Tag: "consideration"

Posted September 12, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

California's Watsonville, population 51,200, joins the ranks of municipalities considering the benefits of a publicly owned fiber optic network to connect key facilities. At a September 10 the City Council passed a resolution approving plans and calling for an RFP for a next generation fiber network. Bids will be accepted until October 8, 2013.

According to a Register Pajaronian article, the City Council expects the network to cost $480,000. An August 27 memorandum [PDF] provides more detail on the project.

Charter Communications currently provides fiber optic I-Net service to Watsonville local government. The network provides data connections, Internet, gate controls, and security systems throughout the City. The fiber I-Net also provides backhaul for wireless systems for the police department and various remote city locations.

As has happened many in states that have revoked local franchise authority, Watsonville's favorable long term cable franchise agreement with Charter is ending. Charter will no longer provide the I-Net services for no cost as part of its agreement to place its equipment in the public rights-of-way. Instead, it has proposed expensive lease options.

Charter has offered two quotes: $43,115 per year for a reduced level of service and $149,153 per year for the same level of service the city now receives. The memorandum goes on to note that a reduced level of service would require reduction of some uses for the current network, such as eliminating a number of security cameras.

City staff estimates that installation of a next generation network would cost approximately $480,000. They would connect the high school, the City Information Technology office, the Veterans Building, the local reservoir, the library, the airport and the fire station. Watsonville has a significant amount of fiber already in place for use in the citywide transportation system which will reduce the cost of installation. The project will be financed primarily with library and water enterprise funds and other city departments that connect will contribute to the project costs.

When compared to Charter's quote for services...

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Posted August 16, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Back in 2010, we reported on the City of Baltimore and its frustration with Comcast and desire to have a real choice for Internet access. Nothing came of the idea at the time but the Baltimore Business Journal reports that Baltimore is once again considering the possibility of a publicly owned network.

The Board of Estimates recently decided to hire Magellan Advisors to provide a study that will offer several options for the community of 619,000 residents. The study will cost $157,000 and will identify key anchor tenants, cost analysis, and risk assessment related to a municipal broadband network.

Given Baltimore's situation, we doubt very much that they will proceed with a full-on universal FTTH network. Rather, we expect to see Baltimore considering an incremental approach that starts by serving community anchors (schools, libraries, public safety, etc.) and also may make conduit and fiber available for local businesses or other ISPs. 

Comcast has no real competition in Baltimore, not because of the franchise as intimated by numerous factually incorrect articles covering this news, but because private companies are too intimidated by Comcast and its bag of dirty tricks to invest in a competitive system. No local government can establish a cable or Internet monopoly under federal law dating back to 1992.

According to the article, Baltimore already has some fiber assets:

A major part of what Magellan is being hired to study is what’s known as the city’s “fiber ring,” a 30-mile fiber optic cable network that supports the city’s public safety radio system. As the city prepares to make improvements to the system, [CIO Chris] Tonjes said the city also wants to add capacity through a process called “overbuilding” that would allow the city to lease some of the extra bandwidth to the private sector.

“We have a lot of ideas; a lot of people could lease it — a local Internet provider, a local cultural institution,” Tonjes said. “It could...

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Posted August 6, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

The Roanoke Valley, nestled in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, grapples with the same connectivity problems facing many communities in rural Virginia. Private providers have few incentives to invest in next-generation Internet networks because the low density population promises too little profit. 

Like Danville, Bristol, and the Rockbridge area, communities in the Roanoke Valley are taking matters into their own hands. A February 2013 Roanoke Times news article reported that local businesses and regional governments collaborated to fund a $50,000 study. The study recommended creating a broadband authority to investigate the possibility of building an open access network. The Roanoke Times has more recently reported that public hearings are on the schedule for August:

Public hearings are coming up next month in the city and county of Roanoke, Salem and Botetourt County on a plan for local governments to band together to form a Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. It could work with the private sector to create a regional open-access, fiber-optic Internet network that would allow large and small service providers to compete on a level playing field. [A PDF of the schedule includes the proposed resolution and Articles of Incorporation for the Authority.]

Roanoke Valley Map

According to a June report from WSLS channel 10, the Roanoke City Council has already set aside $2 million to direct toward broadband in the Valley. For years, the local economy relied on manufacturing and textiles but outsourcing eliminated jobs and sent young people elsewhere looking for work. Local leaders now look for other footholds for economic development. Fortunately, they recognize the importance of broadband as they transition. From the WLSL report...

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Posted July 26, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

The Longmont community will soon have the chance to decide how quickly they want ubiquitous FTTH. On July 23rd, the City Council unanimously approved a proposal to ask voters in a referendum if they want to bond for funds to speed up construction of the LPC fiber network. Absent bond financing, the network will expand much more slowly over many years.

Readers will remember the 2011 referendum to allow the electric utility to offer broadband services to the people and businesses of Longmont. At the time, Comcast spent over $300,000 via the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association to fund an unsuccessful Vote No astroturf campaign. The community approved the measure with 60% of the vote. There was an earlier referendum in 2009 that ended in a victory for Comcast following a successful astroturf campaign. Records showed a similar infusion of cash to sway the vote. 

In the recent meeting, some Council Members expressed concern over the city bonding to invest in the telecom business. The Longmont Times Call reported on the meeting:

"We're again a government playing in the private world of capitalism," [Councilman Brian] Bagley said. "What if we don't know what we're doing?"

City Manager Harold Dominguez noted that even if voters approved a bond, the city could still take on a partner. If it passes, he said, the city would have a pretty good idea of how big a piece of the market it could get. And implementation wasn't a huge risk, he said, because the city already knew it could provide the service; it had been doing so for itself, the school district and a few other large users for years.

"Based on the information we've received, yes, we can do it," Dominguez said.

Finance Director Jim Golden outlined several options, including sales tax bonds, utility bonds, and certificates of participation, which use existing city assets as collateral. After discussion, Council agreed that the revenue bonds from the electric utility was the best option. If the voters approve the referendum, the City will bond a total of $44 million for capital costs ($35.4 million), interest, and...

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Posted June 24, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

The Waverly City Council in Iowa recently voted 5-2 to establish a communications utility and to move ahead with a feasibility study. We spoke with Diane Johnston, Waverly Light and Power (WLP) General Manager, who told us the decision to get this far started over a decade ago.

In 2000, the community passed two ballot measures that sat dormant until this year. At the time, incumbents Mediacom and Qwest (now CenturyLink) did not meet the needs of residents, who were increasingly frustrated with poor service and shoddy customer relations. Incumbents cherry-picked the local commercial segment, ignoring smaller businesses and establishments more challenging to serve. When asking for better connectivity, Johnston says local businesses "hit the wall." Incumbents flatly refused to invest in Waverly.

The 2000 ballot measures, establishing the municipal telecommunications utility per Iowa law (requiring a majority vote) and having the entity governed by WLP's board of trustees passed with 86 percent and 80 percent of the votes. Clearly the public wanted more choices but Johnston told us the time was just not right. A feasibility study, focused on phone and video service, prompted Mediacom and Qwest to make some improvements and improve customer service. As far as WLP was concerned, the problem was solved and Ordinance 970 went on the shelf.

Since 2000, businesses and residents have approached WLP about establishing the utility but the proposal did not gain traction until six months ago. When reviewing the strategic plan for the electric utility, WLP's Board of Trustees concluded that Waverly and WLP needs a telecommunications utility to stay vital.

Johnston notes that advanced metering infrastructure is essential for the future of electric services. WLP wants to be able to provide customers with the ability to monitor their electric usage, control the use of appliances, and conserve. The utilty also needs its own connectivity. Johnston and WLP recognize that access to a high speed network is critical to economic development and WLP needs economic development for healthy electricity sales. In order to supply affordable electricity for all customers, WLP's wants to continue to increase sales. A fiber ring around the city provides connectivity between substations today and will...

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Posted June 7, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

In March, Ketchum leaders hired Magellan Advisors to work with the city Broadband Strategic Planning Committee to create a plan to address the lack of high-speed Internet, especially in the downtown area. Brennan Rego's Idaho Mountain Express article reports the firm and the committee are now presenting their findings to the community in a series of meetings.

Community leaders now encourage members of Ketchum to complete a survey to get a better picture of the Internet situation. 

While there are no solid plans to build a fiber optic network at this time, Ketchum City Council is poised to make changes to development codes that would pave the way for efficient future installation. From the article:

The downtown core has some fiber optic lines, but not enough for all businesses and residents to tap into easily and efficiently. Councilman Baird Gourlay said at a council meeting Monday that the city does not plan to install fiber optic lines and administer a broadband network. Rather, he said, the city’s goal is to enact code changes that would require developers working on projects in the city that involve “digging up” the public right of way to pay to install fiber-capable conduit while the ground is open. He said the city would then “connect the dots” by installing conduit in remaining areas.

Councilwoman Nina Jonas said installing conduit costs only 25 cents per foot [in coordination with other projects], whereas installing fiber costs $40 per foot [when done by itself]. She said the area’s Internet service providers could then compete to install fiber in the city-spearheaded infrastructure. [our clarification]

Readers will recall that a representative from Cox was recently ejected from a position on the Planning Committee. City Hall received complaints when Cox push polls inappropriately suggested cut backs in public safety would finance a municipal network. It appears that Ketchum leadership still wants to involve incumbents in the planning:

“One of the key aspects of [the plan] is to involve and incorporate service providers,” [John] Honker [from Magellan Advisors] said at the residents meeting, referring to local providers such as CenturyLink, Cox...

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Posted June 4, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

The community of Sebewaing, located in the "thumb" of Michigan is moving closer to its own FTTH network, which will be the first new municipal FTTH project in the state.

Because of a state law impinging on local authority in Michigan, local governments must first issue an RFP and can build a telecommunications network themselves if they receive fewer than three qualified bids. If the community builds the network themselves, it probably must adhere to the RFP as if it were a private entity. This approach ignores the fact that a community operates a network with different incentives than a private company, so the two are not interchangeable. 

We wanted to know more about this effort, so we contacted Melanie McCoy, Superintendent of the municipal utility Sebewaing Light and Water. We discovered that the town of 1,700 residents, known for its beet farming, has several factors going for it. 

Communities with their own utilities already in place have personnel, equipment, and expertise which saves money and time. And because they already own the utility poles, they are often able to get started quickly rather than waiting for other firms to do "make-ready," which can take months as wires are shifted on poles. Sebewaing has a municipal fiber loop currently in place - another plus. McCoy tells us the fiber was installed in 2001 and 2002 at a cost of about $50,000.

Private Internet choices were limited to dial-up for about $20 per month or a T1 connection for around $1,000 to $1,500 per month. At the time, Sebewaing Light and Water shared a T1 connection with local businesses.

Residents, business and government needed better connectivity and community leaders also realized the need to boost economic development. Sebewaing Light and Water leadership also wanted to increase efficiency with a SCADA system and considered a telecommunications utility a good investment. And looking toward the future, they knew installation of the fiber would position them favorabley for future investment. 

Sebewaing Map

Changes in community leadership, tight budgets, and...

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Posted May 29, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

The Missoula City Council recently approved a measure to finance a feasibility study on improving local Internet options. Keila Szpaller of the Missoulian reports the council voted 9-1 to spend $13,125 as a first step in improving business connections to boost economic development. Szpaller writes:

“We did a survey around that and identified that one of the needs that folks have is for high-speed, high-capacity connections at an affordable price,” said Councilwoman Caitlin Copple.

Copple chairs the Economic Development Subcommittee of the council, a group that formed to research the way municipal government can best support technology infrastructure to bolster local businesses – and recruit more technology startups.

“We felt like the time is now to bring on a consultant and really get a professional assessment on what we have, what the demand is and what the potential partnerships are,” Copple said.

The Montana Department of Commerce, through its Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund, awarded $26,250 to the city and Missoula County. The county Board of Commissioners voted earlier this month to guarantee another $13,125 to meet the matching contribution requirement. The city contribution comes out of a federal grant to the city from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Encouraging economic development will improve affordable housing options says Councilman Jason Wiener:

“When we talk about housing affordability in particular, people often talk about the gap between prices and income and working to close that as well, so this is really money put to that purpose,” Wiener said.

Montana Seal

According to the article, the Big Sky Selection Committee and several local businesses provided letters of support. First Interstate Bank called the feasibility "an important step" in encouraging high-quality local jobs. Local online publisher Mamalode wrote that robust broadband infrastructure will lead to better paying positions and will contribute to the company's vitality. Mamalode "relies...

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Posted May 23, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Community members in Princeton, Massachusetts, voted on May 14th to proceed with planning for a next-generation fiber network. The picturesque New England community voted to spend $10,000 on a system design and to establish an entity to operate the network in the future, if the community decides to proceed with the investment.

According to News Telegram story, the question passed by more than the required two-thirds majority at 274-61.

Earlier this year, the Princeton Broadband Committee distributed a survey to residents. Results showed the people of Princeton desperately want something better than existing DSL, satellite, wireless or dial-up. School's must now connect with expensive T1 connections and property values suffer due to the lack of broadband. Telecommuting is not an option in Princeton.

The design should be completed this summer, opening the way for the next step in the process. Voters will need to approve by a two-thirds majority a request to borrow funds and the establishment of the town broadband entity.

Posted May 15, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Cox pushed Ketchum one step too far. The community of 2,700 formed a broadband advisory committee in November, 2012, and included a representative from Cox on the committee. Brennan Rego of the Idaho Mountain Express recently reported on happenings in Ketchum.

When residents in Wood River Valley started receiving push poll telephone calls from Cox to poison any possibility of a community owned network, Mayor Randy Hall and city leaders reacted promptly. They booted Cox off the broadband advisory committee.

Consistent with Cox push polls in other places, questions were leading:

 “The questions were so outrageous, I didn’t want to continue with the survey,” [Valley resident Sarah Michael] said. “I got offended. They were inappropriate and misleading.”
 

Michael said that, in essence, one question asked: Would you support Ketchum’s broadband initiative if you knew the city would cut police, fire and other essential services to pay for it?
    

“Who’s going to answer yes to that?” she said.

Michael and other residents who received the calls contacted surprised city staff and Mayor Hall. 

 “As the mayor, I can’t stand by and let somebody imply that I’m going to compromise the Police Department and the Fire Department by taking money away from them and putting it toward a broadband initiative,” Hall said. “That’s insane. I would never do that. I think the survey was trying to create fear.”

Cox claimed the questions were designed to "learn more about the public's opinion" but would not divulge the wording of the survey questions.

The city posted a disclaimer on its website to ensure residents knew the survey was not associated with the committee. 

“Cox is a very valuable member of our community,” Hall said. “But to imply that the city is willing to compromise the health and safety of its citizens by funding a broadband initiative is false and irresponsible.”
    

Hall said he considers Cox’s “unilateral action” in deciding to conduct the survey a “breach of trust,” but that the city would welcome a new representative of the company to the committee.

This behavior from Cox...

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