Tag: "finance"

Posted January 5, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Provo built a city owned FTTH network after its public power utility started connecting its substations with fiber-optic cables in the early 2000's. iProvo ultimately developed along similar open access lines as UTOPIA, but unlike UTOPIA, Provo did not actually want to operate on a purely wholesale model.

iProvo was forced into the wholesale-only model, where the publicly owned network offered wholesale services to independent ISPs that then resold service to residents and businesses. Comcast and Qwest (now CenturyLink) recognized the threat posed by municipalities building next generation networks -- particularly in communities that did not even have full DSL and cable coverage from the giant providers that long delayed upgrades, knowing that subscribers had no other options.

Comcast and Qwest went to the state legislature and did what they do best -- bought influence and pushed through laws to essentially prohibit publicly owned networks from offering direct retail services, knowing that the wholesale-only approach had proved a very difficult model to work financially.

UTOPIA had long had a vision of making the open access, wholesale-only model work (that proceeded to largely fail, for a variety of reasons -- only to start turning around in recent years) but Provo, with its public power utility, was denied its preferred model of offering services directly.

iProvo was built at a cost of $40 million and has operated in the red since, though a number of postive externalities from the network was not included in those calculations. For instance, City Departments had access to much higher capacity connections than were available previously and were not charged for them (a poor practice in our estimation). For more details on iProvo, I recommend a video of a discussion in 2011.

At any rate, iProvo was then sortof sold off to a private provider (sort of because the city is still on the hook for the debt) in large part because private providers are not as crippled by state law. Unfortunately, the network has already developed a bad reputation for many (thanks to the state law preventing Provo from being able to ensure a good subscriber experience).

And now Provo is...

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Posted August 22, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Lafayette Doing OK, Doubles Capacity for Promotion

John at Lafayette Pro Fiber recently updated us all on LUS Fiber's financials. According to John, LUS Fiber is doing OK, not great, in its FTTH offering (probably the best deal in the nation for fast, affordable, and reliable connections). In reading deeper, it is clear that the impact of the community network on the public is GREAT, not just ok.

From John's writeup:

LUS estimates that the citizens of the community have saved 5.7 million dollars—in part direct saving from LUS' cheaper phone, video, and internet services and in part as a consequence of Cox lowering its prices and giving out special rates. Those special rates were discussed in the meeting with Huval pointing out that Cox had petitioned for and received permission to treat Lafayette as a "competitive" area. That meant that Cox could offer special deals to Lafayette users and, as we all know, has offered cuts to anyone who tries to leave. Those "deals." as Huval pointed out to Patin don't include the rural areas of the parish where Cox has no competition.

But it doesn't end there. LUS Fiber, due to anti-competitive laws pushed through the state's legislature to handicap public providers, is actually subsidizing the City -- providing more benefits to everyone, even those who do not subscribe to the network.

Again it all goes back to the (un)Fair Competion Act. One of the things in that act a concession that LUS Fiber would be able to borrow from LUS' other utilities just like any other corporation could set up internal borrowing arrangements. This is not a subsidy, it's a loan—with real interest. One of the efforts to raise an issue by Messrs Patin and Theriot centered around "imputed" taxes. Those are extra costs that Cox and ATT got the state to require that LUS include in order to force LUS to raise their price to customers (you!) above the actual cost. (Yes, really. See...

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Posted July 6, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network has announced it will connect an entire town as its second phase. Barnard, Vermont, will be the first town to have universal access to ECFiber's next-generation network.

An update on Phase 1 of this network:

Phase 1, with construction under way (see photo) and scheduled to go live in early August, brings an ultra-high-speed fiber loop from the ECFiber central office near I89 Exit 3, along VT Routes 107 and 12,  to the center of Barnard. ECFiber expects to begin connecting businesses and residents who live on this route in early August and will provide detailed subscriber information closer to that date.

ECFiber has 23 member towns, but Barnard could be the most enthusiastic. This is as grassroots as it gets:

At its June meeting, the ECFiber Governing Board authorized an initiative to extend service to the rest of Barnard town. This requires a second round of capital-raising through a similar "friends and families" offering directed specifically to residents, businesses, and others who wish to support the deployment of universal broadband in Barnard.

Loredo Sola, ECF Governing Board Chair commented, "When we first took our plan to Barnard, we were inundated with residents offering to pay the entire cost of extending the Phase 1 trunk to their homes. This enthusiastic response inspired us to authorize a Barnard-only fund drive."  ECFiber will be organizing informational meetings for Barnard residents and businesses to explain the details of the plan.
When sufficient funds have been committed to build out the entire town, the Barnard Local Fund will close, and construction of Phase 2 can begin.

Barnard had 94% of the community presubscribe!

The success of ECFiber comes without any support of the state, which has continued to pretend wireless connections and out-of-state corporations will provide the networks necessary for the economic development needed by communities.

EC Fiber Truck

Valley News took note of the story and expanded on it:

Without other funding streams, it could take seven to 10 years to build out to all 23 towns...

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Posted February 9, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

For two years, National Public Broadband (led by Gary Fields and Tim Nulty) has worked with Lake County, Minnesota, to build a universal rural FTTH broadband network to everyone in the County and some nearby towns in Saint Louis County. Toward the end of 2010, the relationship became somewhat tense as some county commissioners questioned what NPB had told them about Burlington Telecom, and a number of media outlets raised questions about Nulty's relationship to BT's problems without actually investigating the story.

Now the Lake County News-Chronicle (which, over the course of this story, has taken the time to report facts rather than following the lazy lead of the Star Tribune and Duluth News Tribune), reports that Lake County and National Public Broadband are kaput. Lake County is seeking a new partner to build the project.

Lake County could not reach agreement on a permanent contract with National Public Broadband, its consultant firm for nearly two years. The two sides battled for nearly two months and couldn’t solve issues based on bonus payments and the ability for the county to fire NPB without cause and without penalty. The negotiations had bogged down work on the actual project, Commissioner Paul Bergman said, and the board wanted a fresh start.

Additionally, due to the state of financial markets, the County is planning to self-fund the $3.5 million local obligation required to access to the broadband stimulus award. Lake County hoped to bond for the matching funds but the current interest rates make that an fiscally unwise approach.

While this does not change the project, it will change the perception of the project and open it to increased attacks from those who don't want the County to build a network (despite the fact that private providers have no interest in providing anything other than slow DSL and cable networks).

The County had long maintained that no public money would be used. However, most people will likely not care as long as the project keeps its promise to deliver fast, reliable, and affordable broadband to the community. This is the need -- and people need to stay focused on achieving this goal.

At a commissioner meeting in late December, Gary Fields commented to the Board that...

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Posted January 31, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Update: We have covered the second round of financing from ECFiber here.

The East Central Vermont Fiber Network, connecting some 23 rural towns, announced back in July that they would self finance a pilot project as a preliminary step to securing the full funding for the project.

Right around Thanksgiving, last year, David Brown updated the community on progress via an article in the Vermont Standard:

It would have been terrific to get the $50million needed to build out all 35,000 telephone and electric poles with 1,500 miles of fiber optic cable. Along the way, we learned an important lesson. We noticed that government money went to existing telephone companies to expand existing networks rather than funding start-ups like ours. That’s when the ECFibernauts decided on a change in strategy: build a small network, get a few real customers, and deliver rock-solid ultra-fast Internet to them as a proof of concept – all using our own money. Then, when all the critical components are up and running, go to the commercial markets for funding needed to expand out to all 23 towns.

The ECFiber Governing Board and our technology partners ValleyNet, Inc. are fortunate to have several experienced financiers within our ranks. Working with our attorneys (to keep everything legal) ECFiber is reaching out to the community with a private offering of tax-exempt promissory notes. As of this writing, we have raised more than three-quarters of what is needed to complete Phase I of our project. The ECFiber hub is now under construction on Waterman Road in Royalton and an initial pole attachment application for 500 poles is being processed. Phase I will bring ECFiber service to selected businesses, schools, town facilities and residents in Bethel, Barnard, Stockbridge and Royalton.

This is a commitment that few other communities have made -- self-financing a start up portion. It is actually quite inspiring, though one quickly grasps the huge need from the stories EC Fiber has collected. Any community hoping...

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Posted January 7, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The Port Authority of Medina County, Ohio, has successfully bonded $14.4 million to take advantage of a broadband stimulus award to build a fiber-optic network connecting community anchor institutions and businesses with better broadband.

Bethany Dentler, executive director of the Medina County Economic Development Corporation, said Dec. 17 that a bond consultant had just completed sale of the bonds at an average interest rate of 5.96 percent. Cash from the bond sale was expected to be in the hands of the Medina County Port Authority by the end of the year and a fiber lighting ceremony to kickoff the construction phase of the project is planned for March or April. Dentler said the port authority, which will own the network, plans to pay off the bonds over the next 20 years with fees charged to customers of the fiber network.

The nonprofit organization OneCommunity will build and presumably operate the network, which will be owned by the County. Being located in close enough proximity to work with OneCommunity appears to be a terrific advantage for communities who make investments in broadband infrastructure. The $1.4 million in stimulus funds aiding this project were a part of the larger award given to OneCommunity as part of their efforts to better wire 20 counties in Ohio.

Posted December 17, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Vermont's Department of Public Service has released its audit of Burlington Telecom. The audit is highly flawed and a disappointment in terms of actually illuminating what went wrong with Burlington.

We have been awaiting this audit in the hopes that it would actually explain how the network could have gone into such great debt so quickly. The few answers provided from this audit are entirely unsatisfactory, due in large part to its overall sloppiness. We will soon put up a more substantial post about Burlington and lessons learned, but we wanted to post this information now as readers are undoubtedly wondering.

The audit should be read by any community running or considering a network because it describes a number of bad practices that should not be duplicated. That said, it isn't yet clear how accurate the audit is (they did not even attempt to interview key people), as explained by Tim Nulty in his response to it (linked below). Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that the audit simply did not explain where the money went. Steve Ross examined this question more than a year ago, but we appear no closer to an answer. A longer explanation on this, next week.

Finally, Andrew Cohill's thoughts about lessons learned from BT is well worth a read as well. Regardless of whether BT really did make all those errors, Cohill's post should serve as an educational item to any community considering such an important investment.

Posted December 8, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

BVU, which operates OptiNet (the nation's first triple-play muni FTTH network), has transitioned from being owned by the City to being an independent authority. In its last fiscal year (2010-11), the public power utility finished with net income.

OptiNet finished ahead of projections.

Having split from the city, BVU is taking advantage of the Virginia Resource Authority to issue $44 million revenue bonds to refinance its debt.

“We’re going through the VRA pool which helps fund 88 cities and service authorities. Because of that – and because of the market – we’re potentially looking at very low interest rates of 3.3 percent,” Rose told the board during his presentation.

The debt currently has an interest rate approaching 5%. After refinancing, the utility expects to save some $500,000 to $750,000 a year - for a period of 20 years. The cost of refinancing is $900,000.

This story is worth noting for two reasons:

  1. Restructuring debt is not necessarily a sign of weakness -- BVU's OptiNet is quite successful.
  2. A reminder that small communities can benefit significantly by pooling bonding through programs like Virginia's VRA. States should help communities to work together in this way.
Posted December 3, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The Chelan Public Utility District in Washington state is upgrading network capacity as it starts expanding the network following its broadband stimulus award. We previously covered their consideration of whether to expand from passing 80% of the territory to 98%.

Chelan is one of the most rural publicly owned fiber networks as well as one of the oldest ones. In a rarity, it looks likely to run in the red permanently (the pains of rural, mountain terrain) with the support of most ratepayers. These ratepayers recognize the many benefits of having the network outweigh its inability to entirely pay for itself. The utility also runs a sewer project that is subsidized by wholesale electricity sales. Though some areas in Chelan are served by Charter and Frontier, the more remote folks would have no broadband access if not for the PUD.

With the planned upgrades in 2011, Chelan's open access services will offer far faster speeds than available from the cable and DSL providers. Under Washington law, the PUDs cannot sell telecommunications services directly to customer. The PUD builds the network infrastructure and allows independent service providers to lease access while competing with each other for subscribers. Though this is a great approach for creating a competitive broadband market, it has proved difficult to finance (if one believes this essential infrastructure should not be subsidized as roads are).

When the PUD considered whether to pursue the expansion (meaning taking a federal grant covering 75% of the costs and agreeing to run the network for 22 years), it asked the ratepayers for feedback:

Sixty-four percent of 450 randomly chosen Chelan County registered voters who were part of phone survey in August said they favor taking the grant and completing the buildout, even if it means their electric bills will go up by as much as 3 percent — about $1.50 more on a $50 per month power bill.

On November 9, PUD Commissioners approved the rate increase.

Chelan's service providers currently offer connections of 6Mbps/384kbps or 12 Mbps/384kbps. As with...

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Posted November 24, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

David Isenberg, of isen.blog, has published a short history of Reedsburg's community fiber network that he previously wrote for the FCC when they were gathering evidence of successful networks they would later ignore in formulating a plan to continue the failed status quo of hoping private companies will build and operate the infrastructure we need.

Nonetheless, one cannot say that smart people like David did not try to help the FCC overcome its obsession with national carriers who dominate the conversations, and whose employees often work periodically with the FCC in what we call the revolving door (which itself, is a reason the FCC has been captured).

Back to Reedsburg; it is a small community approximately 55 miles northwest of Madison that just happens to have far better broadband service than just about anywhere else in Wisconsin.

David writes,

RUC first entered the telecommunications business in 1998, when it constructed a ring to tie its wells, its five electrical substations together and to provide Internet access for its high school, middle school and its school administration building. In planning the ring, the city asked Verizon and Charter if they would build it, but they were not responsive. RUS built a partly aerial, partly buried 7-mile ring of 96-strand fiber at a cost of about $850,000. Internet access was provided by Genuine Telephone, a tiny subsidiary of LaValle Telephone Cooperative which ran a fiber from LaValle, about 8 miles NW of Reedsburg.

As they were building the ring, local businesses asked to be connected as well. Reedsburg took the path that so many communities have followed, start by building for yourself and expand opportunistically. Of course, this requires that you originally engineer the network so it can be later expanded, which is good practice regardless of your future plans.

Reedsburg used bond anticipation notes, a financial mechanism that few others have used in building similar networks.

A local bank loaned the initial $5 million in bond anticipation notes for planning and construction. Then RUC issued an...

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