Tag: "economic development"

Posted September 26, 2013 by dcollado

When Indianola decided to invest in a municipal fiber network, the decision was part of a larger economic development plan that included a startup incubator in partnership with Simpson College - which we wrote about earlier this year. Located near Des Moines in Iowa, Indianola is one of a few communities that has partnered with a local trusted provider, MCG in this case, that offers services over a publicly owned network.

According to Chris Draper, Director of Indianola + Simpson College Entrepreneurial Development Initiative (EMERGE), his program would not exist if the city did not decide to invest in economic development and municipal broadband as a package deal. Less than a year after launch, EMERGE has nine active startups, some of which are already seeing significant growth and seizing new opportunities. Collective Labor (collectivelabor.com) has created an online platform to facilitate collective bargaining negotiations.

By centralizing the process of calculating proposals and editing contract terms, Collective Labor decreases negotiation time, reduces errors and ultimately makes the negotiation process more efficient. In Iowa alone, Collective Labor believes it can save schools upwards of $35-million a year by streamlining their collective bargaining efforts, freeing up budgets to hire more teachers and improve schools.

Even more promising, the platform can handle all collective bargaining scenarios from teachers to municipal workers, and trade unions to public safety professionals. The demand for Collective Labor’s service is proving solid. Less than a year after launching (in February), Collective Labor has signed up five school districts and has thirteen contractor requests pending. In fact, Collective Labor President, David Gaus, just announced on Twitter that a Colorado firm has agreed to invest cash and expertise that will result in a new office and additional staff to support a nationwide expansion. Not bad for a startup that’s barely seven months old.

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Posted September 17, 2013 by christopher

The small town of Windom in southwest Minnesota has long been one of the smallest FTTH networks in the nation. I have long wanted to bring WindomNet General Manager Dan Olsen on our show because it has some of the best anecdotes in the world of community owned networks. We finally got him!

To understand WindomNet, you should know that it has fewer households than what many of us consider to be the minimum threshold for a viable triple-play FTTH network. Not only have they made it work, they have attracted numerous employers to town, as our interview discusses. It also kept a local employer located just outside of town in the area after a massive telelphone company operating in Minnesota found itself unable to provide the service that business requested. Tiny Windom ran a fiber out to the business and kept them in the region.

The network has expanded to nearby farm towns with the help of a broadband stimulus award. Even now, after bringing connections to a rural region that the big providers have largely ignored, the big cable and CenturyLink lobbyists that live in the capital in Saint Paul have relentlessly lied about Windom, calling it a failure and presenting skewed figures to suggest the investment had not succeeded.

In our discussion, Dan and I explore the reality of WindomNet and how it is benefiting a much larger region beyond its own borders. Read all of our coverage about Windom here.

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. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

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

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

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Posted September 13, 2013 by lgonzalez

Indiana's Metronet Zing winds its way through South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County providing dark fiber service to businesses, government and education. The project started as an economic development initiative when community leaders in the area realized that the high cost and lack of high-speed connectivity in the area kept businesses away.

Project Future, the economic development organization serving South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County until 2012, studied the potential benefits that might flow from better telecommunications in the region. The nonprofit inspired the county Chamber of Commerce, local government, nearby universities, healthcare, and businesses to develop a new nonprofit network model. The 100 mile network offers a dark fiber open access model that encourages competition, keeping prices in check. Nineteen carriers deliver services over the network. Average price for 1 gig service is $1,000 per month.

In the early 2000s, South Bend leaders wanted to take advantage of the regional long-haul fiber that runs directly under South Bend. There was very limited access to fiber connections in the area from providers and rates were high. St. Joseph's County, city government, and the University of Notre Dame needed better, faster, more reliable telecommunications.

A study commissioned by nonprofit Project Future confirmed what community leaders suspected. Education, economic development, healthcare, research and a better quality of life in South Bend depended on the community's access to a dark fiber network. Project Future developed a plan that would involve public investment in an open access dark fiber network. Community leaders joined together to form nonprofit St. Joe Valley Metronet, Inc. in 2004. Metronet's purpose was to build the infrastructure the region so desperately needed. Revenue would be passed back to the community through reasonable rates. 

South Bend and nearby Mishawaka owned fiber networks that ran through conduit to serve the cities' traffic monitoring systems. New fiber, dedicated to the telecommunications network, would be installed in the conduit to reduce the need for excavation. The community did not want to be a...

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Posted September 4, 2013 by lgonzalez

The story has been updated to fix errors. The original story described the project as a partnership but we have since learned it is a project of the Kitsap Public Utility District that is encouraged by the City.

We reported on Poulsbo, Washington, last fall after the community began a wireless pilot project providing a free high-capacity wireless mesh network throughout downtown. Kitsap Public Utility District is running the project, with encouragement from the City. An interview with Poulsbo City Council member Ed Stern filled in more details on this local project.

A wireless mesh pilot project was not the original plan. The public utility district had been investing in a fiber optic network to reduce costs for local government and provide better broadband for schools and hospitals. Stern and other city leaders also recognized that encouraging telecommuting would keep local dollars in the community. Poulsbo is very close to Seattle and city leadership hoped to draw employees from Seattle offices and encourage economic development. They offered a high quality of life and knew better broadband would draw more employers to Poulsbo.

The partners installed a fiber backbone throughout the city and had planned to expand last mile connections in the near future. Poulsbo also codified changes in conduit policy with new ordinances to better manage public rights-of-way. The code requires private providers to first use existing city conduit and the city reserves the right to lease it to them. This policy prevents unnecessary wear and tear and traffic disruption on local streets.

However, the state legislature erected barriers that derailed the full project by revoking PUD authority to offer direct retail services. To this day, public utility districts are required to wholesale access, which rarely creates enough revenue to justify the initial cost of building networks. Community leaders knew that wholesale-only models carry more risk because they split an already tight revenue stream. With the change in state law, the community re-evaluated the fiber network plan. 

Rather than abandon the plan, Poulsbo and the PUD adjusted it to use the existing fiber assets. They created the wireless mesh pilot project that went live in Poulsbo in November 2012....

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Posted August 29, 2013 by dcollado

Located in the northeast corner of Tennessee, Morristown Utility Systems (MUS) offers gigabit broadband throughout a region that covers 30,000 residents and businesses. I recently spoke with MUS General Manager and CEO, Jody Wigington, about FiberNET’s progress and he had much to report, starting with over $5 million in cost savings for local businesses, residents, and the local government itself.

Asked about cost savings to Morristown’s city government, Wigington pointed to $840,000 in total savings from a smart meter program - a combination of lower annual power consumption and operational efficiencies. Another $20,000 in annual savings is due to the county not having to pay out-of-town IT contractors to maintain its network because the required expertise can now be found locally thanks to MUS’s dedicated network specialists.

Morristown businesses and residents are also saving, to the tune of $3.4-million annually thanks to FiberNET’s introduction of lower prices in the local broadband market. That’s $3.4-million, every year, which can be spent locally rather than being siphoned out of the community to corporate shareholders.

In terms of revenue, FiberNET generated $8.6-million during the most recent fiscal year and is projected to generate $8.8-million during the current one. FiberNET's solid financials have translated into increases in MUS’s payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the city, which now amount to $350,000 per year, up from $150,000 in 2010. FiberNET’s strong financial performance resulted in MUS becoming cash flow positive just two years after launch, and net income positive after five years. Both of these key milestones were reached significantly quicker than initially projected.

MUS FiberNET’s impact on economic development is also notable. Oddello Industries, a contract furniture manufacturer that relies on FiberNET for its communications, recently announced a $4-million expansion in Morristown, resulting in 228 new jobs. Oddello CEO, Tom Roberts, cited “reliable utilities” among the reasons for investing in Morristown. This growth is part of a larger trend for Oddello, which has grown its Morristown presence from 35 to 415 employees in just the past year. 

Another sign of FiberNET’s impact on economic development is the recent decision by Molecular...

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Posted August 13, 2013 by dcollado

When a local hospital saw an opportunity to deliver services from an abandoned big box store, the community broadband network sealed the deal with connectivity both advanced and affordable. That store had been an anchor for nearby businesses; allowing it to remain empty put them at risk.

In 2011, officials from T.J. Samson Community Hospital approached the Glasgow Electric Plant Board (EPB) to inquire about the feasibility of connecting the hospital and other facilities to an abandoned shopping plaza which once housed a Wal-mart. The officials were interested in converting the old shopping plaza into a state-of-the-art healthcare facility. But that would only be possible if the the abandoned shopping plaza could be connected to existing facilities with an advanced fiber optic network, including multiple diverse routes to assure the necessary level of reliability.

Hospital officials ultimately asked EPB to provide a redundant 10-gigabit network interconnecting all of their facilities with the abandoned shopping plaza and EPB's network operating center. The hospital needed advanced connectivity for advanced telemedicine practices, such as sharing high-resolution images and transferring large data patient files. The hospital also needed a collocation deal with EPB in order to install mirrored servers in a safe, storm-hardened facility.

Asked about the decision to meet the hospital’s request, Billy Ray, CEO of the EPB said "We knew it was us or nobody. It would’ve been cost prohibitive for the private sector to do the job, if they would bother at all."

The converted shopping plaza, now known as the T.J. Samson Health Pavilion, added 126,000 square feet to its capacity that houses 30 new physicians' offices, advanced diagnostics, preventative treatment and educational services. The $36-million project also created administration and healthcare related jobs while reinforcing the basic infrastructure of the community. And it was all made possible by Glasgow’s public utility having the flexibility and public interest mandate to serve the community first, rather than focusing on short term profits.

Posted August 13, 2013 by christopher

Chattanooga's EPB Fiber is the highest profile community network in the U.S. It was the first network in the nation to offer a symmetrical gigabit tier to every last address in the community. On today's Community Broadband Bits podcast, Danna Bailey joins us to discuss the network.

Danna Bailey is EPB's Vice President of Corporate Communications and has long helped behind the scenes to keep our site informed of Chattanooga's progress. We talk about why Chattanooga built the network and the role of the stimulus award for smart grid in expediting the build out long after the project had started.

We also talk about job growth - both large firms and small entreprenurs locating in Chattanooga while citing the community fiber network as a big part of the reason.

The conversation updates the Chattanooga case study we published last year. Chattanooga remains far ahead of its business plan and is doing very well financially. Read all the stories we have published about Chattanooga here.

Read the transcript from this episode.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted August 12, 2013 by dcollado

As we reported back in May, Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) now offers citywide gigabit broadband. Mudd Advertising is one local company poised to take full advantage of the new blazing speeds. Mudd invited officials from CFU into its studio for a live panel discussion about the new gigabit service and what it means for the community. The video is embedded below and is available via MuddTV - look for the 6/19/2013 archived show.

When asked what gigabit service means for the community, CFU’s Director of Business Management Rob Houlihan said “We have a lot of businesses that transfer huge files to and from their customers and this enables them to do even more of that activity.” Houlihan elaborated by saying that gigabit broadband opens up “a whole new host of opportunities for them to innovate.”

The panel was moderated by Mudd’s Gary Kroeger...

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Posted August 6, 2013 by christopher

In Florida, Lakeland is one of several communities that has built a dark fiber network in a low-risk bid to expand connectivity for anchor institutions and to spur economic development. City of Lakeland Fiber Optics Supervisor Paul Meyer joins us for episode #58 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Meyer explains why Lakeland began offering dark fiber leases and how it has benefited the community - most notably by allowing ultrafast communications at low rates. The network has expanded several times over the years in conjunction with other projects, including bringing smart traffic management to more intersections.

In addition to saving money for municipal buildings and the school district, the network has helped the hospital take advantage of modern technology and helped to lure new businesses to the community. This interview complements our previous story about Lakeland's fiber network.

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. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted August 6, 2013 by lgonzalez

The Roanoke Valley, nestled in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, grapples with the same connectivity problems facing many communities in rural Virginia. Private providers have few incentives to invest in next-generation Internet networks because the low density population promises too little profit. 

Like Danville, Bristol, and the Rockbridge area, communities in the Roanoke Valley are taking matters into their own hands. A February 2013 Roanoke Times news article reported that local businesses and regional governments collaborated to fund a $50,000 study. The study recommended creating a broadband authority to investigate the possibility of building an open access network. The Roanoke Times has more recently reported that public hearings are on the schedule for August:

Public hearings are coming up next month in the city and county of Roanoke, Salem and Botetourt County on a plan for local governments to band together to form a Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. It could work with the private sector to create a regional open-access, fiber-optic Internet network that would allow large and small service providers to compete on a level playing field. [A PDF of the schedule includes the proposed resolution and Articles of Incorporation for the Authority.]

Roanoke Valley Map

According to a June report from WSLS channel 10, the Roanoke City Council has already set aside $2 million to direct toward broadband in the Valley. For years, the local economy relied on manufacturing and textiles but outsourcing eliminated jobs and sent young people elsewhere looking for work. Local leaders now look for other footholds for economic development. Fortunately, they recognize the importance of broadband as they transition. From the WLSL report...

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