Tag: "hfc"

Posted July 15, 2010 by christopher

The American Cable Association has profiled Tacoma's Click! network. Click! is an HFC network owned by the city, via the public power utility. Tacoma Power only offers one retail service: cable television. Voice and broadband data services are provided by independent services providers who use the network on an open access basis.

The network has been quite successful. Some 25,000 households subscribe and it has kept competitor rates (Comcast, for instance) far lower than nearby Seattle, for instance. I previously noted the economic development victories attributable to the network.

"If you're a cable TV customer or an Internet customer of any company in our footprint, you pay between 35% and 49% less than if you are not in our footprint," said Diane R. Lachel, Click! Network's Government and Community Relations Manager. "That's really significant. That's what the Telecom Act of 1996 was all about. That's the kind of competition Congress intended."

Other communities aspiring for successful networks should study the approach of Marketing and Business Operations Manager Mitch Robinson. Click! has embraced local content - something every community should do to differentiate itself from absentee-owned incumbents.

One Robinson innovation was the localization of video-on-demand (VOD). The inspiration for this product was the lack of Tacoma community news from the TV stations based in Seattle, about 30 miles northeast of Click!'s headquarters. Tacoma tends to make the local TV news mostly when the news is bad.

In response, Click! decided to build relationships with a multitude of local nonprofits to create a steady inventory of VOD segments exclusively available to Click! viewers.

One VOD service, called Safe Streets, shows how to energize a neighborhood by curbing gang activity, setting up block watches, cleaning up derelict properties, and scrubbing away unsightly graffiti.

Click! also has exclusive VOD rights with The Grand Cinema, a local independent movie theater that also sponsors local film festivals. Through the Click! partnership, local film makers expand their viewing audience to customers hungry for local content.

"We just continue to add hours and hours of that type of exclusive content," Lachel...

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Posted July 12, 2010 by christopher

In January 2001, or about 1 million years ago in tech time, Site Selection Online published "Wired Cities: Working-Class Communities Build Next Frontier of High-Speed Connectivity". I found it years ago when reading up on the Click! network in Tacoma, Washington.

I recently stumbled across it again and thought it might be interesting to evaluate its claims after a decade (or close to it) had passed.

The lead of the article discusses Tacoma its relationship to Seattle. Tacoma had extremely poor connectivity from the private sector and its public power utility decided to build an HFC network to extend broadband to everyone in the community. Tacoma's Mayor notes that over 100 companies poured in after the community solved its own broadband problems - generating some 700 jobs in 18 months.

Fast forward to today, and this paragraph:

As a result, the next frontier of information companies isn't being confined to the Silicon Valleys of the world. It's taking root where you might least expect it: in places like Tacoma, LaGrange, Ga., and Blacksburg, Va.. And in most cases, it's government taking the lead, beating business to the punch by stringing fiber and building networks in working-class communities that most bottom-line corporations would otherwise ignore.

The principle of self-reliance is timeless. And we see the same idea in news articles today: local governments bringing broadband to areas the private sector cannot. In 2010, the fastest and more affordable broadband networks in the US are not in Silicon Valley -- they are in Lafayette, Chattanooga, Wilson, Utah, and other places where the community decided to prioritize big broadband.

Because of the competition in Tacoma, prices for telecom have remained lower than in nearby Seattle - as I quoted a Tacoma resident previously:

I have Comcast in Tacoma and all I know is since there is competition down here Comcast is about half the cost as it is in Seattle. They give you a rate good for a year. When your year is up you call up and just say Click! and bam back down you go. A friend in Seattle once called Comcast with both of our bills with similar service and mentioned my price and they said I must live in Tacoma and they wouldn't match the price.

Seattle...

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Posted June 23, 2010 by christopher

Cedar Falls, Iowa, is the latest of a number of publicly owned cable networks that are upgrading to FTTH. Cedar Falls has been planning this for some time, squirreling away net income over the years as it ran surpluses to help afford the costly upgrade. A story in the WCF Courier notes it will cost $17 million and is expected to be completed in 2012. The bonds used to finance the project will be repaid over 10 years.

When I last spoke to folks in Cedar Falls, they had massive take rates - bolstered by local service that Mediacom could not compete with. Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) had already been offering fiber services to local businesses and will be expanding that to the entire area. According to an article in the Cedar Falls Times, the utility had already been installing FTTH capability into greenfield developments, so they have certainly planned for this transition.

Motivation for the upgrade seems to be the faster broadband speeds and more capacity for HD channels. The Utility also noted that needed bandwidth has been doubling every year -- a likely reason they opted for FTTH rather than a cheaper DOCSIS3 upgrade that would not offer the same scalability as FTTH (and DOCSIS3 is much more constrained in upstream capacity).

The Cedar Falls Times article explains the benefits of FTTH over HFC:

An HFC plant uses thousands of active devices (such as amplifiers) to keep data flowing between the customer and the service provider. Any one of these devices can fail, interrupting service. In contrast, the all-fiber plant will be a passive optical network, with no active components between the distribution center and the end user. Fewer “moving parts” means fewer points of failure and a more reliable system.

CFU puts community needs first:

“We know from experience that economic growth comes to cities that keep their infrastructure up to date, whether it’s roads, water, electricity or broadband,” said Krieg [CFU General Manager]. “CFU is going to do what it takes to make sure Cedar Falls has leading-edge communications technology, and maintain economical rates for internet and video services.”

The network was launched in 1996, one of the first...

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Posted June 17, 2010 by christopher

The city of LaGrange has long been offering top-notch telecom services to local businesses. I just stumbled across this video describing their new colocation facilities. They are approaching 400 business customers and serve the local cellular towers. They do not provide residential services.

This video is no longer available.

Posted May 11, 2010 by christopher

"My issue is that cities should not be competing with private enterprise." - Senator Hoyle of North Carolina

Given this Senator's opposition to the public sector competing with the private sector, I assume he is fighting just as hard to shut down the libraries (or have Borders and Barnes and Noble neglected to donate enough to his candidacy?), as well as the schools (there are private schools), and the police (security guards are readily available on the private market). This is not merely a snarky attack on someone with whom I disagree, but a nod to the very serious problem that these massive companies can push their protectionist legislation everywhere.

Senator Hoyle, the driving force behind using state law to protect incumbent providers like Time Warner and AT&T from competition in broadband admitted his motivation at the beginning of a video from the recent committee hearing available on Stop the Cap!.

In it, the Senator also makes it clear that he is either unaware of what his legislation does or he is lying about it when he claims it does not affect the communities that have already built the most state-of-the-art networks in the state. His legislation would severely handicap each of them from upgrading despite his false claims that they are exempted. The post on Stop the Cap offers more background and discussion and I encourage readers to check it out.

As usual, I'll add my own short commentary about it. I previously explained why this bill's requirement for cities to use General Obligation Bonds is terrible policy.

Senator Hoyle claims the town of Mooresville did not know what they were doing. Listening to his discussion, it is abundantly clear that he doesn't know what he is talking about. I spoke with folks from Mooresville before they bought the cable system and I have spoken with them since. They got screwed by Adelphia and Time Warner in the deal and have had to take on additional debt. However, the idea that they have failed or were foolish in starting the network because they had an operating loss demonstrates the Senator's ignorance on broadband networks.

When anyone takes over a poorly maintained, old network and...

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Posted March 18, 2010 by christopher

In 1999, the city of Spanish Forks in Utah began building a $7.5 million publicly owned cable network to offer broadband and cable television services. Since then, the network has created some $2 million in community savings from the lower rates created by competition. In February of 2009, Spanish Fork Community Network received the "Business of the Month" award from the local Chamber of Commerce.

Last month, they announced that they will be adding telephone services to the network by contracting with a private provider that will actually offer the service.

When most people think of Utah and broadband networks, they think of UTOPIA, the open access network that has had a variety of problems. The Spanish Fork Network has been quick to note their successes (I suspect they are also frequently attacked by the incumbent-loving Utah Taxpayers Association group):

Bowcut gave his budget report and said SFCN had over $400 thousand in retained earnings. "We are not going under."

He also added that they built the network at a time when private providers refused to invest in the community.

Hat tip to FreeUTOPIA for noting these stories.

Posted January 14, 2010 by christopher

I caught an interesting article asking whether Dubuque, Iowa, should build a publicly owned broadband network. Iowa already has a number of publicly owned networks, mostly cable HFC networks, that serve communities.

The article starts with some history, noting that the small community of Hawarden, Iowa, was the first to build a public cable system in the state and had to defend its rights to do so in court.

The northwest Iowa community of about 2,500 people more than a decade ago built a $4 million cable system, only to be temporarily shut down by an Iowa Supreme Court injunction. Hawarden survived the court's order prohibiting municipalities from being in the telecommunications business, and in many respects blazed the trail for publicly run cable, Internet and phone service in Iowa.

More communities may be considering building their own networks (though they will build now with fiber rather than HFC) following Iowa's statewide franchising rules that preempt local authority, giving greater power to private cable companies.

The way it was written, existing franchise agreements may be nullified if a competitor announces plans to serve the community. Fortunately, many Iowa communities voted to formed telecommunications utilities back in 2005, though few have yet exercised that authority.

Unfortunately, the article's author was clearly misled by either Qwest or Mediacom's public relations flacks because he wrote about UTOPIA, as though the problems of a purely open access model under a different regulatory environment poses important lessons for communities in Iowa that may build their own networks. The successes and failures of UTOPIA teach us very little about how Iowa communities should move forward.

Smaller Iowa communities do have a serious disadvantage - building modern networks is very difficult the smaller they get. Below 5,000 subscribers, it can be difficult to make the network pay for itself (though exceptions exist) - suggesting to me that joint efforts combining communities could be a good option. Unfortunately, though the technology has no problems crossing political boundaries, the politics are much more difficult.

Posted November 2, 2009 by christopher

Tacoma's Click! network, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, has announced a coming price hike to cover increased costs for carrying channels.

Tacoma's Click! network is a long-standing example of a community coming together to solve a common problem - ensuring they have the telecommunications infrastructure necessary for success in the modern world. Being built before FTTH was viable, the network is a combination of fiber and coaxial cable.

More importantly, they have enacted important rules to ensure everyone has access to the network:

Click’s low-income and senior customers will continue to receive a 20 percent discount, Anderson added.

The reason for the price increase is not to generate profits for absentee shareholders, but due to an increase in programming costs:

Click officials said the primary driver behind the proposed customer rate increases is newly imposed “retransmission” fees by local broadcasters. In all, Click faces about $750,000 of the new fees in 2009 and 2010, Wykstrom said.

Facing declining advertising revenues and increased costs caused by the recent change to all-digital formats, local broadcasters required the payments when negotiating new agreements with Click, officials said. In the past, local broadcasts were provided free of charge to Click.

“They basically held us hostage,” said Diane Lachel, Click’s government and community relations manager.

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