Tag: "economic development"

Posted August 1, 2013 by lgonzalez

Near the center of Florida sits Lakeland, the largest city between Orlando and Tampa with 98,000 residents. The area boasts 38 lakes, citrus crops, and a growing healthcare industry. Lakeland also owns a fiber optic network serving education, business, and government. To learn more, we spoke with Paul Meyer, Lakeland Electric City of Lakeland Fiber Optics Supervisor.

The city's municipal electric company, Lakeland Electric, began generating and providing electricity to customers in its service territory in 1904. In the mid 1990s, the utility began replacing older copper connections between substations with fiber-optic cable. Soon after, the Polk County School District asked Lakeland Electric to connect school facilities via the fiber network for video transmissions. By 1997, almost 50 school facilities were connected to each other via using dark fiber provided by Lakeland Electric. In 1994, the District paid $219,582 $84,737 to the utility to design, construct, and install equipment for video connections in four schools. The school received an indefeasible right of use for two fibers for twenty years. over which Verizon delivers data and voice services to the School District on its own lines.

Meyer noted that the fiber project likely cost more than the school paid but the installation gave them the opportunity to expand the network. Further expansion connected the police department, libraries, and water facilities. Over time, the electric utility has incrementally expanded to every building engaged in city business. The network is aerial, using the utility's own poles to mount the fiber.

Like a few other communities on our map, including Martin County Florida, Lakeland took advantage of the opportunity to expand when the state's...

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Posted July 31, 2013 by lgonzalez

A part of the Cincinnati metro region, Hamilton sits in the extreme southwest corner of Ohio. The community of 63,000 will soon expand its fiber resources to spur economic development and improve education opportunities. Eric Schwartzberg from the Journal News reports that the City Council recently voted to support the city-owned electric utility's proposal to create a broadband utility and build a data center. Hamilton is a full service community, also offering sewer, water, and gas.

Hamilton's municipal facilities have used the city's fiber I-Net for over nine years, reports Schwartzberg, and they believe it now makes sense to connect schools and local businesses while opening the network to independent service providers. 

[Mark] Murray [a project manager for the city’s underground utilities] said the opportunity to offer broadband to businesses and schools is similar to what Hamilton does with the electricity it generates.

“If we were putting up poles and stringing wires and only providing that to city institutions or city buildings … why wouldn’t we offer electric to businesses?” he said. “Well, that’s the same question that’s being asked of our fiber optic network. We’ve made great use of it here within the city, but why not take this asset and offer it as a service to the businesses?”

...

“When you start to see this type of facility go in, it’s not unusual for regional or national start ups to want to take advantage of the opportunity to tap into our fiber network,” [Murray] said.

In January of 2012, the City's We Connect People Sub-Committee began investigating how best to use the City's fiber. They hired Magellan Advisors who estimates the project costs at $4.3 million to expand the fiber network, purchase equipment and build the data center, and to use for future capital improvements and maintenance. Murray said positive operating revenue would be expected in 2017 and 2018 would very likely show net income.

In addition to serving local business, the utility also hopes to establish the Hamilton City School District as a community anchor institution. Murray noted that the utility is not interested in providing phone, video, or data to the school; they will build the infrastructure for private providers...

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Posted July 29, 2013 by lgonzalez

The community of Shafter enjoys savings, better public safety, and more educational opportunities with the municipal fiber network that we wrote about two weeks ago and discussed in last week's podcast. In 2006, Shafter spent $200,000 on its I-Net to serve local schools and government in the core of the downtown area. While the community had originally planned to build a FTTH network, the tumultuous economy dictated otherwise and the community adjusted its course.

The community is now expanding infrastructure to several areas closer to the edge of town in order to serve local business. With next-generation fiber infrastructure in place, Shafter expects to attract several providers interested in serving businesses over its open access network. Completion is scheduled for the fall of 2013.

A 25 mile fiber backbone ring is now under construction and will loop to two industrial areas near the edge of town. Both complexes sit very close to the two main railroad lines that run through the town and provide easy access to transport. In addition to the larger loop, one of the industrial areas, will contain a 10 gigabit ring and the city will light two separate commercial rings to provide 1 gigabit service. This phase of Shafter's project will cost $1.5 million and required equipment will cost another $600,000. The network is underground, with 99% in city road rights-of-way. The entire path travels through greenfield areas so there is almost no infrastructure to avoid or remediate. General fund dollars, rather than bonding, borrowing, or grants paid for the entire open access network.

We learned from IT Director Scott Hurlbert that oilfield services company, Baker Hughes, invested $70 million to build a campus in Shafter. AT&T serves the company now with copper lines but "they don't like it," says Hurlbert. A 2.1 million square feet Target distribution center sits nearby waiting to switch to the Shafter fiber network.

Ross Dress-for-Less is now developing a 1.7 million square feet distribution center in the area and will likely take service from AT&T and from a different provider...

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Posted July 18, 2013 by lgonzalez

In the 1990s, the community of Shafter, California, began developing its strategic plan; the move would eventually lead them to build a municipal broadband network. The town of 17,000 still depended primarily on agriculture but manufacturers were relocating to the community, drawn by its proximity to the railroad and its open space. Potential employers increasingly focused on broadband access as a priority and Shafter realized broadband would be critical to continued growth.

Shafter’s Assistant City Manager Scott Hurlbert recently explained to us how the community built its own fiber network to serve commercial clients, local government, and schools. This incremental approach is not unique but Shafter has no municipal electric nor gas utility, which does puts it in the company of Santa Monica, Mount Vernon, and a few other communities that have built networks without having a municipal power company.

Shafter’s City Council examined its strengths and its weaknesses and found a way to build a network with no borrowing or bonding. The community continues to expand its fiber network, attracting businesses and improving quality of life in this central California town.

In the 1990s AT&T was the main business services provider and it would only improve business telecommunications on an order-by-order basis. Companies that wanted to build beyond the developed town had to pay for the installation themselves, often waiting months to get connected. Prices were "obscene" and the delays almost killed several commercial deals. Even today AT&T takes the same approach in Shafter.

When he joined the City in 2005 as the IT Director, Hurlbert and his staff researched wireless technologies but determined that fiber-optic deployment would be the best option. At that time, the bandwidth demand was already intense and a wireless network would need fiber for backhaul. Hurlbert and staff also investigated other communities, including Chelan, Washington, to look for workable models.

In 2006, three master planned residential subdivisions were approved for expansion of the City of Shafter. The city saw this as an opportunity to...

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Posted July 9, 2013 by christopher

For our 54th episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we are back in Tennessee to interview Brian Skelton, General Manager of the Tullahoma Utilities Board. They built the network in 2008 and have weathered the tough economy, meeting the business plan while greatly benefiting the community.

This is a particularly content-rich interview, covering the importance of non-gimmick pricing, benefits to schools, local programming, and why they decided to become a gigabit community.

They haven't increased prices of the Internet or telephone service even though they have increased speeds five times for subscribers and added new telephone features. Despite facing tough competition and deep discount pricing, Tullahoma has experienced extremely low churn, which itself is a sign of how valued the service is. You can read our historic coverage of Tullahoma here.

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 30 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 Eat at Joe's for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted July 2, 2013 by christopher

Waverly, a town of 10,000 in Iowa, decided to create a city owned telecommunications utility with a successful referendum vote in 2000 but has only recently decided to move forward with a major investment to offer services. Mike Litterer, Interim General Manager of Waverly Light and Power, joins us to discuss the project.

Following the vote, the cable and telephone company suddenly decided to upgrade their services, which led the town to hold off on a community owned network. But over time, those companies failed to upgrade the networks and Waverly again finds itself struggling with inadequate access.

He explains why Waverly believes it will struggle to bring new jobs to town unless it has a better network - the economic development director of the town hears that directly from businesses making siting decisions.

Waverly already had a ring and leased dark fiber but is now moving forward on a more ambitious project to allow it to thrive in the digital economy. We previously wrote about Waverly here.

Read the transcript from this episode 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 13 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 Eat at Joe's for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted July 1, 2013 by lgonzalez

Knoxville Metro Pulse reporter Paige Hunton published a story last month about a common complaint from downtown residents and businesses - "Downtown Knoxville's Internet Access Kinda Sucks. Can It Be Fixed?" The problem worked its way from local talk to twitter and city leaders have met with residents and business owners to publicly discuss options.

This is a perfect example of what happens to a community that refuses to take responsibility for ensuring local businesses and residents have access to the essential infrastructure they need. Knoxville's approach to improving its Internet access is akin to crossing one's fingers and hoping really hard for the best.

Hunton' describes modern day disaster in the downtown area comprised of an inconsistent patchwork of AT&T DSL, Comcast, and a very limited amount of private provider fiber optics. Some areas have no access, others have no choices. While the city tries to encourage downtown commerce with tax credits for developers and a new entrepreneur center critical high-speed connections are missing.

City officials say the downtown area has a limited amount of aging conduit, discouraging private providers and cost prohibitive to expand. Likewise, old buildings with substandard internal wiring discourage investment from private companies.

Hunton tells the story of Ian Blackburn, a former colleague that now works for a downtown employer impacted by the lack of high-speed broadband downtown. After outgrowing its T1, the company went with 6 Mbps through AT&T DSL. AC Entertainment soon outgrew DSL:

"On one occasion in our DSL days, we had to download a video spot from an artist management site, make a few edits, burn it to disc, and get it to FedEx that day. The browser was estimating over an hour remaining for the download, which would miss the FedEx cutoff point. I remotely logged into a server in my living room, started the download, jumped on my bike, pedaled home, burned the file to a DVD, and was back in the office inside of 20 minutes,” he says. “The problem got solved, but that’s a ridiculous way for a company to have to operate. You can’t do business if you can outrun your Internet on a bicycle.”

...

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Posted June 5, 2013 by lgonzalez

Good news for Vermonters who want connectivity from the East Central Vermont Fiber Optic Network (ECFiber). The community owned network recently raised another $430,000 from local investors who purchased tax-exempt promissory notes. As a result, the nonprofit can now expand another 20 miles. Approximately 100 more households and businesses will soon have access.

Twenty-three towns belong to the consortium; Montpelier is the largest. The network currently serves 325 customers via 50 miles of fiber. Warren Johnston reports in the Valley News:

“Before the fall, we’ll have people connected in Chelsea, Vershire, Thetford, Tunbridge, Royalton and Sharon, and a lot of the people in Strafford, along with service to several neighborhoods in Norwich, [ECFiber Chariman Irv Thomas] said.

The nonprofit has raised about $3.5 million through grants and investment loans from community members.

Although residents wanting service are not required to loan money to ECFiber, the tax-free notes promise a good return for investors, ranging from 5.3 percent to 7.65 percent, depending on the type of note.

Johnston also spoke with Wynona Ward, an attorney with Have Justice Will Travel, a nonprofit legal service for victims of domestic violence and abuse in Vershire: 

“It’s just wonderful. It’s like going from the horse-and-buggy age to the jet age overnight,” said Ward, who got the service on April 23. “I’ll always remember the date. It’s made such a difference in our lives.”

The new system lets all of the firm’s five computers to be online at one time, something that the old system would not allow. Clients and lawyers now can send photographs and case files to her office, which would have crashed her previous system.

“We used to plan an hour a week to do our payroll online. Now, we can do it in a matter of minutes. It’s a tremendous savings of time,” she said. The new system also gives firm members an opportunity to keep up with online training.

“If we filed a grant application before, which can...

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Posted May 29, 2013 by lgonzalez

The Missoula City Council recently approved a measure to finance a feasibility study on improving local Internet options. Keila Szpaller of the Missoulian reports the council voted 9-1 to spend $13,125 as a first step in improving business connections to boost economic development. Szpaller writes:

“We did a survey around that and identified that one of the needs that folks have is for high-speed, high-capacity connections at an affordable price,” said Councilwoman Caitlin Copple.

Copple chairs the Economic Development Subcommittee of the council, a group that formed to research the way municipal government can best support technology infrastructure to bolster local businesses – and recruit more technology startups.

“We felt like the time is now to bring on a consultant and really get a professional assessment on what we have, what the demand is and what the potential partnerships are,” Copple said.

The Montana Department of Commerce, through its Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund, awarded $26,250 to the city and Missoula County. The county Board of Commissioners voted earlier this month to guarantee another $13,125 to meet the matching contribution requirement. The city contribution comes out of a federal grant to the city from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Encouraging economic development will improve affordable housing options says Councilman Jason Wiener:

“When we talk about housing affordability in particular, people often talk about the gap between prices and income and working to close that as well, so this is really money put to that purpose,” Wiener said.

Montana Seal

According to the article, the Big Sky Selection Committee and several local businesses provided letters of support. First Interstate Bank called the feasibility "an important step" in encouraging high-quality local jobs. Local online publisher Mamalode wrote that robust broadband infrastructure will lead to better paying positions and will contribute to the company's vitality. Mamalode "relies...

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Posted May 29, 2013 by lgonzalez

Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) just announced that it is ready to serve customers with 1 gig service. Earlier this year, CFU increased speeds for existing customers at no expense and we watched their expansion and upgrade from cable to FTTH. 

Jon Ericson reported in the Courier that the city hopes to boost economic development in Cedar Falls with the new 1 gig offering:

Bob Seymour, economic development manager for the city of Cedar Falls, said the "gigabit city" label will help with business recruitment.

"This is a great tool for promoting Cedar Falls as a place to locate or expand a business," Seymour said. "It's an important part of the complete infrastructure package we bring to the table, and it means we can compete with the best broadband communities anywhere in the country."

Business customers already at the most expensive tier will be upgraded automatically. Residential 1 gig service will be $275 per month and businesses will pay $950. CFU anticipates the growing demand for online video and gaming will drive residential requests.

Betty Zeman, marketing manager, said CFU wanted to lead, not follow, the technology curve.

"We want to be on the front end of that, not the tail end of that. We've just seen year after year customers use more bandwidth faster than you ever thought they would. By the time you think you need additional bandwidth, it's already too late," Zeman said.

Congrats to CFU as they join the 1 gig club!

You can find out more about the community and the network in episode #13 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Find out more about CFU's new service in this video.

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