We have followed events in Opelika's network project for almost two years. In addition to creating a smart-grid for its municipal electric utility, the City plans to offer triple-play services. We previously covered Charter Cable's astroturf campaign to oppose the network and how the campaign failed when Opelikans passed the referendum.
This week, the 27,000 residents of Opelika saw their efforts begin to materialize at a ground breaking ceremony at the site of the new Opelika Power Services Facility. Chris Anthony, of the Opelika-Auburn News covered the story:
Site work is well under way on the $3.7 million facility, which leaders say will be an integral part of the fiber-optic network being built throughout the city. In addition to housing the administrative office and warehouse, the facility will also be the home of Opelika Power Services’ fiber hub.
Mayor Gary Fuller notes how the people of Opelika entered the business of municipal utilities over one hundred years ago, when the community purchased the then-private electric utility. He spoke about how the people of Opelika carry on that self-reliant streak with their new fiber network.
According to, Beth Ringley, Interim Director of Opelika Power, 90% of the fiber is installed underground throughout the city and should be nearly completed by the end of the summer. The $41 million project is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2013 and the first customers are expected to connect at that time.
“It’s a big, big day for the city of Opelika,” Mayor Gary Fuller said. “It’s important for our future.”
Two videos offer further coverage of this new community network.
These videos are no longer available.
Government Technology interviews some local officials in Chattanooga about its network - the nation's first network offering 1 gigabit connections throughout the entire community. The slowest Internet connection available, 30/30 Mbps, is available in bundles that rival Comcast and AT&T in price. But the Comcast and AT&T services are pathetic in comparison - particularly when it comes to customer service.
We published an extensive case study explaining how Chattanooga EPB built its network.
Larry Lessig addressed the 2012 WiscNet Conference in Madison, talking about the importance of achieving the goals of the Founders of the United States in creating a system where those making the rules were independent of corrupting influences.
About 45 minutes long, and well worth watching in entirety -- especially if you have not seen a version of this excellent presentation elsewhere.
You can get involved at Lessig's RootStrikers.org. This is a key issue for community broadband because few corporations have as much power to corrupt the political system as the cable and DSL companies that want to revoke local authority of communities to build their own networks.
To support her thesis, Crawford presented some stunning numbers. In the last two years, Comcast market share has grown from 16.3 million subscribers to 18.5, a 14 percent growth. Time Warner Cable has grown 10 percent, from 9.2 to 10.7 million customers. Meanwhile, DSL subscribers have plummeted: AT&T and Verizon market share is down 22 and 21 percent respectively.
So, while it's good to be Comcast, it's not good to be an American citizen. Without competition, there's no drive to improve the service. The average speed of an Internet connection in the United States is around 5Mbit/s. An astoundingly low number if you look at other western countries. South Korea, for example, has an average of 50Mbit/s. And faster connections are starting to be implemented around the world.
During 2011, nineteen million miles of fiber optic cable were installed in the United States, according to CRU Group, a global research firm. That means all the fiber that was laid in the U.S. last year could be wrapped around the equator 763 times. It was the largest installation since the boom year of 2000. And the reason has a lot to do with wireless services.
When using 4G on that new mobile phone, your connection is mostly wired. It is wireless from the tower to your hand -- a distance of anywhere from a few thousand feet to a few miles. But probably for hundreds of miles, that connection is on fiber-optic lines.
Before a tower can offer 4G services, it needs a fiber cable, and that is driving a boom in connecting towers. In our recent case studies on Chattanooga, Lafayette, and Bristol, we noted that both Bristol and Chattanooga have connected towers with fiber optics for 4G wireless service from major carriers.
The boom in 2000 was famously short sighted, in part because it was almost all located in major corridors with other fiber cables -- no one was making the last mile connections to residents and local businesses.
Regardless of how much fiber optic lays out there unused, we need more -- but in the right places. A Wall Street Journal article by Anton Troianovski recently discussed the boom in new fiber investment, quoting Hunter Newby, Chief Executive of Allied Fiber:
"The notion there is a fiber glut is not true," Mr. Newby says, arguing that much of the fiber-optic cable that is available is simply not in the right place - not at suburban office parks and cellphone towers that need it.
Allied Fiber is building its own network between New York and Chicago with the intention of offering alternatives to established carriers, including Verizon and AT&T. Newby and Allied believe that other Internet companies, wireless carriers, hospitals, and possible anchor institutions will want the choices they don't have now. By extending their network to the right places, Allied sees opportunity.
These companies are cashing in on a major market failure. Unfortunately, they are likely to just pick the low-hanging fruit, serving the major community anchors but not having a business...Read more
In a recent editorial (May 24 issue), The New Republic argued that the Obama Administration was doing a decent job on Internet policy and obliquely referenced an article discussing carrier opposition to community broadband. The op-ed begins,
Politicians aren’t always especially thoughtful about, or even familiar with, information technology. George W. Bush used the term “Internets” during not one but two presidential debates. The late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens famously referred to the World Wide Web as a “series of tubes.” And John McCain drew ridicule in 2008 when he conceded that he was still “learning to get online myself.”
Much worse than these gaffes, however, are some of the policies that have been promoted by lawmakers and candidates who seem to fundamentally misunderstand the importance of a free and open Internet. In recent years, we have seen politicians accede to the interests of giant telecom companies rather than support net neutrality; propose anti-piracy bills that threaten Internet freedom; and, as Siddhartha Mahanta recently documented at TNR Online, block poor communities from receiving broadband access.
Good to see this issue being discussed outside of the standard tech circles. Especially when outlets like the New Republic explicitly call for more wireless subscriber protections:
There are, of course, ways in which the administration has disappointed. Even when the White House has done the right thing on Internet issues, it has not always acted as speedily or as forcefully as it might have. Moreover, it has not always done the right thing. Particularly striking was the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision, in late 2010, to exempt mobile carriers from new rules protecting net neutrality. The FCC’s step blocks Internet service providers from slowing down or preventing access to the content of their competitors—but it only applies to wired, not wireless, providers.
While many of us are hopeful that the government will take a stronger hand in preventing carriers from disrupting the open Internet, Vint Cerf (one of the fathers of the Internet) rightly warns us that overall...Read more
Free Press caught and isolated an excellent question from Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to FCC Chairman Genachowski during recent hearings. The Senator notes that many Americans do not have sufficient access to broadband but 19 states have enacted barriers to make it harder for communities to build their own.
FCC Chairman said he thinks innovative municipal solutions should be encouraged and that he looks forward to working with the Committee to address the obstacles.
Susan Crawford on the importance of government policy. People who are concerned about the future of the Internet need to pay attention or the cable and telephone companies will take over the Internet (or at least access to it). Not because they are evil, but because what is best for them (or what they think is best for them in the short term) is not what is best for the rest of us or the vast majority of businesses that depend on access to the Internet.
On April 28, I gave a presentation as part of the Economic Development track of the Broadband Communities Conference in Dallas regarding the role of community networks. The full panel presentation is here (along with links to all the other presentations over 2 days of economic development).
My presentation is excerpted below: