Tag: "economic development"

Posted May 1, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Community leaders in Medina County, Ohio, recently celebrated the completion of the Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN). Loren Grenson of the Medina Gazette reported on the celebratory breakfast event where officials proclaimed, “The monopoly is dead. Long live the fiber loop."

Local businesses already rave about the county owned MCFN, which offers Internet access, data tranport, and dark fiber leasing. From the article:

Automation Tool and Die in Brunswick is one of 20 entities already tied into the fiber network. The network provides better service to the company’s four buildings in Brunswick’s Northern Industrial Park, said Jacob Mohoric, company IT manager.

“It’s a blazing-fast Internet connection at all four of our buildings at an effective cost,” Mohoric said.

Company co-owner J. Randy Bennett said the network provided the first decent bandwidth for his company since it moved to Brunswick in 1983.

“We had no good bandwidth source and we paid through the nose for what we did have,” Bennett said.

Last July, the Highland School District was near the end of an expensive contract with Time Warner Cable. The network was not complete, but enough MCFN infrastructure was in place to connect the schools for Internet and phone service. Highland Schools now pay about $82,000 less per year for connectivity.

Community leaders began working on the project over ten years ago. After years of planning, the Medina County Port Authority (MCPA) secured $14.4 million in bonds and a $1.4 million stimulus award. The stimulus funding is part of a 2010 grant to nonprofit OneCommunity, charged with extending fiber to 22 Ohio counties. OneCommunity will manage the network.

The 151-mile asset belongs to the MCPA but the entire community considers itself an "owner." Bethany Dentler, executive director of the Medina County Economic Development Corp., also spoke at the celebration:

Dentler said the 151 miles...

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Posted April 29, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

The city owned dark fiber network in Palo Alto is bringing in a steady stream of revenue that may lead to better connectivity for the entire community. According to a Gennady Sheyner Palo Alto Online article, the Utilities Department recently reported to the City Finance Committee that the city Fiber Fund yields $2.1 million per year. The revenue comes from dark fiber leases to approximately 80 commercial customers. From the article: 

Viewed as a risky investment two decades ago, the fund has in recent years become a plump cash cow. According to a new report from the Utilities Department, its reserves stand at $14.6 million in the current fiscal year and are expected to nearly double by 2018. [emphasis ours]

Commissioners want to get back to the idea of a city-wide FTTP network to serve residents and spur economic development. The city is now working with the school district on a possible expansion to all local schools. 

In his February March State of the City address, Mayor Greg Scharff declared 2013 as the "year of the future," describing fiber as "the key to assuring Palo Alto's long-term position as the Leading Digital City of the Future."  This year the City Council made "technology and the connected city" a priority.  Also from the article:

Commissioner Jonathan Foster noted that the idea of a citywide fiber network has been floating around Palo Alto for many years and said his views on the project have changed since last year, partly because of the council's new attitude about fiber. Before, when economics were the main driver of the conversation, he was more or less neutral, Foster said.

"Now, my approach is -- let's find a way to make this happen," Foster said. "I'm not sure we'll get there but let's come back with the best proposal we can," Foster said.

Commission Chair James Cook voiced a similar sentiment.

"I think this is probably a good idea whose time has finally come," Cook said. "Maybe now it's just gotten the right kind of momentum."

We spoke with Josh Wallace from Palo Alto Utilities in...

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Posted April 25, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Ottawa, located in east central Kansas, recently launched its own municipal fiber network. The community of 13,000 in Franklin County watched nearby Chanute build and establish its own broadband utility. Ottawa plans a similar incremental strategy. Both communities boast strong farming traditions and host industrial employers that could not get what they needed from the existing providers.

I spoke with Chuck Bigham, IT Director for the City of Ottawa, who gave me some nuts and bolts on the network. I also touched base with City Manager Richard U. Nienstedt, both are heavily involved in the establishment of the network.

Like in Chanute, local leaders have long nourished a vision for better connectivity. In recent years, they realized the vision was not only attainable, but necessary for the community to thrive.

Approximately seventeen miles of fiber, installed by USD 290 and Franklin County in the 1990s, was already in the ground when the project began. Students and staff connected to the Internet and linked the 8-10 school district facilities via its fiber network. These pre-existing resources became the backbone of Ottawa's new utility. Cooperation between the City Municipal Utility, USD 290, and Franklin County facilitated the configuration of the new network. Ottawa now provides business Internet access, expanded educational opportunities, and a higher level of service than was previously available.

Two years ago, the City and its Chamber of Commerce reached out to major businesses to determine the need for broadband. They found businesses in Ottawa were connected through existing providers, but were unhappy with price and level of service. The community's industrial park seemed especially disadvantaged. Businesses needed better upload speeds than the existing T1s, which ran up to $600 per month. While DS3 connections were available, they were unaffordable and there was no level of service between the two options. Businesses could not convince AT&T to offer something they could afford and, as Bigham noted, the telecom giant appeared to be "milking the cow."

Map of Ottawa, Kansas

This is a common complaint among communities - the big national...

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Posted April 14, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Ashland, Oregon, home to Ashland Fiber Net (AFN), may soon be taking aggressive steps to bring more online business to the community. According to an Ashland Daily Tidings article, the City Council is seeking public input into proposed goals for the community. A targeted effort to bring more Internet-based businesses to town is one of the draft goals. The goal seems logical for a community with a network already in place.

AFN serves about 6,000 business and residential customers in this community of 20,000 people. In addition to AFN's retail services, four other local ISPs operate on the infrastructure.

The network is HFC, a cable network, but with far fewer homes on each local loop than the big cable companies typically have. This means that subscribers are far more likely to consistently achieve advertised speeds. Residential services range from $35 per month for 6 Mbps / 1 Mbps service to $75 monthly for 20 Mbps / 5 Mbps. AFN is one of the rare community-owned networks to enforce monthly data caps.

Fiber to the business is an option, but popular business packages are $65 per month for 15 Mbps / 4 Mbps and $85 per month for 25 Mbps / 5 Mbps. AFN also offers rural wireless service to a limited area. 

Ashland also sees some common sense advantages to increasing the number of small home based businesses that use its fiber resource. To that end, AFN provides a "Home Office" business Internet package. From the article:

Councilor Greg Lemhouse has championed the goal to increase the number of Internet-based businesses.

"It's an aggressive goal that says the city is committed to growing this industry," he said.

Lemhouse said many such businesses can be operated out of people's homes.

People who want to run Internet-based businesses often are well educated and are committed to their communities, he said.

Home Internet businesses can also be family-friendly, allowing parents to work from home and stay connected to their children, Lemhouse said.

With the discussion also comes some analysis of what sort of Internet businesses are already keeping shop in town. Also from the article:

It's not clear how many Internet-based businesses exist in Ashland...

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Posted April 4, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Adams County, situated in eastern Washington, is now connected to the regional Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) infrastructure. Ritzville, the county seat and home to about 1,600 people, connected last fall, funded through a combination of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) stimulus grants, funds from public utility districts, and surrounding communities. As with other NoaNet projects, connectivity will include community anchor institutions in Ritzville such as the library, schools, and local healthcare clinics.

NoaNet, a nonprofit corporation, is bringing wholesale fiber backbone infrastructure across the state of Washington, connecting community anchor institutions (CAIs). Schools, hospitals, libraries, and government facilities connect via the open access network and retail providers bring service over the network. NoaNet's membership includes municipal utilities, tribes, cities, and counties. The collaboration began in 2000 and received $140 million in federal stimulus dollars to connect rural Washington state

The community celebrated in November with a Ritzville Public Library Open House to show off the new technology. From the NoaNet Press Release:

“We’re just very excited about having consistently fast, high-speed Internet for our patrons.  The benefits will be huge for everyone from online students watching class lectures to tech junkies trying to stream Pandora while downloading YouTube videos, to library staff offering reference help to the public” said Kylie Fullmer, Director of the Ritzville Public Library. “And once it becomes more widely available throughout the community, I think people are going to be just as excited as we are.”

Local community members recognize the importance of what the new connection an do for this agricultural community. Like many other small communities across the country, rural towens like Ritzville see their youth leave for larger markets for career reasons. From an editorial in the Columbia Basin Herald:

We are pleased Ritzville has this service and hope more educational, job and business...

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Posted March 26, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

Mike Scott, City Manager of Moultrie in Georgia, joins us for Episode #39 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to share the origins of the Community Network Services (CNS) network that joins four towns in four counties in rural southwest Georgia.

In this interview, Mike Scott shares some of the benefits of the network for local schools and community savings. Built originally because the existing cable and telephone companies would not invest in their communities, CNS has proved itself an incredibly valuable community investment.

CNS is credited with creating over 6,000 jobs in the communities it serves, a tremendous boon for the communities that joined together to create this network. During our interview (below), we note a video they created to show off some of the benefits of this network. Here it is:

Read the transcript from this podcast 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 20 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 D. Charles Speer & the Helix for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted March 25, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Located in the southwestern corner of Missouri, Nixa has joined the growing list of local communities fed up with slow Internet access. A recent Rance Birger News-Leader article, describes the frustration of local tech CEO, Jeremy Bartley. He is not the only business leader in Nixa who is not willing to accept the Internet status quo. Bartley is part of an organized effort to investigate the possibility of a municipal fiber network.

The group has the ear of the City Council and the Mayor, who have put city staff on the project. From the article:

“I personally would like for staff to contact a city that’s relatively our size, and talk to somebody that started from scratch to where they’re successful, and how much it really cost them to do what they did,” [Mayor Sam] Clifton said.

“They may also have some insight on to other issues that arose when they did that as far as legalities and such,” Councilman Aron Peterson said.

Nixa has its own electric utility, which can often facilitate development of a municipal network. The first step is a survey, which will be distributed in March utility bills and is already available online.

Depending on the survey results, which should be available in April, the next step would be a preliminary design. 

Like many other communities, Nixa has been left behind by the big national cable and telephone corporations. Community leaders understand why and want to proceed with caution. From the article:

City Administrator Brian Bingle acknowledged that private businesses haven’t shown interest in running fiber in Nixa.

“If the private sector could make money off it, they’d be doing it already, and we all know that,” Bingle said. “We’re looking into something that, one, there is a demand for it, two, that we can get ourselves reimbursed for it."

Nixans who are spearheading the project also see the current and future value of a community owned network:

“One of the goals of my company is to bring other tech companies to Nixa, because it’s the future of businesses, it’s the businesses that are going to create the most income for a city. Tech is the future of all jobs,” Bartley said.

...

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Posted March 21, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Mount Vernon, Washington, started building their own fiber optic network in 1995 and over the past 18 years have continued to add incrementally. While the network started as a way to connect a few municipal facilities, it has since expanded to nearby Burlington and the Port of Skagit. The network now serves government, schools, hospitals and clinics, and a broad range of businesses in the area.

We spoke with community leaders from Mount Vernon for our 38th episode of the Broadband Bits podcast. Mount Vernon owns the network and operates it out of the Information Systems office.

The network required no borrowing or bonding because initial funding came from a state Community and Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) grant. Since then, Mount Vernon has used revenue from the network and creative cost sharing with partners to expand throughout the city. When expanding into Burlington and the Port of Skagit in 2008, city leaders received a county sales tax grant to fund deployment.

The Mount Vernon School District became a partner early in the evolution of the network. According to Kim Kleppe, Information Services Director, K-12 schools do not pay a monthly fee to receive up to 1 gig of capacity for their 10 facilities. He estimates the current costs of a dark fiber connection for one facility at $700 per month. Total savings are astronomical, allowing the schools to dedicate significant dollars toward other expenses.

Mount Vernon city government saves over $100,000 per year and nearby Burlington saves over $52,000. The network has never been in debt and maintains a reserve.

Mount Vernon's network is an open access model on which ISPs serve customers via the city's infrastructure. Subscribers pay a one time fee to the city to be connected. Onging revenue comes from the ISPs, who pay to the city a percentage of what they collect in customer connectivity fees. Currently, eight different providers offer services via the Mount Vernon network, providing ample competition.

Like other communities we see that choose the open access model, Mount Vernon...

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Posted March 15, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

As we monitored Georgia's HB 282, a bill to limit the capacity of local governments to invest in Internet networks that spur economic development, we learned of many existing networks that have helped communities to thrive.

Brian Thompson, Director of Electric and Telecommunications in Monroe took some time to tell us a little about their city network.  Located in the north central section of Georgia, with a population of 13,000, the network now offers triple play services to residents and businesses. Its network started in the 1970s with a municipal cable tv network. Today, the network is a hybrid with fiber having been added as an expansion to its cable network.

Monroe's investment in its fiber began as a way to improve connections for education. The Walton County School District could not find a private provider willing to collaborate on an affordable network between school facilities. The city took on the challenge and built a point-to-point network which the School District paid for in 10 years. In the mean time, the city expanded its network in other areas. Now, the Walton County Schools have gig service between facilities and to the Internet. The District pays only $500 per month for a service that would cost five times more from a private provider.

Thompson also confirmed what we hear from other communities with publicly owned networks - prices for business and residential services are very competitive and service is superior. He notes that customers often express appreciation for local representatives, rather than dealing with a huge bureaucracy like those at Verizon or AT&T. New connections can be created in a matter of hours or days instead of weeks.

Residential service for Internet access from MonroeAccess.Net includes affordable basic service (1 Mbps / 256 Kbps) for $21.95 per month. Two faster tiers include $34.95 (6 Mbps / 512 Kbps) and $44.95 (15 Mbps / 1 Mbps). Cable tv rates vary from $15.50 to $62.95 per month and residential phone service starts at $29.95 per month. Thompson notes that, when Monroe...

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Posted March 13, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

The town of Erie, Colorado, is conducting a residential survey as it considers a community owned network. Erie has about 18,000 residents and straddles Boulder and Weld Counties. 

The concerns facing Erie's community leaders were recently summed up in a John Aguilar article in the Boulder Daily Camera. According to the article, four companies were to be screened to complete a $50,000 feasibility study. The community owned broadband approach has both strong supporters and some doubters in town.

From the article:

Trustee Jonathan Hager, who has spent the last dozen years managing fiber-optic networks for a Westminster-based wholesale electric power supplier, championed the idea for Erie from both a local control perspective and an economic development one.

"If I'm a company and I'm going to relocate here with 100 employees and I need 100 megabits per second of speed and the town can provide that, I think that would be something I would look at," Hager said. "If we can make Erie stand out as a good place to live because we offer broadband, that puts us in a good position."

Internet access, he said, has become so ubiquitous and necessary that it could be seen as just another municipally provided utility, like water and electrical service.

"We can provide it ourselves and cut out the middle man," Hager said.

Those who are not sold on the idea of funding a study, express resignation at entering a challenging industry:

"I'm very sensitive to the speed of technology's progression," Mayor Joe Wilson said. "By the time we cut the ribbon on this technology, it's old news."

Wilson also voiced concerns about whether it is government's proper role to be providing broadband Internet service or whether that is better left up to the private sector. He said there hasn't been an outcry from residents to pursue such a service.

Clipboard for survey

The completion of a residential survey can clarify how the community feels about local broadband connectivity and help leaders decide how to move forward. Surveys are a common tool as part of feasibility studies, but in our experience the...

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