The League of Minnesota Cities has honored ten communities in the south central part of the state for their role in assisting to launch the RS Fiber Cooperative.
At its annual state conference on June 16th, the League awarded its “City of Excellence Award” in the 5,000 to 19,999-population category to the cities of Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, Gaylord, Gibbon, Green Isle, Lafayette, New Auburn, Stewart, and Winthrop.
“These 10 cities, along with 17 townships, worked collaboratively for five years to provide South Central Minnesota residents with access to high speed, affordable, and reliable “gigabit internet service. The cities created a joint governance structure that aligned local taxpayer interests across entities, and initiated a public/private financing structure that enables residents to obtain internet broadband services at minimal risk.
The cities developed grassroots support for the project by hosting more than 150 meetings and by personally contacting hundreds of residents, local businesses, and government officials. Over the next five years, thousands of households and rural farm sites and hundreds of businesses and community organizations will be able to receive high-speed internet service access that greatly exceeds previous services provided by national telecommunications firms.
Communities need reliable broadband access to attract and retain new businesses and residents. The success of the “RS Fiber Cooperative Project” confirms the value of small communities working together with private interests to make a positive difference in lives of constituents.”
Mark Erickson, former Winthrop city manager who was instrumental in developing RS Fiber, told us he was excited about the award.
"It was a cool award to get; an important recognition for our little towns," said Erickson, currently Winthrop economic development director. "I'm just proud of the mayor and councils in the ten communities for having the vision and patience to make the RS Fiber project happen. When communities take steps to insure better futures for their residents, good things can happen."
Officials for the RS Fiber Cooperative, named after Renville and Sibley Counties, expect the fiber-optic network to be completed by the end of 2016 for residents and businesses in the ten cities; build out to the 17 townships should be completed by 2021. Estimated cost for the total project is $45 million.
We expect this won’t be the only accolade for the RS Fiber project, which is gaining national attention for having formed a new telecommunications cooperative. This spring, we released an in-depth report on the RS Fiber Cooperative that notes some of the highlights of the project and why it's so special. You can download the report at RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperatives.
Up to $30,000 for new or existing projects that help citizens become more engaged in the democratic process
Technical assistance to implement their plans
Connections with other like-minded municipalities
At least three communities will be selected for special inaugural Awards
Some examples of eligible projects suggested by Next Century Cities include: participatory budgeting; public transportation and urban planning; involvement in local government deliberations; or community concern reporting and response.
Instructional Webinar on April 20th, Learn More
For communities seeking guidance in applying or just looking for more information, Next Century Cities will host a webinar on April 20th at 3 p.m. ET. The webinar will be available here.
To learn more about the Awards, contact Todd O'Boyle, Deputy Director of Next Century Cities, at Todd(at)NextCentiryCities.org. You can also downloada fact sheet on the Awards for more information, along with the online Application, and the Budget, both of which must be submitted by June 15, 2016.
Deb and Todd Talk With Craig About The Awards
You can learn more about the awards and the project in this episode of Craig Settles' Gigabit Nation. He interviewed Deb Socia and Todd O'Boyle from Next Century Cities who provided details about Awards and how participants can learn more.
At a ceremony in early October, the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation gave its 2015 First Amendment Award to Malkia Cyril, the Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice. She received the award for her role as a network neutrality advocate and for emphasizing its connection to civil rights.
Malkia has also been recognized for her work as a co-founder of the Media Action Grassroots Network. Her writings on network neutrality and communications rights of prisoners have appeared in the Huffington Post, Politico, and a number of other publications.
In her acceptance speech for the award, Ms. Cyril noted that net neutrality is ultimately about understanding that having power requires access to knowledge:
“My mom taught me that knowledge is not power, contrary to many people's opinion. What she told me is that only power is power. But, knowledge is power’s prerequisite, it is power’s driver. As such, an open, affordable and democratic Internet is a requisite driver for powerful social justice movements and democracy,” said Cyril.
Chattanooga was hot in August - and we don't mean just weather-wise. EPB Fiber Optics achieved a major milestone, raising subscribership to over 75,000. The Gig City also outpaced the rest of the state in new startup activity and received recognition from Outside Magazine as the 2015 Best Place to Live in America.
The Times Free Press covered the Chattanooga startup scene in a recent article, describing how the city is leading the state in economic investment for new business ideas. When compared to the same period in 2014, Hamilton County's initial business filings rose 12.6 percent in the April - June 2015 period. Statewide that figure for the same timeframe was 9.9 percent.
The Times Free Press article focused on Platt Boyd, an architect and entrepreneur who came to Chattanooga with his 3-D printing business. He moved his business there after competing in the 2014 GigTank. His 3-D printer large enough to create walls may one day change the way buildings are constructed.
"If you are searching for a place to open up a business and looking for a community to grow in, I think the very positive experience of our startups here and the rather unique network of support that Chattanooga offers (are) a really big advantage and draw for a lot of enterpreneurs," said Mike Bradshaw, executive director of The Company Lab, a nonprofit group that works to help startup ventures get off the ground. "Branch Technology, and many other similar companies, have found they can succeed in Chattanooga."
Apparently when measuring quality of life, some people consider factors outside of Internet connectivity: Outside Magazine applauds the Chattanooga sandstone climbing cliffs, its 120-mile mountain bike trail, and the Tennessee and Oconee Rivers where kayakers can find thrilling rapids. But outdoor adventure is not all Outside considered when handing out the award; the presence of the fiber network and its value to young entrepreneurs favored Chattanooga:
“The Gig showed that Chattanooga was committed to developing business,” says Joda Thongnopnua, communications director of Lamp Post, a venture fund that invests in local startups.
It might be too early to start calling it Silicon Gorge, but people are relocating to Chattanooga because it has something that many other recreation meccas don’t: opportunity.
Watch Outside's video below to learn more about Chattanooga's adventure appeal.
In a press release NATOA praised the P3 “...for showcasing an entirely new approach in public private partnerships to reach the common goal of bringing next generation fiber broadband to communities while demonstrating the possibility of creative solutions.” In Ting’s own press release announcing the award, they described their unique arrangement as private partners in Westminster’s initiative aimed at providing their rural community of more than 18,000 people with blazing fast fiber internet service:
“We have agreed to an open access model. For a period of time at launch, Ting will be both the exclusive network operator and the exclusive service provider. After that, while we will maintain the exclusive role of network operator, we will open up the network to competitive service providers. That gives Westminster the dual benefits of stability and competition. They know that the network will be managed competently by one closely managed relationship. They also know that their businesses and residents will benefit from having many providers competing to offer them the best service at the best price.”
As we wrote in our recent extensive piece about P3s, a company like Ting is seen as a useful partner with expertise that cities may not want to cultivate directly as broadband service providers. Cities like Westminster view such partnerships as offering the benefits of shared risk. Although the data and expert opinions are varied as to whether such partnerships actually offer a reduced risk for municipal networks, Ting’s parent company Tucows has proven itself a responsible and progressive telecommunications company.
In a January 2015 podcast, we spoke to CEO of Tucows Elliot Noss about Ting’s enthusiasm to work with Westminster. And in Episode #100 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast last May, Chris also talked to the City Council President of Westminster Dr. Robert Wack about the Ting/Westminster partnership.
The City of Ammon just took first place in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Ultra-High Speed Apps: Using Current Technology to Improve Criminal Justice Operations Challenge with the “School Emergency Screencast Application”.
The challenge encourages software developers and public safety professionals to utilize public domain data and ultra-high speed systems to create applications to improve criminal justice and public safety operations. Ammon’s application does just that.
Utilizing gunshot detection hardware and a school’s existing camera system, the application reports gunshot fire and provides live-video and geospatial information to dispatch and first responders. Greg Warner, county director of emergency communications, described how this application will change the response to a shooting emergency:
“We’re going from no intelligence to almost total intelligence ... The ability to strategize when approaching a situation like that, and keep people safe, is an exponential change.”
The City of Ammon will share the $75,000 prize money with its public partners, such as the Bonneville Joint School District 93 and the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office.
This application would not have been possible without the City of Ammon’s municipal network which the Bonneville Joint School District recently joined after the state education network went dark. The city built the network incrementally over a few years and operates it as open access to encourage competition. For more information on Ammon’s unique approach to high-speed Internet, check out Community Broadband Bits Episode 86.
The video below provides an example of the application in action.
Last fall, nonprofit ISP OneCommunity created the "Big Gig Challenge" to jump start expansion and promote gigabit applications in northeast Ohio. The organization recently announced the winners and provided some information about their projects.
The West 25th Corridor project, running through Ohio City, Tremont, Clark-Fulton, Brooklyn Centre, and Old Brooklyn is a four mile stretch that will affect small business, the Cleveland Clinic, two MetroHealth Systems campuses, and several other large employers. This project also reaches 14 sites that could be developed and over 900 properties. It is a collaborative project that includes four Cleveland Wards.
The Village of Greenwillow plans to expand its existing network and work with private sector business owners and land developers. Likewise, Lorain County Community College will build off its existing network connections to create a community fiber road map. From a press release on the award, as printed in BBC Mag:
In response to receiving the grant, Dr. Roy Church, president of Lorain County Community College said, “We are honored to be selected as a grant recipient. This award will enable our community to dramatically increase access to the existing fiber network, positioning us to become a more globally competitive region. The funds will be used to engage stakeholders from government, healthcare, higher education and local businesses to create an implementation plan to increase high-speed connections and foster greater efficiencies.”
South Euclid, currently utilizing the OneCommunity network, received a grant to expand to to the city's municipal facilities and build out to its industrial area.
The Big Gig Challenge offered funds to cover up to 25% of the projects costs up to $2 million.
In addition to the Challenge launched last fall, OneCommunity launched a new collaborative effort with the City of Cleveland in November. A new fiber pipe, capable of 100 Gbps speeds, will be deployed along Cleveland's Health-Tech Corridor (HTC) connecting downtown to University Circle.
The $1.02 million project is funded by a $700,000 Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant, funding from the City, and a contribution from OneCommunity. Construction is expected to start early this year. It will be available for local businesses, many of which have already expressed an interest. From a Cleveland City Hall Press Release:
“We are extremely enthusiastic about our partnership with the City of Cleveland and excited to be at the forefront of a project that is destined to become the new “Gold Standard” for broadband connectivity. Consistent with our mission, we embrace 100 gigabit as a job creation engine for the City. Offering the first 100 gigabit capability, specifically in the Health-Tech Corridor, incentivizes local and national fast-growing companies to locate and remain here,” says OneCommunity CEO Lev Gonick.
The town of Decorah, Iowa, population 8,000, lies along the winding banks of the Iowa River. So close to the river, in fact, that in 2008 its floodwaters swamped parts of the town, including the emergency operations center. That unfortunate event got city leaders thinking about how to ensure secure and redundant communications in future emergencies. The city, county, and school district decided to partner on a fiber optic network build that would meet their shared needs.
The resulting project, called the Decorah Metronet, has lead to the city being named an “All-Star Community” by the Iowa League of Cities. The award was given last month in recognition of Decorah’s innovative policies, and specifically singled out the fiber optic network for its contributions to public safety, cost savings, and intergovernmental cooperation. The award is given each year “based on innovative efforts in areas such as urban renewal, development, preservation, service sharing or quality of life improvements.”
Completed in the fall of 2013, Metronet boasts an 11-mile, 144-strand fiber optic loop. It connects 18 facilities belonging to six different anchor institutions: the city of Decorah, Winneshiek County, Decorah Community Schools, Luther College, the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and the Winneshiek Medical Center. Metronet not only provides redundancy and savings on connectivity costs, but data center services and offsite backup for its member institutions as well.
When the network went live last November, City Manager Chad Bird emphasized its economic potential and indicated it would eventually offer extensions to individuals and businesses:
"I see the Metronet fiber being an economic development tool for our community -- having it in place and having excess fiber available for the commercial industrial segment of our economy. I can think of technology heavy business -- call centers or data centers - that might appreciate having excess fiber capacity."
The project was the recipient of a $520,000 federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant in 2010 which provided the bulk of the initial construction budget, although each anchor institution contributed $75,000 in matching funds over three years as well.
Congratulations to Decorah, and notch another victory for Iowa’s rural community network movement.
The Southeast Assocation of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors has announced Christopher Mitchell will receive its 2014 Community Broadband Advocacy Award at its upcoming conference on March 24 and 25 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I am honored to receive this recognition alongside Jim Baller and the Georgia Municipal Association, with whom I have worked on several occasions to further the public interest. I've long wanted to attend the SEATOA conference and hope readers will join me there.
I am excited to travel back to North Carolina after several years away from the state, to see how networks like Wilson's Greenlight have progressed and to learn more about efforts to expand universal access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet connections.
The interview is embedded below and runs approximately one hour and is sandwiched between a one hour interview with Chattanooga about smart grid economics and an hour interview with Todd Marriot about UTOPIA -- so if you want to hear the portion on Kutztown, skip 60 minutes into the show.
In the interview, Craig and Frank discuss how the municipal network, Home Net, started out of necessity. The community wanted to link their utilities with a telecommunications network and government facilities needed a cohesive option. FTTH became part of the equation later, but was not the main impetus. Kutztown issued RFPs for a new network, but the response was silence. The community investigated the next option - building it themselves.
After several conflicting feasibility studies, the Borough decided to go ahead and build the network with the hope that "if we build it, they (ISPs) will come." Kutztown issued taxable bonds and built their own fiber network. The goal was to provide the infrastructure for government purposes and in the future create real choice for consumers. Again, no ISPs answered the call.
According to Caruso, large providers were not able to accept a business model which created a "middle man" between them and their customers. The only interest from the private market was from a small local telecommunications company that eventually leased a line from the city to expand their footprint for telephone service.
Caruso goes on to describe how, even though no companies were interested in an RFP bid, curiosity grew as the launch date approached. The Public Utilities Commission and the FCC met with Kutztown leaders to inquire but expressed no objections. Large telcos came to meetings and even spoke up about the design of the network, but none signed on to offer services over this incredible asset.
At the State Capitol, legislative changes changed the future for Pennsylvania communities who might follow Kutztown's lead. Interestingly, the Governor actually gave Kutztown an award (news article at right) just under a year before signing a bill to ensure no other community could duplicate their success. Pennsylvania was one of the first states to begin passage of crippling legislation (at the behest of Verizon) that has moved across the country. While Kutztown was grandfathered in and can continue to provide services, laws prevent any expansion. Caruso even fears new legislation may one day bring an end to Home Net.
As long as they are able to operate, says Caruso, they will continue to offer high quality service and find new ways to offer more options and better technology. Home Net provides fiber-to-the-home at a take rate of 51%. Caruso credits much of the network success to the fact that customers receive service on a local level. They know the people who run the network and make the decisions. We previously ran a photo of one marketing campaign.
Settles and Caruso also discuss lessons learned. One of Caruso's key recommendations is separating government from business. He sees numerous possibilities in the nonprofit or coop model, especially now that state law prevents more municipal investment. In Kutztown, the network is administered by a Telecommunications Advisory Commission made up of residents. The entity is legally able to operate in a more competitive manner but is still answerable to community voices.
Operating under the purview of open meeting laws and the public sector's high level of transparency create competitive disadvantages for Home Net. Caruso comments on how business plans, prices, products, and other information closely guarded by the private sector must be disclosed early in the process by Hometown Utilitcom. Marketing efforts can be thwarted and promotions are often one-upped by the private sector before they even take effect.
Nevertheless, competition has been good for the community. The presence of another network has lowered rates for every consumer in Kutztown. Caruso calls it a win-win. He notes that over the course of 10 years, more than $8 million has stayed local because rates have reflected the competitive environment. The savings per household is about $375.
Caruso sees economic devlopment from the network as immeasureable. He sees better roads, fewer empty houses, more businesses operating on main street. He believes there are more home businesses, more online commerce for local businesses, and more data driven possibilities for extant large companies than there were before the network. Caruso returns again and again to what he considers a priceless benefit - an improved quality of life in Kutztown.
We encourage you to listen to the rest of the interview for a great discussion on the policy and practicalities of Home Net, municipal networks in Pennsylvania, and predictions for the future.
In studying the role of municipalities in broadband infrastructure deployment, it is important to remember that municipalities act with a public motive and not a profit motive. Municipalities invest in schools, roads, hospitals, senior centers, marinas, airports, and convention centers, all assets that positively differentiate one community from another. In those areas, direct investment by municipalities is accepted and indeed often encouraged, even though private firms can (and do) build private schools, hospitals, health clubs, marinas, and conference centers that coexist with municipal infrastructure.