Tag: "pilot project"

Posted May 19, 2016 by ternste

Residents and businesses in the rural Massachusetts Town of Greenfield are in the process of gaining faster and more affordable Internet service thanks a new municipally-owned hybrid fiber-wireless network. In November, more than 80% of voters passed a ballot referendum to authorize the city to create a nonprofit entity to construct and operate the network.

While scheduled completion is not until spring 2017, some customers will be able to start service during the network’s construction period starting in July. Thanks to the Greenlight pilot program, customers and network operators are already experiencing the new service. Upon completion of an engineering study to iron out the precise plans for the network, the city will start construction of the 80- to 100- mile fiber network. There will be as many as 1,000 wireless access points.

How Does it All Work?

Residents and businesses seeking the fastest available connection to the network will install an antenna on their property. Although prices for the antenna-based service have not yet been determined, the likely base charge for a symmetrical 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) connection will be $29.99 per month. The city expects to offer speeds as fast as 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). The network will provide Internet, telephone service, and possibly video.

Customers seeking basic Internet access will be able to connect directly to the access points from their personal wireless devices for as little as $9.95 per month. A consultant for the project said that low income residents in the city may be able to get almost free access to this lowest tier plan after reimbursement through Lifeline, an FCC program that provides a subsidy to all low income Internet users.

The town is providing an upfront loan from the general fund of $5 million to pay for the network. Prices for access to the network may decrease as new customers sign up and revenues grow. Eventual profits from the network could also go back into the town’s general fund to spend down the initial loan.

More information about the...

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Posted May 3, 2016 by lgonzalez

Another pilot program is evolving into greater things.

Whip City Fiber, the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network deployed by Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) in Massachusetts, announced in April that it has chosen three more neighborhoods for network expansion. Residents in the target neighborhoods are invited to sign-up by May 15th for one month’s free service. WG+E offers symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) service for $69.95 per month for residents and $84.95 per month for commercial subscribers. Wi-Fi routers are included; there is no charge for installation and no contracts. 

Whip City Fiber only offers Internet access but like other municipalities opting out of video services, they see the trend toward Internet TV:

"This is not TV. But what we see is a lot of cord cutters that are streaming programming on Netflix, Hulu and Apple TV," [WG+E marketing and customer service manager Sean Fitzgerald] said. "The only thing missing are sports channel and those are coming around."

Expanding Use Of Fiber In Westfield

A Berkman Center report on nearby Holyoke Gas and Electric referenced Westfield’s recent pilot project. WG+E began using fiber-optic connections to monitor substations and municipal facilities, including schools and administrative buildings, about 20 years ago. The community also has a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity responsible for owning and operating a municipal fiber network, and used the fiber infrastructure to provide Internet access to Westfield’s municipal facilities and local businesses for the past ten years.

In February, WG+E announced that it would expand the network beyond the pilot area and encouraged residents to express their interest by signing up. It was through those sign-ups, in part, that the utility determined these first expansions. According to WG+E General Manager, choosing the target area was no easy task:

“It was difficult to decide where to build next given the strong enthusiasm shown throughout many areas of the city. Unfortunately, we can’t build everywhere at once.” Howard said. “Our priority is to bring the service to as many...

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Posted April 9, 2016 by htrostle

Welcome back to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. This town has brought to light the shocking stories of slack service from incumbent providers, the complicated decisions of community representatives, and the hopeful beginning of a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network

The City Council has just approved $16,000 to hire an engineering consultant for the estimated $27-35 million citywide plan. 

In the Pilot Project, So Much Demand!

In July 2015, City Council approved the $624,000 plan for the pilot project, but several factors brought the actual cost up to about $653,000. The pilot project area included the neighborhood Smith's Crossing, the Main Street Corridor, and the TIF District 9 area. 

Sun Prairie Utilities first slated the project for completion in early December, but that underwent several delays. For instance, an over-booked contractor started on the project a month later than expected. Meanwhile, rocky soil conditions and high-demand slowed the pace of construction while raising costs. The Sun Prairie Utilities Manager Rick Wicklund will present the final costs for the pilot project this month. 

The original budget had assumed a 30 percent take-rate that would see a positive cash flow in three years. In actuality, 54 percent of households in the pilot project area are requesting the services.

Forty-three percent have requested the 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.98 each month while 11 percent want the higher-speed service of 250 Mbps for $69.98 each month. The capital expenditure of these unexpected last mile connections brought the cost up, but the extra revenue from these connections will certainly help offset those costs. 

Pilot Project Teaches Lessons

In building the pilot project, the city council sought to learn if a municipal citywide FTTH network would be possible. With the overwhelming demand for Internet service in the pilot project...

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Posted March 23, 2016 by ternste

pilot project in the City of Holland, Michigan is now delivering gigabit speed Internet service via a dark fiber network built by the city more than two decades ago; three commercial buildings are connected. The project, led by the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW), is the first phase in an effort to develop a municipally owned and operated fiber network.

Holland is home to about 33,500 people and situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. The community is known for its roots in Dutch culture and is a popular summer tourist destination. Windmills and tulips dot the landscape.

Daniel Morrison, the president of a software company in Holland and a member of a local public interest group called Holland Fiber, recognizes that businesses need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity:

“Our whole business is online,” he told the Holland Sentinel newspaper. “We’re working with clients all over the world and we want to be able to work as quickly as possible.”

Morrison’s company is a pilot tester. After the testing program began in January, Morrison Tweeted out a screen grab showing his Internet speeds:

screen-grab-holland-mi.png

Pretty darn fast.

Toward a Municipal Network?

Pilot testing is set to last for three months to allow Holland’s Board of Public Works (BPW) to test out network technologies and solicit feedback from testers. All of the pilot testers are getting free fiber Internet service during the testing period.

Holland's BPW plans to apply their findings from the test toward a business plan for a municipal network for the entire service area. They will also use the business plan to support an application to the State of Michigan to become an authorized Internet Service Provider. BPW officials expect state regulators to respond to their application by the fall of 2016.

History of Holland’s Fiber Network

Holland first installed a 17 mile...

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Posted March 22, 2016 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, the Santa Monica City Council met to approve rates for the city's Digital Inclusion Pilot Program. The program is already in place, bringing free Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access to computers in community rooms in ten affordable housing complexes. The March 1st vote expands the program to offer residents the opportunity to sign up for services in their homes.

According to the Santa Monica Mirror, official monthly rates are set at $69 for 1 Gbps and $360 for 10 Gbps. People receiving Public Assistance will be able to obtain a discount to lower the rates to $48 and $252 per month respectively. An additional FCC Lifeline subsidy for those who qualify will lower the cost further to $38.25 per month for 1 Gbps Internet access. Download and upload speeds are the same.

Staff at the city established the rates for the pilot after studying rates in other markets where Gigabit access is available including Chattanooga, Lafayette, and Google Fiber. In order to support adoption in lower income households, city staff analyzed discounts that typically apply for other utilities and suggested a 30 percent discount for those actively participating in those programs. This approach does not exclude the elderly or households without school age children, one of the criticisms of Comcast's Internet Essentials. The staff report is available at the city website.

The Council approved a resolution, which also included construction funding of $175,000 for the project.

“In a global economy, any competitive edge we can offer our community is a worthy venture,” Gary Carter, Santa Monica City’s Community Broadband Manager told The Mirror.

“Santa Monica is uniquely positioned to collaboratively innovate as a community to fully leverage the technology of a cutting edge fiber optic network.” 

Long Time Coming

The Digital Inclusion Program is one part of...

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Posted February 11, 2016 by htrostle

Electric coops empowered communities during rural electrification in the 1930s, connecting people to power grids. Now electric coops have the opportunity again to empower communities through affordable, high-speed connectivity. In Colorado, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) is moving forward with a pilot project for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Unanimous Decision for Fiber

In late December 2015, the DMEA Board of Directors gave the green light to start the pilot project. The move to provide connectivity comes as no surprise. DMEA considered providing middle mile connectivity for a long while before coming to the decision to instead deploy FTTH. If the coop had chosen to develop the middle mile network, they would not have connected members’ homes, but instead would have built infrastructure connecting to the larger Internet. 

Many projects funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds were built as middle mile networks. At the time, policy makers theorized that middle mile projects would encourage private sector last mile providers to complete the link to subscribers. Over time, this theory has proven too optimistic. Municipalities and smaller private providers are connecting to middle mile networks in some places, but the large scale build out expected from big name providers is just not happening.

For DMEA, FTTH is their solution: building a larger network and taking the fiber directly to members’ homes. Virginia Harman, DMEA spokesperson, described the decision to do FTTH as a reaction to member demand. In a recent survey, members highlighted the importance of high-speed Internet access for their homes. The goal now is to build the network in a sustainable way.

Phased Approach to Connectivity

Providing high-speed Internet access to all members will prove a challenge; DMEA serves over 32,000 members throughout three counties (Montrose, Delta, and Gunnison) in Colorado. To complete the task, they will use an incremental approach. As members generate interest in the project in each specific area, the coop will install fiber optic cable in that region. Revenue from that section will help fund the next section of the build, and so on. The...

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Posted February 6, 2016 by lgonzalez

Last fall, Owensboro, Kentucky, began constructing its pilot program to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to a limited number of residents. Construction is complete and now the municipal utility is serving subscribers, much to the delight of folks in the city's Town & County neighborhood. There are 570 households and approximately 1,500 people living in the pilot area.

As of late January, 80 households had signed up for service with 15 now being served at a rated of about eight installations completed every week. Chris Poynter, superintendent of Owensboro Municipal Utilities (OMU) telecommunications division reported to the Board that feedback has been positive and that customers have been "…very happy with their speeds and the installation process."

All speeds are symmetrical - just as fast on the upload as the download - and there is a $49.99 installation fee. OMU offers three tiers: 

  • 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.99
  • 100 Mbps for $69.99
  • 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $99.99

OMU installed fiber thought the city in 1997 and two years later began offering high-speed Internet access and other telecommunications services to local businesses. OMU's goal is to serve a minimum of 20 percent of the households in the pilot area and if all goes well, the community will consider a city-wide project. 

Home to about 58,000, Owensboro sits across the river from Ohio. The city is the county seat and center of a metropolitan area of about 116,000 people. OMU also offers electricity and water services.

Posted December 3, 2015 by lgonzalez

Four low-income neighborhoods in Madison will soon have access to fast, reliable, affordable Internet access, thanks to a municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) pilot program.

Fast, Affordable, Reliable...Soon!

According to a recent Cap Times article, installation will begin in the spring of 2016; community leaders anticipate the network will start serving residents in the fall. The cost of the pilot is estimated at $512,000. The original plan was to offer the pilot in two areas, but in the City Council recently approved an amendment to the city budget to cover the cost of expanding the pilot. Funds for the construction will come from the city's capital budget.

When the city first released its RFP, it received 3 proposals. Ultimately, the city selection committee chose the only FTTH proposal over two wireless proposals, citing reliability and speed as determining factors. Local Internet service provider ResTech will build the network, which will be owned by the city. Residential subscribers will have access to a minimum 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload (symmetrical) service for $9.99 per month. There will be no data caps.

Testing the Waters

The Cap Times reports that the results of the pilot will determine the next steps for the city, population 243,000, which has flirted with the idea of a citywide municipal network in the past:

In conjunction with the pilot, Madison will be pursuing a feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis to determine whether to expand the Internet service to other parts of the city in the future.

The city is working with Columbia Telecommunications Corporation for the feasibility study component as a parallel track to the pilot.

The pilot will be two years, and [Chief Information Officer Paul] Kronberger said they hope to have enough data to do the cost-benefit analysis after about one year of operation.

...
Posted November 23, 2015 by lgonzalez

As the people of Tennessee wait for the court to determine their broadband future, state and local leaders in Nashville are hearing municipal network advocates and foes.

The bipartisan Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, anticipating state legislation aimed at removing state anti-muni laws next session, recently heard from advocates of municipal networks. Those in favor of keeping state barriers in place also took a seat at the table. The Commission includes state legislators and local community leaders. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering Tennessee's petition to vacate FCC's February decision to overturn state laws against local authority.

The Same Old Argument

The Tennessee Cable Association (TCA), representing large incumbent cable providers, repeated the same misinformation we have heard before - that municipal networks are "failures." Their lawyer pointed to debt as proof-positive that "these communities that have gone into this business have done very poorly," reported the Johnson City Press.

Chattanooga's EPB President Harold DePriest summed up the weakness of that statement when he said, “It’s the same reason you have a 30-year mortgage on your house, instead of a 5-year mortgage.” It's about long-term vision and planning.

A number of representatives from Tennessee communities served by municipal networks attended the meeting and presented the facts. Chattanooga's world-famous fiber network is often in the limelight, but smaller Tennessee towns with networks like Erwin and Jackson have benefitted from their investments and other communities, such as Cleveland, have plans to follow suit.

Erwin Making Strides

Erwin Utilities sent fiber optic engineer John Williams who called out TCA for using the word "failure" and describing it as a...

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Posted November 6, 2015 by htrostle

It wasn’t just Colorado cities and counties along with Iowa communities voting this week. Back east, Greenfield, Massachusetts also rushed to the polls to support local Internet choice.

Greenfield is planning to use a combination of fiber and Wi-Fi to deliver services - an approach that has had limited success in the past due to the technical limitations of Wi-Fi. 

The Vote

At Tuesday’s Annual Meeting, residents voted on the future of high-speed Internet access in the town. The referendum, the first step in creating a municipal broadband network, saw a landslide victory. 

The people gave a resounding message that they wanted to pursue a network: 3,287 people voted in favor; only 696 were opposed. According to the local paper the Recorder, this nonbinding ballot referendum allows the town to create a nonprofit to run the municipal broadband network. 

Currently there is a pilot program on two streets – giving residents a taste of community-owned high-speed Internet. This pilot program started in mid-October and provides free Wi-Fi on Main and High Streets. If voters had rejected the ballot referendum, the town would have ended the pilot program and only created an institutional network for the municipal and school buildings. Now, with the referendum passed, they can implement the plan for high-speed Internet access.

The Plan for Broadband

When the state built a middle-mile network running through the cities of Greenfield and Holyoke, the mayor contacted Holyoke’s municipal light plant to find out how to best utilize the opportunity. Holyoke is now the Internet Service Provider for City Hall and the police station...

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