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Kane County's Fiber Is Open For Business In Illinois

Kane County, Illinois, is hoping its fiber-optic network will attract more businesses looking for better connectivity. As it turns out, they've had the resources for some time but are now making more of an effort to market the benefits of their publicly owned network.

Sharing The Savings, Services, Speeds

In 2011, reports the Chicago Tribune, the county took advantage of road reconstruction and in a coordinated effort, Kane County and the Kane County Department of Transportation deployed fiber along one of its main thoroughfares, Randall Road. Since then, the county has expanded the network to approximately 47 miles, connecting county facilities in five area cities. Kane County contributed $1.5 million to the construction of the underground network that now offers 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) capacity.

Since eliminating leased lines, institutions and facilities connected to the network have reported better performance, improved services, and significant savings. For example, Geneva School District 304 needed higher capacity to comply with new state requirements:

The district was paying $9.15 per megabyte for 500 megabytes, which amounted to $54,900 a month, he said.

The district was able get 1,000 megabytes for $24,000 per year through a provider on Kane County's fiber optic network — receiving double the service at half the cost, he said. [emphasis ours]

"From our perspective, it was a win-win," [County CIO Roger] Fahnestock said. "The reseller is working with them and are able to work with them and get this off the ground and get the school district what they needed."

The County hopes to draw in more economic development and increase competition. There are already several companies that take advantage of existing fiber to offer varying services, including connectivity for academic research, colocation and cloud storage, healthcare, and at least one provider that uses the network to provide backhaul in order to offer fixed wireless Internet access to residents and businesses. 

In order to promote the network, the county recently launched a new website that allows interested entities a way to find information.

The Aurora Neighbor

Kane County’s fiber connects with the OnLight Aurora network. Much like the Kane County network, Aurora’s fiber deployment served a dual purpose - better connectivity and traffic control. In Aurora, the city had deployed some fiber on their own, which helped secure federal funding for traffic control. They were able to use that funding to eliminate the debt on their existing network and speed along the process of connecting more entities and upgrade the existing network.

FTTH In The Future?

None of the current partners are providing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service but in the new website’s About Us section, officials address the benefits of FTTH and acknowledge it as the gold standard. At a Kane County Leaders Summit, Chairman Chris Lauzen expressed the hopes Kane County leaders have for the network:

"We intend to light up Kane County in the most positive way."

BBC World Service Visits Chattanooga

Over the past few years, a number of media outlets have spotlighted Chattanooga’s rebirth from “dirtiest city in America” to a high-tech economic development engine. Recently, the BBC World Service produced “Chattanooga - the High Speed City” an episode in its Global Business Podcast series.

Peter Day presents the 27-minute story, described by the BBC as:

Chattanooga has been re-inventing itself for decades. In the late 1960s Walter Cronkite referred to the city as "the dirtiest in America." Since then heavy industry has declined and, to take its place, civic leaders have been on a mission to bring high-tech innovation and enterprise to Chattanooga. In 2010 the city became the first in America to enjoy gig speed internet following an investment of a couple of hundred million dollars from its publicly-owned electricity company, EPB. What economic and psychological benefits have super-fast internet brought to this mid-sized city in Tennessee? Has the investment in speed paid off? 

In the podcast, Day interviews a number of people who describe how access to the fast, affordable, reliable network offered by EPB Fiber Optics has benefitted the community. The story includes interviews with business leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, and others who recount how the community’s Internet infrastructure has influenced their decision to locate in Chattanooga. The Times Free Press covered the BBC podcast in detail and reprinted an excerpt from Mayor Andy Berke:

"The city that I grew up in in the mid 1980s was dying," Berke told the BBC. "We held on to our past for too long. We're not the best at something and that's really important for a community. When you are the best, that changes how you look at things and allows you to take advantage of and utilize your resources. Chattanooga was a community that didn't have a tech community."

You can listen to the podcast on the BBC World Service Global Business website.

Minnesota Broadband Grant Program Gets Funded, Issues Remain

The Minnesota Legislature has just approved $35 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program for fiscal year 2017, the largest annual appropriation in the initiative’s two-year-old history.

But the Legislature’s action still falls short of dramatically helping bring universal, high-speed Internet connectivity to all non-metro Minnesotans. Try to find a Representative or Senator that doesn’t talk about how important rural Internet access is, but compare that list to those who are actually voting for solutions. The Blandin on Broadband website captured a glimpse of this dynamic in a recent post

Nice Gains And Noticeable Failures

The Legislature headed in the right direction this year to increase overall funding for broadband development. But we believe the Legislature’s action, which is moving at a snail’s pace, won’t help thousands of residents and businesses in Minnesota’s non-metro communities hurdle over the connectivity chasm. 

The state’s elected leaders also made changes to the program – some good and some bad – in the way projects are selected and the challenge process. 

Funding Fizzle? 

First, the funding fizzle. In its first two years, the state awarded about $30 million to 31 Border-to-Border projects. But that has been a miniscule appropriation compared with the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband’s estimate that Minnesota’s unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion.

And the Legislature’s $35 million funding for the broadband grant program for the upcoming fiscal year seems particularly paltry given that the state has a projected $900 million budget surplus. 

“We are disappointed with the [broadband funding] number and the incredibly restrictive language” on eligibility for grants, said Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, (GMNP), a non-metro economic development group established in 2013 that successfully lobbied for the creation of the Broadband Development Grant program. 

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During the 2016 legislative session, the GMNP supported Gov. Mark Dayton’s recommendation that the broadband program receive $100 million. The DFL-led state Senate favored $85 million for 2016-17 while the Republican controlled House supported spending $15 million. The House wanted to invest far less and argued for keeping most Greater Minnesota Cities ineligible for grant funds. GMNP’s support was contingent on language changes in the statute that would make grant eligibility easier for non-metro cities. 

“Without major reforms to the eligibility for funding we assumed it would be difficult to get to the $100 million that Gov. Dayton and Lt. Gov. [Tina] Smith wanted,” Dorman said in an end-of-the session update website post to his members. 

Language Issues

Second, the ongoing language challenges with the Border-to-Border Program. “With 85 percent of people living in cities not eligible for [Broadband Development Grant] funding, it’s hard to get people excited [about the program],” Dorman told us. The Partnership; a 90 member group of economic development authorities, foundations, cities, nonprofits, businesses, and Chambers of Commerce; maintains the broadband program’s rules and criteria inadvertently harm the very cities that conceived the program. 

Established in 2014, the Broadband Development Grant program was designed to “bring high-speed Internet access to unserved or underserved areas of the state” and help provide opportunities to help existing businesses and attract new ones. The Legislature, in its 2016 legislation, reaffirmed that an unserved area is one where households or businesses lack access to wireline broadband service at speeds that meet the FCC definition of broadband which is 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Because the grant program has focused heavily on unserved areas, it has largely ignored the majority of cities that are “underserved,” those that have some Internet service, albeit poor, Dorman said.

This has created what the Institute for Local Self-Reliance described in our policy paper “Minnesota’s Broadband Program: Getting The Rules Right” as “donut holes,” where a city has much poorer service than its surrounding rural areas.

Our fear is that towns with a moderate level of current business investment could lose that as businesses flock to more rural areas where the Internet infrastructure is better. Other investment would follow and the small cities in Greater Minnesota would find themselves at a disadvantage. It’s an unintended consequence that policy makers need to consider. 

Fortunately, lawmakers listened to the GMNP, the Star Tribune, and us as they established rules for funding this session.

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In our policy paper, we recommended that the Border-to-Border fund should set some portion – less than half – of its funds aside for applications that would target the underserved population centers and blend them in with nearby unserved areas. Those business and industry centers are the economic heart of many regions and they need modern connectivity for Minnesota to thrive. 

Dorman said one significant victory in the newly-passed state broadband grant law is that $5 million of the $35 million appropriation will be set aside for areas that currently have speeds greater than 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up but less than 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. That $5 million will be available to communities that need better broadband service to boost economic development.  

In a statement to MuniNetworks.org, officials from state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) said:

“Given the increased interest in the [grant] program, we expect to see a very competitive pool of applications this round, and using the results of previous rounds, expect to see over 12,000 homes and businesses served with wired service as well as increased wireless coverage in some areas of the state.” 

"Still," DEED officials admitted, “It is difficult to estimate how many will be left unserved after this round, given that there is private and federal investments also being made across the state. DEED continues to gather data from the providers and federal sources and will have an updated estimate of the gap in July, 2016.”

The federal “investments” are largely from the Connect America Fund, which has is effectively wasting billions of dollars on antiquated DSL service.

Disappointing “Challenge Process”

On the downside, the Partnership was disappointed in a provision in the broadband law pertaining to a “challenge process” that allows a telecom company to stop a project from receiving a grant if that company currently provides or even promises to provide service at the low state speed goals, Dorman said. This legislative language is a slight reform of the previous “right of first refusal” language, which had been included in the House broadband bill.

“This [challenge language] provision in the bill could make it difficult, if not impossible, for projects seeking to upgrade existing broadband service to receive a grant,” Dorman said. “We will have to see how this all plays out.”

Dorman sees the “challenge process” language as a tool protecting telecom companies “that don’t want to invest” in their Internet networks. 

“Any broadband provider in the area can object” to an applicant’s request for grant funding, Dorman said. This is potentially more open-ended than the old language that gave this challenge authority only to incumbent providers in an area, he said.

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In a statement, DEED officials told us: 

“The current challenge language was introduced to more accurately reflect the process that is already part of the program and to clarify that it is the state that will determine whether or not a challenge to an application is valid, not a provider.  This process was modeled after a federal system that was used in the distribution of the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] broadband stimulus funds to address the desire to avoid making public investments where private investments are already being made that meet or exceed the goals of the program. The new aspect that has been added to the process is the allowance of near-term construction plans that meet state standards as a valid basis for a challenge. This is to account for the added presence of CAF (Connect America Fund) II investments. Added protections were also introduced so that if construction commitments aren't met as outlined in the challenge, the provider may be barred from issuing future challenges. DEED retains the authority to determine the validity of any challenge.”

Whatever the reasons for the legislative changes, Dorman decried the lack of opportunity for public comment on the “challenge” language.  

“It is a major change from current law and people had very little time to react interpret and comment on the House bill and no opportunity to comment on the agreed-upon language that made it into the final bill.” 

Meanwhile, Dorman blamed industry telecom lobbyists for convincing state lawmakers not to support the language changes sought by Partnership. “This [new Broadband Development Grant law] was written with the help of the [telecommunications] industry," he said. 

Speed Goals Lagging 

In another area, GMNP leaders also believe the state’s connectivity speeds goals are not aggressive enough. Under the law, the state’s goal is that “no later than 2022,” all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to minimum speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up and the minimum service goals in 2026 should be 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.

“To say 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps is an acceptable standard is ridiculous,” Dorman told us. “This is equivalent of 1990s dial up service.  We need to step this up.”

That position resonates with us. In our policy paper we said:

“When it comes to its goal, Minnesota should recall the danger of aiming low: you might hit the target. Minnesota should establish a stronger goal and then actually fund the program to achieve it. 100 Mbps symmetrical by 2022 would be both ambitious and worthwhile.”

Moving forward, Dorman said his organization may have to re-evaluate if there is a better and faster way to get high-speed Internet connectivity to greater Minnesota if dramatic improvements don’t come soon to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program.

Sandpoint Sends Out RFP : Responses Due June 16

Sandpoint, Idaho, located in the state’s panhandle, is likely to host Ting’s Internet service over publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure. All that remains is for the service provider to determine that the demand exists in the anticipated service area of approximately 9,700 people. In addition to residents and businesses in Sandpoint, properties in nearby Dover, Ponderay, and Kootenai are anticipated potential subscribers.

Sandpoint, Idaho

Approximately 7,500 people live in the city, which is the Bonner County Seat. The community is popular as a ski resort town and is located on Lake Pend Oreille. In addition to tourism, the manufacturing, aerospace, software, and healthcare industries are important employers in Sandpoint. It covers approximately 4.8 square miles and, five years ago, was named “most Beautiful Small Town” by Rand McNally and USA Today.

Seeking Assistance Moving Forward

The city has recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to find a firm to propose a plan to make the best use of their existing dark fiber network. According to the RFP, Sandpoint is looking for consultants to help them engage in conversations with stakeholders and providers, determine the city’s assets, use their assets for maximum economic development, and a variety of other tasks.

Sandpoint has had an existing conduit system in place for some time but, according to the RFP, has not been “proofed” and may not be suitable for larger cables. The city also has an underground fiber backbone and is in the process of installing more fiber-optic cable.

Bonner County also owns conduit within Sandpoint that can be accessed as part of the town’s project. The RFP describes more conduit in and around the city and Sandpoint’s preliminary plans to use it to improve local connectivity.

Important dates:

  • Vendor Questions (if any) Due : June 2, 2016 
  • Answers to RFP Questions Released : June 6, 2016 
  • Proposal Responses Due : June 16, 2016 

For details, check out the RFP on the Sandpoint website.

Stark County, Ohio, Hires Consultant For Feasibility Study

Longtime efforts by community leaders in Stark County, Ohio, to create a new countywide Internet network have recently taken important steps forward.

Local Support Is Strong

In the past few months, three local government agencies approved informal resolutions to explore building the proposed network, including the City Council in Canton, the Stark County commissioners, and the trustees in Jackson Township. County population is about 375,000 within the 575 square miles located in the northeast section of the state.

In May, an all-volunteer organization comprised of local leaders called the Stark County Broadband Task Team (SCBBTT) announced that they had raised $100,000 needed to fund a feasibility study to explore the construction of the network. The SCBBTT also recently announced they hired a consultant to conduct the study.

We Have a Need for “Transformational” Internet Speed

The SCBBTT is comprised of a large group of volunteers from the county including major figures from government, the business community, and the nonprofit sector. Several years ago the group began working on a plan to construct the network, labeling it a “fourth utility” and saying that Stark County was “falling behind its peers in Ohio and elsewhere in the United States in terms of educational attainment, household income, retention of high-school graduates and overall prosperity.”

Stagnant countywide population growth has been a problem for Stark County in recent years. This is partly explained by the dramatic decline in the county’s manufacturing economy as the county has lost approximately 34 percent of its goods-producing jobs since the new millennium began. Meanwhile, Stark County leaders know that emerging industries are demanding fast, reliable, affordable connectivity - not what’s currently available in Stark County.

County leaders believe that the new network can provide a “transformational” force toward attracting tech-driven businesses and young professionals. As Ohio's manufacturing industry declines, other communities in the Buckeye State are considering fiber connectivity a way to attract job creators. We have recently reported on Hudson and Fairlawn, where community leaders know better connectivity will improve services for residents and businesses. Upper Arlington is also planning on offering dark services to businesses interested in making use of its publicly owned fiber.

Publicly owned Internet infrastructure can become the foundation for a revitalized economy in Stark County. With support from local government leaders and a strong group of volunteers driving the effort, they are headed in the right direction.

Push Poll And Passion: Network Will Expand in Roanoke County

The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) network is live in Virginia, and the state’s cable-telco lobby is not happy. Despite the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association (VCTA) attempts to turn people against the network, local leaders in Roanoke County decided to help fund further expansion.

As part of their $183 million budget, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors included $3.4 million to bring the network into the county, with economic development driving the vote. From the Roanoke Times coverage of the vote:

“There is so much that is great that is going on in Roanoke County,” [Supervisor Joe McNamara] said. “Whether it’s what we’re doing for community development with our strategic planning, what we’re doing from an economic development standpoint, what we’ve done with allocating money toward storm water management. I really see broadband as just one area of the budget.”

How Did This Come About?

The network had started out as a joint project among the cities of Salem and Roanoke and the counties of Botetourt and Roanoke. Both counties dropped from the project, leaving the cities to do it themselves. Now with the network live, Roanoke County is reconsidering its previous hesitation.

In late April 2016, the RVBA celebrated the official lighting of the 47-mile fiber network. Fittingly, the first customer is the Blue Ridge PBS station: the local publicly-owned network is serving the connectivity needs of local public television. The overall goal, however, is economic development, and the RVBA intends to sign up 60 small and large customers in the next year and a half. In six years, they expect the network to break even and be self-sustaining.

Questionable Questions

That’s concerning to the state’s cable-telco lobby. VCTA, whose top donors are Comcast and Cox, hired a team of telemarketers to present a simple, yet biased, survey to county residents. The VCTA hired a telemarketing firm for a push poll to sway county residents, and the Roanoke Times Editorial Board is pushing for the real questions.

The Roanoke Times Editorial Board, however, called out the validity of the push poll and shared some of the facts and the benefits of the new network. Just check out some of the leading questions included in the poll as reproduced in the Roanoke Times:

“A recent report by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service found that business leaders universally cite inadequate airline service as the most serious problem faced by the region; noting that it has a major impact on recruiting and retaining professionals and businesses, with that in mind, which of the following you prefer be done by the Roanoke County government for the currently proposed funding of $3.4 million dollars --- invest in efforts to improve the region’s inadequate airline service or create a redundant broadband network?”

This push poll is trying to sway public opinion against expanding the network by calling it “redundant” or "repetitive," ignoring the fact that redundancy is important in infrastructure. Airline service is a major concern, but affordable high-speed Internet access is also good for economic development. Clearly, this question makes the incorrect assumption that people answering the poll are too unsophisticated to make the connection between connectivity and the needs of businesses.

Broadband vs. Ice Cream

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The Roanoke Times has provided searing responses to the anti-community network arguments. Their editorial piece from a few weeks ago detailed how a community-owned network is different than a publicly-owned ice-cream shop. Apparently, one of the Roanoke County Supervisors had made such an argument. (We couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried.)

The fight that’s going down in Roanoke includes such epic quotes as this one from the Roanoke Times Editorial piece about ice cream: 

“Municipal broadband may or may not make sense for a particular community, but the idea is not exactly one being pushed by beret-capped socialists quoting ‘Das Kapital.’ On the contrary, it’s cold-eyed disciples of Adam Smith — specifically business leaders, the captains of the private sector — who are usually the most enthusiastic champions.”

Weighing Options? Consider the Questions

The Roanoke Times Editorial Board's latest piece urged the supervisors to consider the real questions:

“The city obviously felt the best way to be economically competitive was through the broadband authority and its open-access network; does the county see a way to achieve the same — or better — results through a purely private-sector approach?”

This is what localities need to be asking themselves as they see their neighbors form community networks. What are the paths to affordable high-speed Internet access? And what makes the most sense for our communities?

Addendum: The cable companies like to claim that municipal fiber networks are "redundant" but they actually aren't... unless you believe an 18 wheeler truck is redundant of a bicycle or a container ship is redundant of a cabin cruiser. An all-fiber network is next-generation infrastructure that aims to provide a real choice in communities monopolized by last-generation cable technology. But don't take my word for, listen to Slick Sam...

Tennessee Potential Partnership Between Morristown Muni and AEC Co-op - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 203

In Tennessee, this month marks 10 years of Morristown Utility Systems delivering fiber-optic triple-play service to the community, including great Internet access. But those living just outside the city and in nearby cities have poor access at best. MUS General Manager and CEO Jody Wigington returns to our show this week and we also welcome Appalachian Electric Cooperative (AEC) General Manager Greg Williams to discuss a potential partnership to expand Morristown services to those that want them.

As we have frequently noted, Tennessee law prohibits municipal fiber networks from expanding beyond their electric territories. The FCC decision repealing that favor to the big cable and telephone company lobbyists is currently being appealed. But Tennessee also prohibits electrical co-ops from providing telephone or cable TV service, which makes the business model very difficult in rural areas.

Nonetheless, MUS and AEC have studied how they can team up to use the assets of both to deliver needed services to those outside Morristown. We discuss their plan, survey results, the benefits of working together, and much more.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 24 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 Forget the Whale for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "I Know Where You've Been."

Lakeland Considering Its Next Step In Florida

In August 2013, we reported on Lakeland, Florida’s dark fiber network that serves local schools, government facilities, and local businesses. Over the past year or so, community leaders have discussed whether or not to expand the use of Lakeland’s fiber resources.

A 2015 feasibility study suggested several other ways to use Lakeland’s existing 330 miles of fiber infrastructure to enhance connectivity for economic development and residential access. As the city examines its finances and its future in the coming months, city leaders are considering six avenues to meet the community’s needs. The options, some recommended by consultants, vary in type and investment and the City Commission will begin discussing the possibilities as they meet in the upcoming months.

Leaders Consider The Next Move

Lakeland is examining public policies that will encourage better connectivity, such as dig-once, permitting changes, and right-of-way regulations. With smart policies in place, Lakeland can lay the groundwork so they can build off progress made today.

In 2013, Polk Vision, a group of organizations, businesses, government, and individuals, along with the Central Florida Regional Planning Council developed the Polk County Broadband Plan. Another option is using the Plan as a guidepost and aligning Lakeland’s plan to support the goals set in the Polk County Plan. Connecting the schools to a larger network would be part of that plan.

Lakeland, like many other communities wants to give providers operating in the community today the opportunity to work with them to improve services. Another option the city will pursue is reaching out to providers in Lakeland and engaging in discussions to upgrade or expand services to better meet the needs of the community. (We haven't seen much success when communities pursue large incumbents, but smaller local providers are sometimes more willing to work with communities.)

SurfLakeland, the city’s free Wi-Fi service that is available in limited areas downtown, in parks, and at municipal facilities, could be expanded. According to Terry Brigman, Lakeland’s CIO and Director of IT, whatever course city leaders choose, the equipment for the free service is due for an upgrade. SurfLakeland has been available for approximately ten years.

Another possible move will be a pilot project to determine how a larger network might do in Lakeland. Pilot projects are becoming more common as a way to test the waters and can help prove that potential subscribers are willing to switch from traditional providers to a new venture. We’ve reported on a growing number of pilot projects in recent years, including Westfield, Massachusetts; Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; and Owensboro, Kentucky.

The City Commission will also consider releasing a Request for Information (RFI) to seek out a partner to develop a plan to improve connectivity in Lakeland with infrastructure deployment. 

A Hard Look At The Numbers

Community leaders in Lakeland reviewed the study and are discussing several recommendations. The consulting firm also suggested using city fiber resources as a basis for a more extensive network and that the city branch out to launch as an open access provider, or a retail services provider to businesses in select areas. Another option is to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services to every property within the city limits or within the Lakeland Electric service territory. The authors of the study estimated an FTTH in Lakeland would cost from $220 - $270 million if it's built out over the Lakeland Electric service area and would pay for itself in six to seven years.

In March, the City’s Chief Financial Officer gave his opinion about a potential FTTH project. In his opinion, the consultant's recommendation is too risky because “margins of error are too thin” based on the study’s authors' predictions of a 40 percent take rate.

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The financing, calculated on 20-year bonds, required price increases of 1.5 percent every year.

He went on to say, however, that he did not think the city should abandon the idea of finding a way to bring better connectivity to Lakeland, but that, “I'm simply saying the model we were presented that involved the city purchasing, managing (and) maintaining a broadband system is not feasible."

Support, Adversity Still Alive

Earlier this month, the Ledger reported that Commissioners discussing the issue said that, if the results of the financial analysis and risk assessment still due from the consultants are favorable, they will consider creating a publicly owned and operated Internet utility. Out of seven Commissioners attending the meeting, five expressed support.

A grassroots citizens' initiative, Gigabit Lakeland, has also sprung up in the community and encourages citizens to sign an online petition. They want community leaders to use of the existing publicly owned fiber to bring more choice to Lakeland. Currently, there is a small amount of Verizon FiOS and Bright House Networks cable Internet access (which is now owned by Charter Communications).

While residents have expressed support for taking action, economic development and better business connectivity is on everyone’s mind. In March, the Ledger reported (reprinted at GovTech) on a meeting of the Downtown Lakeland Partnership, a group of business leaders:

Ellen Simms, the co-owner of Two Hens and a Hound, said that for a decade her connection has fizzled out when it rains and she can't get the provider to fix it. 

Kate Lake, who hosted the meeting with [Lakeland CIO Terry] Brigman at her business, My Office & More, said the dedicated fiber optics line she pays for at her shared office for hire "is killing me." 

"I'm paying through the teeth." 

Brigman pointed out at the meeting that the Lakeland-Winter Haven metropolitan area was determined to be the seventh worst served area in the country, according to Polk Vision. "We don't have what we need," he said. "We don't have what we need to compete with our neighbors." 

As expected, the incumbent providers have expressed concern, warned of repercussions, and attended meetings but still chosen not to invest in the infrastructure Lakeland needs. Elected officials in Lakeland appear open minded to discussion but don’t have the patience to be put on an endless waiting list if owning their own network or working with a trusted partner is a possibility. From an October article in the Ledger:

"The demand for data services is growing exponentially and it will grow in our homes and grow in our businesses when we have access to it. That we don't have access to it is the limiting factor," not a lack of demand, [Commissioner Jim Malless] said.

He said the commission owes it to the "incumbent services," Bright House Networks and Verizon, to get their points of view and find out what plans they have for upgrading their services in Lakeland.

"To me, they can provide that service tomorrow. They choose not to, and if it's economics to them, we have to get over the hurdle for the economics for us," Malless said. "I'd really like to hear why you don't provide the service."

 

Emmett, Idaho Sees Opportunity in New Fiber Network

“Business in the 21st century is driven by broadband.”

Those are the words of Gordon Petrie, the Mayor of the small west central City of Emmett, Idaho that is in the process of constructing its own fiber network. The Mayor and other city leaders have high hopes that the network will create economic opportunities in their city within this sparsely populated part of the country:

“Idaho is one of the least connected states in the union." Petrie said. “We intend to change that by making Emmett one of the most connected communities in Idaho. We’ll have the infrastructure to support high-tech business.”

The Buildout and Beyond

When completed, the new network will encircle the city and connect Emmett’s City Hall, its Public Safety Building, Emmett City Park (which is already providing free Wi-Fi), Public works facilities, the fire department, and the library. The city’s systems administrator said the city is timing construction of the fiber to coincide with other scheduled utility digs. Beyond these immediate plans, the city also has a five year strategy for the network that includes a goal of connecting all of the city’s businesses and its 6,500 residents to the fiber network. 

Emmett’s buildout process is similar to the strategy used in nearby Ammon, another small Idaho city that several years ago began constructing a fiber network starting with its municipal facilities. As with Emmett's proposed plan, Ammon constructed its network incrementally over a period of several years, eventually reaching the city’s business community and just now starting to connect to residents as well. 

Ammon’s example shows that when a city like Emmett takes the initiative to bring locally owned fiber infrastructure to the community, good things are likely to follow. In the coming years, Emmett can expect to see public savings, economic development, and opportunities that may enable them to connect the entire community with fast, affordable, reliable Internet infrastructure.

Highlands, North Carolina, Learns To Fish With Altitude Community Broadband

Highlands is a small community of less than 1,000 residents located in the Nantahala National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains. Along the western tip of the state, Highlands faces the same problem as many other rural communities - poor connectivity. In order to bring high-quality Internet access to residents and businesses, Highlands has implemented a plan to deploy city-owned Internet network infrastructure.

A Connected Escape Up In The Mountains

Highland entertains a large number of summer tourists who flock to its high altitude to escape summer heat and humidity. Summer visitors can fill the city’s six square miles and surrounding area with up to 20,000 people. The city operates a municipal electric utility along with water, sewer, and garbage pick up. 

To round off the list of offered services and bring better connectivity to the community, Highlands created the Altitude Community Broadband. In January, the Town Board authorized to borrow $40,000 from its General Fund and $210,000 from its Electric Enterprise Fund to deploy and launch the new service. The loan will be repaid with revenue from the new service.

The town has long-term plans to offer both Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless service to residents and businesses in the downtown area. Fiber is already available in limited areas within Highlands proper; pricing is available on a case-by-case basis. The landscape is rugged, so residents outside of the city may not be able to transition to FTTH, reported a December HighlandsInfo Newspaper, but the fixed wireless access is still an affordable and workable option in a place considered a poor investment by large providers.

Residential options for Altitude Wireless Internet Access are:

  • Basic (Just give me Internet): 4 Megabit per second (Mbps) [download] ... $34.99
  • Better (Supports some streaming video): 10 Mbps [download] ... $39.99
  • Video Streaming (Comes with free Roku): 25 Mbps [download]... $59.99
  • Extreme (Everyone in my home is connected. Comes with free Roku): 50 Mbps [download]... $119.98

Subscribers can also sign up for the $9.99 per month “carefree in home Wi-Fi”, which is a service in which the utility installs and maintains the customers wireless router, insuring all devices connect and function properly.
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There is also the option to pay an additional $9.99 per month for additional static IP addresses. Installation is free.

Altitude Community Broadband's website also promises something you NEVER get from Comcast, CenturyLink, or any of the other big boys:

Customer speed is determined at time of installation. Customer will not pay for unattainable speeds.

Recently, the Highlander ran an update from Mayor Patrick Taylor who reported that demand for the Wi-Fi service throughout Highlands was so intense, installations had fallen behind. The Town Board decided to hire two more technicians to tackle the long list of people requesting installation.

Locals Can Fix It, If We Let Them

Highlands’s elected officials reflect the self-reliant attitude of this small town who have decided to solve their problem themselves. In a March article to the Highlands News, Mayor Taylor wrote to report that the Appellate Court was considering the case between the FCC and the cities of Wilson and Chattanooga. Taylor wrote:

Overturning the FCC broadband ruling would be a setback for small towns languishing in the digital desert. It is not just a matter of economic development. Upon further study and discussion with our consultants, I now view it more as as a matter of economic and community survival. Either a community will have unlimited broadband capacity or it will wither and dry upon the economic vine.

Nationally some 200 small-town governments are doing exactly what Highlands is doing. State legislators this past session changed the sales tax distribution formula so poor communities could receive more sales tax revenue for economic growth. I have a suggestion: Don’t create laws that obstruct the development of broadband networks in these underserved communities. It is counterproductive to their economic development. Instead, why not allocate funds to bring broadband to these isolated areas? What’s that proverb about ‘give a man a fish’?