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Dark Fiber, Free Wi-Fi, Startups in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Missouri law has severely restricted municipal networks, but local entrepreneurs decided to create their own fast, affordable, reliable community connectivity. The City of Cape Girardeau has made new plans in its Marquette Tech District: free public Wi-Fi and a tech-hub for startups. Although the city is already home to more than 100 large employers, city officials want to also encourage small businesses and entrepreneurship. Underneath all the possibilities is publicly owned dark fiber.

The Marquette Tech District will utilize the City of Cape Girardeau’s dark fiber to connect the new tech-hub and provide free public Wi-Fi. The project hopes to bring new vitality to the Marquette Tower building, a center of the city's old economy, transforming it into a space for new technology-based companies. Local entrepreneurs have created a nonprofit to develop the project and the local Internet Service Provider (ISP) Big River Communications is on board. The city, meanwhile, owns the essential infrastructure - the fiber.

A Nonprofit Drives Development

The Southeast Missourian has followed the development of the project since its inception. From the planning process to obtaining grants, the newspaper has unraveled the complex collaborations across several institutions and levels of government.

The City of Cape Girardeau, population 40,000, has always been a regional commercial hub on the Mississippi River in southern Missouri. In the late 1920s, travelers could stay downtown at the upscale Marquette Tower hotel. More than 100 employers in the city each provide jobs to more than 100 people, including Southeast Missouri State University and several healthcare systems. Community leaders hope the new tech district will attract and retain young professionals; the university next door is an excellent resource for educating and keeping a talented tech workforce.

Local entrepreneurs realized that they could unlock the potential of the city's dark fiber. They created a nonprofit, the Marquette Tech District Foundation, to improve quality of life, accelerate economic development, and provide connectivity in Cape Girardeau. The Foundation developed a plan through an agreement with the city council and a $200,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority, a federal-state partnership.

Details and Dollars

The Foundation has three main goals:

  1. Take advantage of the city’s dark fiber.
  2. Install more fiber downtown for the tech-hub.
  3. Develop free public Wi-Fi.

Downtown small businesses will also have access to affordable high-speed connections. In July, the city council approved the agreement with the Foundation for the use of the dark fiber and for the installation of a new fiber line. 

According to the agreement (July 5, 2016, Resolution No. 2995, Bill No. 16-111), the Foundation will own the hardware to “light” the fiber, but the city will own all of the fiber, including the fiber to be installed by the nonprofit. All plans and specifications must be approved by both the Foundation and the city, ensuring local control. 

The Foundation has up to two years to install the new fiber and commence the public Wi-Fi project. If the Foundation doesn’t follow through, the nonprofit will pay $25,000 to the city to install the fiber. If the Foundation fails to deliver on its promises, the city will install the fiber itself and recoup some of its expenses from the Foundation.

The entrepreneurs behind the Foundation, however, have a strong interest in completing their part of the agreement. The nonprofit's executive director is a cofounder of Codefi, a successful co-working space and tech incubator. Codefi is also an anchor tenant of the renovated Marquette Tower tech-hub. Local Internet service provider Big River Communications also agreed to provide gigabit (1,000 Mbps) Internet service to the Marquette Tower.

In early August, the Marquette Tech District received a $200,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority. The authority is a federal-state collaboration established in 2000 by an act of U.S. Congress to promote economic development in the eight state Delta Region. The funding will cover planning costs and connecting the public spaces. 

While announcing the grant, Mike Marshall, the alternate federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, spoke about the potential of the Marquette Tech District: 

"Cape Girardeau is an important economic and entrepreneurial hub for Southeast Missouri, so we are proud to make this investment in boosting digital connectivity for students, residents and businesses with fiber optic cable in the downtown area."

For more information on the Marquette Tech District, check out their video below.

Connectivity's Community Impact: Looking At The Numbers

People rave about next-generation connectivity’s possibilities in rural economies, but what does that mean for locals? A recent survey quantified the actual impact of a reliable high-speed Internet connection in an underserved area.

Central Minnesota telephone cooperative, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), released the results of an impact survey on their newest fiber Internet service customers. CTC had extended their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd, with funding from a 2015 state broadband grant.

A Positive for Small Businesses and Farms

The survey of the CTC customers in the grant footprint highlighted the importance of connectivity for the community. Forty percent reported that they could not live in a home without a reliable high-speed connection. At the same time, fifty-six percent of the CTC customers currently use their home Internet connection for work purposes.

The new connectivity had a positive impact on small businesses and farms. More than twenty percent of the CTC customers maintain a home-based business or farm, and thirty-six percent of them reported that Internet service reduced their overall operating costs. Meanwhile, nine percent of all the CTC customers surveyed stated that they plan to start a home-based business in the next few years.

Reaching Goals

These results are especially refreshing for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program. CTC received more than $750,000 from the program in 2015 to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses in the area. 

The previously underserved area sits south of Brainerd and extends to Fort Ripley. To encourage survey responses, CTC offered the chance to win an iPad and sent reminder postcards and emails to their customers. Twenty-eight percent of CTC’s customer base in that area took the survey either online or over the phone

The Co-op Perspective

Blandin on Broadband recently published videos from a co-op panel at the 2016 Minnesota Broadband Conference. In this short video from the conference, CTC representative Kristi Westbrock discusses the survey and the role of rural co-ops in expanding access to high-quality Internet service. 

Ammon Model In Louisiana? Ask The Voters!

Voters in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, will get the chance in December to decide if they wish to invest in a fiber-optic network, reports the Advocate.

Louisiana Looks At Idaho

This past summer, Parish President Kevin Couhig presented the plan to create a new parish fiber optic utility. His plan includes an open access network to draw competition that will be based on the Software-Defined Network (SDN) of the Ammon model:

Couhig’s plan would get away from single Internet service providers, which control speed, innovation, bandwidth, data limits and price. Instead, the ISPs would compete through the parishwide network. Each consumer could control what they would have available through the open access such as internet, phone, video and interactive gaming.

Parish staff worked with a consulting firm for several months to develop a feasibility study, define costs, and draft a network design. They estimate the network would cost a little over $5.7 million and would require about 107 fiber miles. In December voters will decide whether or not to accept a plan to fund the network with a 4-mill property tax levy for five years, beginning in 2017. On September 14th, the Parish Council voted to allow the question to be placed on the December ballot.

Redefining Infrastructure In The Bayou

The city will still need to determine how the state's barriers will affect their plans. West Feliciana Parish is 30 miles north of Baton Rouge and home to approximately 16,500 people. There are about 426 square miles in the parish, which is located along the Mississippi River. In July, when Couhig presented the detailed study to the Parish Council, he expressed his motivation for the project:

“As important, we will bring to our residents economical, modern services in entertainment, data, community and health service capabilities that will be on par with any place in the world…To be successful, we need to grow and maintain all of our types of infrastructure, but in the modern world, that must include broadband capability.”

For more details on Ammon’s SDN model, listen to Christopher talk to Bruce Patterson, the city’s Technology Director, in episode #207 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. You can also check out our video for more on Ammon:

SandyNet Increases Speeds, Keeps Low Prices

On July 4th, Sandy, Oregon’s municipal fiber-optic network, SandyNet, permanently increased the speed of its entry-level Internet package from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 300 Mbps at no additional cost to subscribers.

The city announced the speed boost for its $39.95 per month tier in a recent press release, calling it “one of the best deals in the nation.” SandyNet customers witness blazing fast download speeds at affordable prices and benefit from symmetrical upload speeds, allowing them to seamlessly interact with the cloud and work from home. 

Sandy is still home the “$60 Gig” (see price chart), one of the premier gigabit Internet offers in the nation. Without an electric utility, SandyNet’s unique model can be applied to “Anytown, USA.”

Read our report on Sandy, SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA, for details on the community's Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless networks and listen to Chris interview Sandy officials in Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 167.

Check out our video on Sandy:

And the Award for Community Broadband Network of the Year Goes to-- Ammon, Idaho!

On August 1st, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) recognized Ammon, Idaho’s promise at the 2016 Community Broadband Awards. NATOA named Ammon’s open access network the 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year

Innovative Ideas in Idaho

It's a great recognition for the innovative little city in Idaho. They have been incrementally building an open access Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for years. In 2015, they won an award for designing an ultra high-speed application to use the network to coordinate responses to school shootings. And earlier this year, they approved an ingenious funding method: a Local Improvement District (LID). Residents will have the choice of opting into the costs and benefits of the fiber project or opting out completely. 

A New Model

It's all about people's choice; Ammon’s open access model itself empowers community members. Instead of making frustrating phone calls with large corporations, residents can change their Internet Service Provider (ISP) simply and quickly from a sign-up portal. The infrastructure remains the same, and the providers focus on offering the best customer service. Ammon’s open access model is the virtual end of cable monopolies.

For more details, listen to Ammon’s Technology Director Bruce Patterson explain the project in Community Broadband Bits Podcast episodes 86, 173, and 207. For even more information, see our in-depth coverage on Ammon.

Community Connections - Anne Schweiger, Boston, Massachusetts

In this week's Community Connections, Christopher chats with Anne Schweiger, Broadband and Digital Equity Advocate for the city of Boston. Schweiger talks about the challenges that Boston faces, including a lack of competition and adoption of broadband in the home. She talks about the importance of "baking good broadband practice" into building codes for cities.

In February, 2016 the Boston Globe editorial board came out in support of a municipal network. 

Boston has its own conduit network and significant fiber assets, but residents and businesses must seek service from large private providers. 

Community Connections - Terry Huval from Lafayette, Louisiana

"We Speak French, Eat Crawfish, and Have the Fastest Broadband in the World." 

Terry Huval's fascination with fiber started with the fiber on his fiddle strings, so it's pretty appropriate that he regailed Christopher with his skills during this Community Connections episode. 

In the previous episode you heard from former Mayor, Joey Durel about overcoming controversy and Lafayette's LUS Fiber.

In this episode, Huval emphasizes why ownership is so important for cities to control their fiber infrastructure. He also touches on the other benefits of the public fiber network: faster response for outages, better connectivity for public safety and traffic control, and more than $13 million in cost savings for residents and businesses!

We hope you enjoy!

Community Connections - Joey Durel: Lafayette, Louisiana

The city of Lafayette, Louisiana had an export problem. For years they had seen their young people become educated and move away from the small city, but local leaders like Joey Durel listened to experts like Terry Huval when they encouraged him to look into building a citywide fiber network.

In this video Christopher Mitchell interviews Joey Durel, former City-Parish President of Lafayette, Louisiana. In 2009 Lafayette Utilities System installed infrastructure for a fiber telecommunications network called LUS Fiber. The network provides digital cable, telephone service, and high-speed Internet to all households in Lafayette.

In the video, Durel emphasizes the hidden benefit of controversy when building advanced Internet networks: controversy educates the public. When local leaders are able to "think outside the box" and encourage discussion and debate, they are much more able to educate their constituents and in turn, make change. 



Kandiyohi County And CTC Co-op Team Up For Connected Future

In an effort to improve local connectivity, Kandiyohi County will collaborate with a local cooperative, Consolidated Telecommunications Company of Brainerd (CTC Co-op). Kadiyohi County is in step with the increasing number of rural communities joining forces with cooperatives when big corporate providers find no reason to invest in less populated areas.

Keeping It Local

In early July, the County Board of Commissioners signed a letter of intent with CTC Co-op in order to start planning for a potential project. The move improves the county’s chances to obtain one of the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program grants and motivates CTC Co-op to begin allocating some of its own funds toward a potential Kandiyohi project.

Kandiyohi County is home to approximately 42,000 people in central Minnesota and covers approximately 862 square miles of prairie. The region, filled with lakes, is a popular fishing destination. Like many places well known for outdoor recreation, residents and businesses can’t obtain the Internet access they need to keep pace with more populated areas.  

Minnesota's Lac qui Parle County worked with the Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative when incumbent Frontier chose not to pursue a partnership. The county received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) but did not have the expertise or resources to maintain or manage a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Farmers Mutual, who already had experience after deploying their own network, stepped in and by 2014 residents and businesses had access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. Read more about the project in our report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Fiber Internet Access.

Determining Need

The county hired a firm to perform a feasibility study, which includes a telephone survey. In April, county officials announced that the firm had started calling residents and businesses and would continue to do so throughout the summer. Now that Kandiyohi County and CTC Co-op have committed to working together, CTC Co-op will be able to use the study results to determine how to improve local connectivity.

Experienced Rural Cooperative

CTC Co-op has already developed high-quality Internet access for many of its members. The co-op received a state Border-to-Border Boradband grant to develop fiber connectivity for the South Brainerd and Fort Ripley areas. The cooperative, started in 1950, serves members in Sullivan Lake, Randall, Pillager, Outing, Nokay Lake, Nisswa, Motley, Mission, Lincoln, Leader, Freedhem, Little Falls, Brainerd, Baxter, and Crosby. They offer Internet access, video, and voice as well as additional services to local businesses.

The letter of intent does not detail any specific plans other than to establish a commitment for the county to work with CTC Co-op. Joe Buttweiler, who works as a Partnership Development Manager for CTC Co-op told the County Commission, "As we work together, we can decide. ... We can create whatever we want.”

Why a Gig? The Video Response You've Been Waiting For!

With the increasing number of gigabit cities, a trend led by local governments, Google, and some cutting edge small ISPs, some are confused why a gigabit is important now when most applications do not need that much bandwidth to operate. We get this question frequently and decided to make a short video explainer for why a making a gigabit available to everyone is a smart goal. 

Please share widely!