Tag: "ecfiber"

Posted December 20, 2010 by christopher

While the bad news about Burlington Telecom (BT) has traveled far and wide, it has been marked with errors, misinformation, and inaccurate comparisons to other projects. MuniNetworks.org will weigh in on this issue with a series of posts to explain what happened, what did not happen, and what lessons we can learn from it.

But today, we are publishing a commentary from Tim Nulty, the General Manager who started BT and is now working with the folks in East Central Vermont to build a rural FTTH network. In this commentary he discusses his experiences with Burlington Telecom and what lessons it has for the EC Fiber project. In short, they differ in important ways.

Business Plans of Burlington Telecom and ECFiber

Numerous loose allegations have recently appeared in the press regarding the business plans of Burlington Telecom and ECFiber. DPS Commissioner David O’Brien and John Briggs of the Burlington Free Press are examples but others have also chimed in. These statements are inaccurate, misinformed and unfounded. Since they affect organizations that are important to thousands of Vermonters they need to be corrected.

BT’s business plan was based on those of similar Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks already running and successful at the time…including Reedsburg, WI; Bristol, VA, Kutztown, PA; Dalton, GA and Winona, Minn. Experts from these projects were consulted in developing BT’s plan. Several came to Burlington to assist with and vet BT’s planning and BT staff visited them to in turn. All of these networks were built in towns, which like Burlington, had established broadband incumbents already in place so their experience was highly relevant. By their fifth year all these networks had achieved penetration rates over 55% and most over 65%. A study by survey firm RVA, in 2007 and updated in 2009 identified 57 municipal FTTH networks operating in the USA and calculated that the average penetration, including new start-ups, was 54%. BT’s business plan was constructed so that it would become profitable with 4800 - 5000 customers of the 19,500 potential—a more conservative take rate than comparable networks had actually achieved in practice. This provided BT with a substantial “safety cushion”.

All capital-intensive investments-- power stations, airports, steel mills--take some time to become profitable. This is also true of telecoms. Criticizing any FTTH network (...

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Posted November 29, 2010 by christopher

Vermonters are asking some hard questions about the federal broadband stimulus decision to throw money at a wireless network for Vermont rather than loaning money to an organization dedicated to delivering real broadband.

Senator Bernie Sanders convened a meeting to discuss the awards toward the end of October.

Senator Bernie Sanders led off his “broadband town meeting” Saturday morning at Vermont Technical College with a ringing affirmation of the need for better broadband coverage in Vermont and the nation.

However, nobody in the crowd of nearly 300 people needed to be convinced of that. What they wanted to know was whether a huge new federal grant to a private company was the right way to do it.

VTel, a small private telephone company, received a $116 million grant to build a FTTH network to serve their existing 18,000 footprint as well as a wireless network that is intended to serve the entire state.

In contrast, the East Central Vermont Fiber Network (which we have covered previously), applied for a loan to build a FTTH network to everyone in the 24 communities that have joined together to form the network. The ECFiber network would be run by a nonprofit and would repay the loan from revenue generated by selling triple-play services on the network.

Vermonters have a strong fiscal conservatism streak, which has shown up strongly in the discussions around this situation, something noted in a story leading up to the Sanders meeting:

He will get plenty of both from representatives of ECFiber, the consortium of 23 towns that has been planning a network of fiber-optic broadband to virtually every home in the White River Valley and beyond.

The organization was stung recently when its own request for a loan was not funded by RUS, which instead awarded a much larger outright grant to VTel, which is located in Springfield.

Our position at MuniNetworks, is quite similar to that of the these Vermonters: loans would be better policy than grants for broadband infrastructure.

Supporters of the wireless network, including VTel's CEO, Michel Guite, have suggested the $116 million...

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Posted July 26, 2010 by christopher

The East Central Vermont Fiber Network is launching a pilot project to start connecting rural customers with a FTTH network. EC Fiber has long labored to find funding -- it was one of many projects to see funding avenues disappear with the economic collapse following the fall of Lehman Brothers. The Feds also failed to fund them (instead opting to fund middle mile after middle mile of projects that were less offensive to powerful incumbent companies.

But they have returned to the private markets and feel sufficiently confident about financing options to build this pilot project.

The pilot project will provide a solid foundation for the capital lease used to build out the rest of the network, providing 100% coverage in 23 towns in East Central Vermont. While the intent of the project is to prove that the larger project is viable, according to Nulty, “it will be able to stand on its own if we don’t raise another dime of capital.”

The project is expected to cost some $80 million in total to cover the 23 participating towns. ECFiber has already obtained the necessary permissions from the State to offer video and telecommunications services. The Pilot Project targets the town of Bethel, where the central hub for the entire network is located.

ECFiber is one of many groups that are using a nonprofit ownership model to build the network. The towns work together to create a nonprofit that will finance, own, and operate the network to ensure community needs are put before profits -- now and in the future.

Update: The pilot project will only offer broadband and phone services due to the high fixed cost of trying to offer video services for such a small population.

Posted February 19, 2010 by christopher

Tim Nulty describes the "most rural" FTTH project in America - a large multi-community build in Vermont, the state with the largest percentage of people living outside metropolitan statistical areas. This is more of a technical article, explaining why the network is necessary, who they have contracted with, and the topology of the network.

Beginning in early 2008, ECFiber developed a project to bring fiber to every single premises in its area: “universal service -- no exceptions, no excuses” without any assistance from the State. This project was completely self-sustaining from the revenues of subscribers alone. A public offering of $90 million of Certificates of Participation, fully compliant with SEC requirements, was prepared by Oppenheimer Company and was on the verge of closing when Lehman Brothers collapsed and with it the entire municipal debt market.

ECFiber had to start again from scratch. Fortunately, the Stimulus Bill passed about this time and ECFiber redirected its financing efforts to that source. It was not a difficult matter to recast its Public Offering documents into an application for a BIP loan. No grants are needed by the ECFiber project and none are asked for. Vermonters generally don’t approve of free taxpayer handouts except in extreme circumstances. ECFiber is completely viable and requesting grants would be, in our view, unnecessary and, hence, improper.

We continue hoping the RUS will stop wasting time with lesser projects and direct a loan to these folks in Vermont.

Posted October 12, 2009 by christopher

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.

Geoff Daily has given EC Fiber his stamp of approval:

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. 

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Posted June 24, 2009 by christopher

NATOA, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, comprises many people who are in, and work on, community broadband networks. Whether they are dealing with cable-company owned I-Nets or citizen owned networks, one of their jobs is to make sure the community has the network it needs.

Starting this year, NATOA has made its publication, the NATOA Journal, available to everyone, not just members. This will be a great resource for community broadband information.

This issue has important articles - from an in-depth comparison of the physical properties of copper and fiber to less technical arguments by Tim Nulty and myself. Tim Nulty wrote "Fiber to the User as a Public Utility."

He advances a number of important arguments:

  • Universal - everyone should have access at affordable rates
  • Open Access - it must encourage competition, not stifle it
  • Future Proof - the technology must be built to last and meet needs currently unforeseen
  • Financial self sufficiency - this can be done and the political culture suggests it must be done

He then delves into the problems Burlington Telecom faced, how it resolved those problems, and some of the strengths of their approach. He also offers some details on his new project - East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network.

My "Community Owned Networks Benefit Everyone" makes the case that only publicly owned networks can offer true competition in the broadband market because private network owners will not open their networks to other providers. Facilities-based competition is a policy that encourages monopoly or duopoly throughout most of America.

However, I also argue that public ownership, and the accountability that comes with it, may be more important than competition in cases where the community chooses that model. As always, we stand up for the right of communities to choose their future and to take responsibility for their choices.

Other important articles in this issue discuss the...

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Posted April 30, 2009 by christopher

Benoit Felten of FiberEvolution.com interviews Tim Nulty (former GM of Burlington Telecom, currently working on massive rural FTTH network in Vermont) at the Freedom to Connect Conference. Covers many topics, especially the economics of FTTH and why the public sector should invest in these networks.

Other videos from this conference are available here.

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