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Palo Alto, CA, and Pikeville, KY, Release RFIs

Two new Requests for Information (RFI) were recently released in Palo Alto, California, and Pikeville, Kentucky. 

Pikeville, Kentucky

Pikeville is open to both public ownership and Gigabit service via privately owned infrastructure. This community of approximately 7,000 residents wants Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) for businesses, community anchor institutions, municipal facilities, and residents. The regional Appalachian Mountain community, with many jobs lost due to the shrinking coal industry, is turning to connectivity as a way to spur economic development.

Pikeville’s RFI describes how service from existing providers is expensive and "sporadic." This RFI calls for a partner that will help the community develop an open access, affordable, financially sustainable network. In drafting the RFI, Pikeville’s officials made sure to note that low-income residents will not be left behind; bringing this asset to disadvantaged residents is a priority.

The city is the county seat of Pike County and home to a number of colleges as well as several large healthcare facilities. City, county, and federal government facilities are also located in Pikeville and need better connectivity. In 2015, the city obtained a $5 million grant for technology-based training and degree programs for residents in the area. A $1 million grant supplied funding for a Broadband Technology Center in Pikeville. Now the city needs fast, affordable, reliable Internet network infrastructure to complement the Center and to move the local workforce toward more information based industries.

Important Dates:

  • Letter of Intent Due: May 23, 2016
  • Questions Due: May 25, 2016
  • Final RFI Submissions Due: June 3, 2016

The city’s website has more information and details.

Palo Alto, California

Palo Alto is a Silicon Valley city of 67,000 residents; daytime workers coming into the community swell the population to approximately 125,000. Incumbents include Comcast and AT&T who have intimated they might be interested in bringing fiber to the city, but have yet to act. Community leaders are exploring all options with this RFI.

The community has a network of dark fiber serving commercial customers and the public school system. In fact, Palo Alto has experience with providing utility services, as it currently brings municipal electric, gas, water, and wastewater services to the community.

The RFI calls for partners, private or non-profit, to develop a Gigabit per second (Gbps), open access network in the community for every household, business, and institution. Palo Alto is willing to consider either publicly owned or privately owned infrastructure.

As the RFI notes, Google Fiber is still considering Palo Alto as another location for its fiber network. City officials want respondents to consider the implications, should Google Fiber decide to build and operate within the community and to address the possibility in their RFIs.

Important Dates:

  • Letter of Intent Due: May 27, 2016
  • Questions Due: June 3, 2016
  • Final RFI Submissions Due: June 24, 2016

Get more details on the city website.

Montgomery's Internet Exchange: Bringing Business Into The MIX

In early 2016, the city of Montgomery and Montgomery County, announced that they were entering into a unique partnership with the State and the Air Force to create Alabama’s first Internet Exchange.

The collaboration developed a neutral physical location where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can meet to exchange traffic, rather than routing data 100 or more miles away to Birmingham or Atlanta. The Montgomery Internet Exchange (MIX), has already simplified operations and cut costs for ISPs doing business in Montgomery and attracted interest from new providers. For a relatively small monthly investment, the partners are already seeing results.

Montgomery: The Heart Of Alabama

Montgomery will forever be known as the Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement - the town where Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a bus for a white passenger. Rich in history, the city is also the capital of Alabama, the Montgomery County seat, and home to approximately 206,000.

In the past, agriculture played a large role in the community's economy, but now healthcare, government, and manufacturing employ a large sector of the population. A Hyundai plant, opened in 2002 added over 3,000 new manufacturing jobs to Montgomery's economy. As technology increasingly influences the economy, these sectors need access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

Alabama State University, Troy University, and Auburn University at Montgomery all serve the community and need high-quality connectivity for students and staff. A number of private colleges, including Faulkner University, Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, and several other facilities, including two-year and technical colleges offer ample choices for students pursuing higher education.

The Problem Of The Future

Mayor Todd Strange has for several years expressed concern about the city losing ground as competing communities with better connectivity outpace Montgomery. Unlike Chattanooga, the city does not have its own municipal electric utility, which facilitates the deployment and operation of a municipal fiber network. Community leaders have known for some time they must consider the future and create an environment to encourage better connectivity and competition.

Montgomery has two cable Internet access providers, Wide Open West (WOW) and Charter Communications.  AT&T still offers slow, inadequate DSL in the area. While businesses have access to cable services, rates are higher in Montgomery than in Atlanta or Birmingham; in some cases, entities have gone outside the community to get better rates. Auburn University has leased circuits and bought bandwidth as far away as Atlanta because it costs less there. Community leaders anticipate the MIX will help encourage competition and reduce prices for businesses and local colleges. 

Necessity Is The Lt. Gen. Of Invention

Maxwell Air Force Base and its annex, Gunter Air Force Base are situated in Montgomery and collectively known as Maxwell-Gunter AFB.

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The base was home to the first Wright Flying School, the first place soldiers and civilians learned to fly planes. The training facility has grown over the years, and is now home to Air University, commanded by Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast. It includes the Department of Defense’s new Cyber College, focusing on cyber security strategy training.

In order to allow students and staff the ability to collaborate with people outside of the Air Force network, the Cyber College needed a fast and reliable connection to a commercial connection.

The Defense Information System Agency (DISA), the backbone of the Department of Defense information network, maintains a data center on the Air Force Base with Akamai, which is contracted to handle data for all medical records for military personnel. Since Akamai and the Air Force had worked together well the past, Lt. Gen. Kwast sought a solution that would advance that relationship.

The State Joins

The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) is an arm of Alabama state government that is responsible for retirement accounts of state employees. In 2012, the RSA built a data center in downtown Montgomery, in an area where there is a need for high-quality commercial connectivity. Several ISPs had a presence at the RSA data center when Lt. Gen. Kwast began to develop the idea for the MIX. Kwast and the Air Force nurtured the concept of creating the Internet exchange in the RSA data center.

Akamai now stores servers in the data center, so RSA and ISPs serving customers in the downtown area can connect there as a neutral location. 

Low Investment, High Returns

For a low monthly investment, the city has already seen results, as new infrastructure investment, driven by the presence of the exchange, is likely to drive down Internet access rates for businesses through more competition. Providers that did not have access to a local exchange until now have started connecting in the MIX and are saving money. More companies are interested in joining the MIX as word spreads.

The city and Montgomery County provided approximately $200,000 in consulting fees and seed money to get the exchange off the ground. Packet Clearing House, a non-profit dedicated to network development and traffic exchange, donated the necessary switching equipment.

Necessary monthly funding is minimal. They pay only approximately $50 per month for electricity to run the equipment, $900 per month to lease rack space to house the Akamai equipment, and $800 per month for Internet transit so Akamai can manage servers and fill content.

From the start, ISPs were interested in participating in the MIX to reach more subscribers and simplify operations. Troy Cable, Camellia Communications, and WOW joined the Internet exchange right away. Just within the past few months, several companies have approached officials at the MIX to negotiate contracts:

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  • Yet another ISP is negotiating in anticipation of joining the MIX and, if things go as planned, will invest significant capital to create a point of presence in Montgomery in order to peer with other networks and use Akamai’s content delivery network.
  • Southern Light Fiber, based in Mobile is now building a fiber network throughout Montgomery and will also connect in the MIX. Southern Light is expanding to northern areas of Alabama and this will be their third public peering point.
  • Television broadcasting company Raycom Media, Inc., located in downtown Montgomery, is also in the process of joining its network to the MIX. The company has never participated in an Internet exchange before, but its network engineers want to connect locally and take advantage of Akamai’s content delivery capabilities. Raycom also has a number of employees that work remotely and feel a local connection at the MIX would allow them to have better access to corporate resources.
  • Hurricane Electric Internet Services, headquartered in Fremont, California, is coming to Alabama, inspired by the presence of the MIX. A local ISP hopes to purchase one or more 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) circuits from Hurricane; the result would mean a 2/3 drop in their Internet costs.

Non-profit Ahead

City and County officials hope to move future governance of the ISPs to a nonprofit model in order to maintain the spirit of neutrality of the facility. For now, officials at the MIX have their hands full as they contend with the intense interest from ISPs and other businesses looking to connect at the facility. As Lt. Gen. Kwast told the Troy Messenger, “Innovation moves rapidly.…Life is exciting. The journey is beginning.”

For more on the Montgomery Internet Exchange, listen to Chris interview Ben Venable, Project Manager for the MIX, on the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #195.

Fairlawn Focuses on Citywide Gig Infrastructure - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 201

On the outskirts of Akron, just south of Cleveland, the community of Fairlawn is building a citywide wireless and fiber optic network using an interesting model. Most of the citywide municipal Internet networks in the U.S. have been built by communities with a municipal electric power company. Fairlawn has no such utility, not even a water utility. So they have partnered with another Ohio company, Extra Mile Fiber.

This week, Deputy Director of Public Service Ernie Staten joins us for episode 201 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss their approach and goals.

Fairlawn is building a carrier grade Wi-Fi and fiber-optic network, financed by municipal bonds. They will own the network and are focused first on generating benefits for the community and providing essential infrastructure rather than making sure every dollar of the network is repaid solely by revenues from network services. We also discuss how they structured the revenue-sharing arrangement with Extra Mile Fiber.

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 21 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."

AL Legislators Don't Wanna Hear It: Local Authority Bill Stalls In Committee

Alabama Republican State Senator Tom Whatley tried again this session to convince his colleagues that municipal utilities need the ability to expand beyond current coverage areas. Once again, his appeal to common sense for better connectivity fell on deaf ears.

Deja Vu

Whatley, representing the Auburn region, held fast to his promise to bring back a proposal like 2015’s SB 438. Early in February, he introduced SB 56, which stalled in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee, unable to get a hearing. The bill eliminated limitations on both services offered and where municipal systems can offer those services.

In a January OANow article, Whatley explained that, once again, he was driven by the desire to improve economic development in Auburn:

On the local level, Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, is sponsoring two bills that he hopes will drive industry to and create jobs in Auburn and Opelika. An Internet availability bill would allow municipalities that offer their own high-speed [gigabit] Internet service, such as the city of Opelika, to expand and offer it in other areas, such as in Auburn and Russell or Tallapoosa counties, which are not eligible for [gigabit] service through private Internet companies.

“The [gigabit] service is something that businesses look for,” Whatley said, adding industries look at [gigabit] Internet the way they do school systems and water and sewer before moving their business into a city. “It’s an economic development tool.”

To Spread The Wealth

Opelika is proof positive in Alabama that municipal networks spur economic growth. Since deploying their Gigabit per second (Gbps) Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, the community has experienced significant growth, a number of awards, and local subscribers love the service they get from Opelika Power Services (OPS).

OPS would like to offer the same fast, affordable, reliable high-quality Gigabit connectivity to nearby Auburn, but the state’s restrictions prevent expansion. From a February OANow article on SB 56:

“We have an obligation to serve our citizens, but we can’t go across the street into Auburn. We can’t go across the street into the county. You’ve got some folks in the county who are literally in a digital desert,” [Opelika Mayor Gary] Fuller said. “The Opelika City Schools have a gig of Internet speed. Auburn does not have a gig of speed. We’d love to serve not only Auburn City Schools, but also Auburn University with ultra high-speed Internet.”…

“[The network is] owned by the citizens, just like the power company. The power company has been owned by the citizens for over 100 years,” Fuller said…

“We just want to offer our service to folks who don’t have service or inadequate service or less-than-ideal service…Sen. Whatley has been our champion on this.”

Mayor Fuller told OANow that he was ready to testify before the Transportation and Energy Committee but no hearing was ever scheduled before the session ended on May 4th.

An Easy Fix

With the Appellate Court considering the FCC’s reversal of state limitations in Tennessee and North Carolina, there is a chance that Sen. Whatley may not need to continue to press his colleagues for changes in state law. Rather than depending on federal intervention to set things right, however, state leaders have the opportunity to restore local authority now.

Sen. Whatley has the right idea - let communities make their own connectivity decisions by removing state barriers.

Data Cap Problem Grows...And Grows...And Grows

A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article (requires subscription) chronicles the increasingly problematic effect of data caps on the quality of residential subscribers' Internet access experience.

Also known as a bandwidth cap, a data cap is a monthly bandwidth usage limit Internet Service Providers (ISPs) sometimes impose on subscribers at their standard monthly rates. While some ISPs charge customers more for exceeding their monthly bandwidth caps, in other cases ISPs may even cut off a customer’s service completely.

The problem is also harming companies like Netflix and Sling TV who are losing customers who can’t justify paying for a high capacity video streaming service that’s only available until they hit their data caps partway through the month. In response, Netflix lowered the video quality for users on ISP networks that use data caps as a way to help them avoid the limitations. The plan worked, but in the process Netflix angered customers, who blamed both the ISPs and the streaming service for the lowered video quality.

It's Not All About The Money

The problem goes beyond the extra fees charged to customers who use a lot of data. The WSJ article cites two Internet users who’d like to join the growing number of “cord cutters” who are dropping television service for Internet-based video. As one man put it:

“I wouldn’t have regular TV if not for the data cap,” he says. “Comcast has got me by the throat.”

Another added:

“I was planning to cut the cord when my DirecTV contract is up,” he says. “This is essentially a ploy to keep people from cutting cable in my opinion.”

An increasing number of subscriber complaints and suspicions about the accuracy of measuring bandwidth usage heighten concerns.

Feds Take Notice

The Government Accountability Office released a report at the end of 2014 expressing their concern about ISPs abusing the use of data caps. At the time, the FCC said that they had not received enough complaints about the problem to merit action. In 2015, as this new WSJ article notes, the FCC received an unprecedented number of complaints about data caps. The problem is only getting worse as household bandwidth usage continues to grow.

To Cap Or Not To Cap? That Is The Question

Providers like Comcast will sometimes offer unlimited usage for an additional monthly fee. Recently, both Comcast and AT&T announced they will raise data caps; Comcast will also increase the price of unlimited usage to $50 per month. Experts speculate the move is a reaction to FCC limits imposed on the Time Warner Cable/Charter Communications merger. From a recent POTs and PANs article:

First, the FCC just required that one of the conditions for Charter’s purchase of Time Warner is that they impose no data caps on customers for seven years. In making that statement the FCC said that they had serious concerns about ISP data caps if those same ISPs also owned video programming, like Time Warner. In such cases, the ISP imposing data caps is favoring their own content over Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu delivered over the Internet.

Seventy percent of all homes in the U.S. have access to one or fewer ISPs offering service that meets the FCC's definition of high-speed Internet access - 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Data caps are a natural result of the control incumbent ISPs have in markets with insufficient competition.

"Inconsistent With Its Mission"

Limits on bandwidth usage are generally not a problem for municipal network users as publicly owned networks are known to reject the use of data caps. A statement from Vermont's EC Fiber reflected a common philosophy:

An uncapped internet environment encourages entrepreneurs and economic growth. Despite the trend toward instituting data caps among commercial internet providers, ECFiber believes that caps are inconsistent with its mission as a community network. An unconstrained online environment frees businesses and individuals to be creative and innovative.

New Braunfels Takes Next Step In Texas

At a recent City Council meeting, New Braunfels council members approved $57,000 in funding for Phase II of a study to explore the feasibility of constructing a city-owned fiber network. The city's Industrial Development Corporation (4B Board), which helps guide the city's economic development initiatives, previously recommended moving on to this next phase of the project. 

Because state laws in Texas prevent municipalities from offering retail telecommunications services, New Braunfels must advance carefully. The city is proceeding with the consultant's recommendation to pursue a public-private partnership (PPP) for the proposed network. With this second phase of the study, the consultant will help the city release a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit interest from would-be private Internet Service Providers (ISP) for the city-owned network.

Clarification from Christopher Mitchell: In Texas, the term telecommunications does not include Internet service. Communities cannot offer telephone service but are able to offer Internet only type services.

Some Findings from Phase I of the Feasibility Study

At a February 4B Board meeting, the New Braunfels Assistant City Manager Kristi Aday noted that the proposed network would cost the city somewhere in the range of $3 - $5 million. A major factor in determining the cost of the network, she said, is whether to use underground fiber for the network or to go with an aerial approach, using poles owned by New Braunfels Utilities.

The full feasibility study, presented at a special joint meeting between the City Council and the 4B Board in March, also reports the results of a survey in which 132 businesses in New Braunfels answered questions about their connectivity needs. According to the results of the survey, 78 percent of city businesses get their Internet service from AT&T DSL or coaxial cable Internet access from Time Warner Cable. Because both technologies rely on copper, many local businesses cannot obtain the high-quality Internet access required for daily operations.

Among the companies who responded, a full 81 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the limited speed and unreliability of their current Internet access. Consultants found that while 15 of the 5,600 companies in New Braunfels have paid to deploy fiber connections to their offices, more than 99 percent of the city’s businesses can't afford such an investment.

How Are We Supposed To Work This Way?

It was just a year ago when at the Texas Legislative Conference in New Braunfels, panelists were not able to take questions from remote attendees because the Internet connection at the Civic Convention Center hit a glitch. At the time, discussions of municipal Internet infrastructure had already started and local leaders understood the urgency:

“We have Texans from across the state here ... and we were dead in the water until 10 a.m.,” [Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce President Michael] Meek said. “That just heightens my awareness, and the awareness of others in the city, on why we’re doing this broadband initiative in town.”

He said the problem was with “the major Internet providers, which we continue to have problems with, whether it be the civic center or Wurstfest. Any business in town will tell you the same thing. That’s one of the reasons why the 4B Board and the chamber are jumping on top of this broadband initiative.”

New Details on Possible FTTP Network in Holland, MI

In March, we wrote about a prospective municipal fiber network project in the western Michigan city of Holland. Holland’s Board of Public Works (HBPW) began a pilot test in January, offering gigabit speed services to three commercial buildings in the city via a system of dark fiber cable that the city has owned for more than two decades.

Holland’s Board of Public Works (HBPW) has since released a study that details options for a citywide municipally owned Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. Although the study is only a first step toward developing a final business plan for the network, it gives significant insight into the city’s plans for the project.

Prospective Network Footprint and Business Model

In the first option, the city could invest $63.2 million to add nearly 500 miles of fiber lines to the city’s existing fiber infrastructure to create a municipal FTTP network for the entire HBPW service area. The new network would reach all of the homes, businesses, and municipal facilities in Holland and in neighboring communities that fall within the HBPW’s service area.

The second option suggests a $29.8 million investment on a fiber network with a smaller FTTP footprint that would provide gigabit speed fiber connections to all premises within the Holland city limits.

According to the study, the city prefers a “hybrid open access” business model in which Holland would provide retail services while also preserving its current open access model. The study also discusses potential FTTP models the city could consider, including one in which the city serves as the network’s sole ISP as well as several different potential public-private partnership (PPP) models that have been successful in other cities.

The study suggests that the city can finance the larger of the proposed network projects with a combination of bonds and loans. The study assumes a 39.6 percent take rate

Faster Speeds, Better Rates

The fastest connectivity customers in Holland can get from the existing city network is not competitive on speed and price with the services offered by local incumbent providers. The established network serves only commercial customers; the pilot project is the city's experiment in residential and small- and mid-sized business connectivity.

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But with a newly expanded FTTP network, the city would dramatically improve options to residents and businesses. Based on their 39.6 percent take rate, consultants proposed subscription rates for 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access:

  • Residents: $80 per month
  • Small commercial service: $85 per month
  • Medium commercial services: $220 per month

The study notes an additional, one-time $820 charge to connect each premise to the network.

Opportunity for Local Collaboration?

The city of Holland may also have the opportunity to cooperate on a broader network plan with Laketown Township, a neighboring community that recently proposed creating its own municipal fiber network. Laketown Township, part of which falls within HBPW’s service area, will vote in May on a proposed $8.6 million fiber network.

"When we began developing the fiber broadband business plan, we were unaware that Laketown was also pursuing fiber for the township,” a statement from the HBPW said. “We will gladly work and meet with Laketown officials to coordinate our offerings."

Local Fiber = Local Benefits

Whatever the final decision, Holland City Council Member Brian Burch makes a powerful argument highlighting the economic and quality of life benefits for everyone who lives and works within reach of the future network:

"Like drinking water, access to information is the new public health…. Advances in information and communications technology means that education is no longer confined to the classroom and our children can become more competitive in the global economy. Like strong transportation infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and water channels, public infrastructure allows commerce to grow and for private business to thrive…. The “backbone” of this gigabit network is currently wired, our next step is to bring this capability into homes and small businesses. By doing so, Holland can be at the forefront of the new economy and define our region with more educated residents and an even faster-growing economy."

Dark Fiber Network Brightens Prospects In Valpo, Indiana

Valparaiso, Indiana, is investing in dark fiber to stimulate economic development; it is deploying ValpoNet, a dark fiber network to serve local businesses and institutions.

The city of approximately 32,000 people is a little over an hour southeast of Chicago and home to Valparaiso University, Purdue University North Central, Indiana Vocational Technical College, and several other colleges. The community also has a large manufacturing base and a number of hospitals and medical clinics, so there is an ample supply of entities with IT departments with the requisite knowledge to use a dark fiber network.

If At First You Don't Find Fiber...

In 2010, a regional economic development organization developed a report that identified the lack of fiber in "Valpo" and Porter County but no project developed. The city moved on to other things until 2014. A situation with a large financial information company in town breathed new life into the idea of municipally owned fiber. The company wanted to expand its facility and wanted to be sure it could access better connectivity. Several years earlier, there had been an ice storm at one of the company's home offices and, while they thought they had redundancy from the incumbents, such was not the case. They lost connectivity for days and from that point on, whenever they opened new offices, expanded, or relocated, redundancy was always a top priority. 

Valpo's Redevelopment Commission decided to hire a consultant to draft a feasibility study. He determined that a dark fiber network was not only possible, but needed. The study revealed that other companies suffered from poor reliability and considered affordability another pressing issue. 

The Commission, working with Economic Development Director Patrick Lyp, reached out to entities in Valpo and found that the university and healthcare facilities were also interested in the promise of better reliability via fiber-optic connections. Valparaiso University and two large regional hospitals, including St. Mary's, expressed their desire to participate. Local officials approached large companies directly and, while several indicated that contracts with incumbents must be fulfilled before making a switch, every local business they approached confirmed that they want ValpoNet.

Location, Location, Location

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As it turns out, the geography of Lake Michigan's southern tip pushes a number of transcontinental fiber lines south near Valparaiso; there are also splice points nearby which contribute to the plan. The city will deploy a dark fiber loop down into Valpo that will then circle back up to the big pipe about 10 miles north of the city. There will also be a redundant loop to ensure uninterrupted connectivity. With the exception of a few areas where the fiber requires aerial placement, the network will be entirely underground, which will help protect it from the elements.

Valpo has no plans to offer FTTH service for residents or businesses or to offer any other lit services. Their plan is to entice both large and small ISPs to provide service over the new infrastructure and are actively seeking providers even before construction begins. Like a number of other ex-urban communities near major metro regions, Valpo has one cable provider (Comcast) and one DSL provider (Frontier). There is also a local provider called Nitco that provides DSL, wireless, and some limited fiber services.

Prices in Valparaiso are higher than in the Chicago area and, according to Lyp, tend to drop as one approaches the metro. Community leaders hope this project will encourage competition and lower rates in the area.

City Savings Ahead

The municipal facilities have always been served by the incumbents because the city owns no telecommunications infrastructure. Serving municipal facilities is not part of the dark fiber network phase 1 plan, but Lyp anticipates it will likely be part of a future phase. As they develop the network, planners are considering ways to include fiber accessibility for city buildings and local schools. The network design integrates strategic placement where laterals can easily extend to schools, desirable business development areas, and locations within Valpo ripe for economic development.

Financing With Future Dollars

The cost of the backbone fiber network will be approximately $2.39 million; Valparaiso is funding the network with tax increment financing, or TIF. Other fiber projects have been financed with TIF in recent years, particularly in Indiana. TIF allows public financing based on future gains in property or sales tax that are limited to a certain geographic area that will obtain the redevelopment or infrastructure project. Local government can borrow the funds, build the project, then use the funds generated from the project to pay off the debt.

The method is gaining popularity for fiber-optic projects in Indiana, but it has been used for some time on other public infrastructure projects, such as toll roads, bridges, and transit systems. In some states, it has been used for decades while other states are slow to adopt TIF.

The Cost Of Going Dark

In April, the Redevelopment Commission reached out to local businesses with an informational meeting to answer questions and share anticipated connectivity costs. Each customer will pay a one-time installation fee of $500 for all circuits and drops. Monthly fees will be $1,000 for one pair of dark fiber strands to a business customer unless that customer is an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or some other entity that plans to resell use of the fiber. ISPs or similar entities will pay $1,200 per month for one pair of dark fiber. There will also be a monthly charge of $200 for each drop.

Because the network is dark fiber, businesses will still have to pay monthly fees to an ISP for Internet access. The Commission's executive director, Jim Mooney, encouraged attendees to sign a nonbonding letter of interest to help them prioritize 2016-17 construction.

Mooney told business leaders at the meeting that the Commission had signed a contract with a company in March and that construction will begin in July. The network is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016.

Out Of The Gate Strong

In addition to strong support from local businesses that want to use the dark fiber network, other members of the community understand the benefits a dark fiber network will bring. In August 2015, the Northwest Indiana Times expressed their support for the municipal project:

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Anyone who says government should leave this solely to the private sector is missing a key point — that the private sector hasn't met this need.

Digital infrastructure is as much a part of economic and civic development as a strong, well-designed transportation network. We shouldn't punish this sort of progressive thinking by hanging on to outdated notions of what the government's role might be.

This is the answer to bridging the tech divide that is separating who will be successful from who will not be.

Managing The Network

Valpo offers municipal sewer and water utility service and while the community feels that their staff can eventually maintain the network, they realize that there is a learning curve. They want to be able to offer businesses connectivity managed by experienced professionals on launch so have issued an RFP to find a firm to manage and operate the network.

After working with an outside firm for the first couple of years, Valpo will determine whether or not to continue with a similar model or develop city talent to take over. Valparaiso has no electric utility like many other communities that invest in fiber networks.

Come To The Dark Side

A growing number of communities are now considering dark fiber investment to stimulate economic development and improve local connectivity. Recently, Huntsville, Alabama, announced it will be deploying a citywide dark fiber network on which Google Fiber will deliver retail services. Other communities have been using their dark fiber resources quietly for years with little fanfare; Burbank, California's dark fiber network is saving money and generating revenue.

Dark fiber networks require lower risk while still inspiring better connectivity in the community. Cities like Valparaiso need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to be able to compete, especially with Chicago nearby. With ValpoNet in place, the city may be able to lure commerce from the Windy City with reliable connectivity, affordable rents, and a high quality of life.

As Valpo Mayor Jon Costas said in February:

"We're looking forward to being the first city in our region to offer municipal dark fiber, which will make us more competitive in attracting new businesses and jobs."

Be sure to check out Community Broadband Bits podcast #199, in which Chris interviews Patrick Lyp about the new ValpoNet.

Valparaiso Embraces Dark Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 199

When Valparaiso, Indiana looked into solutions for a business that needed better Internet connectivity than incumbent providers were willing to reasonably provide, it quickly found that many businesses were lacking the access they needed. The market was broken; this wasn't an isolated incident.

Correction: Lisa misspeaks in the intro, saying Valparaiso is northeast of Chicago. It is southeast.

Valparaiso General Counsel & Economic Development Director Patrick Lyp joins us to discuss what Valparaiso is doing to ensure its businesses have the access they need in episode 199 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We discuss the need from local businesses and the dark fiber approach Valparaiso has started to encourage better choices in the ISP market. We also discuss the funding mechanism, which is tax-increment financing - a tool increasingly common in building dark fiber networks in Indiana.

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 25 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 Kathleen Martin for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Player vs. Player."

Virginia Beach Growing Municipal Network For Savings, Development

Virginia Beach has launched a $4.1 million capital improvement project to extend the city’s high-speed Internet network to all municipal buildings. The network will also offer connection spots on the system for colleges, businesses, and neighboring cities, according to the Virginian Pilot.

The city (pop. 448,479) plans to more than double the reach of its municipal network, adding 73 more sites, including more police stations, fire stations, and libraries. Project work is currently underway and is expected to finish in the next year to 18 months. In addition to extending the municipal network, the project will include buying new networking equipment. The city is using money from its capital fund to pay for the project.

Once the project is completed, Virginia Beach will become the first community in the South Hampton Roads region of Virginia with its own Internet network linking all of its government buildings, the Virginian Pilot reported

Growing City Internet Needs

Virginia Beach started its municipal Internet network in 2002 with the local public schools. Since then, the city has invested a total $27 million to install about 225 linear miles of fiber-optic cable, linking all the public schools along with  “connecting many government buildings, including police stations, fire stations, libraries, recreation centers, and Human Services facilities,” according to a city news release.  

Today, Virginia Beach’s burgeoning Internet needs are fueling its municipal network expansion. The network helps maintain traffic lights, facilitates video conferencing, and provides infrastructure for email. A city spokesperson told us that 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) symmetrical service is available to most of the sites on Virginia Beach’s municipal network. 

Network Yields Savings

Once Virginia Beach’s municipal Internet network is fully implemented, the city will save about $500,000 annually in Internet access fees, Matt Arvay, Virginia Beach’s chief information officer, told the Virginian Pilot. For many years, Virginia Beach has paid to lease lines from Cox Communications for buildings not on its network. Without the need to lease those lines, the city can better control and predict their telecommunications costs.

Boosting The City’s Economic Development 

City officials see expanding their municipal network also as a strong enticement to retain and attract economic development, including biomedical companies and other new high-tech businesses.

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That includes establishing “connectivity opportunities for Old Dominion and Norfolk State universities and Tidewater Community College,” Mayor William D. Sessoms Jr. said recently in his 2016 State of the City address.   

The mayor and other city officials also envision their expanded municipal network will provide neighboring cities the opportunity to connect to Virginia Beach’s network for their own municipal broadband. 

In his State of the City address, Sessoms contended:

 “Virginia Beach is on the verge of becoming the East Coast’s fiber transmission hub, facilitating ultra-high-speed broadband communications across the ocean. Picture this….  Lines of fiber running beneath the Atlantic Ocean — from Europe and Brazil to Dam Neck Road, and on to fiber transmission facilities at the Corporate Landing Business Park….With the expansion of broadband, we are on the cusp of incredible economic growth leading to innovations and breakthroughs in medicine, business and technology.”  

Besides addressing its growing municipal needs, the city of Virginia Beach anticipates having enough fiber available to lease fiber to private businesses. If that occurs, one potential beneficiary could be the developers of a proposed biomedical park on 155 acres in Princess Anne Commons, according to Warren Harris, the city’s director of Economic Development,in the Virginian Pilot news story.

In April, the Virginia Beach City Council approved transferring that 155 acre parcel in Princess Anne Commons to the city Development Authority to create a biomedical-related business park. In an earlier news release, the city said, “Expanding ultra-high-speed Internet to the park is a high priority.”