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"Go West, Young ISP!" Ting Moving Into Centennial, Colorado

What do Maryland’s Westminster; Sandpoint in Idaho; Holly Springs, North Carolina; Charlottesville, Virginia; and now Centennial, Colorado, all have in common? Ting's "crazy fast fiber" Internet access.

In a press release, the Toronto Internet Service Provider (ISP) announced that as of today, it is taking pre-orders to assess demand in Centennial. The results will determine if the company will take the next step and offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to Centennial’s 107,000 residents and its local businesses. Ting estimates residential symmetrical Gigabit Internet access (1,000 Megabits per second download and upload) will cost approximately $89 per month; business subscriptions will cost about $139 per month. According to the Ting blog, they are also planning to offer a low-cost option of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical Internet access for $19.99 per month.

All Part Of The Plan

In March, the city released the results of a feasibility study and published its Master Plan, which included investing to expand the city’s existing network of more than 50 miles of dark fiber. Ting is the first provider to offer services via the infrastructure.

Once it is established that a sufficient demand exists for Ting’s symmetrical Gigabit Internet access, construction to specific areas of town will begin.

Mayor Pro Tem and District 4 Council Member Charles “C.J.” Whelan said:

“Ting Internet in Centennial will enable faster and more affordable Internet services for both residents and businesses, just as the City’s Fiber Master Plan intended. Technology, and in particular connectivity to the Internet, has become essential to everyday life, so much so that we experience withdrawals when it is not there. Data connectivity needs to be efficient and readily available, and it is at its best when it, ‘just works’ and you don’t have to think even about it. Bringing such a high level of service to Centennial is what makes this collaboration with Ting so exciting.”

"A Fine Ear"

When Centennial voters chose to reclaim local authority in 2013, they told the rest of the state they would chart their own course. They also let ISPs know that they were open to collaboration to improve local connectivity. Centennial is only one of over four dozen municipalities and counties that have opted out of the state's restrictive law, SB 152.

In a video on why Ting chose Centennial as its next city, CEO Elliot Noss pointed out the strong election results of referenda in which Centennial and other Colorado communities chose to reclaim local authority. “Clearly, the state of Colorado has a fine ear for better, faster, Internet.”

Watch the video here:

Feasibility Study Offers Food For Thought In Fort Collins, CO

Fort Collins has the numbers, now it must weigh its options as it steps forward. This month the City Council received the results of a feasibility study it commissioned late in 2015 to help fill in its Broadband Strategic Plan. The results, along with city staff analysis, are now available for review (item no. 3 from the Aug. 23rd meeting).

A Growing Interest

Last fall, voters chose to reclaim local authority by opting out of Colorado’s SB 152, which in 2005 took away local telecommunications infrastructure decisions from municipalities. A resounding 83 percent of voters voiced their desire to have the option to develop a municipal utility. Local media and businesses had expressed their support for better connectivity through public ownership. Residents wrote to local papers describing how Fort Collins needed better Internet access to spur economic development. Clearly, the momentum was running strong.

Examining Several Options

The study examined several possible models, including retail, wholesale, and public private partnership models. The staff summary of the report suggests that staff consider a retail model, while more expensive to deploy, the least risky of those examined. From the staff summary:

Total funding requirement for a retail model is $125M with the project becoming net cash positive in 15 years. Recent terms announced in other communities are not attractive for the wholesale (or public/private partnership) due to the higher risk on municipalities and low pass per premise fee paid to the municipalities (does not become net cash positive within 15 years). Fort Collins pass per premise fee requirement needs are higher due to higher costs associated to undergrounding infrastructure. However, using an alternative scenario with an ideal pass per premise fee, a wholesale model could be feasible. Total funding requirement for a wholesale model is $88M. 

What Now?

Over the next several months, the city staff plans to begin reaching out to incumbents, potential partners, and the community. As they progress and learn more, they will develop recommendations and anticipate making a detailed presentation to the Council work session in December.

Learn more about Fort Collins in Episode #211 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast; Christopher spoke with Mayor Wade Troxell about the community and their potential plans. 

Fort Collins Mayor on Fort Collins Fiber Future - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 211

Fort Collins is a thriving community of over 150,000 and the home of Colorado State University. Despite gorgeous vistas and many high tech jobs, Fort Collins basically has the same cable and DSL duopoly the majority of communities suffer from. But they are making plans for something better.

Mayor Wade Troxell joins us this week for episode 211 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to talk about their situation and planning process.

We talk about their need for better access and how they are committed to taking action even if they are not quite sure yet what it will be. They exempted themselves from the Previously-Qwest-But-Now-CenturyLink-Protection-Act that requires a referendum for the local government to introduce telecommunications competition... with 83 percent support.

We end our discussion by talking again about undergrounding utility assets - which took them many decades but is very nearly complete.

Watch a video of Mayor Troxell at the Digital Northwest - where I was moderating a panel.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

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

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

Glenwood Springs, Colorado: Fiber Frontier

Glenwood Springs was the first community in Colorado to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, the Community Broadband Network (CBN), and offer services to local businesses. The community, originally named “Defiance,” was also one of the first U.S. communities to have electric lights. Their open access municipal network has improved connectivity throughout the community and helped establish robust competition in this western frontier town.

Dial-Up Just Didn’t Do It; City Steps In

Bob Farmer, Information Systems Director at Glenwood Springs, spoke with Christopher Mitchell for episode #206 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast and he shared some of the network’s history. Before community leaders chose to take matters into their own hands, Qwest (now CentuyLink) and AT&T were offering dial-up services to residents and businesses. The city approached the incumbents and asked them to make upgrades to improve local connectivity but were told by both companies that they had no plans to make improvements.

Bruce Munroe, former Director of Information Services, was interviewed in 2005 about the community's plan to invest in fiber and the incumbents' reaction. He said:

“When we started, we were told that it wouldn’t be profitable for them to provide service,” says Munroe. “But they also said ‘you can’t do it either.’ There was no interest in [pursuing] anything until we said we were going to do it.” Glenwood moved ahead anyway after its city council approved a municipal service plan based on keeping businesses in town. “We were protecting our economic base,” says Munroe, who noted that businesses were leaving because they didn’t have speedy access to the Internet. 

Farmer recalls that a citizens group formed to advance the prospect of publicly owned Internet infrastructure. While a plan surfaced to offer triple-play via fiber-optic connectivity to the entire community, pushback from local fixed wireless Internet access providers and other businesses eventually led community leaders to scale back. The city chose instead to offer businesses and community anchor institutions (CAI) connectivity via an open access fiber-optic network in 2000-2001 and use the backbone to create a fixed wireless network for residential access. While a number of private wireless providers used the CBN to offer residential services, the city did not actually offer fixed wireless directly to residents until 2009. According to Farmer, they never advertised and had less than one percent of the subscriber base.

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In his interview with Christopher, Farmer described some of the difficulties with the plan in a town the size of Glenwood Springs where there were already a number of wireless providers:

“[A]t that point we were directly competing with the existing wireless providers and many of them became resellers on our network”

There were a relatively high number of wireless providers offering services in Glenwood Springs - as many as seven at one time - which made the market very competitive. Farmer believes the town's population of a little less than 10,000 does not support a high number of competitors. Connectivity throughout the community is certainly better than it was before the public investment, but it has been a challenging journey, recalls Farmer.

As Farmer also noted in the interview, the open access model created problems when larger regional providers bought out smaller local ISPs. When providers on the CBN were not dedicated enough to maintain relationships with the customers they served the city felt the fallout. Customers encountered problems with the network and let their providers know, but the providers failed to promptly inform the Glenwood Springs Internet division. As a result, customers were frustrated and chose to cancel service.

Anchor institutions and businesses still connected via the fiber-optic network, but connecting included hefty installation charges. Over time, the city drastically lowered the connection charges, encouraging more businesses and institutions to connect to the CBN. Glenwood Springs has forged ahead to bring better connectivity to local businesses and CAIs and, while the city has had to contend with the problems of being one of several providers in a competitive market, the CBN has created an environment beyond one or two providers and prices are held in check.

City Savings

In addition to keeping prices reasonable for businesses and CAIs, the city is able to keep its own telecommunications costs down by self-provisioning. Farmer estimates that Glenwood Springs saves approximately $140,000 per year because it uses the CBN rather than obtaining comparable services from a private provider. He adds that, because the network adds redundancy, savings may actually be much higher; with a network that doesn't go down, efficiency is always optimal.

There are 25 municipal facilities connected to the CBN, including wastewater, water treatment, and electric department facilities. Glenwood Springs also uses the CBN to connect fires stations, the Community Center, and its Municipal Operations Center.

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Just as importantly, Glenwood Springs is able to budget because their costs are predictable. When local communities depend on big private providers for services, they are at a disadvantage because those corporations have the ability to increase rates and communities have little say in the matter. If a community has no alternate provider, they have no leverage to negotiate.

In Martin County, Florida, for example, the franchise agreement between the county and Time Warner Cable was coming to a close. The ISP planned to raise rates by more than 800 percent. Rather than submit to corporate piracy, the community partnered with the school district and invested in their own Internet infrastructure. In addition to taking control of their own connectivity decisions, Martin County and its parner are saving millions each year.

A Plan To Expand, A Vote To Reclam Autority

By 2008, the municipal electric utility had invested approximately $3.5 million to deploy the fiber system for communications purposes and the electric system. The city began to consider using the network for more than just business connectivity, possibly offering services directly to residents.

At the time, Public Works Director Robin Millyard said, “It’s like having a Ferrari in a garage on a gravel road.” The City Manager noted that the network was, “[A] tremendous asset available to this community that’s being underutilized.”

The city considered the possibility of selling off the wireless network and expanding the existing fiber-optic network to serve all businesses and households in the community in order to offer triple-play. The city had already commissioned a feasibility study to look at the plan. City leaders anticipated funding the $12 million expansion with a revenue bond.

By 2008, Colorado's SB 152 had passed the state legislature, so before the city could expand their offerings, the voters had to reclaim local authority through referendum. In April, voters passed the measure 707 to 605 in the single-issue election. The municipality now had the legal option to expand its network. If any future expansion required issuing a revenue bond or some other form of bond, the community would need to vote again to authorize the financing. After several months of study, however, the City Council ultimately chose not to pursue such a big project.

Instead, Glenwood Springs decided to begin providing direct Internet access to businesses, rather than only offering the fiber infrastructure on which third party providers could offer services to commercial subscribers. By working directly with commercial customers, the city was able to improve its reputation and take on more customers. The demand for services from the city has risen approximately 20 percent each year. He attributes the increased interest in the city’s efforts in part to better customer service.

The CBN Today And Tomorrow

Businesses can sign up for one of three tiers, with all speeds symmetrical so upload is as fast as download, a critical component of business Internet access.

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All tiers include a public IP address, no data cap limit, and no long term contract:

  • Fiber Optic 50 - 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $70 per month
  • Fiber Optic 100 - 100 Mbps for $105 per month
  • Fiber Optic 250 - 250 Mbps for $175 per month

Glenwood Springs CBN also offers Enterprise services that include speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) and private network connectivity with speeds as fast as 10 Gbps.

The fixed wireless service the city offers to residents is being discontinued because there are ample wireless providers in Glenwood Springs and because the equipment is outdated. Instead, the community is looking again at the possibility of providing connectivity directly to residents, this time via Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).

Glenwood Springs is engaged in the operations and maintenance phase of a pilot project that has passed 36 homes. The pilot project is testing the waters in one neighborhood; nine households have subscribed so far. Subscribers can choose basic service of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) upload and download (symmetrical) for $40 per month or symmetrical Gigbit service (1000 Mbps) for $780 per month. The pilot program cost just under $20,000 from the electric utility's existing budget.

An increasing number of communities are choosing to experiment with pilot programs, such as Owensboro, Kentucky, and Westfield, Massachusetts. As well as giving the community a chance to see the advantages of superior Internet access, thus raising demand, a pilot project provides the opportunity to resolve unanticipated problems with technology or administrative operations.

The Future In "Defiance" And Elsewhere In Colorado

They call themselves Glenwood Springs, but this western Colorado town of about 10,000 people have held on to the spirit of those who called it "Defiance." The people of the community are deciding for themselves the best course and following their own path. Each election season - fall and spring - more communities are asking voters to exercise that spirit by opting out of SB 152 and taking back local authority. Glenwood Springs was the first and has been joined by dozens of others; we expect to see more who choose to exercise their right to self-determination.

Colorado Communities Opting Out: The List Grows...and Grows...and Grows

Recently, Christopher spoke with Glenwood Springs, Colorado, about their venture into providing high-quality Internet access for the community. They were, to our knowledge, the first Colorado community to pass a referendum reclaiming local telecommunications authority. The voters in Glenwood Springs chose to opt out of SB 152 and reclaim that authority in 2008.

Last fall was a banner season for local communities deciding to no longer be limited by the state restrictions borne out of big cable lobbying. More than four dozen municipalities and counties voted on the issue and all of them passed, many with huge margins. In the spring of this year, nine more towns joined the fray, including Mancos, Fruita, and Orchard City. There are also over 20 counties and number of school districts that have taken the issue to voters and voters responded overwhelmingly saying, “YES! WE WANT LOCAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS AUTHORITY!”

Most of these communities have not expressed an intent to invest in publicly owned infrastructure, but a few places are engaged in feasibility studies, are raising funding, or even in the midst of projects. For most of them, the question of autonomy was the overriding issue - local communities want to be the ones to make the decisions that will impact them at home.

The Colorado Municipal League (CML) has assembled a list of municipalities that have held referendums on the question of 2005's SB 152 and whether or not to reclaim local authority. They list each community’s election by date and include the language of their ballot questions. Some community listings provide the percentage of pro and con votes. You can download the PDF of the list from the CML’s page created specifically for the local telecommunications authority question.

Wasted Dollars, Wasted Time

Referendums are costing each community dollars they could spend on important services. In 2015, the referendum in Fort Collins cost taxpayers more than $60,000. Those are precious dollars that could be dedicated toward a feasibility study, a school district technology program, or some other program designed to improve their quality of life.

Cities and towns are not alone in reclaiming local authority. Here is the list of counties that have passed the referendum, opting out of SB 152 restrictions:

Archuleta County Clear Creek County Custer County
Delta County Gilpin County Gunnison County
Huerfano County Jackson County La Plata County
Lake County Moffat County Ouray County
Park County Pitkin County Rio Blanco County
Routt County San Juan County San Miguel County
Summit County Washington County Yuma County

We’re not sure what it will take for the Colorado Legislature to see the light and strike SB 152 from the books but we hope they open their eyes soon. We think Colorado will be an epicenter of change and we will be watching.

Sampling the Food and Fiber at Annual DMEA Meeting

In Colorado, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) saw record crowds at their Annual Meeting of Members. Hundreds of people came to check out the event on June 16th and try out the super fast speeds of Elevate Fiber, DMEA’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project.  The project will bring speeds of up to a Gigabit per second (Gbps) to DMEA’s 27,000 members. 

Elevate Fiber

During the event, members were able to check out the speed in person and preregister their homes and businesses. It requires a 12-month contract at a minimum of $49.99 each month according to the DMEA’s website. Residents can sign up at https://join.elevatefiber.com/

Providing Internet access is a new role for the electric cooperative but DMEA has a plan: the co-op will build out the fiber incrementally. Phase I will encompass about 7,500 homes and businesses in Paonia, Cobble Creek, and the Montrose downtown business district. These locations are test cases of overhead and underground installations in urban and rural areas. 

Celebrate the Times

The Montrose Press reported that over 500 people came to the meeting, making it one of the largest in recent memory. The Annual Meeting of Members celebrated the past accomplishments of the co-op and looked ahead to the fiber future. In addition to free hamburgers and hot dogs, and an appearance by former American Idol contestant Jeneve Rose Mitchell,* attendees could see live demonstrations of Elevate Fiber.

In December 2015, the DMEA Board of Directors unanimously voted to proceed with the FTTH project. At the time, they considered building a middle mile network, but wisely chose to deploy last mile connectivity to members' homes and businesses.

The June 16th event culminated with the announcement of the winners of the election to the co-op’s board of directors. Over 5,026 ballots were cast (in person and by mail). Although that’s a small percentage of their membership base, it’s actually a lot for a cooperative. The report Re-member-ing the Electric Cooperative from ILSR’s Energy Program found that 72 percent of electric cooperatives have less than 10 percent turn-out.  

“A New Era for DMEA”

A week before the meeting, DMEA CEO Jasen Bronec explained to the Delta County Independent why this meeting would be different:

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"This year's annual meeting is so much more than a traditional business meeting. It is truly a celebration of a new era for DMEA and the cooperative business model. We're no longer talking about bringing electricity to the far reaches of the county, but rather a new necessity -- high-speed Internet. DMEA's service will be the fastest available in the country."


* Former American Idol Contestant, Jeneve Rose Mitchell: A long lost relative of Christopher Mitchell? Hmmmmm...

Glenwood Springs Shares Lessons Learned - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 206

Last week, while at my favorite regional broadband conference - Mountain Connect, I was asked to moderate a panel on municipal fiber projects in Colorado. You can watch it via the periscope video stream that was recorded. It was an excellent panel and led to this week's podcast, a discussion with Glenwood Springs Information Systems Director Bob Farmer.

Bob runs the Glenwood Springs Community Broadband Network, which has been operating for more than 10 years. It started with some fiber to anchor institutions and local businesses and a wireless overlay for residential access. Though the network started by offering open access, the city now provides services directly. We discuss the lessons learned.

Bob also discusses what cities should look for in people when staffing up for a community network project and some considerations when deciding who oversees the network. Finally, he shares some of the successes the network has had and what continues to inspire him after so many years of running the network.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 21 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Forget the Whale for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "I Know Where You've Been."

Can't Get to Keystone? Periscope Mountain Connect

It’s June, and that means Mountain Connect is upon us. The theme of the 6th annual conference is, “Hybrid Infrastructure Supporting Smart Cities.” It's a good opportunity for broadband development leaders from all over the country come together to discuss cutting edge networks and models that are shaping connectivity.

More than 60 communities in Colorado have passed referendums to demand local authority to build their own broadband networks; one at a time, more local communities are doing the same.

You can follow all the action at the conference via @CommunityNets on Twitter, and @MountainConnect for the full rundown. There will be Periscope broadcasts of some of the panel discussions throughout the conference.

Christopher will moderate the Public Sector Broadband Development panel Tuesday at 1 p.m. Mountain Time. It features Rio Blanco County’s Blake Mobley, Glenwood Springs’ Bob Farmer, Rick Smith from Cortez, and Brent Nation from Fort Morgan. Panelists will discuss their community’s projects and share lessons learned building smart broadband solutions for their communities.

View the full agenda online.

Our "Open Access Networks" Resources Page Now Available

When communities decide to proceed with publicly owned infrastructure, they often aim for open access models. Open access allows more than one service provider to offer services via the same infrastructure. The desire is to increase competition, which will lower prices, improve services, and encourage innovation.

It seems straight forward, but open access can be more complex than one might expect. In addition to varying models, there are special challenges and financing considerations that communities need to consider.

In order to centralize our information on open access, we’ve created the new Open Access Networks resource page. We’ve gathered together some of our best reference material, including links to previous MuniNetworks.org stories, articles from other resources, relevant Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes, case studies, helpful illustrations, and more.

We cover: 

  • Open Access Arrangements
  • Financing Open Access Networks
  • Challenges for Open Access Networks
  • U.S. Open Access Networks
  • Planned Open Access Networks

Check it out and share the link. Bookmark it!

Digital Northwest: What's Working?

Next Century Cities recently hosted "Digital Northwest," a summit for regional broadband leaders. Leaders from member cities all over the country gathered together to learn from one another and discuss digital inclusion, models for success, partnerships, and much more. 

Chris led a panel of mayors and city council leaders from cities with well-known municipal networks in a discussion of their networks and how their communities have benefitted. 

The panel featured: 

  • Mayor Jill Boudreau, Mt. Vernon, WA
  • Mayor Wade Troxell, Fort Collins, CO
  • City Council President Jeremy Pietzold, , Sandy OR
  • Councilmember David Terrazas, Santa Cruz, CA