Tag: "washington"

Posted December 26, 2012 by christopher

As I recently mentioned in my endorsement of Tubes by Andrew Blum, the book explains how a municipal fiber network helped to attract Google to town. Google sited its first "built-from-scratch data center" there, a $600 million investment according to Stephen Levy. According to Blum, it all started back in 2000 when the community got fed up with incumbent telephone company Sprint.

The Dalles was without high-speed access for businesses and homes, despite the big nationwide backbones that tore right through along the railroad tracks, and the BPA's big network. Worse, Sprint, the local carrier, said the city wouldn't get access for another five to ten years. "It was like being a town that sits next to the freeway but has no off-ramp," was how Nolan Young, the city manager, explained it to me in his worn office...

The Dalles was suffering economically due to its reliance on industrial jobs that were slowly disappearing.

"We said, 'That's not quick enough for us! We'll do it ourselves,'" Young recalled. It was an act of both faith and desperation--the ultimate "if you build it they will come" move. In 2002, the Quality Life Broadband Network, or "Q-Life" was chartered as an independent utility, with local hospitals and schools as its first customers. Construction began on a seventeen mile fiber loop around The Dalles, from city hall to a hub at the BPA's Big Eddy substation, on the outskirts of town. Its total cost was $1.8 million, funded half with federal and state grants, and half with a loan. No city funds were used. ... Once Q-Life's fiber was in place, local Internet service providers quickly swooped in to offer the services Sprint wouldn't. Six months later, Sprint itself even showed up--quite a lot sooner than its original five-year timeline. "We count that as one of our successes," Young said. "One could say that they're our competitors, but now there were options." But the town couldn't have predicted what happened next. At the time, few could have. The Dalles was about to become home to the world's most famous data center.

Blum goes on to describe how the investment played out, with Google hiding its involvement in the project for years by working through other companies. The guy who coordinated it - Chris Sacca of...

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Posted November 2, 2012 by lgonzalez

Poulsbo, Washington, home to around 9,200 residents of Kitsap County, recently became the location of an "exercise in democracy" pilot project. Amy Phan of the Kitsap Sun, reports that the town is now home to a superfast wireless hotspot made possible by a new antenna installation courtesy of the the Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD). According to the article:

The wireless hot spot on Fourth Avenue taps into Poulsbo's existing fiber-optic cables, which have been installed for more than a decade, and far exceeds most standard broadband speeds available to consumers.

[Stephen Perry, superintendent of telecommunication of Kitsap Public Utility District] said the antenna can output 300 megabytes per second — compared to standard speeds of three to 50 megabytes per second — with an estimated wireless range within a half-mile of the antenna. 

120 miles of fiber already weave through Kitsap County and installation of 100 more are planned, thanks to stimulus funding. The KPUD will manage and pay for the program.

The PUD hopes to also determine how users take advantage of the temporary free service with no filtering and no limits:

"If people had access to unfettered Internet, how would they use it? No one's really collected that data before. You really don't know about the antenna until you try it," said Perry, adding data collected is meant to track usage patterns and won't identify computer owners.

Dave Siburg of Kitsap PUD called the pilot program an "exercise in democracy."

The data collected may be used to determine an economic model for expansion of the KPUD's current telecommunications offerings. Also from the article:

Councilman Ed Stern, who pushed for the city to explore high-speed broadband earlier this year, said expanding broadband capabilities could mean a strengthened economy for the area.

With a large amount of employees in Poulsbo commuting to King, Pierce or Snohomish counties for work, he said, having reliable and fast broadband could allow those employees to work from home, and spend more money locally.

Posted October 15, 2012 by lgonzalez

Citywide Internet will soon be available as a monthly service in Port Angeles on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Mayor Cherie Kidd, Police Chief Terry Gallagher, and Councilwoman Brooke Nelson participated in a ceremonial "cable cutting" event last week. The event was to celebrate the new network, nicknamed "The Mesh." Arwyn Rice, of the Olympic Peninsula Daily News covered the event in a recent article.

According to the Metro-Net website, a $2.6 million Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grant funded part of the $3.7 million Wi-fi system. The network serves a dual purpose, serving public safety first responders and a separate level for public access. From the News article:

The public safety system allows police officers to track each other through the city so that they know where their backup is without having to call radio dispatchers.

They also can do their own searches on driver's licenses and license plates, check recent call histories and access reports, said Officer Erik Smith, who demonstrated the use of the system in his patrol car.

Eventually, the system will be patched into the city's security cameras and police car dashboard cameras — and potentially Port Angeles School District security cameras — so that officers will be able to monitor situations at City Pier from their cars at Lincoln Park, said Police Chief Terry Gallagher.

“The limitation is our imagination,” Gallagher said.

While access is free through October 31, OlyPen MetroNet will start offering a variety of plans on November 1. Mobile and fixed-point service will be available and range from $5.95 (some sources say $4.95) for one day to $37.95 per month. Every user will receive the first hour of Internet access free each day.

As we have often found, the spirit of collaboration and determination on a local level helped realize this possibility:

The extensive Wi-Fi system was possible because those creating the network had the cooperation of a utility system that already had the infrastructure in place, said Columbia Telecommunications Corp. founder and principal...

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Posted August 22, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have watched Tacoma's Click! Network for years, sharing its advances and benefits with you. The latest achievement in Tacoma is a new option for customers - 100 Mbps.

The network is a division of Tacoma Power, which has been  providing electricity to the community for over 100 years. The municipal utility upgraded recently to DOCSIS 3.0, increasing Internet speeds for customers. 

Click! allows independent service providers to offer Internet access on the network rather than offering that service directly. This approach has resulted in less revenue for the publicly owned network, creating delays in paying down the debt from the infrastruture investment. Nonetheless, Click! has create benefits far in excess of costs -- from increased investment from incumbents to much lower prices for residents and businesses.

RainerConnectAdvanced Stream, and Net-Venture all offer retail services on the Click! network.

Customers from the three ISPs have multiple choices in speed and price, varying from $29.95 for up to 6 Mbps to $189.95 for the new 100 Mbps option. The choice allows consumers to tailor their Internet (and their Internet bill) to the their individual needs. Vibrant competition continues to create choice and affordable consumer prices. Regardless of what network they subscribe to, Tacoma residents tend to pay less than their Seattle brethren.

Unfortunately, it was no surprise to come across a recent news story that describes CenturyLink's misleading sales tactics. CenturyLink salespeople have gone door-to-door and told people Click! is closing. C.R. Roberts from the News Tribune covered the story in mid-July. According to the report, even after Click! contacted CenturyLink to complain, the lies continued in parts of the city. This is no single anomaly, we have heard of similar tactics being used in the past.

Posted June 30, 2012 by christopher

We have followed Seattle's on-again, off-again consideration of a community broadband network for years and have occasionally noted the successful cable network in nearby Tacoma.

Seattle Met's Matthew Halverson has penned a short, impressive article explaining the trials and tribulations of Tacoma while also exploring why Seattle's Mayor has abandoned his goal of a broadband public option.

Before the massive cable consolidation that has left us with a handful of monopolists, we had a larger number of smaller monopolists that abused their market power to limit competition. One of the worst was TCI, which refused to upgrade its awful services in Tacoma, which pushed Tacoma to build its own network. TCI suddenly decided it did care about Tacoma.

TCI wouldn’t go down easily, of course. For the next year, as the City built out its system, the cable giant took advantage of the utility’s biggest weakness: All of its plans, from the kind of equipment it would buy to its construction schedule, were public information. So when Tacoma Power put in an order with its supplier for, say, coaxial cable, it found that TCI had already bought every foot of it. “But we started in one area of town and luckily we were able to get just enough material,” says Pat Bacon, Click’s technical operations manager. “We just inched our way through it and, before you knew it, we were a presence.” By July 1998, Click had its first cable subscriber, and the first broadband Internet user signed on in December 1999.

A substantial portion of the article is devoted to the dynamics around open access between the utility and independent providers -- an important read for anyone considering the open access approach.

Halverson did his homework on this article and I think he got it mostly right. I think the FiOS-wired suburbs do present a larger threat to Seattle than suggested, but it certainly does not compare to the approaching-existential crisis faced by Tacoma fifteen years ago.

I wish I could disagree with his conclusion that Seattle is unlikely to get a community fiber network but unless the community rises up to demand it, elected officials are unlikely to see any benefit to making such a long term...

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Posted May 10, 2012 by lgonzalez

Christopher Mitchell recently spoke with Marcie Sillman on Seattle public radio KUOW's Weekday. Christopher and Marcie talked on May 8, 2012 about recent developments in local and national broadband, including the April 29th end to Seattle's free Wi-Fi network. Christopher and Marcie also discussed challenges and strategies involved in building a community network.

The interview is just about 13 minutes.

Posted May 8, 2012 by lgonzalez

In 2005, Seattle started offering free Wi-Fi to several neighborhoods, hoping to increase usage among businesses, residents, and passers-by. While the effort was hailed by some, and criticized by others, it was an experiment in community broadband. An experiment that ended on April 29th.

The City still considered the free Wi-Fi a pilot project, even though it had been in operation since 2005. Areas served were the University District and Columbia City neighborhoods, and four downtown parks. There will still be free Wi-Fi in public libraries and in a few hotspots around town as well as in some city facilities, including City Hall and the Seattle Center.

The theory was that municipal WiFi was a workable and cheaper way to get more people online. But Wi-Fi is only cheaper in the short run -- something fiber critics tend to ignore. As Seattle has found, most of the network has to be replaced every 5-7 years.

Technical issues and geography also create unique problems for citywide Wi-Fi. Where to put transmitters, interference from buildings, foilage and water, are all barriers to offering a service that is worthwhile to potential users. David Keyes, Chief Information Technology Officer for the City of Seattle noted these problems where there have been complaints of spotty and unreliable reception. Keyes talked to Brian Heaton of Government Technology:

Seattle would be open to someone taking over the system, but Keyes felt that anyone coming in to do a fresh deployment of Wi-Fi might install it a little differently in regard to wireless access point placement. The actual equipment would also need to be replaced.

Seattle's plan for municipal WiFi has been debated from the beginning. In 2008, Government Technology reporter, Chandler Harris, spoke with Bill Schrier, who was Seattle's Chief Technology Officer at the time. Schrier was also one of the harshest critics of the plan to spread Wi-Fi all over Seattle, saying:

"We found significant problems with the technology," Schrier said. "First of all, if you put up a Wi-Fi point, it will work outdoors, but radio waves don't go through walls. If you put the Wi-...

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Posted April 30, 2012 by lgonzalez

As we reported in March, the Chelan County, Washington PUD was seeking input from the customer-owners of their open access fiber optic network to decide what the future would hold. The PUD had considered three options and presented them to the public:

    •    sell the network
    •    maintain ownership of the network, but improve operations and curb expansion until it is self-sustaining over time
    •    continue expanding the network, paying for the expansion by increasing electric rates

After requesting public comment through outreach and community meetings to present information and hear public opinion, the Chelan PUD General Manager John Janney released the recommendation to the PUD Commissioners at an April 9th special meeting. From the press release:

After feedback from customer-owners and extensive analysis around potential alternatives, costs and benefits, General Manager John Janney recommended Monday night that Chelan County PUD continue operating its fiber-optic network and take steps to put it on more stable financial footing before considering any further expansion to unserved areas. The network now offers access to about 70 percent of the county.

On April 16th, the Commission endorsed the recommendation. From the press release:

"It's a way forward," said Commissioner Dennis Bolz in speaking in support of the resolution that outlines steps to be taken to move the fiber system toward being self-sustaining and ending its reliance on dollars from the PUD's overall electrical system. He likened it to commencement that many seniors regard as the end to their high school days but which is really the beginning of their adult lives.

While most customer-owners who expressed themselves showed concern about raising electric rates, they also appreciate the value of the network and want to continue local control. According to Janney, for several years now customers have expressed their desire to protect low electric rates and see self-sufficiency in PUD services that are non-electric. Developing five-year business plans for...

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Posted April 19, 2012 by christopher

Christopher Mitchell spoke with Gavin Dahl about community broadband on KYRS, a community radio station in Spokane, Washington, on April 11. The discussion touched on legislation in Washington that could have encouraged rural broadband deployment by area public utility districts and why the private sector is not getting the job done.

We also discussed the role of federal policy and what some communities have done elsewhere to build next generation networks.

Posted April 13, 2012 by lgonzalez

Washington's Olympic Peninsula is one step closer to being laced in a new fiber-optic network. The first link in the new Peninsula-wide broadband project is between Blyn and Sequim and will serve the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe from its new Blyn library to a local medical clinic located in Jamestown. Also benefiting from the new expansion will be the Sequim Library.  Thirty people, including state and federal elected officials, a representative from the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe, NoaNet, and local public safety professionals, recently gathered together at the Sequim Library to celebrate the new expansion, as reported by Jeff Chew in the Peninsula Daily News.

Clallum County PUD's network is part of NoaNet, an open access wholesale only network, and now has 24 miles of fiber-optic cables between Port Angeles and Sequim. From Chew's artcle:

“High-speed broadband is the most exciting thing that has happened in law enforcement in my career,” Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher told about 30 at the Sequim Library.

Gallagher said broadband Internet will allow officers to work faster and more efficiently, enabling them to multitask in their patrol cars, such as checking a motorist's identification while checking on a city webcam and communicating all at once.

The construction of the project is overseen by NoaNet. The network is planned to run from Brinnon to Port Ludlow and  Port Townsend and then across the Olympic Peninsula to Neah Bay to Forks. This portion of the project, from Blyn to Sequim, was chosen first  because it was part of the first round of funding and because it is less complex than other legs of the network.

Thirty-six counties, 170 communities, and over 2,000 anchor institutions (schools, libraries, public safety facilities, etc.) will benefit with better connectivity, funded with approximately $140 million ARRA (...

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