Tag: "washington"

Posted January 19, 2010 by christopher

Seattle's new mayor continues to impress me as he makes good on his pledge to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network in the City. He has just met with the mayor of Tacoma to discuss lessons learned from the Tacoma Click! network.

We have previously discussed Click!, an HFC network run by Tacoma's public utility. Here are some additional benefits from the article:

Since its approval in 1997, Tacoma’s hybrid fiber coaxial network has, among other things, ushered in a cable television service, offered customers three high-speed retail Internet service providers, enhanced Tacoma Power’s electrical system and created a communications network among government institutions. In turn, the network and its programs have drastically reduced market rates for cable TV and Internet subscribers; saved local governments about $700,000 in annual expenses; and created several promising projects, such as “smart meters” that can gauge utility consumption electronically and “pay as you go” account options for electricity customers, she said.

I was glad to see the article noting the many differences between when Tacoma built their network and the present situation in which Seattle finds itself. Seattle certainly has bigger difficulties than Tacoma did, but they should continue examining their options to determine if the community should build its own network.

A local blogger was more pessimistic after reading the article, but one of the comments on the post bears repeating:

I have Comcast in Tacoma and all I know is since there is competition down here Comcast is about half the cost as it is in Seattle. They give you a rate good for a year. When your year is up you call up and just say Click! and bam back down you go. A friend in Seattle once called Comcast with both of our bills with similar service and mentioned my price and they said I must live in Tacoma and they wouldn't match the price.

Photo used under creative commons license from flickr.

Posted December 22, 2009 by christopher

After campaigning on building a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle, Mayor McGinn has decided to maintain leadership at the Department of Information Technology. Department head Bill Schrier will stay on, continuing his work that lays the groundwork for a community-owned network.

He said he expects the city to apply for federal stimulus money in the first part of the year to move toward that goal. In addition to improving broadband access in homes, the initiative could help Seattle City Light implement smart-grid infrastructure, and improve public safety communications.

Another article further notes their shared ambition:

"Mayor-elect McGinn ran on a platform of bringing fiber to every home and business in Seattle, something I've advocated for several years," Schrier commented.

No post discussing broadband in Seattle is complete without a reference to Glenn Fleishman - who both wrote another story discussing the situation and then patiently responds to many comments in the thread below it. Discussing Tacoma's publicly owned Click! network, he notes that Tacoma's investment benefited everyone:

Click being built actually helped what has become Qwest and Comcast: by creating a market and making it feasible for professionals who need high-speed Internet access in Tacoma to live there, Click spurred the two incumbents to improve their networks, compete, and gain new revenue. Comcast actually thanked Tacoma Power publicly years ago; not sure it would today, but it was seen as a big boost for the viability of competitive broadband.

Photo used under creative commons license from flickr.

Posted November 19, 2009 by christopher
  • Communities around Rutland in Vermont are moving forward with a planned universal full fiber-to-the-home network. Interestingly, this network has been spear-headed by the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, not a local City Hall.

  • Back in Tennessee, the Clarksville Fiber Network is running ahead of schedule.

    logo-cdelightband.png

    Having reached the 6,000-customer mark, CDE Lightband's broadband service is slightly ahead of schedule in adding new subscribers, an official of the Clarksville utility said Wednesday — good news for a telecommunications division, which is still in its infancy.

    Initial projections had the utility servicing around 8,000 broadband subscribers by next June.

    ...

    New installations usually have about a six-week wait, primarily because of high demand, Batts said.

    Though demand is high, the goal of profitability is still a ways off — around 4,000 additional customers are needed to push the utility's telecommunications into the black, according to early department projections.

  • Seattle's new mayor campaigned on building a publicly owned, full fiber-to-the-home network. Reclaim the Media asks if Seattle will get its broadband 'public option.'

    As Reclaim the Media noted last summer, the main obstacles to moving forward with next-generation fiber to underserved areas in Seattle are (1) money and (2) political will. The city budget remains in slash-and-burn territory this year; next year's budget would be the earliest that the new Mayor would be able to effectively push a significant new priority. This winter, however, Schrier's office will be able to apply for federal broadband stimulus funds to build out the skeleton of a citywide fiber network (possibly in collaboration with Seattle City Light), and to provide actual door-to-door "fiber to the premises" (FTTP) service to underserved neighborhoods in the Central District and Beacon Hill. McGinn's leadership will be key in making this project happen.

    Following...

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Posted November 5, 2009 by christopher

A few local elections on Tuesday had questions relating to publicly owned broadband networks. In Seattle, candidate McGinn strongly supported a publicly owned fiber optic network for the city and he may yet get his way as the race is a dead heat and ballots are still being counted. We previously discussed Seattle's broadband deliberations.

In Longmont, Colorado, voters voted against giving the municipality authority to expand the city owned fiber-assets into a network offering retail services. As usual, the proponents of the public network were significantly outspent by incumbents seeking to prevent competition.

A group called No Blank Check Longmont, backed with $150,000 from the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association, spent more than $143,000 in cash and benefited from more than $46,000 in in-kind contributions in its campaign to defeat 2C.

Up on top of Minnesota's North Shore, the Cook County Broadband project got a mixed reception. Though they received the authority to raise a 1% sales tax that would have helped pay for the project, they failed to achieve the necessary 65% super majority required under ancient Minnesota law (1915) to operate a telephone service. A majority supported the idea - 56% - but without the ability to offer a triple-play, the county will have to reconsider its approach.

Though such results are disappointing, every community with a locally owned community network has had to deal with such setbacks. The question is how organizers can respond to challengers and how badly the community wants fast and affordable broadband networks.

In the near term, I hope that both the Minnesota Broadband Task Force Report (due Friday) and the FCC National Broadband Plan recommend abolishing such barriers to public ownership as a 65% referendum.

Posted November 2, 2009 by christopher

Tacoma's Click! network, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, has announced a coming price hike to cover increased costs for carrying channels.

Tacoma's Click! network is a long-standing example of a community coming together to solve a common problem - ensuring they have the telecommunications infrastructure necessary for success in the modern world. Being built before FTTH was viable, the network is a combination of fiber and coaxial cable.

More importantly, they have enacted important rules to ensure everyone has access to the network:

Click’s low-income and senior customers will continue to receive a 20 percent discount, Anderson added.

The reason for the price increase is not to generate profits for absentee shareholders, but due to an increase in programming costs:

Click officials said the primary driver behind the proposed customer rate increases is newly imposed “retransmission” fees by local broadcasters. In all, Click faces about $750,000 of the new fees in 2009 and 2010, Wykstrom said.

Facing declining advertising revenues and increased costs caused by the recent change to all-digital formats, local broadcasters required the payments when negotiating new agreements with Click, officials said. In the past, local broadcasts were provided free of charge to Click.

“They basically held us hostage,” said Diane Lachel, Click’s government and community relations manager.

Posted October 19, 2009 by christopher

We occasionally look in on Seattle's broadband discussions because they are the largest city in the U.S. in which there is something approaching a serious discussion about a publicly owned community fiber network. They have a mayoral candidate who makes it a high priority and their Chief Technology Officer, Bill Schrier, both gets it and has an excellent staff that understands the benefits of such a network.

Glenn Fleishman has just interviewed Bill Schrier about the network and subsequently discussed the public need for broadband in specific neighborhoods due to extreme market failure. I like Glenn's style - he asks difficult questions and pushes for real answers. That said, I still want to push back on one of his statements because I think it instructive:

Government is often criticized for eliminating competition, inefficiently providing private services, and removing the profit motive. However, market failures are often where governments are asked or begged to step in, and, when accomplished correctly, can provide new opportunities for private enterprise.

Glenn is absolutely right both in capturing some of the criticisms leveled at public networks as well as noting that publicly owned broadband tends to occur in the most difficult environments. Contrary to telco rhetoric, local government officials tend not to want to jump into telecommunications efforts unless they see it as vital for the community. They are busy enough and these networks take years of planning, public hearings, and lots of loud attacks from the very companies that refuse to build the needed networks.

But look at the first two items that Glenn notes government is accused of: eliminating competition and inefficiently providing services. How is it that it can do both? Governments cannot coerce people into using the network and federal regulations prevent the local government from abusing its authority over the rights-of-way for the public network. Local governments can use untaxable bonds but private companies get depreciation, tax incentives, and can cross-subsidize from the nearby communities where they charge monopoly prices.

As for removing the profit motive - this is hardly a criticism. Infrastructure should not be controlled by any entity with a profit motive - it is the foundation of all other markets. If...

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Posted September 24, 2009 by christopher

Glenn Fleishman, of the excellent Wi-Fi Net News, recently interviewed Mike McGinn, a candidate for Mayor of Seattle that has talked frequently about the need for a publicly owned full fiber network in the City.

Larger cities have been slow to move on publicly owned broadband, in part because they typically already have some level of service available throughout the city (though perhaps not universally). Fleishman rightly notes this:

But is the fact that people can “only” get slow Internet connections enough to float $450 million in bonds, however financed? McGinn says that there are two separate reasons to push for universal availability. “Access to the Internet is access to the economy, access to the community, in some cases access to democracy, access to issues,” he says. But it’s also about the bottom line: “It’s an essential [piece of] infrastructure to compete in a world economy.”

Fleishman also notes a concern frequently cited by incumbent carriers who don't want a public network to compete against:

There have been many concerns raised about public entities, especially those with regulatory power over competitors–such as Seattle’s cable franchise board that controls access to public rights of way and facilities–entering the broadband market. But most of those concerns imply that the market will solve the problem. However, with no requirement for building out service to all customers, or having the same level of service available, an efficient market won’t provide universal coverage.

In my experience, this is a theoretical fear. Typically, when a community decides to build its own network, the incumbents rush to upgrade their infrastructure (often after denying that they thought there was a need for faster services in the area). If local governments were abusing their authority over the right of way, you can bet there would have been lawsuits filed - these incumbents have sued over everything else. I do not know of a single successful lawsuit against a local government for what would be a violation of law.

Getting back to the interview, they discuss both Lafayette, Louisiana:

The reason for the fight wasn’t about the right to 500 channels, about low prices, or about the city wanting a piece of the action. It was about the city’s desire to have 21st...

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Posted August 5, 2009 by christopher

Congratulations to Click! on its ten years of service to the community.

This video is no longer available.

Posted July 15, 2009 by christopher

A couple of short interesting stories this week:

  • The Chattanoogan.com published a "Declaration of Independence from Comcast", written by a "fi-oneer" or person who is testing the new publicly owned FTTH services.

    Unsurprisingly, there are some glitches this early in the process, but the fi-oneer seems pretty happy with it overall:

    The television is fantastic; we have a multitude of channels, both high def and non high def; local, 'cable,' sports, movies, etc. Contracts are still being completed with a couple of providers, so we are missing my favorite, HGTV. I have been told that it will be coming in less that two weeks.

    Although as with any new product there are occasional glitches, but we have only had a few, minor not major ones, at that. The picture might freeze for a few seconds, or pixilate for a few seconds. There are some things you need to learn about the remote control.

    Interestingly, early problems can actually help community networks. In Burlington, Vermont, early problems allowed the publicly owned network to demonstrate how good its customer service was compared to the incumbents and gained a better reputation.

  • More news out of Seattle - following up on our recent story noting Reclaim the Media's push for public broadband in Seattle, Seattle radio station KUOW's program "The Conversation" had some guests discussing the existing network in Tacoma and a potential network for Seattle. Follow that link to listen in, the relevant portion runs from 14 minutes to 21 minutes (a total of 7 minutes).

  • Karl Bode at DSL Reports slams a recent report by incumbent-flack group Discovery Institute that concludes government regulation of broadband is unnecessary. Bode's response is worth reading, here is an excerpt:

    All of this makes Swanson's whining about "groups that want heavier regulation" disingenuous, given men like Swanson just got done seeing more than a decade of sustained deregulation in the telecom sector thanks in large part to his own lobbying. The result was the United States setting new records for being thoroughly mediocre, given American consumers pay more money for less bandwidth than a significant...

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Posted July 1, 2009 by christopher

Reclaim the Media has published a position paper making the case for a publicly owned fiber network in Seattle. Seattle is in a difficult position, being served by Comcast and Qwest's copper networks while the suburbs are being snapped up by Verizon's fiber-powered FiOS and nearby publicly owned Tacoma Click! has attracted more than 100 businesses.

Not only is Seattle underserved relative to its neighbors, it has a significant digital divide from neighborhood to neighborhood. Reclaim the Media offers a solution to deal with both problems.

Going in Seattle's favor is a significant amount of fiber assets and the public power utility, City Light. Compared to other cities of its size, Seattle is among the best poised to build a publicly owned citywide fiber-to-the-home network. Now it needs the motivation.

Make no mistake, the costs would be significant- toward the mid hundreds of millions. Of course, this amount is tiny in comparison to the costs of replacing the crucial 520 bridge and the amount is similar to the public financing for beautiful Safeco Field.

Fiber-to-the-home for everyone or a sports stadium? That is an interesting decision. I think most would recognize the economic impact from being internationally competitive in broadband is considerably higher than that of a stadium. While the costs are substantial, they should be put in perspective.

RTM is right to note:

With the right vision backed by strong decisions, Seattle is poised to become a true national leader in connecting its residents, businesses, community organizations and public institutions with next-generation Internet access. Federal broadband stimulus funds, available for application this year, provide a remarkable opportunity for bold elected leaders to push forward our city's best plans, and make real our shared vision of affordable broadband for everyone.

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