Tag: "washington"

Posted March 28, 2018 by lgonzalez

In recent years, leadership in Tacoma, Washington, has debated the future of the Click! Network. They recently released a Request for Information and Qualifications (RFI/Q) to gather ideas and proposals from potential partners. Responses to the RFI/Q are due by April 27.

A Dozen Goals

The Tacoma Public Utility Board and the City Council have established a list of 12 policy goals that they plan to adhere to while moving forward. At the top of the list is, “Continuing public ownership of the telecommunications assets, especially those assets necessary for Tacoma Power operations.” Back in 2015, the Tacoma community began discussing the possibility of leasing out operations of the network. In our four part series, "The Tacoma Click! Saga of 2015", we examined the history, challenges, and potential future of the municipal network.

Other goals are designed so that low-income residents will not be left behind, network neutrality principles are respected, user privacy remains protected, and open access is preserved to encourage competition. The City Council and the Public Utility Board also want to be sure that the infrastructure continues to be used for the city’s power utility and that the telecommunications business operations are financially stable. You can review all the goals on the city’s press release.

Click!

Tacoma invested in its network back in the 1990s. The coaxial cable network passes about 115,000 premises in the Tacoma Power Utility (TPU) service area. In addition to wholesale Internet connectivity in keeping with state law, the network offers cable television service. TPU used the network for smart metering in the past, but is switching to a wireless system, which will only require the fiber backbone. They feel that now is the time to find a partner to take over broadband operations to reduce their operational costs.

The city wants to find a partner that will pick up marketing and increase take rates, upgrade the network when needed, and offer more services to residents and businesses. In their RFI/Q, the city...

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Posted March 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

Last week we reported about the uncertain position that faced Washington ports might find themselves in, should they decide to bring better connectivity to the areas within and around their service areas. We are pleased to learn that the state legislature saw the light and chose to pass the bill without the proposed harmful Senate amendments. It's good news, but the final bill isn't ideal. 

The Problem; The Proposed Solution

Current law allows ports to develop and use fiber optic infrastructure for its own uses both within and beyond their geographic borders; they can only offer wholesale services to other entities within their borders. HB 2664, as introduced, removed the geographic restriction for wholesale services. Communities like Bellingham want to attract ISPs to their cities to compete with incumbents and encourage better prices and services. With the ability to use fiber from the port and possibly integrate it into an expanded network, a city like Bellingham could save time and considerable expense if they wish to invest in Internet infrastructure throughout the community.

Local advocate Jon Humphrey, who has been following this bill and others in his area, noted that the bill had much to do with population density. There had been a change to the original language of bill — the “rural” port requirement, which effectively protected national ISPs from any competition. Humphrey wrote, “This is where the modification of the bill should have ended.”

To The Senate

The bill had no problem passing the House, but when the Senate took it up, they added several amendments that distressed Humphrey and others watching the bill and rooting for it to pass.

We were also concerned about the amendments, including a change that required projects to prioritize unserved and underserved areas. Serving such areas is certainly critical, but this type of language in legislation serves to protect incumbent ISPs from competition rather than to bring high-quality Internet access to areas ignored by those same incumbents. Allowing some level of competition in more densely populated areas helps support projects that reach into less populated unserved and underserved areas.

Humphrey expressed concern...

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Posted March 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

When the folks in Kitsap County, Washington’s Lookout Lane neighborhood banded together and used a Local Utility District (LUD) to get better connectivity, they were thinking about their own homes, not about setting a precedent. A little over a year later, other groups of neighbors are following their lead.

Sick Of Slow Connections

The Lookout Lane community formed their LUD and worked with the Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD) to expand its open access network to their neighborhood because they were stuck with slow CenturyLink DSL. Residents didn’t feel that they were getting what they were paying for at $60 per month and 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) on average download speed. Now they have options up to 1 gigabit symmetrical via the publicly owned open access network.

Forest Ridge Estates, which is adjacent to Lookout Lane, has formed an LUD and is already connected to fiber installed by KPUD, according to Angela Bennick from the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet). Bennick says that there are two other neighborhoods that are considering a similar approach. KPUD is a member of NoaNet, whose open access fiber infrastructure connects that of other public utility districts across the state so people, businesses, and institutions in Washington can have high-quality connectivity.

Property owners pay for the connections themselves, but can pay off the cost upfront, over a 20-year period, or a combination of the two. Connections were from $10,000 - $14,000 in Lookout Lane, but depend on a variety of factors; property owners usually consider the investment an added value to their home. In order to establish an LUD, a neighborhood needs a majority of homeowners to sign a petition to establish the LUD.

We spoke with General Manager Bob Hunter and Superintendent of Telecom Paul Avis last year about the network and the Lookout Lane LUD during episode 237 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. They explained how the LUD process works and how folks in the KPUD service area are...

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Posted February 28, 2018 by lgonzalez

PUDs in Washington have been developing fiber optic networks as open access infrastructure for decades. Even though ports have the same authorization to develop broadband infrastructure, their authority is limited. Currently, a port may operate telecommunications facilities for its own uses within and beyond its district, but can only provide wholesale services within the districts. A bill in the legislature would remove the ports' geographic limits and expand their authority, but amendments to the bill might cut into the measure's effectiveness.

Ports Want To Partner

HB 2664, which has worked its way through the state legislature aims to change the current situation by expanding a port’s ability to offer wholesale services outside of its district. The goal is to allow a port to use its infrastructure to partner with a private sector ISP to bring better connectivity to residents, businesses, and other entities in the areas around the port’s district.

HB 2664, which passed the House on February 14th, went on to the Senate and passed there, but was amended to require a project to focus on unserved and underserved areas. In places like Bellingham, where a city has grown up around the port and beyond its boundaries, the community could work with the port to make use of its fiber infrastructure to develop better connectivity for economic development, public savings, and better services for schools and libraries. A restriction forcing the port to prioritize on unserved and underserved communities, however, might thwart a project where DSL or cable now serves the community, even though the service is far below what the FCC considers broadband, expensive, or limited to spotty areas in town.

Putting It All Out There

Another amendment requires that any ports that decide to start using their infrastructure for wholesale service must first establish a business plan and have it reviewed by an independent third party consultant. Recommendations and adjustments associated with the review must all occur transparently. Often private sector partners shy away from working with the public sector when state laws put them in such a potentially vulnerable position.

HB 2664 started off as a promising piece of legislation but amendments may considerably limit its effectiveness.

The Process Continues

Due to the amendments in the Senate, the bill will go back to the House....

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Posted December 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

The central Washington community of Coulee Dam took a significant step this month to establishing its own fiber optic network. At a December 27th special city council meeting, they announced that they had purchased one mile of fiber optic cable and equipment from Basin Broadband, LLC, for $34,995.

According to The Star, the former owners had only one customer and used the infrastructure to connect the local school district’s offices with the school on the opposite side of town. The district pays $170 per month to lease the line and their agreement expires in 2020; the city promised to honor the agreement.

Changing Charters

Community leaders have considered the prospect of starting a publicly owned fiber optic network for at least 16 months, when they began seeking out the owner of the infrastructure. The city’s population is only approximately 1,100 people, which means national incumbents have little interest in providing high-quality connectivity. CenturyLink offers DSL for residential and business service, but town leaders want to improve economic development possibilities with fiber.

This past summer, the city council began discussing  changing the community’s legal designation in order to step out from under Washington’s restrictive laws that govern the authority of “towns.” City Attorney Mick Howe advised that if the city changed its charter to operate as a “non-charter code city,” they would have more authority. Rather than acting only on specifically allowed activities in state law, they could act as long as they were not engaging in specifically forbidden activities as spelled out in state law.

Councilmember Keith St. Jeor said he knows people who settled in other towns because they have Internet service that is “100 times better.”

Councilmember Schmidt said the town is severely lacking in technology solutions and that they were not likely to come from private enterprise because of the small population. Changing to a code city would simply allow the municipality to explore more options.

“You might be surprised what solutions you...

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Posted December 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

The Chelan County Public Utility District recently approved their budget and, to the delight of residents and businesses in Chumstick, Merry Canyon, and other areas, they included funding to expand the publicly owned fiber network.

Continuing The Growth Process

News of the expansion underscores the increasingly important role high-quality connectivity plays in everyday life. Fiber and Telecom Manager Mike Coleman told the Chelan PUD at its recent meeting that 73 percent of the county now has access to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). He noted that in 2012, average wait time for new installations was 31 days; the utility has shrunk that time down to 11 days. The demand in the past five years has grown and the number of subscribers has grown from approximately 12,000 in 2012 to almost 15,000 today. The PUD expects to reach an additional 1,059 premises in 2018.

“We’ve come so far in the last five years,” says Coleman. “Our goal is to be a world-class fiber transport provider and to facilitate the retail service providers in providing the best possible customer service they can.”

The PUD plans to increase marketing efforts so more residents and businesses know that fiber from the county is an available alternative. Apparently, many residents didn’t realize that the PUD offered the service until this year.

Coverage of the meeting:

Posted December 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

Ellensburg, Washington, decided to pursue a fiber optic pilot project to serve local businesses almost a year ago, but they’ve encountered some bumps along the way. After revising the original plan and working with the state’s nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), it looks like they’ll be moving forward.

The Logical Progression

Back in 2013, Ellensburg realized that they could save significantly by ending service from Charter Communications and investing in a publicly owned institutional network (I-Net) to bring connectivity to municipal facilities. The positive results from the investment inspired them to take the next step and look into expanding their investment to infrastructure for businesses and residents. Early this year, they decided to start with a pilot program that would build off their I-Net to bring 30 businesses fiber connectivity, including a few home-based businesses and telecommuters.

Financial Slow Downs

The city received a grant from the Distressed County Sales and Use Tax Infrastructure Improvement Program to fund the project; the City Council dedicated the $169,560 grant to the project.

When they asked for bids from three contractors that are listed on their small works roster, none were interested. Next, they chose a firm to negotiate with but the first quote of $415,000 was well above their budget. Even after negotiating the price down to $315,000, the City Council was hard pressed on their next move.

In October, the city’s Utility Advisory Committee recommended they consider reducing the area to be served in the pilot project to reduce the cost of the deployment. They chose to let the bid expire.

The NoaNet Connection

In November, Ellensburg Director of Energy Services Larry Dunbar...

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Posted December 4, 2017 by Staff

This is episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Russ Brethrower, a project specialist at Grant County Public Utility District, discusses how Grant County, Washington, pioneered open access infrastructure in the United States. Listen to this episode here.

Russ Brethrower: Our commission, management, everybody's made it really clear. Our capital is an investment in the future of the county up and down the food chain. It's -- it's a given that it's an investment and the capital is not expected to be returned.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 279 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for local self-reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Christopher recently attended the broadband community's economic development conference. He attends every fall and if he's lucky he's able to record interviews with people from some of the communities we're curious about. He also makes the trip to each Broadband Community Summit the spring time event. While he was at the November event in Atlanta, he connected with several people including this week's guest Russ Brethrower from the Grant County Public Utility District in Washington Grant County PUD has one of the most established and geographically largest open access community networks in the US. The rural communities population is sparse and widely distributed but community leaders had an eye toward the future when they decided to invest in fiber infrastructure. In this interview, Russ shares the story of their network and describe some of their challenges. Here's Christopher with Russ Brethrower from the Grant County Public Utility District in Washington.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today I'm in Atlanta sitting on the runway of the Atlanta airport at the Broadband Communities Summit which is focused on economic development here. And today I'm talking to Russ Brethrower Project Specialist for Grant County Public Utility District in Washington. Welcome to the show. Thank you very much Chris. So Russ I've been trying to get you on for a long time. You are one you're coming from one of the communities that has the oldest municipal...

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Posted November 15, 2017 by christopher

Grant County's Public Utility District was, along with some nearby PUDs, among the very first deployers of Fiber-to-the-Home networks shortly after the turn of the millennium. And per Washington's law, they built an open access network that today has more than twenty service providers.

Grant County PUD Project Specialist Russ Brethrower joins us for Community Broadband Bits podcast 279, a live interview from the Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta

We discuss the history of the network and other observations from Russ, who has more direct experience in these networks than the vast majority of us that regularly speculate on them. We also talk about the experiences of open access over 16 years and how they financed the network. 

Read the transcript for this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

logo-community-bb-bits_small.png This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Image of Deep Lake in Grant County © Steven Pavlov / http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Senapa,...

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Posted November 2, 2017 by lgonzalez

December 8th Update: WOW! The latest campaign report discloses that Priorities First spent a total of $901,000 during this campaign. Congrats on overcoming that Goliath, Fort Collins!

Fort Collins Update: On November 3rd, Comcast's front group Priorities First filed their most recent campaign report. The report showed that the group spent and additional $256,326 on the Fort Collins campaign between October 23rd and November 1st. This brings big incumbent spending to stop compeition to almost half a million dollars. 

As the company with one of the largest ISPs in the nation, Comcast Corporation makes daily investment decisions. They choose to put company funds into a variety of ventures, from theme parks to hair color; all that matters is that the investment pays off. This election season, Comcast is once again devoting funds to an investment it considers necessary - influencing elections in Seattle and Fort Collins, Colorado. We've prepared a policy brief to look deeper into Comcast's investment into the elections.

Download the brief hereComcast Spends Big on Local Elections: Would Lose Millions in Revenue from Real Broadband Competition.

We’ve written about lobbying dollars from big national incumbents so many times we can do it in our sleep. Comcast doesn’t want competition from any other provider. We know that subscribers complain year after year in surveys about the ISP and each year Comcast makes it at or near the top of the list of most hated companies. It’s reasonable to expect residents and businesses to switch to some other ISP if given the opportunity. If the new entrant happens to be managed by a utility they know and trust, the chances of them...

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