Terry Huvall, the head of Lafayette's municipally owned fiber to the home network, discusses the history and motivations behind the community fighting for four years to build their own network. Lafayette has a strong tradition of publicly owned utilities -- they were the first community in Louisiana to build a municipally-owned water and electricity utility, voting to tax themselves to fund it in 1896.
That investment allowed Lafayette to prosper and surpass other communities in the following decades. This investment will have the same effects.
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Catharine Rice gave a terrific presentation detailing the ways Time Warner has responded to the municipally-owned Greenlight fiber-to-the-home network: raising the rates on everyone around them and cutting great deals to Wilson residents. I saw the presentation on the Save NC Broadband blog which also has a link to her slides - make sure you follow along with the slides. She details how Time Warner has raised rates in towns around Wilson while lowering their prices and offering better broadband speeds in Wilson. Once again, we see that a community building their own network has a variety of benefits: a superior modern network that is community owned, lower prices on the last-generation network from the incumbent, and some investment from the incumbent. Now the question is whether Wilson's residents will be smart enough to support the publicly owned network in the face of Time Warner's low low prices - a recognizing that a few short years of low prices (for low quality) are not worth abandoning the publicly owned network and the benefits it has created in the community.
A video from Chelan shows the benefits of a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network in a rural public utility district in Washington State. The network has literally saved lived with tele-medicine applications. Citizens also cite educational advantages and increased business opportunities thanks to this smart investment.
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FiberNet Monticello put one of their advertisements on YouTube.
Alcatel-Lucent has created a terrific video (I saw it at Fiberevolution.com) for Australia regarding their proposed National Broadband Network. Australia is the latest of many countries poised to surpass the U.S. while we decide whether to take control of our future or let Comcast and AT&T control it. I recommend the video, and not just for the accent. Most of the video applies equally to the U.S. in terms of what pressures we face and a possible future. For those unfamiliar, the NBN will be a massive collaborative project between the public and private sector in Australia, resulting in an impressive open access broadband network. We need more videos like this in order to explain to everyday Americans why this infrastructure is so important and we cannot leave it to a few monopolistic companies to build.
Wherein I answer some questions to clear up common misconceptions about the broadband and cable networks upon which we depend...
Following up on my recent piece about Comcast and the public interest, I wanted to note some good arguments for network neutrality. Teresa Martin penned a good article for capecodtoday.com that noted:
That notion of the public good is a quaint concept, one that has been bludgeoned out of favor over the past 30 years. But maybe it is time to re-think that a little and to take the concept and re-examine it in the face of the 21st century. Is the Internet part of the larger public good? If so, net neutrality would seem to flow naturally. Does this impede an operator’s ability to make money? Not at all. But it does prevent the asset from flowing to the highest bidder first. It means that information isn’t given priority based on the pocket book of its sender. It means that the recording industry and the movie industry, two strong opponents of net neutrality, can’t use their profits to buy preferred space in the network and block competition.
Photo used under Creative Commons license from AdamWillis.
Vermont's proposed East Central Fiber Network is moving forward, confident that the strength of their application for federal broadband stimulus funding will get them an award. Atlantic Engineering has been surveying pole and prepping so they can get started as soon as possible.
They are also offering network-branded apparel - it reads: ECFiber.Net Community owned Fiber-Optic network. I think this is pretty fricking cool - it shows the enthusiasm these folks have.
First off, compared to the VTel project, I'm immediately inclined to favor ECF's by the simple fact that they're a public project, which the original stimulus language suggested should get priority, and they're looking for a loan rather than a grant, and I think so long as a project will be self-sustaining, it's always better to loan money that you'll get back some day than to just give handouts of free money. I also prefer ECF's project because they're going to be bringing fiber to every home in their service area. They're not going to leave anyone behind, creating second-class digital citizens. Finally, I think that ECF's project has a greater chance of establishing a model that the rest of the country can learn from, proving both that fiber can be economical in rural areas and that open multi-service networks can be financially viable.
Vermont was also one of the four states to receive the first awards for mapping broadband. Vermont is doing the work in-house:
The new federal funds will be managed by the Vermont Center for Geographic Information (VCGI) to implement the Vermont Broadband Mapping Initiative, a collaborative broadband data collection and verification effort involving partners from the public, private and academic sectors. This team -- VCGI, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, the Vermont Department of Public Service, the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies, and Vermont’s Enhanced 9-1-1 Board -- will use the latest technology to create a comprehensive and verified broadband availability map....
Many have held up the CyberSpot Wi-Fi network in Florida's Saint Cloud as a successful example of public provisioning of wireless. From my perspective, the network was always interesting in that it did not attempt to pay for itself out of network revenues. The city built the network and provided services over the 15 square miles for free - they viewed it as a public service. The network start-up cost was $2.5 million and was funded by the Economic Development Fund. It cost another $370,000 each year in operating costs - some $30,000 a month. Some 77% of the city used the network within half a year according to Free Press. St. Cloud has some 30,000 people and had at least 8500 unique devices connect to it monthly in recent months - due to NAT routers (non-geeks, ignore this) we can safely assume that there are more than 8500 devices using the network. In order to keep the local taxes level, the City Council decided to cut Cyberspot along with a number of a other programs. Popular outrage led to another meeting in which many people testified that they wanted the network to remain funded. The Orlando Sentinel covered the extension of the city service for 3 more months and public reaction:
Scores of angry residents packed commission chambers Thursday, demanding that the city not pull the plug. " St. Cloud is not a hick town anymore," said resident Keith Harris. "We're country folks, but we're not backwards. One of the reasons for that is our Internet."
One of the people (in part 2 - the second video below) noted that the cost to him for raising taxes to cover CyberSpot would be a few dollars a month. The cost of eliminating CyberSpot to him is far greater - he will now have to pay ten times as much to get an Internet connection. I watched the first half hour of the meeting and found the public comments quite interesting. The rest are probably interesting as well - you can find all the videos here. Update: The network stopped offering public service on February 16, 2010.... Read more