Tag: "economic development"

Posted June 21, 2011 by christopher

If you the take a look at our community broadband map, you'll see that Texas has only one citywide wired network owned by the public: Greenville. The story behind it is the same story we hear from just about every other community - but they actually spelled it out on their history page.

In 1999, Greenville, Texas' economic development leaders were unable to attract certain businesses and on the verge of losing existing companies due to a lack of high speed Internet.

In response, Mayor Sue Ann Harting asked SBC for a commitment to deploy DSL. That request was denied. The city's cable franchise, Time Warner, also declined to commit to cable modem Internet deployment.

Greenville found itself in a situation similar to one that many towns had faced years ago when railroads changed transportation. If the railroad was not routed through a town, that town just might die. What would happen to Greenville if the information superhighway did not come through the city?

Incumbent cable and telephone companies, their lobbyists, and associated "think tanks" like to claim that communities are somehow "duped" into building publicly owned networks. The truth is that just about every community wants to avoid the hassle of building a network but incumbents refuse to invest sufficiently to keep the community competitive for economic development and a high quality of life.

They build networks when backed into a corner, not because they want to. Fortunately, all that hassle almost always pays off with far more benefits than problems over the long term as communities transition from depending on some distant corporation to solving their own problems locally.

In fact, the results are often like that of Greenville:

Greenville citizens were not willing to take that chance. They took destiny into their own hands by amending the city charter to allow their revenue-only supported, municipally-owned electric system to build a hybrid fiber coaxial system to make high speed Internet available to everyone. Digital cable TV was offered as an option on that same system.

Once the citizens had committed to this venture, the city's incumbent telephone and cable franchises found ways of deploying that high speed Internet that they had only recently declared not feasible in Greenville.

In...

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Posted June 4, 2011 by christopher

Remapping Debate, an organization dedicated to "the full spectrum of domestic policy issues," has turned its focus on community broadband networks in an article called "Wave of the Future?" The article notes the tremendous success of Bristol, Virginia, in creating jobs. Most are well aware of the 700 jobs created by CGI and Northrup Grumman due to the network, but there are other success stories too:

Fiber has helped Bristol and the surrounding counties hold onto existing businesses as well as attract new ones. Alpha Natural Resources, a coal giant, pointed to the BVU service as a key factor in its 2009 decision to keep the company’s corporate headquarters in Bristol after a merger with Foundation Coal, a rival based in the more cosmopolitan Baltimore-Washington corridor. BVU’s fast service (up to 30 megabits for downloads and 10 megabits for uploads) will allow Alpha management to maintain close electronic watch over a combined network of mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

The article goes on to discuss Chattanooga. Once again, we knew that its muni fiber network had already led to many more jobs from Amazon and Homeserve, but we learn more about exactly how the network has improved health care:

Chattanooga’s fiber network has been a foundation for high-tech business startups. One new company, Specialty Networks, allows doctors spread across many area hospitals and offices to get quick image analysis from radiologists specializing in the cancers of various regions of the body. In the past, according to Dr. Jim Busch, the radiologist behind the venture, eye, nose, and throat doctors would get initial readings from radiologists who did not necessary understand the particular subtleties of cancers affecting those areas. Now a single head-and-neck expert reads the images for just about all of greater Chattanooga’s ENT doctors. “The relatively inexpensive nature of all this bandwidth has been great for patient care,” Dr. Busch told Remapping Debate.

The rest of the article discusses other benefits of community networks and policy options for moving forward. Recommended reading.

Posted May 30, 2011 by christopher

nDanville, the open access fiber-optic network operated by the City's public power company, has been quietly succeeding in southern Virginia. This network has already connected half of the communities health care facilities, allowing them to improve medical care with 100Mbps and gigabit circuits at affordable prices.

The medical network connects Danville Regional Medical Center and about half of the area’s medical facilities to nDanville, a fiber optic network established by the city. The high performance fiber allows real-time access to patient medical records and allows for the exchange of CT and MRI scans instantly.

Another article notes praise for the city's efforts:

"It enables us to better serve our patients by having their information available across multiple sites," Deaton [CEO of Danville Regional Medical Center] said. "We will continue to support the city's efforts in linking our medical community together, and I want to commend the city for the success of this network and making healthcare a top priority."

The Intelligent Community Forum brought the above success to my attention in awarding Danville a recipient of its 2011 Founders Awards. (Chattanooga is in the running for Intelligent Community of year and really, how could it possibly lose?) But ICF details more impressive details from nDanville:

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On average, fiber connections for these facilities provide twice the bandwidth of the previous connection but at a 30% savings. More than 90% of the medical facilities (approximately 125 locations) are to be connected by December  2011, said Jason Grey, the Broadband Network Manager of Danville Utilities, who led Danville’s charge to become a recognized intelligent community by ICF.

ICF further noted that the nDanville Network provides a crucial link between the Danville Diagnostic and Imaging Center and the Danville Regional Hospital. This high capacity connection allows the two facilities to exchange CT and MRI scans...

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Posted May 17, 2011 by christopher

A small Idaho town near Idaho Falls in the eastern part of the state, Ammon, is creating a new approach for a small open access fiber-optic network. When the vision is fully realized, all businesses and residents will have affordable, fast, and reliable access to the Internet and other telecommunications services via a multitude of independent service providers.

The town has adopted a new ordinance spelling out its vision and began building the backbone of the network. The purpose is well written and could serve as a model for others, excerpted here:

To protect the public right-of-way by improving both the management and regulation of competing demands through the elimination of duplicate fiber optic facilities within the public right-of-way.

To reduce the cost of maintaining the sidewalk, pavement and public facilities located within the public right-of-way by minimizing the number of pavement cuts and dislocation of other public facilities necessitated by the construction or installation of fiber optic facilities.

To foster competition among retail broadband service providers by providing open Access to the City Fiber Optic System.

Ammon had previously applied for broadband stimulus funds but was not awarded a grant or loan. Undaunted, they continued to examine how they can build the network their community needs to attract economic development and maintain a high qualify of life. An article in the Boise Weekly profiled the network and the man behind it:

Bruce Patterson is the one-man IT department for Ammon, a small town of 13,000 near Idaho Falls. He is fed up with companies overlooking the town when they discover the cost of Internet is prohibitive.

"The City of Ammon wants to be the road, not the traffic," Patterson said. "Nondiscrimination is what we believe is the right thing. We wanna be completely open to every consumer and provider."

As we see time and time again, this community has Internet access from at least one provider, but it does not meet the needs of the...

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Posted May 16, 2011 by christopher

Counties in northeast Georgia are among the latest to examine their options to improve access to the Internet in local communities due to the massive failure of the private sector to adequately invest in essential infrastructure needed for economic development and maintaining a high quality of life.

Those involved may include Stephens County, Hart County, Franklin County, Rabun County, and Habersham County. However, Franklin County refused to contribute to a feasibility study, with some arguing that the "utility owners" should do it - though it is not clear which "utility owners" are referenced here. Others found this troubling:

“I think some of the other commissioners maybe feel like it’s more of a private matter, that some of the commercial businesses should be putting in infrastructure,” he said. “However, someone like Windstream, if they have a potential customer for a data center, they’re going to steer that customer to where they have infrastructure. They don’t care about Franklin County.”

It’s important to understand, he added, that high-quality jobs will not come to Franklin County if it is not up-to-date with its infrastructure.

This is exactly correct -- what does a private sector provider care about a single county in Georgia? They care about a fast return on their investment, not about a community's vitality.

In the meantime, Stephen's County has contributed $500 toward a match for the study.
Minutes from the Feb 28 meeting of Stephens County Development Authority [pdf] offer more details of the study:

OneGeorgia’s Nancy Cobb has approached the Joint Development Authority of Franklin, Hart & Stephens Counties and “offered” to fund 80% of a Broadband Connectivity Feasibility Study (expected to cost about $240,000) in northeast Georgia. Her offer is contingent upon us actually officially requesting it and matching it with 20%. We anticipate her next meeting to be sometime in May/June. The more we study...

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Posted May 11, 2011 by christopher

We are hearing exciting news from western Massachusetts -- at least 17 towns have already held the necessary meetings and votes to join the Wired West cooperative that will build an open access, universal, FTTH broadband network in each of the member towns. This is an exciting project in a region largely left behind by cable and phone companies.

Back in January, we described the steps necessary to form a "Municipal Light Plant," in each community but a recent update from Wired West reminds us about the specifics:

Town participation in the WiredWest municipal telecommunications cooperative requires passing two consecutive town votes at separate meetings to establish Municipal Light Plant (MLP) legislation in the town. The MLP legislation was created in the Commonwealth over 100 years ago to enable towns to generate their own electricity. In 1996, the ability for towns to offer telecommunications services was added to the MLP statute. WiredWest charter towns researched various governance options and determined this was the best choice for enabling towns to offer telecommunications services, work together cooperatively and issue municipal debt to capitalize the network.

Towns have been passing the 2/3 votes with overwhelming approval, as in the town of Florida, with a 30-1 vote.

Wired West is maintaining an impressive map of the status of each town along the path. Clicking on a town brings up more information about that town. Kudos to them for making a great map that is easy to use and conveys a lot of information.

The Berkshire Eagle recently published an op-ed discussing the importance of economic development in the area:

Because many Berkshirites work, either at home or in an office, in towns without high-speed Internet service, making such connections widely available is vital to economic development in the county. I’m a volunteer with WiredWest, a cooperative effort of 47 towns in...

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Posted May 7, 2011 by christopher

We have frequently encouraged communities to learn more about Santa Monica's approach to incrementally building a publicly owned fiber-optic broadband network, which has just received another award. The Ash Center at Harvard's Kennedy School selected Santa Monica as one of their top 25 Innovations in Government.

The program was selected for this award in the economic development category for the network's effectiveness in attracting technology companies to the city and supporting existing Santa Monica businesses with a leading edge broadband infrastructure, city officials said.

Santa Monica City Net's model is being replicated by the cities of Burbank and Long Beach, and is in review by Chicago and Calgary.

As we explained in Breaking the Broadband Monopoly, Santa Monica started with an I-Net on which they could not run commercial traffic and slowly built their own network that had no conditions on how it was used. In the past, this network has received the "Significant Achievement Award" from the Public Technology Institute (PTI).

This press release recaps some details from their network:

The City created a telecommunications master plan and built a fiber optic network that connected 59 buildings used by the City, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and Santa Monica College. Savings realized by this project enabled the City to construct its own municipal fiber optic network, Santa Monica City Net, to support traffic cameras, security cameras, real-time parking advisory systems, a traffic signal synchronization system, and real-time mass transit signs. The City also leases dark fiber and lit services to local businesses for affordable broadband.

The results of Santa Monica's advanced broadband initiative are a reduction in construction costs of new broadband service, an increase in purchasing power of connected local businesses, and a broadband market expansion for global Internet Service Providers that now offer service to small, medium and large commercial buildings. The program also...

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Posted May 3, 2011 by christopher

As we continue to report on depressing campaigns to deny people fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet (as Time Warner Cable is doing in North Carolina), we are also making an attempt to highlight good legislation (as we recently did in Washington state). In that spirit, we turn to HB 2076 / SB 1847 in Tennessee

From the bill summary:

This bill urges all municipalities to endeavor to utilize advanced broadband systems in their operations and to encourage the construction of advanced broadband systems.

The full bill is available here [pdf] but the most interesting part is what was not included. As reported by Andy Sher of the Times Free Press, the bill was intended to go much further.

The bill would have let the municipal utilities extend service up to 30 miles outside their service areas.

Unfortunately, the powerful incumbent lobbying machine (including AT&T, Comcast, and others who already hate having to compete with technologically superior networks in several Tennessee communities) killed the bill, a blow to the future of economic development in the state. Neighbors of Chattanooga, including Bradley County, desperately want access to the impressive 1Gbps network Chattanooga built -- the most advanced citywide network in the country.

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Harold DePriest recognized the power of AT&T and Comcast in the Legislature, but vowed not to give up.

“Well, we would like to see the bill pass, but I think Gerald was dealing with the reality of the difficulty of moving the bill through the committee at this point in time,” he said Friday. “We will be back. We think it is important.”

The article wisely includes a...

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Posted April 26, 2011 by christopher

I'm heading down to Dallas tomorrow for the annual Broadband Properties Summit. I'll be focusing on the rural program on Wednesday and then Jim Baller's Economic Development program on Thursday -- if you cannot make it, you can stream the economic development sessions. I'll be presenting on the final panel, reviewing the day's discussion and offering ideas for next steps.

Posted April 19, 2011 by christopher

We have again isolated individual comments from the arguments around Time Warner Cable's bill to strip local authorities of the right to build broadband networks vastly superior to their services. On April 13, the Senate Finance Committee allowed public comment on TWC's H129 bill. Craig Settles has posted an extended story about a small business struggling to get by with the existing paucity of service in her community.

There was no hope that I could efficiently communicate, collaborate, and share online documents and applications with clients and peer professionals. I couldn’t even buy a functional phone line. For years I paid for a level of service from Centurylink that I can only describe as absolutely embarrassing.

This bill will make it vastly harder, if not impossible, for communities to build the necessary infrastructure to succeed in the digital economy. Listening to those pushing the bill, it is very clear they have no conception of the vast difference between barely broadband DSL from CenturyLink and Wilson's Greenlight community fiber network -- essentially the difference between a hang glider and a Boeing 747. And many in North Carolina don't even have access to the hang glider! Yet the Legislature cares more about protecting the monopoly of powerful companies that contribute to their campaigns than ensuring all residents and businesses have access to the fast, affordable, and reliable broadband they need to flourish.

Thanks to Voter Radio for making audio from the hearing available.  Each of the following comments is approximately 2 minutes long.

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