Tag: "referendum"

Posted July 30, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

Jim Baller has been helping local governments to build community owned networks for as long as they have been building them. He is the President of and Senior Principal of the Baller Herbst Law Group in Washington, DC. Jim joins us for Episode #57 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss some of the history of community owned networks.

Jim has a wealth of experience and helped in many of the most notable legal battles, including Bristol Virginia Utilities and Lafayette.

We start by noting some of the motivations of municipal electric utilities and how they were originally formed starting in the late 19th century. But we spend the bulk of our time in this show focusing on legal fights in the 90's and early 2000's over whether states could preempt local authority to build networks.

In our next interview with Jim, we'll pick up where we left off. If you have any specific thoughts or questions we should cover when we come back to this historical topic, leave them in the comments below or email us.

You can learn more about Jim Baller on his website at Baller.com.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

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 July 17, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

We last checked in with Opelika, Alabama, as they began testing their FTTH network in a pilot project. The community previously overcame Charter Cable's campaign of lies and passed a referendum. Voters approved the plan for a $41 million fiber optic communications and smart grid network. The community has been constructing the network, expanding testing, and building a network hub facility.

OANow.com reporter Tamiko Lowery reports "lightning in a bottle" will soon be serving the public. Customer service operations at City Hall will end on August 2nd when all Opelika Power Services (OPS) offices move to the new facility. June Owens, manager of marketing and communications spoke with Lowery about the anticipated launch:

“Fiber is going to put Opelika on the map like never before,” Owens said. “Opelika should be very proud. Nobody in the state is doing a project like this. And there is not much outside the state of Alabama like this. This is 100 percent fiber to the home. Fiber to the house doesn’t require the electronics in the field – this eliminates problems in the field that you might have with other types of systems. It is truly state-of-the-art equipment at its best.”

...

Still in “Testing Mode,” there is not a pin-pointed launch date for the fiber-optic network services.

“But we’re getting close,” Owens said.

She says that once operational, OPS will be able to offer lower rates than surrounding areas to the approximately 12,000 electric customers in Opelika. Once up and running full-speed, OPS will be competing with Charter, Dish and Direct-TV for Opelika customers. In the future, OPS will offer back-up data services to Opelika businesses.

Mayor Gary Fuller spoke with Christopher for Episode #40 of the Broadband Bits podcast. They discussed the community's decision to take connectvity in their own hands after years of dissatisfaction with Charter Cable.

Clearly, the community is excited to get the new triple-play network up and running. The local television, KTVM,...

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Posted July 10, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Winchester, Massachusetts, recently offered voters the chance to create a special fund earmarked for school and government technology infrastructure. The question came during the special election to fill an empty Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry. The technology fund proposal, to be funded by taxpayers, did not pass but offers an interesting approach for communities seeking to ensure community anchor institutions have the connections they need.

Wicked Local Winchester reported on the "technology stabilization fund:"

Under the proposal, the fund would receive $350,000 from taxpayers in fiscal year 2014. That figure would increase by 2.5 percent each year. Each Winchester household would pay approximately $50 in taxes into the fund in the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to the proposal.

The fund cannot be used for any end-user devices, including computers, laptops or classroom technology like smartboards. Instead, the fund will cover upgrading and maintaining the town and school computer network.

Opposed community members criticized a lack of detailed plans for the fund and challenged whether it would save public dollars. In the days before the vote, some council members publicly questioned the need for technology improvements.

The proposal failed 54 percent to 46 percent on June 25th. Wicked Local Winchester noted that several voters they met at the polls did not know about the proposal before the election. Support seemed strong from those voting yes:

“I think if we’re going to have an excellent school system, we need the technology to support it,” resident Anne Poskitt said after voting at the Jenks Center.

Resident Patricia Shea expressed similar sentiments after voting at the Lynch School, saying that she feels strongly about the importance of technology because she has three children who attended Winchester schools.

“If this is what we have to do to [improve technology], I support it,” she said.

Also from Wicked Local:

Selectman Jim Johnson, who proposed the technology stabilization fund, was...

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Posted July 2, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

Waverly, a town of 10,000 in Iowa, decided to create a city owned telecommunications utility with a successful referendum vote in 2000 but has only recently decided to move forward with a major investment to offer services. Mike Litterer, Interim General Manager of Waverly Light and Power, joins us to discuss the project.

Following the vote, the cable and telephone company suddenly decided to upgrade their services, which led the town to hold off on a community owned network. But over time, those companies failed to upgrade the networks and Waverly again finds itself struggling with inadequate access.

He explains why Waverly believes it will struggle to bring new jobs to town unless it has a better network - the economic development director of the town hears that directly from businesses making siting decisions.

Waverly already had a ring and leased dark fiber but is now moving forward on a more ambitious project to allow it to thrive in the digital economy. We previously wrote about Waverly here.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 13 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Eat at Joe's for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted June 28, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

In 2010, Silverton, Colorado, decided to build a fiber-optic loop for savings and better connectivity in rural San Juan County. At the time, Qwest (now CenturyLink) provided a microwave connection to the town of around 630 residents. After taking state money to connect all the county seats, Qwest decided to take fiber to everyone except Silverton, much to the frustration of local residents. We wanted to catch up with happenings in this former silver mining camp.

We spoke with Jason Wells, Silverton Town Administrator, who told us that Silverton's loop is part of a regional effort, the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN). Silverton's loop broke ground in April and it will cost $164,000. Silverton and San Juan County contributed $41,000 and the remainder comes from a Southwest Colorado Access Grant. Wells says public institutions will be hooked up first, then downtown businesses. Connecting the schools will come later.

The community is limited by its remote geography. At 9,300 feet above sea level, the town is one of the highest towns in the U.S. and still served by microwave technology. Wells hopes future expansion will include wiring Silverton to Durango, the closest SCAN community. Durango connects municipal and La Plata County facilities with its municipal fiber and leases dark fiber to local businesses, private providers, and community anchor institutions.

Wells connected us to Dr. Rick K. Smith, Mayor of participating Bayfield and General Manager of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG). Dr. Smith shared some history on the SCAN project.

The Southwest Colorado Council of Governments officially formed in 2009 and the first items on the agenda was establishing better connectivity in the region. Fourteen town and county jurisdictions belong to the Council to capitalize on the benefits of cooperation and coordination. Each...

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Posted June 26, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Longmont, Colorado, kept its eye on the prize. City leaders' vision, to bring high-speed connectivity to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, and government facilities began many years ago and the community faced multiple challenges. Citizens knocked down legislative barriers through referendum, fought corporate misinformation campaigns, and contended with tough economic times. Throughout the ordeal, community leaders held fast and now the vision is becoming a reality.

Current Mayor Dennis Combs inherited the project but he understands what the vision will bring to the community. In a recent article in the Boulder County Business Report, Combs focuses on economic development, education, and lifestyle as primary driving factors and says:

These are just a few reasons why it’s important for Longmont to realize its vision of being a connected city. If the city moves forward and deploys this network, it will join a number of elite communities around the country where citizens can work, learn, and live using the latest technologies available.

After ample opportunity to invest in the network Longmont residents and businesses asked for, Comcast chose to spend significant resources repeatedly trying to block a municipal network.

Fortunately, Combs and previous leadership took action to fix the lack of connectivity rather wait forever for two providers that did not want to invest in the community. Longmont's vision would never be this close to reality without leaders and citizens who chose a path of local self-reliance.

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 April 26, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

We spoke with Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller in episode 40 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast and learned all about the community's FTTH project. Local residents and businesses decided to go beyond the substandard services they received from Charter Cable and build their own municipal network. At the time of the interview, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was well into construction and is now testing the network, according to an article in the article in the Opelika-Auburn News.

Steve Harmon, director of OPS, said there are between seven to eight test sites in the city that are basic residences receiving these services. Throughout the trial run, OPS will monitor what services are working efficiently and which ones have problems that need to be fixed.

“We’re getting feedback from those people and we are working on fine-tuning the system’s channel configurations,” Harmon said.

As this stage, test sites do not have telephone capability, which will be part of triple-play service from OPS. Harmon noted that service will not be offered until all issues are resolved. That being said, OPS expects launch to be in late spring or early summer.

The community faced one of Charter's misinformation campaigns, but citizens still approved a referendum to bond $41 million for the network and smart grid project. Since then, Opelika has moved forward steadily with network construction and construction of a network hub facility

From the OPS News website:

“This is a most exciting time in the life of our community.  Opelika is about to become the first city in Alabama to have fiber to the user.  Very soon we’ll fully deploy smart grid along with telecommunications that include video (cable TV), ultra-high speed internet and telephone service.  The...

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Posted April 20, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

This southwest Colorado community of about 17,000 contends with state barriers, but still makes the most of its fiber assets. We contacted Eric Pierson, Information Services Manager for the City of Durango, and Julie Brown, the City Finance Manager. The two shared some information on Durango's fiber network.

Currently, fifteen miles of City owned fiber run through town, providing connectivity for municipal and La Plata County facilities. Installation began in 1994 and the build-out continues. A combination of City capital improvement funds, grants from the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DoLA), and funds from the Joint City/County Sales Tax fund have contributed to the $1.7 million network over the past twenty-one years.

Durango leases dark fiber to businesses and nonprofits to boost economic development and fund maintenance for the network. While dark fiber leasing could be far more lucrative, Durango's goal is to break even each year. According to Brown and Pierson, 2013 will yield about $10,000 to be shared with La Plata County and the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments.

Mercy Regional Medical Center partnered with Durango to install fiber as its primary bandwidth connection. Mercy is now an important anchor institution for a large medical office complex in what used to be an undeveloped area. In addition to the clinic, new businesses and residents continue to expand in the area.

According to Brown and Pierson, local ISPs that lease the fiber to serve residents and businesses have increased bandwidth for customers. A significant number of professionals that live in Durango work from home.

Even though Durango is not able to freely expand the network due to state restrictions that limit how it can use the fiber absent a costly referendum, community leaders found a way to optimize their network for residents and businesses. And should the state be wise enough to repeal this anti-competitive barrier, Durango will be well positioned to benefit local businesses.

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