UTOPIA Fiber, the publicly owned, open access network, has begun a pilot wildfire-detection project which has the potential to provide safer, faster, less expensive service to communities in Utah, saving the state tens of millions of dollars a year in firefighting and other economic costs. The EDWIN Project (Early Detection Wildfire Imaging Network), currently in beta testing, pairs advanced thermal imaging cameras with the fiber network’s infrastructure to help firefighters in the region detect events in real time. The pilot project — currently deployed to Woodland Hills (pop. 1,600), Murray (49,000), and Layton (77,000) — just launched, with plans to expand.
The project’s focus right now is the Wasatch Front metropolitan area, where more than two million residents live. That’s 80% of the state’s population, and because the region is arid and hot in the summer it’s particularly vulnerable to wildfires.
The setup is simple: thermal cameras are placed at key geographic points in the region and connected to UTOPIA’s fiber network. The cameras, which look to be FLIR’s PT-series, scan the region continually and are used to provide real-time image processing at resolutions of up to 640x480 pixels. Should a reading hit 300 degrees Fahrenheit, a notification is sent to first responders, who can log into the camera’s perspective and confirm the presence of an out-of-control fire. They can then dispatch the appropriate units to the area.
“The EDWIN Project thermal imaging cameras are so advanced, they can detect a hot spot down to a pixel,” explained Roger Timmerman, executive director, UTOPIA Fiber.
Woodland Hills was the first to join; the community was devastated by wildfire damage in 2018. Firefighting typically relies on community members to call in and report an event, a system with a lot of obvious points of friction that can dramatically slow evaluation and response times. UTOPIA’s network allows instant notification and real-time video, which will reduce the latter. It will save participating communities, the...Read more
When Paul Revere rode through Concord, Massachusetts, to warn the Colonists about the Red Coats, horseback was the fastest way to move information. More than 240 years later, the community that was so instrumental to founding of the United States as we know it now sends information via their own fast, affordable, reliable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal network. This week, Concord's former CIO Mark Howell joins Christopher to talk about the community and their investment.
Mark discusses the community's history and the story of the network, which includes their reasons for investing in the infrastructure. He talks about the local citizens' enthusiasm for the project and what it was like to go from operating an electric utility to adding Internet access for the public. Mark also discusses the funding mechanism that Concord used to pay for the project and shares a few of the many benefits that the network has brought to Concord and its people.
Christopher and Mark review the reasoning behind the different service offerings available to subscribers and the rationale behind choosing these tiers. They also talk about some of the challenges Concord has faced and Mark gets into the possibilities of regional efforts in order to maximize the possibility of reaching more households.
Read more about the network in the 2017 report published by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, ...Read more
Tombigbee Electric Power Association (TEPA) will become one of the first electric cooperatives in Mississippi to offer fast, reliable, affordable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to all of its 43,950 residential and commercial members. Made possible through the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act of 2019 (HB 366), TEPA anticipates having coverage to all of its members, mostly in Lee and Itawamba counties, in four years. TEPA recently announced that Conexon will design and manage construction of the network.
Change in Policy = Change in Possibilities
For more than 60 years, a Mississippi law had banned electric cooperatives from offering anything but electricity to their members. After pressure from the state Public Service Commission, Mississippi’s State Legislature passed HB 366 almost unanimously. The bipartisan legislation allows electric cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet access. Approximately two dozen electric cooperatives offer electric service in Mississippi. As a result, this single policy change has the potential to benefit roughly half of the state’s population.
When Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in January 2019, he gave electric co-ops the lion's share of the credit for getting it through the legislature:
"This is a success for the Mississippi Legislature, for all those involved. If anyone wants to know how this bill got passed so quickly talk to the rural electric associations, because we do, and we listen to them."
Wheels in Motion
TEPA will be joining three other electric...Read more
Alabama communities with lower population density haven’t attracted big national Internet access providers, but their electric cooperatives are increasingly picking up the slack. In recent months, yet another electric cooperative announced that “it’s about time” for Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) for members.
Members are Ready
With over 90 percent of members voting in favor, Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Cooperative (JWEMC) will soon be joining an increasing number of electric cooperatives providing access to broadband. JWEMC’s General Manager, George Kitchens, hopes to have the first customers connected by the fall of 2020 and all members on the network within five years. Kitchens notes that strong support from the community could expedite the timeline. Construction is expected to begin late next summer and the co-op will connect members in both Lawrence County and Morgan County.
“We have studied this internally for over a year,” he said. “We hope to have 18 substations and 1,000 customers hooked up in Year One, 3,800 customers in Year Two and between 3,000 and 5,000 annually Years Three through Five,” said Kitchens.
JWEMC has predicted it will need 10,000 subscribers to break even. Currently, folks in rural Lawrence County depend on satellite Internet access, while those who live in the more densely populated areas of Moulton (pop. 3,200) and Town Creek (pop. 1,100) may have access to AT&T DSL or cable Internet access from Charter Communications. Kitchens indicated that the network could be finished in three years, if demand is high and the cooperative can manage a rigorous construction schedule.
The electric cooperative held six public meetings in Lawrence County and Morgan County regarding the fiber optics Internet access project before asking members to vote. The meetings allowed JWEMC authorities to address concerns of cost and services and gave co-op officials a chance to answer questions from members. Following the series of well-received meetings, the cooperative mailed a ballot to members in October. The support for the...Read more
The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) announced in January 2018 that they had solidified plans to deploy fiber across 14 counties for smart grid operations and to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the region. The project, dubbed Firefly Fiber Broadband, is underway, and we’ve got President and CEO Gary Wood along with Communications and Member Services Manager Melissa Gay on the podcast this week to discuss the multi-year project.
During this interview, we learn about the CVEC service territory, which is a mix of a few denser populated areas and very rural communities where poor Internet access, when it’s available, is a real problem. CVEC members have been dealing with unreliable connections, oversubscription, and outdated technologies for years. Those problems will be eliminated, however, with FTTH from the co-op that many have come to trust. By obtaining grants, working with local communities, and approaching the process in a strategic manner, CVEC plans on bringing gigabit connections to about 37,000 potential subscribers within five years.
Gary and Melissa describe the cooperative’s process, the discoveries they made about attitudes toward the co-op from members in the community (including some interesting stories), and lessons learned. We hear about some of their marketing approaches that focus on the uniqueness of the region and what it was like to establish a subsidiary in accordance with state law. Through all the hard work, Melissa and Gary have nothing but accolades for employees of the cooperative and compliments for local officials who helped get the project off to a strong start.
Learn more about the status of project from CVEC.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using...Read more
Once again, restrictive state laws designed to help big ISPs maintain their monopolies have helped push a publicly owned network to privatization. Opelika, Alabama, recently announced that they will sell their OPS One fiber optic network to Point Broadband, headquartered in West Point, Georgia. They expect the deal to be finalized in early November.
The Road to Now
The city of Opelika installed the network to overcome poor services from Charter and to improve municipal electric services with smart grid applications. In 2010, Charter’s astroturf campaign to stop the network failed when local voters supported the ballot initiative to build the broadband infrastructure to allow the city to provide services. By 2014, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was making Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) available for residents and businesses; folks in the community were loving the service from Alabama’s “Gig City.”
Nearby communities still stuck with poor Internet access wanted OPS to serve them also and OPS wanted to add more subscribers, but state law prevents Opelika from expanding beyond their current coverage area. As in the case of Bristol, Virginia, when a state prevents a municipal network from growing and increasing revenue, the state makes it difficult for the network to remain sustainable.
Mayor Gary Fuller recently told WLTZ:
“We attempted on three occasions to get the legislature to [allow us to] expand beyond our city limits, into North Auburn and rural Lee County, Beauregard, and we could never do that because we couldn’t get the law changed.”
Each attempt to convince lawmakers that Opelika’s neighbors deserve more options than what the incumbents offer have evoked attacks from misinformation groups,...Read more
In May of 2017 we congratulated Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber for exceeding 90,000 subscribers and contributing to lower power rates for all (Electric Power Board) EPB customers. Now less than a year later, there is more to celebrate as EPB expects to reach 100,000 subscribers by Fall 2018 and is still lowering electricity costs for all customers.
The city-owned electric utility launched its citywide fiber optic network in 2009 and never looked back. The original plan issued nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in debt for the utility and had an estimated forecast for only 35,000 subscribers. The city is now reaping the rewards from its investment; the utility paid off the last of its debt earlier this year, and now projected revenues for the fiscal year 2018-2019 from the telecom division sit at $169.1 million.
For a detailed, interesting history on EPB Fiber Optics, take some time to listen to Harold DePriest talk with Christopher in episode 230 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Before retiring, Harold was the tip of the spear in bringing the network to Chattanooga.
While EPB has long been recognized for its lightning fast Internet speeds and has repeatedly been ranked among the fastest in the U.S. (including this year’s fourth fastest ISP in the United States), the utility’s fiber optic lines also help lower power rates for all customers by eight percent. Whether Chattanoogans subscribe to EPB Fiber for Internet access or not, they still benefit from the infrastructure.
The fiber optic network that EPB installed nearly a decade ago not only allow the ISP to provide gigabit connectivity, it was also strategically built on top of the preexisting power grid, creating its “smart grid.” This allows the utility to monitor its electrical system in real time and to read all meters every 15 minutes, saving the cost of sending technicians into the field. Additionally, the smart grid is able to instantly reroute power in...Read more
Holston Electric Cooperative (HEC) in Hamblen and Hawkins County, Tennessee, is about to begin Phase I of its plan to deploy fiber optic connectivity to more than 30,000 members. The multi-year project will bring broadband to the rural area and create smart grid efficiencies for the electric system.
Wide Support for HolstonConnect
There’s been so much interest and so many inquiries about when members can sign-up, General Manager Jimmy Sandlin feels it’s important to ask folks in the service area to be patient and to understand that the build will be a long process. Construction will begin in Rogersville and will extend to South Surgoinsville.
“As HolstonConnect’s services will have less delay times than other products available in your market, the competition may encourage our members to lock themselves into new contracts. Be aware of this tactic, as this is your opportunity to help improve your neighborhood. Owned by the people served, HolstonConnect will connect our community to a great future, just like Holston Electric Cooperative brought rural residents into the future with electricity.”
Prices and a complete list of services have not been posted yet, but the cooperative plans to offer symmetrical gigabit service, voice, and video. In keeping with similar policies from other publicly owned networks, HEC has said there will be no throttling or data caps.
HEC has had plans in place for a while to deploy a smart grid to improve electric systems. As is the case with many other electric cooperatives, HEC decided to consider taking advantage of the infrastructure’s excess capacity as a foundation for fiber optic connectivity for local residents and businesses. In order to make the venture successful, however, they knew that they would need take rates of around 80 percent from members to make the project viable. The cooperative still needs to determine final estimates, but the initial figure for the entire project comes in at around $120 million.
In early 2017, HEC reached out to members, holding several meetings to gauge interest. Local residents packed the events and the average of pledges to sign up for service averaged around 90 percent of attendees. A survey indicated that 60 percent of those asked would pay...Read more
Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) has created a five-year plan to deploy a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to premises within its distribution area. CVEC will begin with a one-year pilot program within a limited region in order to test and prepare for the wider initiative.
More Than Internet Access
CVEC’s plan for the new fiber infrastructure will include more efficient electrical operations across its entire distribution system. CVEC plans to install approximately 4,600 miles of distribution lines and offer services to all of its 36,000 members through a subsidiary. Because so many of its members live in rural areas, they don’t have access to high-quality Internet services. CVEC serves Albermarle County and portions of 13 other surrounding counties.
"CVEC believes that access to reliable, high-speed Internet today is becoming as important as access to electricity in 1937," said CEO Gary Wood. "Give the great need for connectivity, CVEC will leverage its fiber network to provide a broadband Internet solution that will serve the community now and for the future."
One look at the comments on the CVEC Facebook page reinforces the claim that CVEC’s members lack access to high-quality Internet service:
“You’re lucky to have DSL.”
“No Internet or cell service just two miles from the interstate has gotten old old old fast fast fast.”
“With an Internet bill over several hundred dollars a month for relatively crappy service, I will happily spend my money with someone who actually cares!”
“Shut up and take my money.”
Another Go At Access
Other plans to bring Internet access to members have fallen through. At a recent meeting that included the Albermarle County Broadband Authority and the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee, Wood described two other failed attempts by CVEC that depended on partnerships with other entities. One involved delivering broadband over power lines and the other ended in an inability for the cooperative and its partner ISP to reach an agreement.
A 2017 feasibility study...Read more