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Medina County Aims to Be Mecca of Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 220

Medina County has built a fiber network to connect its core facilities and leases its fiber to multiple ISPs to improve connectivity in its communities. David Corrado, CEO of the Medina County Fiber Network, joins us to discuss their approach on Community Broadband Bits episode 220.

We discuss how the Port Authority became the lead agency in building the network and the challenges of educating potential subscribers on the benefits of using a full fiber network rather than the slower, less reliable connections they were used to.

Medina's approach allows carriers to buy lit services or dark fiber from the county network. And as we have seen elsewhere, the biggest challenge can be getting the first and second carriers on the network. After that, it can really pick up steam as other carriers realize they are missing out if not using it.

At the end of our interview, we added a bonus from Lisa - she just produced a short audio segment about Pinetops losing its Internet access from the city of Wilson in North Carolina.

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

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Ammon Model In Louisiana? Ask The Voters!

Voters in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, will get the chance in December to decide if they wish to invest in a fiber-optic network, reports the Advocate.

Louisiana Looks At Idaho

This past summer, Parish President Kevin Couhig presented the plan to create a new parish fiber optic utility. His plan includes an open access network to draw competition that will be based on the Software-Defined Network (SDN) of the Ammon model:

Couhig’s plan would get away from single Internet service providers, which control speed, innovation, bandwidth, data limits and price. Instead, the ISPs would compete through the parishwide network. Each consumer could control what they would have available through the open access such as internet, phone, video and interactive gaming.

Parish staff worked with a consulting firm for several months to develop a feasibility study, define costs, and draft a network design. They estimate the network would cost a little over $5.7 million and would require about 107 fiber miles. In December voters will decide whether or not to accept a plan to fund the network with a 4-mill property tax levy for five years, beginning in 2017. On September 14th, the Parish Council voted to allow the question to be placed on the December ballot.

Redefining Infrastructure In The Bayou

The city will still need to determine how the state's barriers will affect their plans. West Feliciana Parish is 30 miles north of Baton Rouge and home to approximately 16,500 people. There are about 426 square miles in the parish, which is located along the Mississippi River. In July, when Couhig presented the detailed study to the Parish Council, he expressed his motivation for the project:

“As important, we will bring to our residents economical, modern services in entertainment, data, community and health service capabilities that will be on par with any place in the world…To be successful, we need to grow and maintain all of our types of infrastructure, but in the modern world, that must include broadband capability.”

For more details on Ammon’s SDN model, listen to Christopher talk to Bruce Patterson, the city’s Technology Director, in episode #207 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. You can also check out our video for more on Ammon:

Wilson Forced to Turn Off Service to Pinetops

Last night, Wilson’s City Council voted to halt Greenlight Internet service to the community of Pinetops, North Carolina. City leaders, faced with the unfortunate reversal of the FCC’s preemption of harmful state anti-muni laws, felt the move was necessary to protect the utility. Service will stop at the end of October.

No Other Solution

Before the vote City Manager Grant Goings told the Wilson Times:

“Unfortunately, there is a very real possibility that we will have to disconnect any customer outside our county. That is the cold, hard truth,” Goings said. “Without getting into the legal options that our city attorney will discuss with the council, I’ll summarize it like this: we have not identified a solution where Greenlight can serve customers outside of our county.

“While we are very passionate about reaching underserved areas and we think the laws are atrocious to prevent people from having service, we’re not going to jeopardize our ability to serve Wilson residents.”

When H129 passed in 2011, it provided an exemption for Wilson, which allows Greenlight to serve Wilson County. The bill also states that if they go beyond their borders, they lose the exemption. North Carolina’s priorities are clearly not with the rural communities, but with the big corporate providers that pushed to pass the bill.

After Wilson leaders took the vote, Christopher commented on the fact that they have been put in such a difficult position:

"It is a travesty that North Carolina is prioritizing the profits of the big cable and telephone companies above the well-being of local businesses and residents. The state legislature needs to focus on what is good for North Carolina businesses and residents, not only what these powerful lobbyists want."

Economic Progress Grinds To A Halt

Vick Family Farms, highlighted in a recent New York Times article, is only one Pinetops business that faces an uncertain future. The potato farm invested in a new packing plant that requires the Gigabit connectivity they can only get from Greenlight. Incumbent Centurylink has explicitly stated that is has no intention to upgrade infrastructure in a community of only 1,300 people.

In a letter to Governor McCrory, Mayor Burress rightly lays the blame on the shoulders of the state. “In effect,” he says, “the state of North Carolina is turning off our Gigabit entry to the 21st century global knowledge economy.”

He also describes how Gigabit connectivity to rural Pinetops, brightened their future in a number of ways:

“The economic future of my rural community improved immediately when we gained access to Wilson’s broadband service. Compared to what we had been receiving from the incumbent, access to Greenlight services was like being catapulted from the early 1990s into the 21st century. Our small businesses and residents have saved hundreds of dollars and significantly increased their productivity because of the reliable and super fast Greenlight speeds. Our town commissioners also began planning a new economic development strategy, because as a Gigabit fiber community we became newly competitive in the region for attracting creative class and knowledge workers from Greenville and Rocky Mount and the new jobs created by the Rocky Mount CSX distribution hub.”

The Pinetops Board of Commissioners passed a resolution after the Wilson vote, calling on the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal H129. Wilson Energy will still use the fiber connections to Pinetops homes but customers will not have the option to use the infrastructure for connectivity. Nevertheless, if there are future changes in North Carolina laws that remove the state barriers, Pinetops could once again be served by Wilson’s Greenlight.

Bigger Than Wilson

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit made their decision to reverse the FCC's ruling on the anti-muni laws, their decision immediately harmed the community of Pinetops. Their decision, however, reaches to every rural community where the big Internet Service Providers don't offer the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity needed in the 21st century.

In the words of Wilson's City Manager:

“This is bigger than Wilson. This is about the rural areas, particularly in eastern North Carolina, because the majority of the area does not present enough profitability to attract the private-sector investment,” Goings said. “As a community, a state and frankly as a nation, we need to find ways to connect these rural communities, and our city council believes strongly that our state officials should focus on being part of the solution instead of constructing barriers to prevent communities from being served.”

Chesterton, Indiana: Dark Fiber Investment, Seeks Operator

Chesterton, Indiana, plans to deploy a dark fiber network to serve municipal facilities, anchor institutions, and local businesses. Like their neighbor to the south, Valparaiso, they hope to boost economic development, improve local services, and help the community compete in the race to draw in new industries. “We learned if we didn’t have that in the ground ready to go, we couldn’t compete,” said Town Manager Bernie Doyle.

Taking It One Step At A Time

The Chesterton Redevelopment Commission released a Request for Proposals (RFP) in late July as part of Phase II of the project christened the Chesterton Fiber Optic Network (CFON). The community is looking for an entity to operate and maintain, provide last mile connectivity, and perform other services typical of an Operator. Late last year, the community released the Phase I Request for Information (RFI), for a firm to design the fiber backbone of approximately 15 miles. They chose a company in March. The final phase will seek out a firm to construct the network.

Chesterton wants Gigabit connectivity for municipal, public safety, education, and other public buildings. The network must also provide similar services to community anchor institutions and local businesses; the community wants to attract high-tech, bio-medical, and financial firms to diversify its local economy.

The community's priorities include retaining ownership, increasing economic development, and deploying an expandable network. Chesterton wants to have the entire project lit and offering services by June 1, 2017.

Future Funds, Present Projects

Like Valparaiso, Chesterton is banking on tomorrow's dollars to finance today’s investment. The city will use Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to fund the project. TIF will permit the city to finance the network with future gains in property or sales tax expected to from the geographic area that will obtain the redevelopment or infrastructure project. They will be able to borrow the funds, build the network, then use the funds generated from the network to pay off the debt.

The contract for the design cost just under $125,000 and, because the project is divided into several phases, the community will still need to determine remaining costs. The city will seek out an Operator who will agree to a revenue sharing arrangement, much like the agreement between Ting and Westminster, Maryland.

Local School District Participating

Duneland School District has an aerial fiber-optic network in place; the district uses Comcast for Internet access. According to the Phase I RFP, the existing network lacks redundancy and the school wants a network with better scalability. In February, the School Board agreed to participate in the project. The design RFP required any consultant to try to integrate the school districts needs into the overall design.

On The Shores of Lake Michigan

chesterton-IndianaDunesBathHouse.jpg

Located along the southern bank of Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore runs for approximately 25 miles along the shore in Chesterton. The area, known for its ecological diversity, draws vacationers who want to enjoy camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, and cross-country skiing. Bird watching is popular due to the high number of species in that live in or travel through the area.

In addition to the industries that benefit from recreational visitors, Chesterton’s 13,000 inhabitants work primarily in the areas of educational services, health care, social assistance, and manufacturing. The town is about 8.6 square miles in Porter County.

This is Chesterton’s second investment in its fiber future. In 2012, the city partnered with Porter County on a utility extension project that included installing fiber-optic conduit to a commercial area on the edge of town.

Photo, licensed under Wikimedia Commons, is of the Indiana Dunes Bathhouse and Pavilion in Chesterton and courtesy of JoeyBLS.

Culver City: Construction Begins For Better Connectivity

Culver City officially broke ground on its new municipal fiber-optic network in August and expects to finish the project within one year. The beginning of construction marked the realization of a process that started some time ago in “The Heart of Screenland.”

Enter Culver Connect

Culver Connect will integrate existing publicly owned fiber to improve connectivity for municipal facilities, the Culver City Unified School District, and local businesses. The design for Culver Connect includes three rings and will add 21 miles to ensure redundancy and expand the footprint of the existing network.

The open access network will connect with carrier hotel One Wilshire and a hub in El Segundo. In addition to improving capacity and spurring economic development, Culver City community leaders want to encourage competition by lowering the cost of entry for Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

In 2013, the city hired a firm to draft a fiber network design and business plan framework. Soon after, members of the business community and leaders in education spoke out in the media, encouraging elected officials to take steps to improve Culver City’s connectivity. In November 2015 the City Council established a Municipal Fiber Network Enterprise Fund to be used for construction costs.

Staff estimated that the capital costs of the network backbone would be approximately $4.9 million and initial lateral builds would be another $2 million. Staff determined operating and maintenance costs would be $150,000 per month and projected revenues from leases after three to four years of operations at around $7.1 million in total. They also estimated that revenues will cover the cost of operation and equipment depreciation once the network is fully operational. The city hopes to lease to ISPs to offer choice to local businesses.

Vallejo Releases RFP: Responses Due October 7th

Vallejo’s Fiber Optic Advisory Group (FOAG) and the city manager are in the middle of developing the details of a citywide fiber-optic network master plan. As part of the process, the city recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a dark fiber connection to an Internet Point of Presence (POP). The RFP also includes calls for wholesale Internet services. Responses to the RFP are due on October 7.

Intelligent Integration

As we reported in 2015, the community already has a significant amount of publicly owned fiber in place controlling the city’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). Vallejo also owns a considerable amount of conduit that can be integrated into any fiber network. As part of the master plan the city adopted in February, they intend to build off that infrastructure and offer better connectivity to businesses, community anchor institutions, and municipal facilities. Vallejo is considering a municipal utility, operating as an Internet Service Provider (ISP), or engaging in some form of public private partnership. They are still considering which route is best for the community.

More specifically, this RFP asks for proposals for either leased fiber or those installed and to be owned by the city. The connection will link City Hall with a carrier hotel or a POP managed by a third party so Vallejo can obtain wholesale bandwidth and Internet services. For questions, contact Will Morat in the Office of the City Manager: will.morat(at)cityofvallejo.net.

Feasibility Study Offers Food For Thought In Fort Collins, CO

Fort Collins has the numbers, now it must weigh its options as it steps forward. This month the City Council received the results of a feasibility study it commissioned late in 2015 to help fill in its Broadband Strategic Plan. The results, along with city staff analysis, are now available for review (item no. 3 from the Aug. 23rd meeting).

A Growing Interest

Last fall, voters chose to reclaim local authority by opting out of Colorado’s SB 152, which in 2005 took away local telecommunications infrastructure decisions from municipalities. A resounding 83 percent of voters voiced their desire to have the option to develop a municipal utility. Local media and businesses had expressed their support for better connectivity through public ownership. Residents wrote to local papers describing how Fort Collins needed better Internet access to spur economic development. Clearly, the momentum was running strong.

Examining Several Options

The study examined several possible models, including retail, wholesale, and public private partnership models. The staff summary of the report suggests that staff consider a retail model, while more expensive to deploy, the least risky of those examined. From the staff summary:

Total funding requirement for a retail model is $125M with the project becoming net cash positive in 15 years. Recent terms announced in other communities are not attractive for the wholesale (or public/private partnership) due to the higher risk on municipalities and low pass per premise fee paid to the municipalities (does not become net cash positive within 15 years). Fort Collins pass per premise fee requirement needs are higher due to higher costs associated to undergrounding infrastructure. However, using an alternative scenario with an ideal pass per premise fee, a wholesale model could be feasible. Total funding requirement for a wholesale model is $88M. 

What Now?

Over the next several months, the city staff plans to begin reaching out to incumbents, potential partners, and the community. As they progress and learn more, they will develop recommendations and anticipate making a detailed presentation to the Council work session in December.

Learn more about Fort Collins in Episode #211 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast; Christopher spoke with Mayor Wade Troxell about the community and their potential plans. 

NYTimes Examines Sixth Circuit Reversal: Potatoes And Pinetops

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued their order on August 10th supporting the states of Tennessee and North Carolina in their challenge from an FCC decision from February 2015. Both states objected to the FCC’s decision to preempt state laws preventing municipalities from providing fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via municipal Internet networks. The Appellate Court Judges reviewed the legal arguments, the precedent, and the interplay between federal authority and state sovereignty. 

The impact of their ruling will affect more than a few pages in a law school text book. Access to high-quality Internet access positively impacts real people and businesses and, as Cecila Kang captures in her recent article in the New York Times, the people who depend on it fear the outcome if their state legislators take it away.

Family Farm Fear

Kang profiles Vick Family Farms, a family potato farm in Wilson, North Carolina.  The Vick family chose to invest in a processing plant when they learned that Wilson’s Greenlight would provide the necessary connectivity. Greenlight allowed them to increase sales overseas. Now, they may lose that connection:

“We’re very worried because there is no way we could run this equipment on the internet service we used to have, and we can’t imagine the loss we’ll have to the business,” said Charlotte Vick, head of sales for the farm.

As Kang notes in her article, the FCC has no plans to appeal the decision, so battles will resume at the state level. Advocates will need to be twice as vigilant because incumbents - the only ones that come out ahead from this decision - may try to push state legislators for even tougher anti-competitive state barriers.

Pinetops: Poster Child For Good Connectivity

Kang checks in on the small town where Wilson’s Greenlight began offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Gigabit service about 14 months ago. Pinetops, a nearby community of about 1,300 people, sought help from Wilson in the hopes that Greenlight would spark economic activity in their struggling community. Centurylink, the incumbent only offered DSL, grossly inadequate for local businesses. 

When Greenlight expanded to Pinetops, the town saw the beginning of a rebirth of sorts. Now the community waits in limbo, wondering what will happen next.

Kang introduces readers to Tina Gomez:

Tina Gomez, a Pinetops resident, quickly saw Greenlight’s benefits. She recently got a telework job with General Electric, which requires reliable high-speed internet service to run a customer service software program. Ms. Gomez, 37, also started online courses in medical billing and coding. Before subscribing to Greenlight, finding telework was a challenge because the existing home internet service was too slow, she said.

Now the political squabble over broadband may hurt her livelihood. Mark Gomez, Ms. Gomez’s husband, said they would move from Pinetops to Wilson when their broadband service was disconnected.

“We can’t stay if the basic services we need aren’t here,” Ms. Gomez said.

Beyond The Courtroom

Executive Director of Next Century Cities Deb Socia summed it up when she told Kang:

“This is about more than North Carolina and Tennessee...We had all looked to the F.C.C. and its attempt to pre-empt those state laws as a way to get affordable and higher-quality broadband to places across the nation that are fighting to serve residents and solve the digital divide.”

Open Access Muni On The Way In Campbell River, B.C.

Located on the southern end of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island sits the coastal city of Campbell River. The community recently received a $50,000 grant from the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) to pursue better connectivity through a municipal open access network initiative.

Retain and Attract

The “Salmon Capital of the World” is also home to other industries that increasingly need access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Approximately 31,000 people live in Campbell River. The island’s forestry and mining companies need to have the ability to transfer large data files, such as 3D renderings, detailed maps, and similar geographic files, to business associates. In addition to making the current situation better for existing industries, community leaders want to attract new industries. From a July Campbell River Mirror article:

“We need to retain our existing businesses and enable them to grow in place,” [Economic Development Officer Rose] Klukas said in a release. “We are also looking to attract and support technology and creative sector entrepreneurs – designers, programmers, software engineers, and more – and competitively priced, high-speed broadband is a must-have.”

The ICET grant will fund the completion of a fiber-optic ring that's owned by the city and currently used only for municipal operations. The city will expand the ring and allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer services to local businesses via the fiber-optic infrastructure.

The First Of Its Kind

This project will be the first open access municipal network on Vancouver Island. In addition to the more immediate need of better connectivity for Campbell River, ICET hopes to determine if this same model can be duplicated elsewhere on the island.

Hudson, Ohio, Issues RFP for FTTH Study

Hudson is bringing better connectivity to local businesses with Velocity Broadband, its gigabit fiber network, and is now exploring the potential of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) for the rest of the community. The city recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study to review the possibilities for service to residents. Proposals are due August 26.

From the RFP Summary:

This project will result in the production of a Feasibility Study containing a residential needs assessment, deployment strategy options and construction cost estimates. The desired outcome of this planning effort is to provide a tool for the city to establish if Hudson residents want this service and determine a successful deployment strategy and the associated cost to implement fiber to the homes (FTTH) within the City of Hudson. 

The city wants the study completed by the end of 2016.

We’ve covered Hudson’s venture into accelerating connectivity for businesses since 2014. The community of 23,000 started by incrementally building out a fiber-optic institutional network (I-Net) over a period of about ten years, which it later expanded to offer gigabit service to businesses. Chris interviewed Hudson City Manager Jane Howington last December about the city’s Velocity service. Check out episode #181 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for that conversation. Since the launch, local businesses have been excited to obtain fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

The full RFP is available on the city's website.