Tag: "consideration"

Posted January 14, 2011 by christopher

Last night, local officials from all over Sibley County gathered in Arlington to learn about the potential fiber-to-the-farm broadband network they could build as early as 2012. Dave Peters, from Minnesota Public Radio, attended and discussed the meeting on MPR's Ground Level blog.

More than 50 elected officials -- county commissioners, city council members, township board supervisors -- gathered in the Arlington Community Center last night to inch ahead a plan to lay fiber optic lines to every home and business in the county plus those in and around neighboring Fairfax in Renville County.

It's an ambitious plan that would require the community to borrow $63 million and then pay off those bonds with revenue from the service. The county-owned operation would offer the usual cable-phone-Internet triple plays, and backers are promising that right out of the gate it would be at a speed of 20 megabits per second, upload and download. That's quite a bit faster than what area residents get now via DSL or cable or wireless.

If the project will move forward, the communities will have to form a Joint Powers Board and seed it with some start-up funds. The next steps will be to do a pre-subscription campaign to get a real sense of how many residents would take service from a new network. Responses are non-binding but will give a better measure of support as well as create an additional sense of responsibility for the project. From Dave Peters:

By the end of February, the 10 governments -- Sibley and Renville counties and the cities of Gaylord, Arlington, Winthrop, Fairfax, Henderson, Gibbon, Green Isle and New Auburn -- will each decide whether they want to create a joint powers board.

The best scenario is that all communities would join. But if one or a few do not, the project may be able to continue as long as some of the remaining communities are willing to take additional risk (which would be rewarded with a higher percentage of net income down the line). As long as the JPA is able to continue, all communities will still be passed by the network and residents able to subscribe. The exception is Sibley County itself; if the County does not join, the project would be hard-pressed to run the fiber out to the farmers...

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Posted September 22, 2010 by christopher

If Seattle moves forward on the Community Fiber Network it has been considering, it will be the largest such network in the nation. However, as we recently noted, progress has been slow. Reclaim the Media recently noted progress toward publicly owned fiber in Edmonds and asked why Seattle is stuck in the mud on the issue.

The City's "Seattle Jobs Plan" devotes a significant mention of a publicly owned fiber network as a smart investment:

Seattle’s economic prosperity, its ability to deploy effective public safety systems, and its determination to reduce gridlock and greenhouse gases are increasingly dependent on its communication systems. Currently, the communication systems serving Seattle businesses and residents are controlled by a few private companies, using older technology. With a lack of competition, there is little incentive to invest in more innovative technologies. Although some of Seattle’s larger institutions have migrated to their own fiber networks, these types of networks are unavailable to residents and Seattle’s small businesses. Multiple surveys indicate that 70% of Seattle households want to see more telecommunications competition. A recent study listed global cities with the fastest broadband connections; not a single U.S. city was listed in the top 20. A network of municipal fiber optic cables would instantly put Seattle at the top of the list of U.S. cities capable of supporting next-generation, data-intensive businesses, making it a potential hub for a number of fast-growing industries.

But the network requires a significant amount of planning:

The City has built and maintains a high speed, fiber optic broadband network connecting schools, government facilities, and community institutions. An interdepartmental team of staff in SCL, SPU and DoIT are currently developing a high level business plan that will guide this effort to expand broadband to businesses and homes. The business plan will be completed in early 2011. Once the plan is finalized, the City will explore funding options and next steps.

The report notes that Seattle applied for BTOP stimulus funding from NTIA, but the recent...

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Posted September 16, 2010 by christopher

Western Massachusetts' Wired West is an exciting approach to bringing next-generation broadband networks to rural areas. Thanks to Design Nine's news blog for alerting me to this decision.

For those unfamiliar with our coverage of Wired West, a two page write-up in Berkshire Trade & Commerce Monthly [pdf] offers a good background:

“You often hear that it is too expensive to bring fiber-optic lines to every home, business and institution in a rural area," said Webb, who lives in the remote southern Berkshire town of Monterey. “But that only means it’s too expensive for the business model of private-sector companies who have to show profitability in a very short period. It is not too too expensive if it is done by the communities themselves on a basis that does not have to meet those market demands."

Wired West has announced a decision on the difficult issue of governance structure. They are going to be a public co-operative, comprised of the member towns.

Now the member towns will have to approve the structure and the organization will move forward on the planning necessary to develop, finance, and build their broadband network.

Posted September 1, 2010 by christopher

Last night, I drove down to Winthrop (Sibley County) and then Fairfax (Renville County) to get a better sense of their discussions around next-generation broadband networks (originally covered here).

Throughout this week, they are having public meetings to discuss the potential project though the feasibility study is not yet completed. Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting, author of the feasibility study, is in town talking with folks about potential approaches. However, he made it clear that there is no guarantee they will find a business plan that can work to cover all of Sibley County and the area around Fairfax. Stay current on their project from the Sibley & Renville County Fiber site.

Winthrop's City Administrator, Mark Erickson, is committed to serving the farms though. There is little doubt that the project could succeed financially by serving only the towns, which harbor some 80% of the population. But Erickson recognizes that the towns depend on the farmers and that everyone will benefit more from the network if it is universally available.

Many of the people in towns already have access to some basic broadband - either a slow DSL (in some cases so slow even the old super slow FCC broadband definition does not cover it) or a last-generation cable network from Mediacom. The cable television comes out of Dubuque though, so it isn't exactly local.

The project was originally conceived to cover Sibley County. However, a high school in nearby Fairfax has decided to use iPads [pdf] to revamp its curriculum and it would be a travesty to have such great broadband available across the county border when so many students at GFW have iPads but little access to true broadband.

Most of the area schools have continued to do what they can with basic T.1 lines - too little broadband (at too high a cost!) to really use any modern educational applications. And the mandated state-wide testing is a nightmare across these connections. The new network will bring proper broadband connections at affordable rates.

...

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Posted August 10, 2010 by christopher

After Seattle's new Mayor campaigned on a community fiber network and consulted with both Lafayette and Tacoma on how to build it, it will now spend a year considering its options.

In discussing the current options for broadband in the city, Governing Magazine notes lack of demand for Comcast's "up to" 50/10 EXTREME package:

The demand for this "Extreme" tier speed, however, is "extremely low," says spokesman Steve Kipp. Later this summer, the ISP plans to offer 105 Mbps download and 12 Mbps upload speeds.

I suspect people mostly aren't interested in the extreme price for supposed extreme speeds. A number of communities that have built their own networks offer faster (and symmetrical) connections for considerably less. However, even there most people opt for lower tiers rather than the fastest speeds.

What the article utterly misses is that faster speeds are only one piece of the reason communities build these networks. Yes, next-generation networks offer faster speeds now and have much more capacity for future expansion than cable networks (and DSL is so far behind as to not be comparable).

But public ownership is about more than faster speeds. It spurs competition and lowers prices for everyone. It offers accountability, ensuring the network meets the needs of the community now and in the future. It allows public agencies to get faster connections at lower prices (though Seattle already has this through its previous investments in fiber-optics). As Seattle owns City Light, it would have greater abilities to invest in smart-grid and metering applications to make the city more energy efficient. When the community owns the network, it can ensure everyone has access to fast connections (particularly children in low-income neighborhoods where absentee companies may be reluctant to invest).

But to get back to the argument about network speeds, there is an argument for FTTH and faster speeds even if people do not demand them right now. Until people have access to robust connections, applications will not be created to take advantage of them. When people have access to faster connections that are affordable...

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Posted August 5, 2010 by christopher

Opelika, Alabama, is home of some 27,000 people and a public power utility called Opelika Power and Light. On Tuesday, Aug 10, the city will hold a special referendum to decide if the community can build a network that will cover telecommunications and smart-grid services.

Alabama is one of the states that preempt local authority to build broadband infrastructure, requiring a referendum and imposing limitations on the business plan for community-owned networks that it does not do for privately owned networks.

The local newspaper has a Q&A to answer questions about the project.

Expected cost is in the neighborhood of $33 million and will be funded with revenue bonds if citizens approve the project. Opelika Power and Light already has a fiber ring that will be used in the project if they move forward (the project could start offering services as early as Fall 2012).

From a distance, it appears that details are not yet worked out (and why would they be -- until they have the authority conferred by a successful referendum, they would not complete any agreements), but the private company Knology will likely provide some of the services on the network built by Opelika.

Opelika Power and Light

The local editorial board endorsed the plan.

“Shall the City of Opelika, Alabama, be authorized to acquire, establish, purchase, construct, maintain, lease and operate a cable television system for the purpose of furnishing cable service to subscribers?”
That’s what the ballot will read in Opelika on Aug. 10.


And the answer: absolutely yes.

Unless, of course, you are a massive company like Charter that already offers services. If you are Charter, you might make absurd claims that cable is somehow more reliable than fiber. The Charter Government Relations Director apparently suffers from what we might call the make-ity-up...

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Posted June 8, 2010 by christopher

Another community has announced that with or without Google, it is going to build a proper broadband network. Baltimore is the latest to realize they cannot just wait for others to build the network they need.

"We can't sit here and wait for a gift from Google to fall on us from the sky," said Tom Loveland, whom Rawlings-Blake has appointed the city's volunteer Google czar. "This is our future we're talking about here. Those of us involved in the conversation have seen what other cities have already accomplished. These folks managed to get themselves wired without Google. If they can do it, we can do it, too."

Bingo.

Apparently, lots of Baltimore folks are interested in the idea. Some 200 people turned out for this discussion and the group has a lively online discussion group as well as a site detail the community support for the project.

The Mayor has created a panel to study the manner. They have already turned to ask Mayor Durel of Lafayette, always a good start. Another place panels like this can start is the still-relevant report by a Task Force in St. Paul.

According the article in the Sun, an FCC staffer also presented to the group of 200:

At the symposium, John Horrigan, consumer research director at the FCC, said studies have shown that the technological availability of basic broadband service is not the main problem because 95 percent of Americans have the technical means to access it. Rather, nearly a third of Americans are choosing not to use broadband, citing high costs or a lack of digital literacy or computer skills.

These are the sort of statements that infuriate me because they incorporate so many important caveats. 95% of Americans may have access to something faster than dial-up. But probably not given how much the telcos overestimate the reach of their DSL.

Though Horrigan notes the high costs, we know very little about what these costs are. If someone could buy a connection only slightly faster than dial-up at a cost of 3x dial-up, they are probably smart to stick with dial-up. It tells us nothing of what they would do with a real choice.

...

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Posted May 24, 2010 by christopher

According to the local paper, Johnson City, Tennessee, continues to discuss whether its public power utility should build a FTTH network.

As with so many other communities that have only "high speed" cable and DSL options, people are recognizing the importance of broadband on economic development. Local Business leader, Joe Grandy, is the focus of this article:

“Economic development is part of what we’re charged at the Power Board with accomplishing. If the current (broadband) infrastructure is not sufficient to allow economic development to grow this market, something needs to change.”

If the private sector either isn’t willing or isn’t able to create adequate infrastructure, Grandy said, “then an entity such as the Power Board may need to.”

Tennessee cities without publicly owned networks may find themselves in an even tougher bind than similar communities elsewhere. With Jackson, Bristol (TN and VA), Chattanooga, Pulaski, and others, businesses do not have to move far for great networks run by the local public power company.

Grandy, though, “doesn’t think there’s any question” that the Johnson City area will reap the whirlwind, economically speaking, if it fails to scale up local broadband capability. He has been involved in the recent search for a CEO to run the metro area’s new Economic Development Council, and a half-dozen candidates who visited early this month made it abundantly clear that broadband capability is as important an issue today as dependable electricity was 80 years ago.

Public power transformed Tennessee. Publicly owned broadband may be necessary to keep it transformed.

Posted February 9, 2010 by christopher

Dover, a city of over 12,000 in Eastern Ohio south of Canton, has been considering a publicly owned fiber to the home network for years to complement its water and electric muni utilities. The City Council is mulling the latest proposal, one that shows a lower cost to build (probably due to a combination of technology lowering prices and lower price for labor in a recession).

The summary indicated that total funding costs have decreased from $11,615,791 in December 2008 to $10,663,410 in December 2009. Shaw estimates that operating income would make the system financially feasible after the third year and could enable the city to pay off its debt in 15 years vs. 16 years as had been predicted two years ago.

A press release from Uptown Services, a broadband consulting company provided some history:

They originally hired Uptown in 2004 to complete a broadband feasibility study. The results of that study were promising, but the City chose to wait for the economics to improve as the technology matured and costs came down over time. Uptown completed a refresh of the original study in 2008. The case had improved, but the City wanted to fine tune the cost estimates through the completion of an actual system design prior to making any final decisions on a City wide deployment. Uptown was selected in 2009 through an RFP process from a slate of qualified proposals to complete this design.

Judging from the local site explaining the networks, they really understand the power of publicly owned broadband. The FAQ include this gem:

Remember this critical point: The incumbents look for a profit and answer to their shareholders, while the City of Dover looks for the betterment of the community and answers to its citizens.

They city has Verizon and Comcast as incumbents respectively. I suspect Dover is one the thousands of communities Verizon is trying to dump on Frontier Communications rather than invest in smaller communities. The stumbling block currently appears to be deciding how to finance the proposed network.

Posted October 19, 2009 by christopher

We occasionally look in on Seattle's broadband discussions because they are the largest city in the U.S. in which there is something approaching a serious discussion about a publicly owned community fiber network. They have a mayoral candidate who makes it a high priority and their Chief Technology Officer, Bill Schrier, both gets it and has an excellent staff that understands the benefits of such a network.

Glenn Fleishman has just interviewed Bill Schrier about the network and subsequently discussed the public need for broadband in specific neighborhoods due to extreme market failure. I like Glenn's style - he asks difficult questions and pushes for real answers. That said, I still want to push back on one of his statements because I think it instructive:

Government is often criticized for eliminating competition, inefficiently providing private services, and removing the profit motive. However, market failures are often where governments are asked or begged to step in, and, when accomplished correctly, can provide new opportunities for private enterprise.

Glenn is absolutely right both in capturing some of the criticisms leveled at public networks as well as noting that publicly owned broadband tends to occur in the most difficult environments. Contrary to telco rhetoric, local government officials tend not to want to jump into telecommunications efforts unless they see it as vital for the community. They are busy enough and these networks take years of planning, public hearings, and lots of loud attacks from the very companies that refuse to build the needed networks.

But look at the first two items that Glenn notes government is accused of: eliminating competition and inefficiently providing services. How is it that it can do both? Governments cannot coerce people into using the network and federal regulations prevent the local government from abusing its authority over the rights-of-way for the public network. Local governments can use untaxable bonds but private companies get depreciation, tax incentives, and can cross-subsidize from the nearby communities where they charge monopoly prices.

As for removing the profit motive - this is hardly a criticism. Infrastructure should not be controlled by any entity with a profit motive - it is the foundation of all other markets. If...

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