Tag: "economic development"

Posted January 25, 2017 by lgonzalez

Local officials in Columbia County, Georgia, wanted better public safety communications, synchronized traffic signals, and better connectivity for government facilities. They decided the best strategy was a publicly owned network and their decision is creating opportunities they hadn't anticipated.

When he considers how the county expanded its fiber network to improve economic development, education, and public savings, Columbia County Broadband Utility (C3BU) Broadband Manager Lewis Foster still sounds a little surprised. After all, Columbia County planned on using the network for a limited purpose, but then they realized the diversity of the asset. "It was almost an afterthought," he says.

Poor Options Created A Positive Path

Before the idea of a publicly owned network saw the light of day in Columbia County, local leaders contacted the incumbent providers to set up a dark fiber lease. To their dismay, incumbents AT&T, Comcast, and WOW, would not lease the county dark fiber.

County officials approached incumbents in 2007 and 2008 hoping to secure a dark fiber lease. The large providers, however, said they either didn’t have any dark fiber to lease, they could offer lit services, or they would build a dark fiber network for the county to use. Incumbents demanded a model where the county would pay the construction costs but the infrastructure would be owned and operated by the incumbents – who would then charge the County for access to the network the county had paid for. Foster recalls that incumbents we’re most interested in charging premium rates for lit services. Columbia County officials wanted a better option and found a more fiscally responsible approach in simply owning the network.

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As county leaders developed a plan to deploy fiber, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats crafted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). In 2009, with Columbia County's $18 million project plan well developed, they applied for stimulus funding. Their project obtained a $13.5 million stimulus grant; they used county sales tax funds to pay the $4.5 million local match. When the recession hit in 2008, says Foster, the cost to complete other budgeted projects decreased, leaving the county with unspent sales tax funds that they applied to the C3BU project. He... Read more

Posted January 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

High-quality connectivity from the local cooperative is attracting economic development to rural Minnesota. Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC), began developing a fiber-optic network in the Brainerd area in the early 2000s; as the cooperative has expanded the network, businesses are getting fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

Connected Satellites

A recent Brainerd Dispatch article highlighted several businesses that credit the local workforce and the network for their decision to build satellite offices in the Brainerd area. In addition to “battle-tested sales people who can establish relationships with customers and can ‘close the deal,’” GovMint.com’s Director of Sales Jim Martin told the Dispatch:

Equally important is the area's fiber optic network, a high-speed Internet connection that allows the sales staff to access the company's giant customer and product database, and efficiently complete online sales forms.

Martin said the company relies on its computer system for call routing, customer information, online orders and sales leads that come through the Internet. GovMint.com's sales staff makes 150-300 customer calls a day.

"The system has to be reliable or Jim's phone starts ringing," Martin said. "The service we have in Crosslake is very fast and very reliable."

The company sells rare and unique coins and has headquarters in Burnsville, Minnesota; the satellite office employs 25 people. The company has doubled revenue over the past five years and needed to expand so established the office in Crosslake, near Brainerd and on the CTC network.

Great For The State

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The Minnesota Department of Human Services chose Brainerd for its service center in part because they needed access to a network that could handle its technology demands. Applications are processed digitally with high bandwidth applications that require access to large state databases. Fiber-optic technology is the obvious choice to handle the work efficiently. There are 160 employees now working in... Read more

Posted January 17, 2017 by christopher

From our research, we believe the municipal fiber-optic network in Wilson, North Carolina, has the best low-income Internet access program in the nation. Called Greenlight, the fiber network has led to job growth and been a financial success. And now it also offers $10 per month 50 Mbps symmetrical Internet access to those living in housing units owned by the public housing authority.

Greenlight General Manager Will Aycock is back again to tell us about this program and is joined by two additional guests: CEO and President Kelly Vick from the Wilson Housing Authority and Wilson Communications and Marketing Director Rebecca Agner. 

We discuss how the program was created, how it is funded, and how it is impacting the community in addition to public reaction to it. Wilson continues to set a higher bar for what a community can expect when it builds its own network and seeks creative ways to improve opportunity for its businesses and residents.

Read the transcript for this show here.

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

This show is 23 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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Posted January 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

The latest addition to our list of fact sheets focuses on Virginia: Municipal Networks Deliver Local Benefits. We noticed that municipal networks in the “Mother of States” have spurred economic development, saved taxpayer dollars, and improved local connectivity. 

A number of local governments in Virginia that have invested in Internet network infrastructure have attracted Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to use the publicly owned assets to offer services to residents and businesses. Local governments are using fiber-optic networks to improve public safety, take control of their own connectivity needs, and attract or retain employers.

Download the fact sheet here.

Learn more about the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) open access network, located in southwest Virginia. Christopher spoke with Frank Smith, President and CEO of the RVBA for episode 221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Take a look at our other fact sheets; we will continue to add state-specific editions so check back for more. Subscribe to our weekly email for a run down of stories so you can stay up-to-date on what's happening in community broadband networks.

Posted January 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

On January 1, Wayne County, North Carolina, issued a Request for Information (RFI) for high-speed Internet service expansion or delivery.  The due date is February 28, 2017.

Survey First

Prior to releasing the RFI, the county conducted a survey that they made available online and in paper form; they sent home copies with students in the public school system. They received 628 responses of which 13.8 percent of respondents said they don't have Internet service at all. Of those that do not have the service, 58.1 percent say there is no company that will provide it to them and 23.7 percent say they can’t afford it. Fifty-nine percent of respondents were dissatisfied with their Internet access; the reason were speed, cost, and reliability, in that order.

Looking For Ideas Next

The county’s RFI expresses their desire to work with private sector providers to bring connectivity to all areas of the county, especially the areas that are currently unserved. Their goal is to get residents and businesses connected with speeds that reach the FCC’s defined broadband speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

In order to facilitate the efforts of the private sector, Wayne County has asked potential respondents to address how issues such as pole attachments, conduit, and dark fiber would fit into their proposals. They also want respondents to let them know how federal, state, or local regulations may hamper ideas for improving connectivity in Wayne County:

Regulatory environment: Description of any rules or regulations at the federal, state or local level that could impact the feasibility or underlying economics associated with the proposed solutions. Responses should also include an explanation of any forms of proposed regulatory relief, including streamlined permitting, which could improve the economic case for the business models or network solutions proposed or for other network solutions that respondents considered but dismissed due to existing regulations and their effect on economic viability of such proposal. 

Just last year, the state of North Carolina was able to convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to reinstate a... Read more

Posted January 5, 2017 by lgonzalez

In November 2015, the voters in Vinton, Iowa, gave the approval for a telecommunications utility. The city and the municipal electric utility are taking the next step with a feasibility study to determine potential deployment costs and in the spring will present their findings to the community.

Vinton is home to about 5,200 people in Benton County, Iowa; it’s the county seat. The town’s area is 4.74 square miles, and there are approximately 2,000 homes and 250 businesses in Vinton. It’s located about 32 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids.

Like many rural towns, Vinton struggles with slow, outdated DSL connections; cable is available in some areas of town. According to one local business owner, slow connectivity is negatively impacting economic development:

Kurt Karr, owner of Monkeytown an online business supplies store, is one of the community business leaders lobbying hard for an increase in high-speed broadband service.

Karr says slow Internet speeds available now can be frustrating. One part of his business is video design work for companies. He says a video file that takes workers an hour to upload now to clients from their computers might take only a couple of minutes in a larger urban area with much faster internet connections.

Mayor John Watson told local channel KCRG-TV9, that incumbents “simply aren’t interested” in making investment in Vinton to provide better connectivity for businesses or residents, so the city is exploring doing it for themselves.

When Vinton Municipal Electric Utility has completed the feasibility study and have estimates for deployment costs they can present to the community, they’ll determine the next step:

Tom Richtsmeier, manager at Vinton Municipal Electric Utility, says some estimates are it would cost $3,000 to $4,000 per home to install fiber optic cable.

“Once we get the pricing back we’ll see if they’re still interested in having that brought into their home,” Richtsmeier said.

Local coverage from KCRG-TV9:

... Read more
Posted January 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

Ellensburg’s fiber-optic Institutional Network (I-Net) already saves public dollars. Soon the town will also create opportunities for local businesses to obtain better connectivity via the publicly owned infrastructure through a new pilot program.

Time To Go Public

Three years ago, Ellensburg, Washington, chose to sever ties with Charter Communications when the national Internet Service Provider (ISP) decided it would charge $10,300 per month for municipal connectivity it had previously supplied in exchange for access to the public rights-of-way.

The community already owned and operated municipal electric and natural gas utilities, so a foray into managing an I-Net was a sensible task. After considering the math, they quickly realized deployment would pay for itself in about eight years when compared to the exorbitant rates from Charter. They also didn't know if Charter would raise rates again in the future or if there may be other issues with control of a network they depended on for municipal communications.

Onward And Upward

Ellensburg has been independent of Charter since 2014 and now they are taking the next logical step - offering services to local businesses. There is excess capacity on the existing fiber network that Energy Services would like to lease out in order to generate revenue and learn more about providing services to the public.

At a recent City Council meeting, Energy Services Director Larry Dunbar discussed the proposed pilot project. “A pilot project is the right thing to do if council wants to proceed because we really just don’t know,” Dunbar said. “We haven’t done this before.”

The city will receive a 2017 Distressed County Sales and Use Tax Infrastructure Improvement Program grant. The funds, focused on rural areas, are to be used for improving infrastructure projects; Ellensburg will receive approximately $169,000. Thirty-four connections to local businesses will cost $37,800 and will produce an estimated $16,300 in annual revenue.

In addition to using the grant funds to expand the fiber-optic network, Ellensburg plans to establish a fixed wireless network.

Posted December 22, 2016 by htrostle

About 15 years ago, two small cities in western Oregon faced an all too common predicament for rural areas. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) told they would not see high-speed Internet access until 2020. Taking matters into their own hands, the cities of Independence and Monmouth decided to collaborate on a project to bring the latest technology to their communities. 

Together they built a jointly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, known as MINET (Monmouth Independence Network). Today, the network supports economic development and agricultural innovations. This piece focuses on only one of the cities, Independence, in order to provide an in-depth look at the community impact of the network.

Affordable & Reliable Internet Service

At the time, FTTH was almost unheard of. Even today, the technology is available to only a quarter of the entire U.S. population. MINET offers affordable, reliable connectivity for the 18,000 residents of both communities. The network has a low-cost option available to everyone of 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $10 per month. Other Internet access speeds available are:

Download speed / upload speed
50 Mbps / 25 Mbps for $50
75 Mbps / 40 Mbps for $65
100 Mbps/ 50 Mbps for $80

Residents can also subscribe to triple-play bundles of Internet, voice, and video services.

Took Time to Develop

MINET has faced a difficult financial situation even though the network has brought many benefits and opportunities to the community. 

The League of Oregon cities provided a quick case study of the network in 2011. In the late 1990’s, the two cities developed a feasibility study only looking to connect the governmental buildings and the businesses. After studying the potential for offering services to residents, the cities decided to divide the project into two phases. Phase I: build fiber loops. Phase II: build the last-mile to homes and business and offer retail services. 

By 2004, they had officially formed MINET as an ORS 190 entity (an official Oregon intergovernmental agreement). They also completed Phase I at... Read more

Posted December 21, 2016 by lgonzalez

Plans for a fiber-optic middle mile network to serve the Brazos Valley in Texas are firming up and the project should be up and running within two years, reports KBTX from Bryan and College Station. The network will also have a fixed wireless complement.

Healthcare First

The $22 million network backbone, funded through the FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund and the Brazos Valley Council of Governments (BVCOG), will first connect healthcare providers such as hospitals, schools nurses, and jail clinics.

According to the April 2015 Network Plan from the Brazos Valley Council of Governments, 62 percent of the population in the proposed service area live in rural areas with poor access to quality healthcare. Twenty percent of residents in the region are 60 years of age or older. Texas A&M School of Public Health, one of the partners in the project, completed a study that indicated high percentages of chronic conditions in residents in the region. In 8 of 12 of those measures, the results were worse than the national average. In some cases, the rates were twice as high as national averages.

Local leaders plan to next add libraries, workforce centers, schools, and a number of other local government facilities. "If our schools are spending a disproportionate amount of their funds on just providing the minimum of internet, that's not right. We can fix that," said Michael Parks, Executive Director of the Brazos Valley Council of Governments.

Jobs Ahead

The BVCOG wants to take advantage of the economic development possibilities by connecting local businesses in the future. They estimate the network will help create approximately 600 new positions in small business and 1,100 new jobs in total. Local business owners are already looking forward to better connectivity, especially the anticipated 1 Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) upload critical for sending data heavy files. "It helps to send big pay loads of data upstream. That has always been a challenge, so to go 'gig' is going to be much more efficient," said Bronius Morekaitius, who owns a local... Read more

Posted December 19, 2016 by lgonzalez

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.”

Blackert said it was previously thought that the new fiber utility could be the primary alternate revenue source, and the electric department, which has been handling the broadband operations to this point, could be... Read more

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