Tag: "economic development"

Posted June 14, 2012 by lgonzalez

Martinsville, located in south central Virginia within Henry County, is home to about 14,000 people, 10% fewer than in 2000. The town built a city-owned fiber optic network to connect local businesses and spur economic development in cooperation with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative.

The backbone of the Martinsville Information Network (MINET), consists of 48 strands of fiber and it connects schools, municipal sites, and local businesses. Back in 2009, the City estimated it was saving between $130,000 to $150,000 each year by not having to lease telephone services.

“It’s one of the best investments the city has made,” [Mike] Scaffidi said in a February WorkItScoVA.com article by Tara Bozick.

Scaffidi, the City Telecommunications Director, has good reason for his praise. The 20 mile fiber optic network has been quietly growing for about 10 years and has been recognized as a key to economic development.

Recently, the network has attracted businesses like Faneuil, which relies heavily on data, voice, and video streaming, for their call center in Martinsville. Other companies that connect to MiNet include Mehler Technologies, American Distribution and Warehousing, and SPARTA Inc., a defense contractor. SPARTA, which was recently acquired by Parsons, credited the network for attracting them to the town.

MiNet connects with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative network (MBC), which connects to communties all over the county. The combined efforts of MiNet and MBC preceded the announcement that more jobs were coming to a local industrial park. From the article:

…[W]orking with MBC to get fiber to the area’s industrial parks is paying off to bring jobs, especially with the announcement last year that ICF International, a Fairfax-based professional and technology services firm, would create 539 jobs in Patriot Centre…

Currently, 30 Martinsville businesses subscribe to MiNet, which provides telephone and Internet service and generates about $130,000 per year for the general fund. While offering business services has been productive, the City is also exploring the possibility of...

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Posted May 22, 2012 by lgonzalez

Chattanooga is once again using their municipally owned network to improve the quality of life and save money at the same time. New LED street lamps have been installed all over the City and the anticipated energy savings are expected to be significant. In addition to the obvious, saving money with more efficient LED lights, the City anticipates cutting costs in other ways associated with the change. From a recent Mary Jane Credeur Bloomberg Businessweek article:

Almost a third of Chattanooga’s annual energy bill comes from old high-pressure sodium streetlamps. At any given time 5 percent of the bulbs are burned out, and they sometimes go on during the day, needlessly adding to electric bills. “You’ve got a certain amount of lights out but you have no idea where they are, so workers literally drive around in a truck looking for them, and it’s a real waste,” says David Crockett, director of the city’s office of sustainability.

The change to LEDs is expected to cut energy use by 70%. City officials, however, have taken it one step farther and have installed a whole new system that will drive those savings up to 85%, or approximately $2.7 million. Global Green Lighting, a local company, developed a sophisticated lighting system using a wireless network that is fed by EPB Fiber. The system provides the ability to control each light's output 24/7 to tailor the level of light specifically to each lamp, the environment, the time of day, and even what might be happening on the ground. When a light is not working, it can self-diagnose and send a message to maintenance describing what is broken and what is required to fix it. There is no need for manual meter readers because energy usage reports back to the electric company via the network.

The community sees enhanced public safety from the new lighting. Prior to the install of the new system, Chattanooga had frequent criminal activity in several parks at night. Also from the Credeur article:

Global Green is working on a flash strobe mechanism so the lights can also serve as a warning system for tornadoes or security threats or help guide ambulances and fire trucks to a particular address. Cops can also control the brightness when they’re chasing a suspect in parks, alleys, or other areas with dimmed...

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Posted May 13, 2012 by christopher

On April 28, I gave a presentation as part of the Economic Development track of the Broadband Communities Conference in Dallas regarding the role of community networks. The full panel presentation is here (along with links to all the other presentations over 2 days of economic development).

My presentation is excerpted below:

Posted May 7, 2012 by lgonzalez

We told you how Chanute, Kansas, was using their community network to serve local businesses. Now we want to share a story about how the community network helped bring a new business to Chanute.

Chanute, who is named after Octave Chanute an aviation pioneer, adopts the motto "A Tadition of Innovation." Chanute has proven that they are serious about that mantra with the expansion of their community network. They boast free Wi-Fi in all green spaces and parks, schools that are connected with fiber and wireless, several fiber loops throughout the city, plans for a smart grid, and are even exploring FTTH capability.

Spirit AeroSystems, the world's largest supplier of commercial airplane assemblies and components, just opened a new manufacturing facility in Chanute. The plant is expected to create up to 150 new jobs in the southeastern Kansas community and will include a health clinic on site for employees.

As Spirit was approaching different communities, it had a variety of requirements that included reliable electricity and reliable broadband. Nothing exorbitant -- they weren't asking for a gig or even 100Mbps. But they needed reliability. And Chanute was poised to deliver. Publicly owned networks do not exist in a vacuum; they are often one piece of a well-run community.

If Chanute only had a slow DSL and absentee-owned cable company offering broadband, maybe Spirit still would have chosen them and maybe that would have been the tipping point for a different community. We don't know for sure. 

What we do know is that Chanute is getting more jobs and that owning their own network helped.

Posted April 18, 2012 by lgonzalez

VisitMendocino.com sums up this northern California community as a peaceful and serene:

"Mendocino County, where rugged coastline, breathtaking beaches, picturesque villages, majestic redwood forests and America's Greenest Wine Region beckon you to escape to a slower pace."

While the people of Mendocino County love life in the slow lane, they would love a fast lane for the Internet. Mendocino County, known for its wineries, its redwoods, and its greenery is now becoming known for its efforts to develop their own community-owned broadband.

The Mendocino County Broadband Alliance (MCBA) was borne out of a need to fill gigantic gaps in broadband coverage created by the private sector. The geological and rural nature of the area presents an insurmountable challenge to the private cable and telco business models in this spacious county of just under 88,000 residents. While there is still archaic dial-up service, spotty and unreliable satellite access, and a few communities with DSL, the MCBA reports that over half of the population has NO access to broadband.

Community leaders in Mendocino County have contemplated the need for access in their area for some time. What really drove home the urgency of the situation was the 2011 death of Esplanade, Mendocino County's small, local, independent ISP. Carol Brodsky, of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, spoke with MCBA for the story:

When Esplanade, a small, privately owned south-coast Internet service provider closed its doors in 2011, around 400 customers were left in digital darkness, according to Greg Jirak, strategic planning chair for the Mendocino County Broadband Alliance. The resultant issues cascaded and greatly affected the lives of individuals, organizations and businesses.

Jirak goes on to describe other ways Mendocino County has suffered due to the loss of a large part of the scanty Internet coverage they had:

“When Esplanade folded, the Coast Community Library was no longer able to provide public Internet access,” Jirak explains.

Seniors were severely impacted because of Esplanade’s shutdown. “The South Coast Senior Center staff helped seniors use their Internet connection to deal with Social Security, Medicaid, insurance issues and medical...

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Posted March 29, 2012 by lgonzalez

MPR News recently ran two stories on the trials and tribulations of new and prospective broadband networks. Conrad Wilson's story about the continuing Monticello drama and Jennifer Vogel's account of factors affecting the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) projects give us a good idea of the many hurdles in the way of building new fiber-optic networks.

We have reported many times on the drama that has unfolded in Monticello. The municipally owned fiber-optic network has faced some withering challenges and yet perseveres.

Monticello asked for a modern communications network but the existing service providers, the cable and phone companies, insisted the city was "sufficiently wired." Conrad's reporting suggests otherwise:

Bill Tapper, who owns a cabinet company with clients around the world, recalls a time just a few years ago when the Internet was so slow it hurt business.

"The service we had in Monticello was horrible," he said. "My employees would sometimes take the data home where they had a better Internet connection than we did and do their uploads at night."

Tapper said he lost out on business, but at the time the established Internet service providers like phone and cable TV companies told Tapper and other frustrated business owners in town that the city was wired sufficiently.

Fibernet Monticello

After the community voted in favor of a publicly owned fiber-optic network, the incumbent provider, TDS, filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit strategically succeeded in stalling the development of the new network but did not destroy the project. Even though the incumbent provider describes pre-network status as "just fine before the city got involved," TDS took advantage of the delay they caused to began building their own fiber network.

Currently, subscribers in Monticello are benefitting from their high-speed fiber in ways beyond expanded and improved access. Because of the threat of competition, Charter is...

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Posted March 27, 2012 by christopher

Alcatel-Lucent, one of the key vendors behind the Chattanooga community fiber network, has produced a video highlighting life in a "smart" city.  

Posted March 5, 2012 by christopher

We are hearing that SB 313 in Georgia, AT&T's bill to overrule local authority, will be turned into a study bill. Despite the strong support of the Senate Majority Leader, the bill lost support after we and others exposed the frank admission of AT&T's CEO that they had no plans to expand broadband in rural areas.

Given the strength of AT&T's lobbying and the support of the Senate Majority Leader, this is a tremendous victory. Congratulations to the communities in Georgia that successfully organized and defended their authority to decide locally if a network is a wise choice for them.

We do not consider these issues resolved until the ink is dried, but it does look like AT&T lost this round -- which means thousands of local businesses and millions of people won. They can still hope for next-generation networks and a real choice in providers.

Note: the South Carolina bill remains in play and will be discussed on Wednesday by a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.

We have been collecting some of the news coverage of this broadband debate in Georgia, but have neglected posting until now. Here is a run-down of some of the coverage.

In the beginning of February, the AP covered an SB 313 hearing featuring testimony from rural communities:

Leaders from cities including Elberton, Hogansville, Thomasville, Monroe and Toccoa lined up to tell senators that broadband is necessary infrastructure for the 21st century economic development they hope to attract — and that they are doing what they must to keep their communities competitive.

"We cannot wait for the private sector to ride to our rescue," said Tim Martin, executive director of the Toccoa-Stephens County Development Authority.

Thomasville Mayor Max Beverly said the city's broadband network supports major employers there.

"If we have to cut them off, there's no telling what that's going to do...

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Posted February 22, 2012 by christopher

The latest addition to our Community Broadband Network Map is Indianola, Iowa. The Indianola Municipal Utilities own a network that a private partner, MCG, presently uses to offer services to commercial companies. Come summer, the network will begin serving residents also.

Indianola is the county seat of Warren County and has a population pushing 15,000. Back in 1998, the city had a referendum before building a fiber ring. The utility first used its telecommunications capacity for SCADA applications and public safety communications but began using spare capacity to benefit local businesses after 2005.

Indianola describes its network as open access but the network only has one provider. Nonetheless, it serves 70 commercial customers and is presently expanding. It is not available on citywide basis yet and further rollout will be on an incremental basis over many years.

In the open access arragement, service providers have to come to an agreement with the utility on pricing and adequate levels of customer support.

The utility entered the broadband space because incumbent providers Qwest (now CenturyLink) and Mediacom were not meeting local business needs, a familiar story we hear from communities around the country.

Contrary to the common claims of big cable and DSL companies, the city was still willing to work with its telecom competitors -- but it was Mediacom that said it was uninterested in using utility ducts created when parts of town were transitioned from aerial utility service to buried.

In reaction to the competition, Mediacom dropped its business pricing for customers that agreed to long-term contract offerings. IMU (and partner MCG) once had a considerable advantage in pricing but Mediacom's new packages have eroded some of that difference. Fortunately, IMU has a better reputation for service and does not require long term contracts.

Indianola, Iowa

One of the biggest benefits to the community is the high-capacity connections at schools, libraries, and public buildings. Schools connect to each other at a gigabit, allowing them to centralize network operations and cut costs. The municipal and county governments gain the same benefits.

Todd Kielkopf, IMU General...

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Posted February 9, 2012 by christopher

The 2012 Broadband Communities Summit will be at the InterContinental Hotel in Dallas April 24-26. I will be there and am excited for the Open Access Program as well as the Economic Development discussions. I'll be presenting on both topics. Early Bird rates appear to still be in play - hope to see some of you there!

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