Tag: "consideration"

Posted May 25, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The Lake Minnetonka Communications Commission has finished its market study of some 17 communities in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. LMCC has long been examining solutions that will expand fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet.

Dick Woodruff, chairman of the Tonkaconnect working group and a member of the Shorewood City Council, said that overall the results were positive. He said that the majority of the people surveyed indicated that they had no objections to the LMCC getting into a competitive FTTP business and that they would become customers if the Tonkaconnect services were offered at a lower price than providers already in the area.

While the results of the market survey are encouraging to the Tonkaconnect group, there is still more work to be done before they can deem the project feasible. Woodruff said that the next step in the process would be to complete a business plan and financial model for the fiber project.

LMCC will consider what to do next at a meeting in June but has not budgeted funds for the next step in building a universal FTTH network in those communities that choose to take part.

Regarding the survey:

The first question, though, asked if respondents believed that the LMCC and local governments should "provide locally-owned, competitive choice of TV, Internet and telephone services to every home, business, school, governmental buildings, etc. in the LMCC area."

lmcc.png

Strong majorities consistently agreed that LMCC and local governments should get involved but the survey was also very clear that respondents were mostly concerned with price. We see the same results elsewhere, particularly in times of economic stress.

Consider a national cable network, "National Cable." In Anywhere USA, most people subscribe to National Cable at a monthly rate of $140/month for phone, video, and broadband. Anywhere decides to build a community fiber network and charge $105 for similar services but the broadband is considerably faster and more reliable using the next-generation network. National Cable responds by offering a deal for $95/month for what people had been paying $140/month for. After all, National...

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Posted May 16, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

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 February 16, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

As decision time approaches, the discussions in Sibley County (and Fairfax in Renville) are winding down. The county and local governments have to decide whether to commit to the Joint Powers Board. Mark Erickson, the coordinator of the project currently, recently responded to a good set of questions about the project and gave me permission to reprint them here.

Questions from a Sibley County Commissioner:

  1. Regarding parity of costs to build the fiber network into the townships (rural area) compared to cities.  It’s nearly twice as expensive to build out the rural areas and some cities feel they are subsidizing cost of putting fiber in country.
  2. How was the initial money spent for the feasibility study?  No one has seen the breakdown as to what that money went for.  We would like to see an itemized list of how the county's contribution and the Blandin dollars were spent.  How much of that money is left?
  3. There are concerns about how the budget of $150,000 was arrived at for the next phase.  Who established the budget and how was it decided how much money to spend for the different categories?  We haven't seen any details of this either, only general categories.
  4. Who is making the decisions on how money is spent and for what?
  5. Some people feel decisions are being made without elected officials - boards or council members - being part of the decision making process.

Response from Mark Erickson:

Parity of costs between City/County

Last summer when the county requested the rural area be included in the feasibility study, the issue of parity came up because of the higher cost of construction in the rural area.

The topic was discussed at all of the public meetings and the following are the reasons for blending the construction costs:

  1. This is a one time 100-year investment in the entire county (and Fairfax and Renville County) and since the city folks rely on the rural folks and visa versa it is viewed as an opportunity for everyone to invest in one another. The fiber network will benefit city and rural businesses, schools, city and county government, townships, ag producers, senior citizens, etc. If everyone benefits equally then everyone should be treated equally.
  2. ...
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Posted January 14, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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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