separate portion of the network’s ongoing operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. 

Ultimately, and with the help of an independent consultant, the city settled on cost allocation ratios in 2003, which determined how the TPU would assign capital and O&M costs to each division.

TPU Power would pay 73 percent of the capital costs to build the HFC infrastructure; Click would pay the remaining 27 percent. Click would then pay a 76 percent of the network’s ongoing O&M costs, with TPU Power paying the remaining 24 percent of O&M.

For several years, TPU Power used the HFC infrastructure to facilitate operations of a series of smart meters. But a few years ago, TPU made the decision to follow what they said was a trend in the power industry to instead start using wireless technology for their smart metering needs. This decision, they said, led TPU Power to begin phasing out its use of the HFC infrastructure for their smart metering program.

Now that TPU Power would no longer be using the smart meters, they determined that this change would justify significantly increasing Click’s portion of the allocated O&M costs for the HFC infrastructure. After some dispute over how to fairly adjust the numbers, TPU settled on a new cost allocation which raised Click’s portion of the O&M costs from 76 percent to 94 percent.

Is the Updated Cost Allocation Justified?

Using these new cost allocation numbers, TPU reported that the Tacoma Click network was experiencing annual losses of $7.6 million. But some observers in Tacoma were skeptical of TPU’s cost allocation decision and loss figures. For instance, an accountant for a Tacoma-based tech company suggested a view expressed by many others in town that the TPU has not been sufficiently transparent about the nature and causes of Click's reported financial problems.

Others note that if Click had simply kept the original cost allocation structure unchanged, Click’s current reported annual operating losses would sit at a more modest $700,000 rather than the $7.6 million figure. 

Justin Marlowe, a professor of public finance at the University of Washington, told the Tacoma News Tribune that cost allocation decisions by government agencies like this are always based on somewhat subjective criteria:

“Cost allocation for internal budgeting and cost analysis purposes is really the Wild West,” he said. "There is very little in the way of national standards. It’s nothing like financial accounting, where there are very strict rules about general accounting principles.”

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Regardless, TPU officials believe that TPU Power has paid its fair share of costs for building and using the network and that the new cost allocation for the two divisions is justified. For one, TPU Power retained responsibility for paying its full, originally established 73 percent share of the $86 million capital costs for building the network. TPU Power also paid the portion of the O&M costs originially agreed upon during the period they were using the infrastructure for their smart meters. Now that TPU Power no longer uses the network for the smart meters, utility leadership sees the adjusted cost allocation as a natural result of these changes.

But supporters of the plan to keep Click believe TPU’s adjustment of O&M costs represents a broken agreement by TPU, a failure to follow the originally established financial conditions for building and then operating and maintaining the network. Moreover, Click supporters believe that the locally owned municipal network offers economic and other benefits to the city that TPU is failing to recognize.

Claims of Mounting Financial Challenges

When TPU’s constructed its HFC network in 1997, it provided speed, capacity, and reliability that far exceeded the standards in the telecommunications industry of the time. The only private competitor in Tacoma was TCI Communications and they offered inadequate Internet and cable TV services. Click’s arrival not only improved the quality of local connectivity, it also helped attract businesses to the community as part of a highly successful city revitalization effort in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In 2001, a couple of years after Click got off the ground, Comcast bought TCI and in 2008, Comcast upgraded their telecommunications infrastructure to a DOCSIS 3.0 network throughout the city. One report said that this upgrade enabled Comcast to start providing more affordable prices than Click at each speed tier for Internet service in Tacoma. And yet a more recent 2014 report says that Click’s service prices would continue to be below or the same as Comcast’s local prices, suggesting that reports of better prices from Comcast in Tacoma may have been based on temporary bait and switch promotional rates that Comcast is known to use to attract new customers. Still, the reality is that many Tacoma residents have at times at least had the perception that Comcast has offered the best prices for service in Tacoma.

Comcast also has the advantage of being able to provide bundled triple-play services -- Internet, cable TV, and phone. With Click’s business model, however, Click serves as retail provider of Cable TV services while providing only wholesale Internet access and phone services through a group of private ISPs. This divided model prevents Click from offering triple-play packages. Some in Tacoma believe that Click’s inability to offer a triple play option has been a major barrier in Click’s efforts to increase their take rate

Comcast’s extraordinary market power gives them another advantage. The conglomerate has had unparalleled leverage to negotiate rates on programming costs that are as much as 20 percent less than what Click pays. Because Comcast has the luxury of being able to use revenues from other markets to cross-subsidize their services in Tacoma, this makes it easier for them to offer low rates and deep promotional offers to compete with or even at times undercut Click’s prices. These are all indications that the company has an unfair competitive advantage in a marketplace with a very high concentration of ownership.

Finally, as the slide below from a recent TPU presentation shows, TPU’s original 1997 projections for expected cable TV subscriptions never reached projected rates.  And in 2010, Click had to increase their subscription prices after programming costs started increasing at about five times the rate of inflation, far outstripping TPU’s original projections. Overall, it’s clear that factors on the declining Cable TV side of Click’s business have been a major source of the network’s struggles.

 

Figure from TPU Presentation Illustrating Click’s Actual Performance Vs. Projections

This slide from a recent TPU presentation shows that Click's Cable TV division has underperformed while seeing higher than expected programming costs. It also shows, however, that their ISP business is exceeding expectations.

A Look Ahead to the Future of Click

Comcast’s built-in competitive advantages in Tacoma have likely hampered Click’s capacity to grow a larger customer base. The above slide also tells another story: one of recent strong growth on the Internet side of the business, growth that has allowed Click’s Internet services to exceed TPU's original projections. As we discuss in Part 3, this trend suggests that Click can expect to see continued growth in its core future function as an ISP.

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Photo Credit: Dean J. Koepfler, Tacoma News Tribune Staff Photographer, through Creative Commons

The Tacoma Click Saga of 2015: Part 1

This is Part 1 in a four part series about the Click network in Tacoma, Washington, where city leaders spent most of 2015 considering a plan to lease out all operations of this municipal network to a private company. Part 1 explains Tacoma's plans for Click's immediate future.

Part 1: Tacoma Votes to Explore Keeping Click!

2015 was a tense year for Tacoma Click, the nearly 20-year-old municipal network in this city of about 200,000 just south of Seattle. In March of 2015, Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU) announced it was considering a proposal to sign a 40-year agreement to lease out the network to a private Internet Service Provider (ISP). But after months of deliberations, the Tacoma City Council decided in December with a resounding 8-0 vote at the last City Council meeting of the year to explore what the city calls their “all in” option: a plan which, if implemented, would include technological upgrades and major structural changes to the business model aimed at preserving Click as a municipally-owned network.

When Tacoma Click, one of the first municipal networks in the U.S., launched its Hybrid Fiber Cable (HFC) system in 1999, the network provided Internet speeds that were among the fastest in the country. For the past two decades, Tacoma Click has provided community anchor institutions, businesses, and residents in Tacoma with access to retail Cable TV service and wholesale Internet and phone service. 

Click has never managed to pay for itself. However, nothing in Click’s financial reports can account for the municipal network’s numerous indirect contributions (both economic and otherwise) and overall value to the Tacoma community as a whole. There are also promising signs that the network is positioned for future growth.

Taking Sides

The tone of discussions at City Council meetings over the past year about Click’s future signaled a strong desire by some city officials to get out of the telecom business altogether. Before the December vote, two of five TPU board members favored the lease option, a proposal to lease the network that would have effectively marked the end of Click as a municipal network. Several other Tacoma officials have expressed deep concerns throughout the year about Click’s ongoing financial viability, including Tacoma’s Mayor and TPU director Bill Gaines.

Still, since the TPU’s first suggestion in March of 2015 that the city consider getting out of the municipal broadband business, some city officials have consistently pushed back. At a July meeting, Councilwoman Lauren Walker summed up a lot of the frustration among people in Tacoma who saw the proposal to dump Click as unnecessarily hasty and lacking sufficient support.

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"You keep coming back and telling us it's not financially feasible," she told TPU Director Bill Gaines. "What we're trying to figure out…, as crazy as it is -- there's so much value in the city keeping the damn thing -- is how can we do it and what would that look like? And so, I know it's more work, but that's why I think you don't have the council on board, and I think that's why I think there's so much disharmony in the community."

Plans Moving Forward

The December vote does not guarantee that the city will keep Click. Rather, the vote approved the creation of a seven person “Click Engagement Committee” that is now helping TPU officials create a new business plan -- expected to be completed in the coming months -- to map out a recommendation for a 5-year business plan for the network.

Among the city’s plans under this “all in” option include an objective to upgrade the network infrastructure. In the range of $3.5 to $6 million, city officials say they can make upgrades that would increase Click’s connection speeds from its current fastest available rate of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) up to Gigabit per second (Gbps) speed levels.

A second major proposed change, according to reports about the “all in” option, is that the city is looking to revamp its current operating structure. Currently, Click provides retail Cable TV services while a group of private ISPs provide the retail Internet and phone services. Under the “all in” plan for a revamped Click, reports say Click will become the sole retail provider of Internet access, Cable TV, and phone services over the network.

The Will of the People Makes a Difference

When the city announced its plans in March to explore getting out of the business of operating Click, the public reacted strongly against the proposed plan. In one example, a group of concerned citizens created “Stick with Click,” a coalition of Tacoma residents advocating to keep Click as a municipal network.

Large groups of passionate Tacoma citizens attended town hall meetings last spring (see here and here) to express their desire to keep Click. At a September meeting where the City Council voted to keep TPU director Bill Gaines in his position, a vocal contingent of public commenters urged City Council members to fire Gaines over his management of Click.

Then in November, Tacoma citizens re-elected the City Council’s most vocal supporter of the “all in” plan to keep Click, Anders Ibsen, even as Ibsen’s colleagues on the City Council and Tacoma’s mayor endorsed his opponent. Of the more than 40 Tacoma citizens who spoke during the public comments portion of the December City Council meeting, all except one voiced their support for the “all in” option. 

In the end, consistent and vehement public support for Click as a city owned and operated network played an important role in the City Council’s decision to look for a way to keep Click and improve it. But how did we get here? In Part 2 of this series, we’ll cover in detail the varied financial factors that brought Click to this crossroads in the first place.

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Photo Credit: Dean J. Koepfler, Tacoma News Tribune Staff Photographer, through Creative Commons

Our "Open Access Networks" Resources Page Now Available

When communities decide to proceed with publicly owned infrastructure, they often aim for open access models. Open access allows more than one service provider to offer services via the same infrastructure. The desire is to increase competition, which will lower prices, improve services, and encourage innovation.

It seems straight forward, but open access can be more complex than one might expect. In addition to varying models, there are special challenges and financing considerations that communities need to consider.

In order to centralize our information on open access, we’ve created the new Open Access Networks resource page. We’ve gathered together some of our best reference material, including links to previous MuniNetworks.org stories, articles from other resources, relevant Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes, case studies, helpful illustrations, and more.

We cover: 

  • Open Access Arrangements
  • Financing Open Access Networks
  • Challenges for Open Access Networks
  • U.S. Open Access Networks
  • Planned Open Access Networks

Check it out and share the link. Bookmark it!

Digital Northwest: What's Working?

Next Century Cities recently hosted "Digital Northwest," a summit for regional broadband leaders. Leaders from member cities all over the country gathered together to learn from one another and discuss digital inclusion, models for success, partnerships, and much more. 

Chris led a panel of mayors and city council leaders from cities with well-known municipal networks in a discussion of their networks and how their communities have benefitted. 

The panel featured: 

  • Mayor Jill Boudreau, Mt. Vernon, WA
  • Mayor Wade Troxell, Fort Collins, CO
  • City Council President Jeremy Pietzold, , Sandy OR
  • Councilmember David Terrazas, Santa Cruz, CA


Digital Northwest Broadband Summit: March 20 - 21, 2016 in Seattle

Next Century Cities (NCC) is hosting Digital Northwest: A Broadband Summit for Regional Broadband Leaders at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center in Seattle, Washington. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is co-hosting the event.

The summit will bring together federal, state, and local officials, industry representatives, and community leaders to celebrate successes and share resources. The summit will examine gaps that remain and strategize on how to expand high-speed Internet access.

After a welcome reception in the evening of Sunday, March 20th, there will be a daylong summit on Monday, March 21st featuring workshops on a variety of topics ranging from rural Internet access to the digital economy. 

Conference attendees are invited to stay a little longer. In the morning of Tuesday, March 22nd, government officials, industry representatives, and other experts will be on hand to answer questions in an “office hours” session.

What: Digital Northwest: A Broadband Summit for Regional Broadband Leaders 

Where: Bell Harbor International Conference Center, Seattle, Washington, 98121. 

When: March 20-21, 2016 (optional: the morning of March 22, 2016)

Register online for the summit.

Fifteen Fun Facts about NoaNet - Fifteen Years of Accomplishments

Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) was just a dream back in 2000, but, fifteen years later, it’s one of the largest networks in the state of Washington. NoaNet is celebrating fifteen years of accomplishments, so we compiled fifteen fun facts everyone should know about this community network.

1. One of the first Open Access networks in the U.S.
Back in 2000, people in rural Washington watched as the dot-com and telecom boom passed them by. Frustrated that large ISPs refused to build infrastructure near them, the people created NoaNet and allowed anyone to use it through Open Access. This type of design encourages multiple service providers to share the infrastructure and local communities own the network.

2. Almost 2,000 miles of fiber
You know that amazing, next-generation technology that Google is rolling out in select cities across the U.S.? Yeah, people in Washington started using fiber optic cables fifteen years ago to bring high-speed Internet to their communities. Now, NoaNet extends almost 2,000 miles through both rural and metro areas.

3. It’s a giant Institutional Network
With all that fiber, NoaNet connects 170 communities and around 2,000 schools, libraries, hospitals, and government buildings. It serves as a middle mile network, connecting the public institutions of small towns to the greater Internet. 

4. 40% of Washington government traffic, by 2007
And that’s just within the first seven years!

5. 61 last mile providers
From NoaNet’s infrastructure, private providers bring connectivity the last mile to homes and businesses. Having publicly-owned middle mile reduces the capital costs of building last mile infrastructure - that means more providers can compete with one another and better prices for everyone. Currently, there are over 260,000 customers!

6. More than $130 million
BTOP stands for the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. In 2009, NoaNet received more than $80 million to provide connectivity for unserved and underserved people throughout Washington state. In 2011, NoaNet received a second grant of more than $50 million to increase connectivity to educational, healthcare, and tribal facilities.  

7. NoaNet was featured on our podcast… Twice!
In Episode 159, Chris interviewed Dave Spencer, Chief Operating Officer of NoaNet. And then, Spencer returned in Episode 164 to answer more details about how the network operates.

8. First in the Northwest to have 100 Gigabit per second (Gbps or Gigs) backbone
Between 2013 and 2015, NoaNet upgraded from 1 Gig to 100 Gigs. It’s the high-capacity fiber backbone for the Pacific Northwest - so think big.

9. NoaNet live-streaming NFL
Nothing is better than football, except for maybe high-speed Internet. So imagine football and high-speed Internet together. In 2015, NoaNet live-streamed coverage of the NFL. 

10. 10 current members
The members of NoaNet are several Public Utility Districts (PUDs) - locally controlled and rate-payer owned nonprofits: Benton County PUD#1, Clallam County PUD #1, Energy Northwest, Franklin County #1, Jefferson County PUD #1, Kitsap County PUD #1, Mason County PUD #3, Okanogan County PUD #1, Pacific County PUD #2, Pend Oreille PUD #1

11. It’s technically a municipality...
These 10 Public Utility Districts came together through a very particular Washington law - the InterLocal Agreement - to create NoaNet. Basically, it’s a nonprofit mutual corporation and subject to the same opportunities and restrictions as the Public Utility Districts.

12. Statewide, but locally-owned
NoaNet reaches across the state but is attuned to local needs. Being controlled by local Public Utility Districts, the network doesn’t lose sight of its primary goal: rural connectivity.

13. Next-Generation Jobs
It’s reinventing what it means to live and work in rural areas:

“NoaNet's roots included creation of a virtual corporation, a new rural employment opportunity where we retain the most talented staff and let them live where they want.  NoaNet leadership and staff embraced remote telecommuting and use of the technology advances to execute NoaNet's vision-mission and purpose of building a regional non-profit telecommunications carrier.”
Rob Kopp, Chief Technology Officer

14. New Technologies
Unlike large corporate companies that often refuse to innovate in rural areas, NoaNet is investing in new technologies like data centers to ensure that rural communities don’t get left behind. 

15. Future-Focus
And NoaNet is not going to stop any time soon:

"In the early days, the NoaNet mission to bring affordable broadband to rural communities throughout WA was dismissed by many as dreamy-eyed with a short life expectancy. The success of NoaNet has been the fulfillment of hopes by its supporters for a better opportunity to achieve broadband parity with metro areas in formerly remote areas of the state. Rather than looking back on the many small communities literally connected to economic hubs, the NoaNetteam continues to focus on those still to be served. The mission is not yet complete."
Tom Villani, Special Accounts Manager

Sources: NOANet Timeline, Community Broadband Bits Podcasts, NOAnet BTOP funding

Island Community Builds Their Own Network: Coverage in Ars and Video From The Scene

Island living has its perks - the roar of the waves, the fresh breeze, the beauty of an ocean sunset - but good Internet access is usually not one of them.

A November Ars Technica article profiles Orcas Island, located in Washington state. Residents of the island's Doe Bay chose to enjoy the perks of island living and do what it took to get the Internet they needed. By using the natural and human resources on the island, the community created the nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA). The wireless network provides Internet access to a section of the island not served by incumbent CenturyLink. 

DBIUA receives its signal from StarTouch Broadband Services via microwave link from Mount Vernon on the mainland. Via a series of radios mounted on the community's water tower, houses, and tall trees, the network serves about 50 homes with speeds between 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 40 Mbps upload. Residents who had previously paid CenturyLink for DSL service were accustomed to 700 Kilobits per second (Kbps) download except during busy times when speeds would drop to 100 Kbps download and "almost nothing" upload.

Outages were also common. In 2013, after a 10-day loss of Internet access, residents got together to share food and ideas. At that meeting, software developer Chris Sutton, suggested the community "do it themselves." 

Island Self-Reliant

The talent to make the project successful came forward to join the team. In addition to Sutton's software expertise, the island is home to professionals in marketing, law and land use, and a former CenturyLink installer. The network went live in September 2014 and is slowly and carefully expanding to serve more people.

Doe Bay realized that they could solve the problem themselves. Ars quoted Sutton:

Just waiting around for corporate America to come save us, we realized no one is going to come out here and make the kind of investment that’s needed for 200 people max.

I think so many other communities could do this themselves...There does require a little bit of technical expertise but it's not something that people can't learn. I think relying on corporate America to come save us all is just not going to happen, but if we all get together and share our resources, communities can do this themselves and be more resilient.

In addition to the article that dives deep into how residents developed the network, take a look at this video for more on DBIUA from The Scene: