Tag: "texas"

Posted April 2, 2020 by shrestha

According to a recent article in Bluebonnet News, the City Council of Dayton, Texas, has approved a $13.7 million bond to operate its own fiber optic system. The city aims to make residents and businesses more self-reliant and less dependent on big cable companies.

Located 15 miles east of Houston, Dayton has a population of nearly 8,000 people. Once the 70 mile fiber network is complete, it will meet the connectivity needs of Dayton's residents and businesses now and well into the foreseeable future.

Slow Start in Texas

Texas is one of 19 states that have laws restricting cities from offering their own telecommunications services to residents. In Texas, state laws prevent municipal networks from offering voice and video services, but they can still provide Internet access to households. Mont Belvieu became the first city in the state to deploy its own citywide fiber network, after successful court rulings clarified the city's authority to offer broadband access. Since the city of Mont Belvieu created its high-quality fiber optic network, MB Link, it has connected about half of its residents and has inspired other rural areas and towns in the country. Dayton, Texas, is one of those communities which shares Mont Belvieu's vision, as per the article from Bluebonnet News:

Like Mont Belvieu, the City of Dayton will provide the Internet service as another utility, like water and sewer service. Theo Melancon, City Manager, believes the cost of the service will be more affordable for Dayton residents and businesses.

Dayton Dreams of Speed

Dayton TX water tower

Residents of Dayton are currently relying on DSL and cable service from...

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Posted January 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

We last wrote about MB Link, the municipal fiber network in Mont Belvieu, Texas, in October 2018. Since then, the city near Houston has connected about half of its 7,500 residents to the network and is talking about expanding into the surrounding county, reported the Dallas Morning News.

The in-depth article from late last month discussed many aspects of the groundbreaking network, including why the city decided to take charge, the legal and logistical challenges it faced, and how local service is benefiting the community.

MB Link Emerges

As in other communities, poor service quality from existing providers drove Mont Belvieu to deploy a city owned broadband network, the article explained:

For years, residents of this fast-growing town on the outer ring of Houston complained to local leaders about slow and spotty Internet. They put satellite dishes on their rooftops. They endured intermittent service and frequent outages.

. . .

So Mont Belvieu took matters into its own hands: It decided to build and operate its own high-speed Internet service.

Now, MB Link offers residents across the city speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second for only $75 a month. Approximately half of all Mont Belvieu households get Internet access from the municipal network, which has recently begun providing service to businesses as well.

Community Networks Create Competition

Mont Belvieu isn’t the only city that has built a broadband network to create options for residents and businesses, the article noted:

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s community broadband network initiative, said cities began building broadband networks in the 1990s when they had no Internet. Now, he said, they’re motivated because they feel stuck with Internet that’s inferior or overpriced.

. . .

“The simple fact is without good government policy to create...

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Posted October 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

Since 2017, AT&T has been called out for digital redlining in Cleveland and Detroit. Now, Dr. Brian Whitacre from Oklahoma State University has compared 477 data from the company to poverty levels in Dallas County, Texas, and discovered similar findings. He entered into the project under the request of Attorney Darryl Parks, who filed the complaint against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against AT&T relating to digital redlining in Cleveland.

Dr. Whitacre provided a statement of his findings to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) to be published in full. Read his findings here.

In his POTs and PANs blog, Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting analyzed Whitacre’s findings. AT&T offers Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH), VDSL, and ADSL2 or ADSL2+, which all provide dramatically different speeds. As Dawson summed up:

It’s worth noting before going further that the… speed differences, while dramatic, [don’t] tell the whole story. The older ADSL technology has a dramatic drop in customer speeds with distances and speeds are also influenced by the quality of the copper wires. Dr. Whitaker noted that he had anecdotal evidence that some of the homes that were listed as having 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) of 6 Mbps might have speeds under 1 Mbps.

Dr. Whitaker then overlaid the broadband availability against poverty levels in the county. His analysis started by looking at Census blocks have at least 35% of households below the poverty level. In Dallas County, 6,777 census blocks have poverty rates of 35% or higher.

The findings were as follows:

  • Areas with high poverty were twice as likely to be served by ADSL – 56% of high-poverty areas versus 24% of other parts of the city.
  • VDSL coverage was also roughly 2:1 with 25% of areas with high poverty served by VDSL while 48% of the rest of the city had VDSL.
  • Surprisingly, 19% of census blocks with high poverty were served with fiber. I’m going to conjecture that this might include large apartment complexes where AT&T delivers one...
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Posted July 18, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Across the country, state legislatures are ushering in better rural connectivity by passing new laws that enable electric cooperatives to expand high-quality Internet access. In recent years, much of this legislation has authorized co-ops to deploy broadband infrastructure along existing electric easements. Other bills have removed restrictions that previously prevented electric co-ops from providing Internet access. Together, the new legislation makes it easier for electric cooperatives to bring high-speed broadband access to their members, signaling a brighter future for unconnected rural communities

Indiana in the Lead

Indiana’s state legislature was ahead of the curve when it passed SB 478, the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act back in 2017. The FIBRE Act permits electric cooperatives to use easements for their electric poles to also deploy broadband networks. Before the General Assembly passed this legislation, cooperatives that wanted to install communications infrastructure, such as fiber optic lines, along their electric easements would have to gain permission from each individual landowner to attach fiber to the existing poles.

Since the passage of the FIBRE Act two years ago, a number of Indiana electric cooperatives have embarked on broadband projects, including Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC), South Central Indiana REMC, Orange County REMC, and Tipmont REMC. At the announcement event for South Central Indiana REMC’s fiber project, State Senator Eric Koch, author of SB 478, noted that state legislation like the FIBRE Act was enabling electric cooperatives to expand modern connectivity to rural Indiana.

State Laws Advance Co-op Broadband

A wave of support for rural cooperative broadband initiatives rippled through state...

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Posted March 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

In the past year, communities and cooperatives in Texas have been making gallant efforts to better connect local residents and businesses with high-quality Internet access. Now, they may get a little help from the State Legislature.

Helping Co-ops

Earlier in this session, Senator Robert Nichols introduced SB 14, a bill that will allow electric cooperatives that hold easements obtained for electric service infrastructure the ability to extend those easements to broadband infrastructure. The bill replicates the FIBRE Act, a 2017 Indiana bill that opened up possibilities for rural cooperatives in that state.

Nichols told KLTV that he has high hopes for his bill:

“I’m getting a lot of support because all of the other plans for broadband that have been proposed use subsidies,” said Nichols. “This one asks the state for nothing, it asks the federal government for nothing.”

He also told KLTV that the Governor’s office has expressed support for the proposal.

Read the text of the bill.

Similar to Indiana’s FIBRE Act, the extension of the easement applies to those that already exist. By enacting making the change, cooperatives that already have infrastructure in place will save time in deploying fiber optic networks because they won’t need to obtain a second set of easements from members who’ve already granted them for electricity infrastructure.

In addition to offering broadband to members sooner, cooperatives who are able to take advantage in the change in the law will also save financially. Personnel costs, filing, and administrative fees add up when a co-op must obtain multiple, sometimes dozens or hundreds, of legal easements. Occasionally, a property owner doesn’t consent to an easement right away. This change in the law will prevent hang-ups in deployment due to uncooperative property owners that can jeopardize a project.

Back Home Again in Indiana

Several Indian electric cooperatives have announced Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployments since the FIBRE Act took effect....

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Posted December 3, 2018 by lgonzalez

People in Lampasas are fed up with outages that have repeatedly plagued the community due to lack of redundant infrastructure connecting the central Texas municipality. Now, the city and the Lampasas Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) are asking the community to complete an Internet survey to help determine how best to move forward an achieve better connectivity.

Cuts to the Line

In the spring, summer, and early fall of 2017, Lampasas experienced four outages totaling 45 hours when local construction projects accidentally cut AT&T fiber, the only Internet connection into town. Without a redundant line, the community’s residents, businesses, emergency services, and hospitals were cut off for days as AT&T repaired the breaks. To add insult to injury, AT&T didn’t respond well to the town’s requests to resolve the situation:

“We felt like we weren't a priority on AT&T's list, so when we had outages, and we had businesses that were losing thousands of dollars, and we were calling and we were trying to get reimbursements, and we were trying to get answers, and we were trying to see if there were future projects for infrastructure for Lampasas, we just weren't getting a good response from AT&T,” Lampasas Economic Development Director Mandy Walsh said. 

Within a few months, local leaders had started searching for a firm to help them assess their options. After considering proposals from six different companies, Lampasas chose Foresite Group for a project that includes a market analysis and a technology assessment. As part of the project, Foresite Group has helped the city and the LEDC prepare the current survey.

The survey has divided the community into Service Zones in order to obtain a detailed analysis of which areas of town residents and businesses are most interested in better Internet access. The Service Zones approach will also help the city, the EDC and Foresite discover Internet access speeds in each area of town.

Mandy Walsh, Economic Director from the LEDC, suggests that the city is...

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Posted October 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

Located only 30 miles east of Houston, it’s hard to believe that Mont Belvieu, Texas, ever had poor Internet access. Faced with complaints from residents and businesses, city officials decided to deploy fiber and bring fast, affordable, reliable gigabit connectivity directly to the community via MB Link.

How to Fix the Problem

While it’s not far from the center of a large metro area, Mont Belvieu still maintains a rural character. The town’s history is based in the oil and natural gas industry, which began in the early 1900s. As City Manager Nathan Watkins told Christopher Mitchell in episode 326 of our podcast, approximately 85 percent of natural gas liquids in the U.S. travel to Mont Belvieu for processing. With more than 10,000 miles of pipeline within their salt domes, the town of 8,000 has become a centerpiece of oil and natural gas processing.

Before MB Link, the community dealt with a patchwork of services offered by several different providers. Even though more than one provider operated in town, they didn’t compete with each other. Without competition, ISPs had no impetus to improve services. Residents complained about DSL download speeds of 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) and cable Internet access download speeds topping out at 5 Mbps. There were even premises that could not obtain Internet access because ISPs reported saturated networks and were not willing to make investments to serve more subscribers.

In 2016, a feasibility study in Mont Belvieu revealed that 60 percent of residents and 79 percent of businesses felt that local Internet access wasn’t adequate for their needs. In the same survey, 90 percent of residents and 100 percent of business respondents opined that high-speed Internet access is an essential service in the same manner as electricity and water.

logo-mont-belvieu.png In addition to the problems that Mont Belvieu was already having with poor Internet access, the community was growing — something city leaders wanted to encourage. New subdivisions were planned but incumbent ISPs didn’t want to deploy infrastructure to the new areas, leaving...

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Posted October 9, 2018 by lgonzalez

We don’t often get the opportunity to interview people from Texas, so when we heard about Mont Belvieu’s gigabit fiber optic network we knew we had to have them on the show. When we learned that four officials from the east Texas town would join us we said, “Even better!” City Manager Nathan Watkins, Director of Broadband and IT Dwight Thomas, Assistant City Manager Scott Swigert, and Communications and Marketing Director Brian Ligon are on the show this week to talk about their publicly owned network, MB Link.

Before they were able to provide the fast, affordable, reliable service to residents all over town, Mont Belvieu had to assert themselves in a legal proceeding against the State of Texas. In this conversation, the guys discuss their elegant argument that won over the court. You’ll also hear why community leaders decided that, even though Mont Belvieu had a thriving oil and gas industry, they felt that investing in high-quality Internet access for residents was a goal they aimed to achieve for the public good. The residents in Mont Belvieu drove this project.

People in Mont Belvieu have clambered to sign up for the network. Our guests discuss how they’ve used their town’s strengths to market the services they offer and how they continue to use communications to help subscribers get the most from MB Link. The guys also talk about how the city plans to add businesses to the network and the reactions from incumbents.

Read more about the network and the court action in our coverage about Mont Belvieu.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or...

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Posted September 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

In a state as large as Texas, it makes sense to divide the eastern half into defined regions. Likewise, when counties, towns, and other entities in one of those areas realize they need better connectivity, it makes sense to work together on a regional project. The Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) and Economic Development District recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Fiber Optic Broadband Market Analysis and Cost Study. Proposals are due September 25th, 2018.

Read the RFP.

Deep East Texas

The region is also known as the Texas Forest County, with four national forests, lakes, and primarily a rural landscape. Twelve counties constitute the Deep East region that borders Oklahoma on the north and the Gulf of Mexico on the south. About 385,000 people live in the region, which covers more than 10,380 square miles.

DETCOG is an organization that has been around since the mid-1960s and includes counties, cities, school districts, and other entities in the region interested in participating in local economic development efforts. According to the RFP, the DETCOG Board of Directors has decided to re-allocate some of the remaining relief funds from Hurricane Ike to boost the region’s options for high-quality Internet access. Estimated funds remain at  around $513,000.

Within the region, 50 public school districts serve residents in 43 communities. There are two colleges, eleven hospitals, and more than 30 additional healthcare facilities. Ten cooperatives, including telephone, gas, and electric, operate in the region.

Much of the region obtains Internet access via DSL, with cable connections available in a few of the more densely populated areas, such as the county seats. There are also a few fixed wireless providers and at least one area where fiber is available on a limited basis. Some of the most rural areas depend on satellite. There’s very little consistency in the Deep East Texas Region and rates appear to run high for the level of service.

What They Want

To commence their journey toward better regional connectivity, the DETCOG seeks a consultant to study what is now available, what businesses and residents want and need, offer recommendations on what would work well for the region, and provide cost estimates. The...

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Posted July 25, 2018 by lgonzalez

More than two years ago, community leaders in New Braunfels, Texas, decided to move forward with funding for a feasibility study to examine options for publicly owned Internet infrastructure. In mid-July, the city released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) in search for a partner to assist them on their New Braunfels Broadband Project. Responses are due August 24th, 2018.

Prior Study

Back in 2016, businesses completed a survey as part of a feasibility study and 81 percent expressed dissatisfaction with their Internet access. Speed, reliability, and affordability were all important factors. Community leaders, with an eye toward economic development, have been pondering ways to overcome the problem and have decided to aim for a public-private partnership. Specifically, they want to focus their efforts on fiber optic connectivity in their commercial and industrial business corridors. 

New Braunfels has about 55 miles of existing fiber that the city and New Braunfels Utilities (NBU) will make available for the project. They also have conduit that they will open up for the future network design. NBU offers municipal electric, water, and wastewater services, which indicates that they would likely have the knowledge base and the personnel to operate a fiber optice network, but the RFQ states that they're looking for a turnkey arrangement.

The state of Texas also limits what local governments are able to offer to the general public. Municipalities are not allowed to offer voice services, but are able to provide Internet access.

Looking for A Partner

logo-new-braunfels.gif In their RFQ, New Braunfels states that they want to find either a private or public sector partner that will offer a revenue sharing arrangement. They expect a minimum of 1 gigabit connectivity now with an expansion to at least 10 gigabit capability in the future. New Braunfels also prefers a partner willing to grow the network over time and have unequivocally stated in the RFQ that fixed wireless on its own will not be suitable to meet...

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