Carole Monroe is back on Community Broadband Bits for Episode 177 this week, to discuss the East Central Vermont Fiber network and its unique financing model. Carole is now the General Manager for EC Fiber. She previously joined us for episode 36 to discuss FastRoads in New Hampshire. And we previously discussed EC Fiber with Leslie Nulty in episode 9. Years later, EC Fiber is approaching 1,200 subscribers in rural Vermont and is growing much more rapidly with some open access dark fiber connections created by the state in a specific effort to enable last mile connectivity. We discuss the impact on the community, how much people in rural regions desire high quality Internet access rather than slow DSL, and also a brief mention of some progress in New Hampshire to expand the Fast Roads network. 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. 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 can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."
This November 3rd, more than ten communities in Colorado will attempt to escape the local-authority-revoking effects of SB 152 by overriding its restrictions at the polls: Archuleta County, Bayfield, Boulder Valley School District, Durango, Fort Collins, Ignacio, La Plata County, Loveland, Moffat County, Pitkin County, San Juan County, and Silverton.
Many of these communities participated in a $4.1 million fiber infrastructure project which currently provides public entities (municipal buildings, libraries, and schools) with cheap, plentiful Internet access. To determine how to better utilize that existing fiber infrastructure, the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments received a $75,000 regional planning grant. The 10 year old law in question, SB 152, prevents local governments from taking full advantage of local fiber assets by removing local authority to offer any services that compete with incumbents; voters must reclaim that authority through a referendum.
Under the restrictions, localities cannot partner with local ISPs to provide high-speed Internet to community members via publicly owned infrastructure or create municipal FTTH networks. Local government entities must also be careful to not lease too much fiber or risk running afoul of the law. Statewide organizations have worked to amend the law, but without success:
“It’s an obnoxious law that was passed by the industry to protect their monopoly,” said Geoff Wilson, general counsel for the Colorado Municipal League.
The league tried to get the law amended during the 2015 legislative session after hearing from communities across the state about how it was blocking them from improving Internet access for residents.
“The law is designed to protect the provider of inferior service from the local government doing anything about it,” he said.
The Old Town-Orono Fiber Corporation (OTO Fiber), the entity created by the cities of Old Town and Orono in Maine to design, install, maintain and manage a planned fiber network, recently received a grant for $250,000.
The funds, awarded by the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), will help the communities commence their open access network project. According to a statement released by Maine Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, this was one of six awards to Maine communities. The other grants included road, sewer, and other municipally-owned facilities needed to maintain or grow jobs in the northern counties of Maine.
Congress created NBRC in 2008 as a state-federal partnership to encourage job growth in several northern counties of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York that experience economic distress.
In 2014, Old Town and Orono, working with the University of Maine, had been awarded ConnectME funds for the project but the funding was blocked by Time Warner Cable. Those funds were meant to string approximately 4 miles of cable intended for integration into a much larger network to eventually connect to the state's Three Ring Binder network. The ConnectME Authority chose to withhold the funds, based on TWC's argument that this open access network would overbuild potentially 320 subscribers but OTO Fiber vowed to continue and seek funds elsewhere. The funding blocked by TWC amounted to $125,000.
Approximately 7,800 people live in Old Town; Orono is home to a little over 10,000 people and the Unversity of Maine where over 11,000 students attend classes.
The University of Wisconsin-Extension recently released Broadband Policies and Regulations for Wisconsin Stakeholders, a good addition to your digital library, especially if you have in interest in Wisconsin and midwestern broadband issues.
The document provides case studies and an in-depth list of references addressing:
- Public-private partnerships
- Local ordinances
- Technology councils
- Community engagement
- Local government telecommunications services
- Unique efforts to increase adoption
While many examples hail from Wisconsin communities, the authors also provide information from other states and offers links to information such as local government broadband resolutions, tower agreements between municipalities and private internet service providers, successful applications for state and federal grant funds.
The Broadband Policies and Regulations for Wisconsin Stakeholders is well organized and indexed. You can download the PDF, or access the online flip book for quick reference.
Rio Blanco County is a large, rural county in northwestern Colorado that has two population centers. The county has a sharp plan for building FTTH to the population centers and wireless across most of the county to improve Internet access in a region the national carriers have little interest in.
In this week's episode, we interview county IT Director Blake Mobley, who has long been involved in improving Internet access for community anchor institutions in the area. We talk about their plan and how they are financing it (enabled in part by the Department of Local Affairs in Colorado - which has helped many community networks).
We also discuss many other aspects of what it takes to create a project like this -- including building trust among local stakeholders -- and their particular open access approach and terminology for the different layers in the stack of entities involved.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."
On June 5th, the Main House of Representatives voted 143 - 0 in favor of LD 1185, the Maine bill to provide state planning and implementation grants for local municipal networks. Representative Norm Higgins, the sponsor of the bill, contacted us to let us know about the incredible support for the bill.
LD 1185 proposes to provide $6 million this year for local communities seeking to establish networks that want to take advantage of the state's middle-mile network, the Three Ring Binder. The House amended the bill to include general goals for the fund and its purpose in bringing better connectivity to Maine.
The amendment also creates specifications between planning and implementation grants and establishes caps on awards. Planning grants cannot exceed $25,000 and implementation grants cannot exceed $200,000. Implementation grants require a 25 percent match from the requesting municipality; planning grants require a one-to-one match. The amendment is available online.
Now that the House has put their stamp of approval on the bill, it is up to the Maine Senate to approve the measure and send it on to the Governor. According to Higgins, it appears to have strong bipartisan support; funding is the only area of uncertainty. He anticipates it will be before the Appropriations Committee within the next two weeks.
In late April, LD 1185 and several other broadband bills came before the Maine House Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee. We have seen a flurry of activity in Maine this year as local communities deploy networks, develop plans, or begin feasibility studies. Likewise, the state legislature has been active as House and Senate members try to defibrillate the barely beating heart of the state listed as 49th for broadband availability.
The national providers in Maine - Time Warner Cable and FairPoint have little interest or capacity to invest in high quality services in Maine. Time Warner Cable is more focused on major metros and being acquired. FairPoint is laying off workers and also, positioning itself to be acquired. Fortunately, these big companies aren't the only option for improving Internet connectivity in Maine.
LD 1185, presented by Representative Norm Higgins, seeks to establish $6 million this year in funds for local communities that wish to deploy municipal networks. Maine already has the middle mile Three Ring Binder in place; the focus of this proposal is to help communities get the infrastructure they need to connect to it. In an effort to get the word out about the bill and grow support, Higgins and his team created this graphic explaining the proposal (a 2-page printable edition of the graphic is available for download from the link below):
According to a recent Legislative Bulletin from the Maine Municipal...Read more
Decorah, named an "All-Star Community" in part due to benefits from their internal fiber network, is now exploring new ways to utilize MetroNet. According to a recent Decorah Newspapers article, the six community anchor institutions (CAIs) that collaborated to deploy the network recently met with the city council to discuss the future.
The 11-mile network began serving CAIs and an additional 18 facilities in 2013. After a 2008 flood that knocked out communications, the city, county, and school district began planning for the network. Eventually, the project grew to include Luther College, the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and the Winneshiek Medical Center. BTOP funds paid for much of the approximate $1 million deployment but contributions from participants supplied an additional $450,000.
According to the article, MetroNet supplies each institution with its own fiber, leaving plenty to spare. Decorah City Manager and Chair of the MetroNet Board Craig Bird says that the network has a "vast amount" of dark fiber available that is not being used. Members of the community have approached the Board about using the fiber for better connectivity beyond current uses:
Bird said the MetroNet Board has to decide how to respond to a grassroots petition committee of citizens “demanding access to the MetroNet and faster broadband speeds and fiber capacities” for Internet access to private homes and businesses.
“The MetroNet Board is now starting to look at the future and what the MetroNet holds for the six anchor members, but also for the community,” he told the Councils.
At the city council meeting, Bird discussed the possibility of creating a municipal Internet utility, creating a cooperative, forming a nonprofit, or leaving MetroNet as a service for the existing members and facilities. They also considered the option of leasing dark fiber to private providers.
Bird also told the council that the MetroNet Board has agreed to participate in a regional feasibility study to include northeast Iowa. The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities has commission the study that will include a number of towns:
“The feasibility study is going to look at a lot of...
Lincoln, Illinois, has contemplated investing in a fiber-optic municipal network since 2009 and, while they have not taken steps to deploy yet, the community appears to be ready to dive in. The Lincoln Courier reports that the City Council recently considered investing $100,000 to deploy fiber in the downtown business district.
Lincoln, located right in the center of the state, is home to approximately 14,500 people. At the meeting, City Administrator Clay Johnson described the need as essential for economic development:
"Fiber optics are the sewer and water for economic development; what businesses look for when they want to locate in your area or expand in your are is, ‘do they have access to high speed internet’ and in a lot of areas, no they don’t."
Johnson believes that existing fiber from local Lincoln College could be integrated into a network that would eventually lead to better access to businesses and as backhaul for downtown Wi-Fi. His "extremely preliminary" estimate is $140,000 - $160,000 for a fiber connection from the college down one of the main commercial corridors.
He also suggested that a long-term plan would include connectivity for local schools as a cost-saving measure.
In 2009, former Mayor Keith Snyder's administration embraced the idea of investing in municipal fiber infrastructure as part of a downtown revitalization plan. In 2012 the community received a $600,000 grant of which $16,500 was dedicated to develop an initial plan for a network. City leaders ultimately decided to direct remaining funds toward other projects in 2012 and the City Council is once again taking up the possibility of fiber.
Time Warner Cable recently fought to prevent a collaborative project in Maine from receiving $125,000 in state broadband funding, reported the Bangor Daily News.
We reported in December that Old Town, Orono, the University of Maine, and GWI had been awarded ConnectME funds. The collaborators earmarked the funding for a stretch of about 4 miles of fiber which could serve about 320 subscribers and would ultimately be integrated into a much larger network for businesses and residents. The network would connect to Maine's Three Ring Binder network.
Old Town and Orono want to establish gigabit connectivity to a nearby industrial area to transform it into a technology park for economic development purposes. Several businesses, including a health clinic that, have expressed interest in setting up shop in the planned development.
Old Town and Orono formed OTO Fiber, an independent entity to have authority to design, install, maintain, and manage an open access network. In typical fashion, TWC took action prevent local citizens and businesses from ever capitalizing on a gigabit, rather than work with the municipalities to deliver TWC services over the publicly owned infrastructure.
The ConnectME Authority voted in TWC's favor, based on the arguments as presented in an earlier Daily News article:
The company argues that the agency only has the ability to give grants in areas it deems “underserved” or “unserved,” and that projects getting grants should overlap with less than 20 percent of the customers of an existing provider.
The towns, which formed the company OTO Fiber to develop the project, argue that the service does not duplicate existing services and that other Internet service providers would be able to contract with the company to use the open network that would be built by Networkmaine, a unit of the University of...