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Waterloo, Iowa Voters GO Forward with Municipal Fiber Network
After years of consideration and planning, Waterloo, Iowa is finally moving quickly forward with its plan to build a citywide municipal fiber network. Once complete, the network aims to provide the city’s 67,695 residents with an affordable, fiber-based alternative to local monopolized broadband options that have long left regional locals frustrated and disappointed.
Waterloo expects that it will cost somewhere around $115 million to build the necessary fiber backbone and connect all Waterloo residents and businesses to the fledgling network. City officials expect the first customers to go live sometime later this year at up to gigabit speeds, though it will take roughly three years for the entire network to be built.
Much like the rest of the country, Waterloo leaders and residents received a crash course in the importance of affordable broadband during the Covid crisis, when the country’s spotty, sluggish, and expensive broadband networks were on full display due to a massive rise in telecommuting and home education.
Voters Declare GO Time on Muni Broadband
Fueled by frustration, Waterloo voters in September overwhelmingly approved the city issuing general obligation bonds to fund the start of construction for a city-wide municipal fiber network.
Waterloo Set to Vote on Funding for Municipal Fiber Network
The City of Waterloo, Iowa has been flirting with the idea of building a municipal fiber network since 2005 when voters approved the creation of a municipal utility service. Voters said yes to the concept then but were not asked to put any money behind it.
"We were so excited we passed it, and then nothing happened. (The plan had) been gathering dust for 16 years," at-large Councilor Sharon Juon, a member of the city’s broadband committee in 2005, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier when the city council unanimously approved a $2.5 million contract with Magellan Advisors to design and engineer a fiber network last fall.
This is something our city needs so desperately. We've lost businesses because we don't have the broadband needed.
Now, officials in this northeast Iowa city of 68,000 residents (the eighth-largest city in the state) are ready to take the next step, going back to voters with a ballot question that seeks approval for the city to borrow $20 million to build the network backbone.
Voters will head to the polls to decide the question on September 13. It will need 60 percent approval at the ballot box for the measure to pass.
The ‘Time is Here’
Characterizing the effort to build future-proof fiber infrastructure as “good for the long-range interest of this community,” Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart told The Courier:
For the past 15 to 20 years, the city has done a lot of talking of needing to do this and to work for our own fiber network, and the time is here.
Should the ballot measure pass, the funds would be used to build a 100-mile fiber backbone to support the city’s sewer, storm water, traffic, and water systems. Consultants to the city have said that general obligation bonds are not required, but would be used to lower the cost of financing the overall project.
Maine’s Antique Capital Aims to Propel State Into 21st Century With Better Broadband Access
The Searsport Broadband Committee is pushing forward with a plan to bring a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to town residents. The committee hopes to hold a special town meeting soon, where residents will be asked to vote on a bond to pay for it.
Searsport, Maine (pop. 2,600), known for being “the home of famous sea captains” and the “Antique Capital of Maine,” is certainly not an antique when it comes to the town's perspective on the necessity of broadband and the long-term benefits that come from investing in fiber.
“There’s a saying, ‘it’s future-proof,’” Searsport Town Manager James Gillway told the Bangor Daily News. “It’s so far ahead of what copper wire does. It’ll give us better connectivity, and we would run it, own it, like any other utility. That way, we can control the cost. We can be super competitive.”
The town recently put out an informational booklet to educate residents on what this network would look like.
The network is estimated to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million, with the town seeking state grants to help cover some of the costs. Residents will have the option to subscribe for $60 to $70/month with speeds going up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). Early news coverage suggests the town would contract with Axiom Technologies of Machias to be the Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Like many communities we’ve been covering over the course of the pandemic, working from home and distance learning has really put a spotlight on the need for fast, reliable Internet access in Searsport.
The town received a $13,000 grant that it applied for back in July 2020 to help boost it’s free public downtown Wi-Fi, which the town believes will “set [them] apart and make [them] more of a destination then a rest stop or pass through town.”
Comcast Didn't Stop Fort Collins Fiber; Community Moving Forward Step By Step
When Fort Collins voters chose to amend their charter last year, they were choosing a path to simplify their ability to improve local connectivity. When Comcast tried to derail the measure to protect their monopoly, community members established a vibrant grassroots effort to overcome the influx of cash and disinformation. Now, Fort Collins is moving ahead after establishing that they intend to issue revenue bonds to develop a municipal fiber optic network.
Big Spending Didn’t Stop The Need
After all the spending was totaled last December, Comcast and CenturyLink under the mask of Priorities First Fort Collins, spent $900,999 to try to defeat measure 2B. The proposal passed anyway and allowed the city to amend its charter. That change allows Fort Collins to issue bonds for telecommunications infrastructure and to take other steps necessary to offer Internet service without taking the issue to the voters a separate time.
Thanks to the efforts of Colin Garfield and Glen Akins and their citizen-led effort to educate and correct Comcast’s disinformation, voters in Fort Collins passed measure 2B. The city opted out of the state’s restrictive SB 152 back in 2015 and voices in the community have advocated for exploration of a publicly owned option for several years. Seems people and businesses in Fort Collins were not able to get the connectivity they needed and incumbents weren’t interested in providing better services.
KentuckyWired: Partners, Poles, Problems Plague Project
With the best intentions, Kentucky announced in late 2014 that it would build out a statewide open access fiber optic network to at least one location in each county to encourage high-quality connectivity in both urban and rural communities. Hopes were high as rural residents and businesses that depended on DSL and dial-up envisioned connectivity to finally bring them into the 21st century. After almost three years and multiple issues that have negatively impacted the project, legislators and everyday folks are starting to wonder what's in store for the KentuckyWired project.
Local Communities Are Best Suited To Deploy Community Networks
There is no one-size-fits-all method of deploying across a state filled with communities and landscapes as diverse as Kentucky. From the urban centers like Louisville and Lexington to the rocky, mountainous terrain in the southeastern Appalachian communities, demographics and geography vary widely. But most lack modern Internet access and local ISPs have found it hard to get affordable backhaul to connect to the rest of the Internet.
There are several municipal networks in Kentucky, some of which have operated for decades. In addition to Glasgow, Paducah, Bowling Green, Frankfort, and others, Owensboro is currently expanding a pilot project that proved popular. As our own Christopher Mitchell discussed at the Appalachia Connectivity Summit, several cooperatives have made major fiber-optic investments in the state.
When it comes to connecting residents and local businesses, we strongly believe local entities are the best choice. Local officials have a better sense of rights-of-way, the challenges of pole attachments, and the many other moving pieces that go into network investment. Projects with local support see fewer barriers - people are more willing to grant easements, for instance.
New Hampshire Bill Seeks To Improve Bonding For Munis
New Hampshire has made strides in bringing better connectivity to unserved areas with projects like New Hampshire Fast Roads, but for years one factor has held them back: state law limitations on municipal bonding for Internet infrastructure. Once again, a proposal to change the law is in the state legislature.
SB 170 - It's Simple
SB 170 proposes to eliminate the one provision in New Hampshire law that has prevented municipalities from bonding for Internet infrastructure - the requirement that the infrastructure can only serve properties where there is no existing service. By blocking access to funding, the requirement has prevented projects that might bring service to whole communities when small pockets of service already exist in those communities.
The House companion bill, HB 191, passed the Science, Technology and Energy Committee but died when brought before the full House for a vote. The bipartisan vote against the bill was 193 - 168, emphasizing that the issue of connectivity is not related to political party.
SB 170 was heard in the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee in early February and, even though a number of individuals and organizations from communities in effected towns spoke on its behalf, a motion was presented to kill the bill. We’re happy to report, however, that the motion failed and the bill was rereferred to the same committee. It’s been sitting there ever since. In other words, it’s still alive, but it may not be picked up again unless committee leadership feel motivated to do so.
Tell Them, "It's About MY Hometown"
Rock Falls: The Future Is In Fiber
The community of Rock Falls, Illinois, is well on its way to developing a gigabit municipal network to offer better connectivity to residents, businesses, and public facilities. Last week, the City Council adopted an ordinance that allows the city to issue general obligation bonds to fund citywide fiber-optic Internet infrastructure.
The city’s plan will expand first in business corridors and then use the fiberhood approach in residential areas, building only after a certain percentage of households preregister. The plan divides the city into 14 fiberhoods with each area’s build out cost estimated to be approximately $250,000. Residential fiberhoods will require 45 percent participation prior to construction. Consultants estimate citywide buildout costs will be $13 million; the City Council authorized bonding for that amount. The first bond issue will be $4.1 million likely to happen in early May if approval proceeds as planned.
The City Council authorized the first phase of the project to begin - network design and project administration - which will cost approximately $207,000. The process to issue GO bonds will start in March and city leaders hope to have the backbone completed by the end of June.
Most publicly owned Internet infrastructure is funded by revenue bonds, avoided costs, or interdepartmental loans rather than GO bonds. When funded by general obligation bonds, a project is backed by the credit and taxing power of the issuing jurisdiction and the resource is always publicly owned. Clearly, the community of Rock Falls recognizes how critical the investment is to the community's future.
From The Mayor
In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Bill Wescott focused on three factors that drove the initiative: growth, the city’s strong finances, and local control.
While it’s common knowledge that economic development needs better connectivity than what is now available in Rock Falls, Wescott noted that residents stuck with 10 - 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) download Internet access need and deserve higher capacity connectivity to participate in the modern economy. He defined “growth” broadly, encompassing jobs, education, innovation, public safety, and government.
Fairlawn Folks Get FTTH; Residents Now Connected
Not long ago, FairlawnGig in Ohio began serving businesses with symmetrical connectivity, offering speeds up to 1 Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second. The incremental build is progressing and now the city is offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to residents in Fairlawn.
They Want It
According to a recent Akron Beacon Journal article, demand for residential services is already strong with more than 1,400 subscribers in line for installation; one-third of the installation is now complete. If 4,100 households and businesses in Fairlawn sign up, the city estimates it will break even. In the neighborhood where the first series of installations are taking place, 80 percent of households have signed up.
Fairlawn's goal is not to make profits from its investment; city leaders consider the network an essential piece of infrastructure like roads or sewers. They’ve chosen to fund the investment with municipal bonds, an atypical funding mechanism for Internet infrastructure. Their decision, however, underscores their commitment and belief that better connectivity is an essential service that will keep the community competitive.
“It’s going to make [Fairlawn] much more attractive,” [said local business development manager Mike Perkins]. “Fairlawn is at the forefront and everyone else is going to be playing catch-up.”
Nuts And Bolts Of FairlawnGig
When we interviewed Deputy Director of Public Service Ernie Staten about the project last spring, he described the city’s partnership with Extra Mile Fiber, an Ohio company that collaborates with Fairlawn to provide Internet access services. The city and Extra Mile will share revenue from the service, FairlawnGig.
NoaNet Starts The Year Off Right In Washington
A new year promises a fresh slate for many people. For the folks at Washington’s NoaNet, it means starting out 2017 bond-free.
In his year-end message, Chief Executive Officer Greg L. Marney announced that the organization has paid off its start up debt. At the November Board of Directors meeting, Controller Paul Harding reported that revenues are positive and that, “Budget to actual figures are favorable, with revenues above Budget and expenses a little below Budget.” Things are looking good at NoaNet.
A Washington Staple
NoaNet has become a solid presence in the state of Washington. In 2000, Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) began connecting 170 communities across the state with approximately 2,000 fiber miles. The middle mile network provides connectivity in both urban and rural areas to schools, libraries, hospitals, and other government facilities. Sixty-one Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer retail services vis the open access infrastructure. Recently, Anacortes and NoaNet decided to work together as the small community addresses its local connectivity problems.
Last year, we put together a list of 15 NoaNet accomplishments, but you can also listen to Chief Operating Officer Dave Spencer visit with Christopher for episodes #164 and #159. Congrats to NoaNet!
Linda Gott, President of the NoaNet Board of Directors, cuts a cake to celebrate the payoff of NoaNet's startup bonds this year.
(Photo courtesy of NoaNet)
Rock Falls Residents Next In Line For Fiber? Maybe...
About a year ago, we reported that Rock Falls, Illinois, had decided to develop a fiber network to offer connectivity to local businesses. Now, the town of less than 10,000 is closer to expanding that network to offer Gigabit Internet access and voice to residents.
Considering Expanding Services
In September, community leaders began considering the expansion after consultants suggested investing in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) as the best way to make use of the city’s resources. They offered a “fiberhood” option so Rock Falls Electric Department could connect new subscribers incrementally; they suggest starting with business corridors where many commerical entities are already taking service. The fiberhood approach requires people in specific areas of the city to sign up first, then after a certain percentage of the households committ, construction begins.
Rock Falls began planting fiber and conduit in the 1990s and have connected the municipal electric utility substations, schools, and other municipal facilities. They have also leased out excess capacity to private providers who want to offer connectivity to commercial customers in prior years.
Funding - It's Complicated
The fiber backbone is already in place but a complete citywide FTTH system will cost approximately $13 million, estimate consultants. After consulting bonding professionals, city leaders discovered that they needed to consider a few issues before deciding how to proceed. SaukValley.com reported on the financing discussion:
“We need either a feasibility study or our most recent audit that includes revenues from the broadband business to show we can make our bond payments,” [City Administrator Robin] Blackert said. “But a new feasibility study would cost us between $60,000 and $80,000, and we have no past revenue history with the new utility.”