Tag: "washington"

Posted March 21, 2013 by lgonzalez

Mount Vernon, Washington, started building their own fiber optic network in 1995 and over the past 18 years have continued to add incrementally. While the network started as a way to connect a few municipal facilities, it has since expanded to nearby Burlington and the Port of Skagit. The network now serves government, schools, hospitals and clinics, and a broad range of businesses in the area.

We spoke with community leaders from Mount Vernon for our 38th episode of the Broadband Bits podcast. Mount Vernon owns the network and operates it out of the Information Systems office.

The network required no borrowing or bonding because initial funding came from a state Community and Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) grant. Since then, Mount Vernon has used revenue from the network and creative cost sharing with partners to expand throughout the city. When expanding into Burlington and the Port of Skagit in 2008, city leaders received a county sales tax grant to fund deployment.

The Mount Vernon School District became a partner early in the evolution of the network. According to Kim Kleppe, Information Services Director, K-12 schools do not pay a monthly fee to receive up to 1 gig of capacity for their 10 facilities. He estimates the current costs of a dark fiber connection for one facility at $700 per month. Total savings are astronomical, allowing the schools to dedicate significant dollars toward other expenses.

Mount Vernon city government saves over $100,000 per year and nearby Burlington saves over $52,000. The network has never been in debt and maintains a reserve.

Mount Vernon's network is an open access model on which ISPs serve customers via the city's infrastructure. Subscribers pay a one time fee to the city to be connected. Onging revenue comes from the ISPs, who pay to the city a percentage of what they collect in customer connectivity fees. Currently, eight different providers offer services via the Mount Vernon network, providing ample competition.

Like other communities we see that choose the open access model, Mount Vernon...

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Posted March 19, 2013 by christopher

Nearly 20 years ago, a small community between Seattle and Bellingham, Washington, began building a fiber optic network to connect key municipal facilities. In the years since, Mt Vernon has expanded the network to many community anchor institutions and businesses locally, including in two nearby towns.

Information Systems Director Kim Kleppe and Community & Economic Development Director Jana Hansen join me to explain how they began the network and what benefits they have seen from the investment.

They did not borrow or bond for the network and they don't have a municipal electric department, which makes them particularly interesting in this space. They also run an open access network that allows eight providers to compete in delivering the best services to subscribers. The network has encouraged several businesses to move to the community.

Our interview begins with an introduction from Mayor Jill Boudreau.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to D. Charles Speer & the Helix for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted February 5, 2013 by lgonzalez

In the week before Christmas, Mother Nature sent a powerful winter storm to Chelan County in Washington. Hundreds of trees along the south shore of Lake Wenatchee came down, causing extensive electrical and fiber outages. According to the Chelan PUD, most electrical customers have had power restored, but Internet, phone, and TV services dependent on the fiber are still out.

Readers will remember that the PUD held a series of community meetings this past summer to get public input on the future of the fiber optic network. The network suffers from heavy internal debt and, while customers appreciate the service, most opposed increasing electric rates to build out to reach more cusomters. The PUD decided to keep the network as is with no major expansion.

Following the storm, the PUD announced that it would not rebuild the fiber network due to the heavy replacement cost of up to $750,000. Officials planned to replace the fiber line with a wireless network that would cost between $175,000 and $225,000. Only a small percentage of the homes on the lake's south shore are occupied year round.

According to Christine Pratt of the Wenatchee World, the decision rankled residents who have come to depend on the fiber for more than just email. There are more than just a few property owners who run businesses out of their homes. The wireless option was not well received:

“A lot of people up here think that we’ve been thrown under the bus,” says longtime resident George Wilson, one of many south-shore residents who lobbied for years to get the PUD to put the fiber in. “I’ve never, ever seen a utility just walk away from an established, essential service. Wireless is a huge step backward.”

...

Bob Hooson runs an employment recruiting businesses from May to October from his Lake Wenatchee home. He spends winters working in California.

"I'm on the Internet all day," he said. "Our business requires pulling a lot of resumes down off the Internet and communicating with a lot of people at once. I'd be dead in the water without it. We have built our business based on the fact that we have fiber technology available to us. Wireless is not fast enough."

"I just hope they make it right," says Dr. Gary Bell, a Seattle dentist with strong Wenatchee ties who...

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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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