Tag: "utopia"

Posted November 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

Open access networks offer opportunities for competition and innovation that networks owned and operated by one entity can’t provide. We've written about open access networks owned, operated, and funded by public entities; now private investors are increasingly attracted to these competitive, fiber optic environments.

Changing Paradigm

Over time, American Internet access subscribers have become accustomed to the idea that options are limited because large, corporate Internet access providers have positioned themselves so as not to compete with one other. In areas where local communities have deployed open access models, such as in Ammon, Idaho, or in places with regional open access networks, like UTOPIA Fiber in Utah and the many Public Utility District networks (PUDs) in the state of Washington, those connecting to the network have benefitted from ISP choice and access to high-quality connectivity.

In Europe and Asia, open access models appear more regularly, but in the U.S., the open access arrangement has primarily been adopted by local governments offering wholesale service to ISPs. Often they do so as a way to comport with state law. In the past few years, however, private companies and investment firms have seen the potential of open access fiber optic infrastructure in the U.S. For example, SiFi Networks announced a project in Fullerton, California, earlier this year with plans to establish similar infrastructure projects in other communities.

We recently touched base with Kelly Ryan, CEO of iFiber Communications, an Internet service provider that operates via open access networks owned and operated by PUDs in Washington. We also talked with James Wagar, Managing Director of Thomas Capital Group, who has eyes on open access fiber optic network projects.

The Finance Piece

James notes that in recent years, privately funded open access networks...

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Posted October 29, 2019 by lgonzalez

Idaho Falls completed a publicly owned and operated a dark fiber network in 2010. Recently, city leaders unanimously decided to use the asset to offer citywide Internet access to the community. The vote followed a successful pilot project, commenced in March and completed this past September, which connected around 1,200 homes.

According to the East Idaho News:

Since that time, Idaho Falls Fiber officials have been gathering data and evaluating the costs and feasibility of expanding the high-speed fiber network through the rest of the Idaho Falls community.

...

“This kind of a public-private partnership is exciting. It allows the city to focus on infrastructure—something we excel at,” said Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. “And, it allows local Internet providers to offer their internet services to residents where they previously could not get this type of infrastructure to deliver a reliable high speed Internet product. It captures the best of both worlds.”

Idaho Falls worked with UTOPIA Fiber on the pilot project, which included four local Internet access providers offering services via the Idaho Falls publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure. The open access network will continue to expand over the next four years within the Idaho Falls Power service area. UTOPIA Fiber will continue to work with the city to expand the network.

“Designing a system like this is a complicated operational and engineering function,” said [General Manager Bear] Prairie. “That’s why the Council approved the agreement for us to partner with UTOPIA Fiber, a not-for profit entity like Idaho Falls Fiber that has the experience in operating successful networks similar to our design. We are excited to have successfully demonstrated that utilizing our existing power utility infrastructure to install fiber lines coupled with UTOPIA’s software that opens the network to local Internet providers to use has proven to be an economic success for our city.”

Residents and businesses and sign up and express interest...

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Posted October 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Executive Director of UTOPIA Fiber Roger Timmerman has been paying attention to the issues that are on people's minds these days in Utah. He's discovered a trend — six of the top ten are issues can be positively impacted by publicly owned fiber optic Internet infrastructure. He tweeted about it:

UTOPIA Fiber has been working diligently to expand it's infrastructure in Orem; now more than 1,000 residents have the ability to connect to the open access infrastructure and choose from 11 Internet access companies. UTOPIA Fiber anticipates the deployment will be finished by the end of 2022.

Listen to our interview with Timmerman and Perry City Mayor Karen Cornin, recorded in 2016, about the network. They spoke with Christopher for episode 223 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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Posted November 22, 2018 by lgonzalez

In the U.S., Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times of the year. Families and friends come together to catch up, to eat tons of food, and to appreciate their good fortune. It's a time to count our blessings and laugh at a few of the characters common to every family. This year, we've imagined some of those characters at Thanksgiving Dinner in the world of telecom...

Momma Greenlight

by Lisa

Thanksgiving would be just another TV dinner without someone willing to wake up at 4 a.m. to put the bird in the oven, prep the potatoes, and bake the pie. Just like Mom, Greenlight in Wilson, North Carolina, has gone above and beyond for the community. In addition to  providing an important economic development tool and creating an innovative program for folks who might struggle a little with Internet access bills, Wilson connected their neighbor Pinetops. In much the same vein, we know that if the next door neighbor was alone on Thanksgiving, Mom would invite them over for turkey and pumpkin pie.

Uncle Comcast

by Jess

He’s that uncle you don’t want to get stuck next to at the dinner table. Uncle Comcast will spend the entire time talking up his newest business venture while he ignores your aunt’s repeated request to pass the mashed potatoes. When you finally get a chance to talk he suddenly has to leave the table to take a call from one of his many lawyers. You’re a little worried he’s working on scheme to swindle grandma out of house and home in order to monopolize the inheritance

Cool Aunt Ammon

by Katie

thanksgiving-dinner.png Everyone in your family is always talking about...

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Posted November 13, 2018 by lgonzalez

When anti-muni groups have taken aim at publicly owned networks, they’ve often put UTOPIA in their crosshairs. The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency has had times of struggle, but those days seem to be over. The network is expanding, subscribers are touting the benefits that come with the choice of an open access network, and other communities are reaching out to UTOPIA for advice. Days in UTOPIA country are sunny.

In this interview, Christopher speaks with Kimberly McKinley, UTOPIA’s Chief Marketing Officer, about the new and improved UTOPIA. Kimberly describes some of the ways the agency has adjusted their thinking from public entity to public entity with a competitive edge. She notes that marketing isn’t something that organizations such as public utilities think they need to worry about, but in the world of connectivity, strong marketing strategy pays off.

Along with lessons learned, Kimberly shares the triumphs that have turned UTOPIA into the leader in the region. UTOPIA’s footprint is growing, their services are expanding, and they’re influencing more communities. They’ve worked hard to reach this level of success and we see their trajectory to continue upward.

Check out more coverage of UTOPIA on MuniNetworks.org.

Read the transcript for the show.

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

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can...

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Posted October 1, 2018 by lgonzalez

Skies have been brightening for the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency Network (UTOPIA). The trend is continuing for the network that has seen rough times in the past, testament to their fortitude, creativity, and ability to turn lemons into lemonade.

Finishing Layton

Most recently, UTOPIA announced that they had reached an agreement with the town of Layton, Utah, to finish deploying fiber infrastructure to residents and businesses. UTOPIA plans to have deployment in Layton, where approximately half of the city currently has access to the infrastructure, completed within 24 months.

According to Jesse Harris at Free UTOPIA!, expert at all things UTOPIA, this build out varies from deployment in the earlier days of construction in a few ways:

For starters, UIA [Utah Infrastructure Authority] can now issue bonds on its own authority. This means cities no longer have to use their bonding capacity to back them. The Layton plan also has the city backing the bonds using city franchise fees. If the subscriber numbers fall below what is required to pay the bond (which, to date, has not happened in a single UIA expansion area), the city pledges to cover the difference. On the flip side, if revenues exceed the bond payments (which has happened in most UIA expansion areas), the city gets to keep a cut of that for whatever they want. This could include paying off the original UTOPIA bonds, funding other city services, or anything else, really. It’s important to note that this revenue split option is only available to cities who assumed the original debt service.

Harris speculates that, due to the housing boom in the region, UTOPIA may face a difficult time recruiting the people they need to build the network. There are also almost two dozen potential UTOPIA communities engaged in feasibility studies. All these factors, in addition to the possibility of access to materials, may impact the ability for the network to expand at the rate they’d consider ideal.

10 Gigs for Residents

In January, we reported that UTOPIA announced a financial milestone — for the first time, revenue covered bond payments and also allowed a 2 percent dividend for most member communities. 

That same month,...

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Posted January 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

Things have been looking up for the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency’s fiber optic network (UTOPIA) in recent years and in December network officials reported they’ve reached a significant financial milestone. For the first time since the open access network began operations in 2003, revenue will cover bond payments and will provide a 2 percent dividend to most of the member communities.

Despite The Limitations

In keeping with state restrictions, UTOPIA can only provide wholesale services via their fiber infrastructure. Ten ISPs offer residential services on the network, which establishes ample competition and all its benefits for subscribers, including lower prices, better customer service, and the ability to switch providers. Businesses can choose from 25 ISPs.

The wholesale-only model, however, significantly reduces the revenue communities can expect from their investment, which was the case with UTOPIA. The eleven member cities bonded approximately $185 million, but revenue limits due to the restriction, some early management decisions, and general apprehension from member communities, created political controversy. At one point, member communities considered selling out to Australian investment firm Macquarie.

Fortitude Paying Off

In 2011, eight of the member communities created the Utopia Infrastructure Agency (UIA) in order to spur more network expansion. UIA collaborates with UTOPIA as a separate entity; its purpose is to deploy the network in more locations and connect more premises and has issued the dividend to its member communities.

Communities in the region chose to stick with their investment, however, and gradually, as Jesse Harris from FreeUTOPIA noted in 2016, negative public opinion turned around. Things for the eleven member communities were on an upward trajectory and soon neighboring...

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Posted October 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

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. 

As a state, building an open access fiber network into each county makes sense. States also need to connect their offices, from public safety to managing natural resources and social services. Rather than overpay a massive monopoly like AT&T...

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Posted June 1, 2017 by lgonzalez

For the second week in row, our staff has felt compelled to address a misleading report about municipal networks. In order to correct the errors and incorrect assumptions in yet another anti-muni publication, we’ve worked with Next Century Cities to publish Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: Yoo Discredits U Penn, Not Municipal Networks.

Skewed Data = Skewed Results

Professor Christopher S. Yoo and Timothy Pfenninger from the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition (CTIC) at the University of Pennsylvania Law School recently released "Municipal Fiber in the United States: An Empirical Assessment of Financial Performance." The report attempts to analyze the financial future of several citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal networks in the U.S. by applying a Net Present Value (NPV) calculation approach. They applied their method to some well-known networks, including Chattanooga's EPB Fiber Optics; Greenlight in Wilson, North Carolina; and Lafayette, Louisiana's LUS Fiber. Unfortunately, their initial data was flawed and incomplete, which yielded a report fraught with credibility issues.

So Many Problems 

In addition to compromising data validity, the authors of the study didn’t consider the wider context of municipal networks, which goes beyond the purpose of NPV, which is determining the promise of a financial investment.

Some of the more expansive problems with this report (from our Executive Summary):

  • They erred in claiming Wilson, Lafayette, and Chattanooga have balloon payments at the end of the term. They have corrected that error in a press release. Other errors, such as confusing the technologies used by at least two networks, are less important but decrease the study’s credibility.
  • Several of the cities dispute the accuracy of the numbers used in the calculations for their communities.
  • The Net Present Value calculation is inappropriate in this context for...
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Posted May 26, 2017 by Nick

S&P Global Market Intelligence - May 26, 2017

Hard Data on Municipal Broadband Networks

Written by Sarah Barry James

There is a dearth of good data around municipal broadband networks, and the data that is available raises some tough questions.

A new study from University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Christopher Yoo and co-author Timothy Pfenninger, a law student, identified 88 municipal fiber projects across the country, 20 of which report the financial results of their broadband operations separately from the results of their electric power operations. Municipal broadband networks are owned and operated by localities, often in connection with the local utility.

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Yet Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, argued that Yoo's study did not present an entirely accurate or up-to-date picture of U.S. municipal networks.

"When I looked at the 20 communities that he studied — and his methodology for picking those is totally reasonable and he did not cherry pick them — I was not surprised at his results because many of those networks are either in very small communities … and the others were often in the early years of a buildout during a period of deep recession," Mitchell said.

As an example, Mitchell pointed to Electric Power Board's municipal broadband network in Chattanooga, Tenn. — one of the five networks Yoo identified as having positive cash flow but at such a low level that it would take more than 100 years to recover project costs.

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In fact, without the revenue generated by the fiber-optics business, EPB estimated it would have had to raise electric rates by 7% this year.

According to Mitchell, Yoo's study captured the Chattanooga network when it was still "small and growing," but misses "what's going to happen for the rest of the life of the network, which I think is the more important part."

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