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Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 223

This is episode 223 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Eleven communities in Northern Utah are now served by a regional open access fiber-optic network, UTOPIA. Perry City's Mayor Karen Cronin and UTOPIA's Executive Director Roger Timmerman join the show. Listen to this episode here.

Karen Cronin: We don't have the money that some of the lobbyists are getting from big companies, but we have a voice and I think that our legislatures will listen to local voices if they have the courage to step forward.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 223 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, also known as UTOPIA, began serving north-central Utah in 2004. The regional open access fiber-optic network has had its share of challenges since launch, but has slogged through them to now bring healthy competition to residents and businesses in 11 communities. Joining Chris this week are the mayor of one of the UTOPIA cities, Karen Cronin from Perry. Roger Timmerman, executive director of UTOPIA, is also part of the conversation. Our guests share stories about how competition has benefited local businesses and residents. They also describe infrastructure sign-up choices they have as property owners in a UTOPIA community and what it's like to have more than one or two ISPs at your feet. Now here are Chris, Mayor Cronin from Perry, and Roger Timmerman, executive director of UTOPIA.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm speaking with two wonderful guests from the state of Utah. Roger Timmerman is the executive director of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency. Welcome to the show.

Roger Timmerman: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

Christopher Mitchell: Perry City mayor, Karen Cronin. Welcome to the show.

Karen Cronin: Thank you. I'm delighted to be part of the conversation.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm excited to talk more about what's happening in Utah today. You've all been trailblazers in open access approaches. Roger, I think you were only of the early trailblazers who's now back with UTOPIA. Today we'll talk about the results, particularly in one of the UTOPIA communities, Perry City. Let's start there. Mayor Cronin, can you please tell me about your community and the internet access you have there?

Karen Cronin: Yeah. Let's start with what the community is like. Perry City is a small city, about 5,000 residents. It's located about 50 miles north of Salt Lake City. Six months ago we had very limited options for internet. We had some of the neighborhoods who didn't have any option except for dial up. At my house, we were on a satellite system where I was getting 5Mb speed. Fast-forward a few months and we were able to connect into the direct line with UTOPIA, the direct fiber line, and I now have upwards of 250Mb of speed, as does the whole city. The city was built out in less than four months. We've gone from a dial-up system to the cutting edge of what's available.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, that's remarkable. I'm sure that there are many people listening who would just love to have that kind of capacity available. Roger, can you help fill in some of the gaps for people who might be unfamiliar with UTOPIA? What is it?

Roger Timmerman: UTOPIA, we're a group of 11 cities. Perry City is one of those cities. These are cities that felt like they were not being served by the incumbents. Just wasn't enough options. They felt the negative impact of businesses leaving their communities in some case and just not offering the type of connectivity that they felt was needed to develop businesses and residences. They got together, they created UTOPIA and UTOPIA's an interlocal governmental agency, which is made up of these cities, and they built a massive backbone to connect these cities together and can collectively bond for the construction and operations of this network. The reason they did it that way was if you think of a city the size of Perry City, it's a great city, but it's not very large. The ability to put into place the fiber of the home system and operate that, get providers in there, it would be very difficult for just one small city to do. Collectively, the cities could get an economy and scale together to attract service providers, to get an efficiency of operations that would make this work. UTOPIA's had a difficult path. Initially, it started up and ran into some funding obstacles. The cities have since decided, let's fix some of these things and move forward. It was about five or six years ago, we took down a new model and took down additional debt and with that we've been very successful so for the last six or seven years UTOPIA has actually been able to build networks where the revenues from the builds of those networks are covering all of the debt service for the cost of building those networks and so we are in a great state now where we are now covering all of our operational expenses and all of the incremental debt we've taken justifies and sustains the growth of the system. Well, Perry City is one of these cities that's benefited from that in the sense that it hasn't really cost Perry City any additional money other than their original membership in the system and the collective funding of the cities but we've been able to build out that entire city and we're building out very rapidly in other cities in parallel. The nice thing about Perry is the whole city is covered. They can all get the same gigabit service. We install gigabits to homes and businesses typically. Larger businesses will get 10 Gig. Some very large connections we support are 100 Gig. In a city like Perry, it's very rural, but they can attract enormous investment from a data center or a large business or an industrial partner or something because we can deliver 100 gigabit anywhere in that city and actually offer that in a redundant way because of this redundant backbone put in collectively by these cities.

Karen Cronin: In Perry City we have a great number of home businesses. The demographics of Perry City, although it's small, it has the highest education rate for its' members and a lot of those people work from home. Having this option has brought even more people into the city and we have people calling and telling me that they have now had their bosses ask them if they can work from home because their home connection is faster than their at work connections and they get more done.

Christopher Mitchell: That's remarkable. I always like to hear that. I have to say that one of the things I love about UTOPIA and Roger, I'm sure you can't pick favorites but I can, I love that UTOPIA gives small providers like Xmission an opportunity to have many more customers. Xmission has been a guest on this show before, I think they have wonderful privacy policies, very bull-ish. I like seeing cities that have small, historic ISPs like Brighamnet also being able to expand and get more customers and thrive. I think that's an important role from my point of view, that UTOPIA really allows local businesses to be very competitive with the big companies with Comcast and CenturyLink that I happen to have here, where I'm recording this and I know you have out there, that don't always meet local needs in a way a local provider can.

Roger Timmerman: I agree. That's a major part of why we do it the way we do it. Open Access is not easy and it's taken quite bit a of time for UTOPIA to have a good, stable, competitive environment of providers and today we have 10 companies that compete residentially and about 25 that compete on the business side of things. Perry by itself even if they had fibers at home they may not naturally attract competition on that system but because of the scale of UTOPIA it's big enough to attract this level of competition and enable lots of these local providers and also some bigger providers to all kind of compete under a fair fiber infrastructure put in place by some of the cities.

Karen Cronin: That point is so important because it creates such a win-win for the residents by having an open network system. It creates the competition and it requires the service to be great and the price to be competitive if they are going to stay on the system and be competitive but it also allows like you said local businesses to be able to play at the same arena that some of the big businesses do and have a fair shake so it is a win-win all the way around.

Christopher Mitchell: Mayor Cronin, do you know of any personal anecdotes of people who have talked about how they are amazed that Perry City has this incredible connectivity available to them and it's enabled them to succeed in ways they might not otherwise have been able to.

Karen Cronin: I can tell you about a business that produces things from the home and then sells them out. They were telling me that before their Internet power didn't allow them to have the mass marketing they wanted and be as responsive and have the service level that would sustain their business. Since they've been able to connect to UTOPIA and have the ability to shop around for what suited their business best as far as a provider, they've been able to see their Internet sales increase dramatically.

Christopher Mitchell: Roger, I'm curious. If I'm a resident or a business in Perry, getting connected to you is just a little more different to what most people are used to. Can you walk me through my options as a homeowner on how I'd possible connect to Utopia?

Roger Timmerman: If you live in an area where UTOPIA is available, you can go to our website, put in your address, and it will pull up and show you, here are the services available to you from 10 different companies. It's a shopping cart of services. So, what happens is you sign up for the infrastructure from UTOPIA and we present the retail offerings from our partnered service providers so you kind of sign two agreements. You're getting infrastructure from the city and UTOPIA collectively and then Internet or phone or video or whatever those services you want bundled from the service provider. So you, two pieces and then how you pay for your fiber connection, a lot of our customers will say, "well, I'll just lease that monthly for 30 bucks and there's a 2 year term so it looks a lot like what you'd get from other options". We have some people who take a different option and that's where they essentially own their fiber connection. They pay up front a larger amount, $2,750 is actually the amount and then they never pay for it again. They own their fiber and then it just becomes, a very low bill because then they're only paying $35 to their service provider and it'll never go up after that. If you're leasing the connection from us, it starts at about $65 a month for 250 Megabit connection. I say that as an example of what we have right now but we don't control those prices. The beauty of it is that it is competitive and those retail providers are free to change their prices whenever they want to be competitive. We struggle because we try to publish the pricing and then they change it. It's a struggle but it's also the beauty of competition is that they're constantly coming up with different promotions and lowering and raising and adding options and they have the freedom to do that and that's one of the beauties of open access.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things as an outside observer that's impossible to miss is you have, in your region, a nonprofit organization that I suspect largely gets contributions from CenturyLink and Comcast that paints a picture that people in Utah are very frustrated and angry that UTOPIA wasn't able to pay its way in the way it was expected. Now, Mayor Cronin, I'm just curious. Do you get a sense from your citizens, are they glad UTOPIA exists or would they prefer that they didn't have these options and they didn't have to hear these claims that the network is not good?

Karen Cronin: I will be honest with you. As Roger has mentioned, it's had a tough start and it was a new idea, a very forward thinking idea and for the first few years we were paying into UTOPIA collectively as one of the original 11 member cities and we were getting 0 service and that was hard. We still get a lot of comments from residents but about 3 years ago we as the 11 cities came together and said we need to make this system work and we talked through several options and like Roger said we got to the point where we were able to start funding build out and things. Once we had the build out and once we took it to our residents which was last February and told them where we had come, I have heard nothing but positive, nothing but positive since February when we rolled it out. We had a town hall meeting, we told them where we had come and the obstacles we had overcome and at that point we were able to roll it out that it was totally optional. If people wanted it, great. If they didn't there wouldn't be any extra assessments to them. Once they saw the competitive advantage it gave them because of the number of people on the network and having the fiber direct to their home it has been phenomenal excitement in the city.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm not too surprised to hear that. I've seen that in other places as well. This is an infrastructure that's going to last a long time. I look back, a number of the airports that cities built many decades ago, they took a long time to break even but people were generally glad to have them available. One of the things people often realize is you were among the first to be doing this. The lessons you learned really helped a lot of other communities to be successful in terms of structuring their programs and learning lessons about how to move forward. So, I think, in some ways, the mistakes you made were a bit of a public service in terms of teaching others a lesson. One of the other things I want to talk about as we are running out of time with the time we have left, some of the problems you faced weren't your fault. The state made it hard on you. Roger, I'm wondering if you can tell us a little about the ways of which the state, I think, acting on behalf of the big companies that you're competing with, actually put its thumb on the scale to make your life more difficult.

Roger Timmerman: Yeah, one of the things was, the prohibition on us offering services directly. We like the idea of open access but it would be possible to provide some of the services directly while still allowing competition on the network. It was a big curveball at the UTOPIA cities to get legislation that showed up from a legislator that wasn't even in the cities involving UTOPIA that put all these restrictions on what cities could do and all this additional process and red tape that they'd have to go through to get the product in place. The legislation, what has been used as an example, since then, of how to go buy some legislation. It wasn't even in the conversation in Utah among citizens and legislators, it was brought in and given to legislators to push in behalf of a private interest.

Christopher Mitchell: Brendan Greeley wrote a great article in Business Week many years ago and it's titled, "Psst... Wanna Buy a Law?" If people Google that, I have no doubt they'll find it. It's exactly how you describe it and it's worth reading, but please continue.

Roger Timmerman: That was the initial obstacle. Open Access, we like it, it does provide a scalability issue. There's less dollars coming to UTOPIA to cover our investments. It's a good model, it's a more difficult model. The biggest problem UTOPIA has had has been financials. It's been a problem for us. Since that time, it seem like every year or two years another piece of legislation shows up trying to further restrict what we can do and it's a fight. We don't have a budget like the private companies do to go and lobby and push for influence at a legislation level. It's really an interesting contrast because among residents, populations in our cities, and businesses even, UTOPIA is extremely popular and the incumbents are some of the most hated companies in America. Along legislators, the incumbents are really popular, you can imagine why that is because of, whether it's campaign contributions or influence among different groups.

Christopher Mitchell: Weekly golf trips?

Roger Timmerman: It's night and day between the citizens and legislators and what their interactions are with the incumbents.

Christopher Mitchell: Mayor Cronin?

Karen Cronin: I remember a couple years ago when there was a piece of legislation that was going to pass that was going to greatly affect the way we could promote the UTOPIA's, the 11 cities and the 11 cities banded together and went to talk to the legislature. It was because of that, the local involvement that the legislators listened and gave us a bit more time and didn't pass that legislation. I can't emphasize enough how important it is -- if people want local control then the local elected officials need to be involved and make things happen. We don't have the money that some of the lobbyists are getting from big companies, but we have a voice and I think our legislators will listen to local voices if they have the courage to step forward.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's a really good point. It's not enough to just be right, you have to make sure you're raising your voice up as local elected officials and just citizens to say this is our point of view. Because, as we discussed, the legislators, they hear from the big companies every day. They need to hear from multiple constituents every day on these issues as well in order to even just think they're similar in terms of important, in terms of policy preferences. I think we're about out of time but I'd love to give you another chance to say anything else you'd like to say as we finish up our discussion. Let me start with you Roger.

Roger Timmerman: It's an exciting time in the space of municipal fiber. What we've seen in our own area is that the demand for this service is higher than it's ever been. We started this thing back in 2002 and back then people were still trying to figure out what Fiber was and what the benefits were and there was a major population that didn't use it. Now it's a given. Everyone wants Internet connectivity and they don't just want it, they want good speeds and good service. Over time it's been legitimized and we've seen that in the form of increased demands and then we see, where's the rest of the industry, where's the incumbents and other options and it seems that they're actually falling further behind. We go back ten years and these guys weren't the most hated companies in America. Things have gotten worse for them, not better. Rather than upgrade and compete, we see an increased and deliberate effort to stop municipal progress building Fiber projects, and so it's good in the sense that the success and demand for municipal fibers have increased but there's an increased threat because there's a lot of work being done to preserve incumbent interests. It's great, we're seeing successes here. Our financials are better, we're in a position that we're actually growing faster than we have in our whole history. Things are good. We have other cities looking to partner with us in other ways and that wasn't a conversation we weren't able to have because of the past difficulties. I think you'll see UTOPIA continue to grow and be successful and I think you'll see efforts like UTOPIA across the country and have success.

Christopher Mitchell: Parting thoughts from Mayor Cronin?

Karen Cronin: I think in the world we live in today we are seeing the rate of technological advances is at warp speed. In order to be competitive and stay at the forefront, we need to allow the free enterprise system to work and not put legislation in place that may limit that free enterprise system. I would put Perry out there as one of the success stories. A small rural community of 5,000 and yet now we have the capability through the UTOPIA network and the open market to be able to have 100 Gigabit connections and redundancy and multiple providers and that puts us on the map to be able to support some of the biggest companies that are looking at trying to locate in the West. It's a great thing and we've benefitted enormously.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you both for taking time to come on and share your experiences and the message of hope coming out of Northern Utah.

Karen Cronin: Thank you for allowing us to talk to you Chris.

Roger Timmerman: Thank you Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Mayor Cronin from Perry and Roger Timmerman, executive director of UTOPIA talking with Chris about the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency. Check out their website at to learn more. We also have a number of stories about UTOPIA on Remember, we have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at Email us with your ideas for the show. Send a note to Follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow's stories on Twitter, the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all the podcasts in the ILSR Podcast Family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your Podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at Thank you to the group Mojo Monkeys for their song “Bodacious” licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks for listening to Episode 223 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Update on Utah's Open Access UTOPIA - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 223

In the north central region of Utah, eleven communities are now served by a regional open access fiber-optic network operated by the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency or UTOPIA. UTOPIA’s Executive Director, Roger Timmerman, and Mayor Karen Cronin from member community, Perry City, take time to speak with us for Community Broadband Bits episode 223.

One of the great advantages UTOPIA has brought the region is the element of competition. Rather than facing a choice of only one or two Internet Service Providers like most of us, people in UTOPIA cities sign up for a connection to the network and then choose from multiple providers who offer a range of services via the infrastructure. Competing for business brings better products, better prices, and better customer service.

Since launching in 2004, UTOPIA has faced financial uncertainties created by onerous state laws that force a wholesale model on publicly owned networks. Regardless, Mayor Cronin has seen the network improve connectivity in her community, which has improved the local economy and the quality of life. After working with the network since the early days, Roger sees that UTOPIA’s situation is on the upswing but has witnessed firsthand how those harmful state laws limiting local authority can put a smart investment like UTOPIA in harm’s way.

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Santa Cruz And Cruzio Call It Quits

The city of Santa Cruz seemed well on their way to a productive partnership with Cruzio as the two entities hammered out an agreement for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) citywide open access network. We recently learned that both parties have stepped back from the partnership, leaving the multimillion-dollar vision in a dark limbo.

The Plan

The $45 million infrastructure was to be owned by the city of Santa Cruz and Cruzio would operate it while also offering high-quality Internet access to the community. For the first ten years, Cruzio was to have an exclusive contract after which the network would become open access. There are approximately 62,000 people living in the community situated near Silicon Valley and this project was one of the larger public-private partnerships (P3).

In July, Cruzio announced that it would begin deploying fiber in one of the city’s downtown neighborhoods by Thanksgiving, ahead of any agreement to use city-owned fiber. The deployment will bring FTTH to approximately 1,000 homes; Cruzio’s plan is self-funded.

Now What?

There is nothing that prevents the two parties from picking up where they left off and reaching an agreement some time in the future, but they would need to rebuild trust. Sadly, they lost over a year as the two parties negotiated while residents and businesses across the city happily anticipated better Internet access.

These events remind us that P3s are fragile unions that are the apex of many interlocking pieces. Like a house of cards, when one segment falls, the entire structure can come tumbling down. As more local communities consider P3s to bring high-quality Internet access to residents, businesses, and local government, they need to stay realistic, consider the long term, and keep risk in their sights.

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 221

This is episode 221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority joins the show to discuss the award-winning open access fiber-optic project. Listen to this episode here.

Frank Smith: We need to be an ingredient in what people need to be able to do what they want to accomplish.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute of Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Roanoke Valley, Virginia, has had some ups and downs as they planned and deployed an open access fiber-optic network, but they're now on course. This year they began providing a range of services for Internet service providers and local businesses. They're also bringing better connectivity to public facilities and community anchor institutions. Frank Smith, president and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, talks with Chris this week. In addition to explaining what the authority is, and describing its function, Frank explains the situation in the Roanoke Valley, which led to the decision to invest in the network. Frank provides information about how the authority is working to collaborate with different partners, and he also reflects on challenges and shares plans for the future. Learn more details at Now, here are Chris and Frank Smith, president and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm speaking with Frank Smith, the president and CEO of Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, in Virginia. Welcome to the show.

Frank Smith: Thank you very much Christopher. It's a pleasure to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I'm excited to talk to you because I remember looking into this project in years back and seeing some fits and starts and hoping that someone would pull it all together. Over the course of this conversation, I think we'll discuss that. Let's just start off and let people know what is going on in Roanoke Valley and even more importantly, where and what is it.

Frank Smith: The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, just to give you kind of a background, as far as where we are geographically, we're approximately three hours due north of Charlotte, North Carolina, and approximately three and a half hours southwest of the Washington DC metro area. Not too far down the road, forty minutes is Virginia Tech. When we go out about a thirty mile radius, we probably pick up a population between three hundred and fifty and four hundred thousand people. We have various industries that are here, both on the medical side, the education side, technology, all sorts of other things. We're home of Advanced Auto Parts and we've got the Virginia Tech Biomedical Institute, and the medical school they've built here in the Roanoke Valley. We have a lot of things going on. The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority actually was created approximately, I think it's about three or four years ago by a group of -- It was driven by citizens who saw a need to provide greater access and more competition and a few things within the broadband network provisioning side of things. The interesting thing for us is that they called us a doughnut hole. I actually like doughnuts and probably too much, but liked the fact of the analogy of the doughnut holes because that I can understand pretty easily.

Christopher Mitchell: Also doughnut holes are much more healthy than entire doughnuts.

Frank Smith: Yes, that's a great rationalization. I like you already. This is good. Just don't tell my wife, if that's all right. Krispy Kreme has a store here and I have to try to stay away. The one thing is about the doughnut hole is that we are not big enough to be what we'd considered an NFL city, to get a large investment to come in there, from a provisioning or from a network planning standpoint. We have some good existing providers that are here, but we're not getting the same level of investment, which leads to additional competition here because we're not of that size. At the same time, we're too large to get a lot of the federal funding and other state and local funding. We have urban areas, we have suburban, we do have rural but for example, when we get Tobacco Commission money or other types of things, which would be part of the Commonwealth of Virginia, we're too big.

Christopher Mitchell: I sometimes simplify that in terms of saying that you're basically big enough to have some good cable, decent cable systems, but you're not good enough to really expect that there will be a better option beyond that. You're in a challenge in that because you already have decent service. No one wants to fund you to get better service, whereas places that have practically no service, they do tend to get some source of help.

Frank Smith: We've got a fairly unique situation and I think that's where the business community specifically drove this. It didn't come out of the government side first. The government side became a partner with the key leaders within the government community driving this. The one that we talked about is the importance for us to recognize that there was a requirement for an open access network. An open access network is not a sole-source provider. It allows other people to ride on that network, so we wanted to encourage competition, but also we wanted to encourage companies to be able to come in here and provide different types of services, and also work with existing providers too. We look at it a couple of ways. We look at partnering with the existing providers that are here, providing additional backbone for them to use, but also for us to provide services as required. We look at three verticals: government, education and business. Our goal is not residential broadband. That's not our play right now. Then, in addition to that, we're looking at different ways to partner. For example, we've already been approached by companies who are local in the area -- wireless Internet service providers who are interested in providing the last mile. We've had land line Internet service providers looking to use the physical infrastructure to then build out to communities, so they could in that case, take a look at providing residential service. Now we'd be the enabler if they wanted to use our middle mile. Then we also have groups that have taken and looked specifically at what we've done, we've formed a group down here, created a chapter what they call the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. This is a huge group. It's been around for seventy years. The point is, we've got a growing defense industry here, both figuratively and literally above and below the radar. What we're trying to do there is saying, look, we've got a great infrastructure, we're building it out, and also the equipment we're using -- our particular network is all certified, the switches and the routers, they're all certified under Defense Department process called, not getting too far in the weeds, but called JITC, Joint Interoperability Test Command. They come in and take a look at vulnerabilities. We made sure that was a table stakes requirement for the vendors that we put into the network. The key thing is that we're close enough but far enough away from some of the key centers such as Charlotte and DC. We've seen success right down the road, several hours from us where people have been able to put in disaster recovery sites, or data centers in service of both state and federal players like the US House of Representatives. The key thing is there are different things that we look at. We have groups here that need to be aware of who we are, they need to be aware of each other. At the end of the day, our purpose, our primary purpose is economic development.

Christopher Mitchell: A lot of our listeners, I think, are more familiar with municipalities doing these sorts of things. You're actually an authority. What does that mean?

Frank Smith: We were able to create this under the Wireless Broadband Act. I think it was 1999 which was passed by the state legislature. The Authority, we are technically called the Political Sub-Division of the Commonwealth of Virginia. What that allows us to do is we brought together four municipalities, the county of Roanoke, the city of Roanoke, Botetourt County, and then the city of Salem. Three of those are financially participating right now. A fourth I think will be coming down the road as they take a look at how they want to expand into their particular area. We called it an authority, we've done something very similar. It's actually an organizational construct that's authorized within the Commonwealth of Virginia. For example, we have a local water authority, and that's similar to the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority. We are subject to the procurement integrity rules of the Commonwealth of Virginia, so obviously we have fully transparent books. Everything is -- We have primary, secondary, judiciary checks for how we spend and account for things. Those are all subject to Freedom of Information Act, so everything is clear and open. We are subject to oversight.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk a little bit about your plan. You're very enthusiastic about open access. What is currently happening in terms of where you're able to build out and target and that sort of thing?

Frank Smith: There are a couple of things going. We've been in production for, I want to say full-on production live for four months. I've been with the authority for almost fourteen months. During that time, we took it from bidding out and selecting the first (for the first phase of the network) the first fifty miles, a hundred and forty four strands of CommScope microfiber. Then we put in a four channel conduit and we're using one of the four paths. The key on that is that we can lease that out, we can expand our existing fiber, we can do all sorts of things, so there's capacity that's build in. That means that other folks can come in and use both our fiber and our conduit. We've also, under the first initial hundred forty four strands of fiber, we've taken part of that and just said okay 25 percent of that or approximately 34 strands will be used for dark fiber. For those who are not familiar with dark fiber, it's the unlit glass or unlighted glass that we've had several carriers approach us and are taking a look at leasing dark fiber from us, so they can get to different points in the network, serve different customers without having to build additional infrastructure. That is good on a couple of things. First it's good for us because it's a revenue stream and we have an operating budget, and we have a pro forma, which is basically our business plan that we need to stick to. We need to be breaking even from an operating expense standpoint (Opex) within a five point nine years. That started in May of 2016, so that clock is ticking. It helps us generate revenue, but also allows other folks to use facilities without having to come in and build. That goes for both the carriers that are here and also carriers that want to come in or entrepreneurial carriers or start ups that want to use our facilities. That's one, that's the dark fiber. We've got 25 percent allocated for that. The second thing we have, specifically is what we call transport services. Let's imagine that you got the dark fiber, or the dumb glass. You've got to be able to connect that, you got to put electronics on it because it takes lasers to send the light that transmit the data. Let's say you've got two or three locations in the area, and you need to get from point A to point B to point C and you're not interested in Internet traffic or passing packets out the area down the backbone of the Internet, but you need transport. You might have data center facilities or things like that, or you want to be able to run other applications. You could strictly get transport from us or take a combination of different things. That's where we would use our electronics to light up the glass and allow dark fiber and allow you to pass traffic. The third option is really taking a transport, or the stuff that's illuminated with our lasers or switching equipment, the optical transport equipment what they call it. Then taking it and taking it then taking it up to what they call a Layer 3 service, or being able to take it out onto the Internet, get Internet service. We have redundant. We've build in disaster recovery, redundant paths, diverse routing. These are all table stakes. If you're not familiar with them, these are things that when you build a network, they talk about carrier grade. They have things like, you hear the words NEBC=S, network equipment building compliant. You look at a network, you've got to have redundancy, you got to have ability to restore quickly because otherwise you're out service can cause all sorts of cascading failures in the network, and the third is resiliency. We've got routes going up north, and we've got routes going south. We recently had a storm here, not in the area, that hit one of the surrounding states which took out a lot of service, a lot of backhaul service and poles, and things like that. We were not affected, which was good. We were able to maintain our service. We didn't have an outage, and that's because we had redundancy. Now fortunately both our paths were not affected, but if one is, it automatically switches to the other. The key thing is that for a carrier, for somebody who wants to come on our network, we have to have those standards. Those standards have to be met because otherwise we're not carrier grade, we're sub-standard. That's one of the things that we built into. Open access really has a lot of facets to it. The key thing is that everybody can ride on it and use it, which then generates interest, shows businesses what they can be doing. They can use other folks to supply that service to them, they can be providers for themselves. You've got more choice. I think from a consumer standpoint, regardless of what market you're in, and the markets that we address are business, government and education.

Christopher Mitchell: If I'm a provider and I'm trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B, about how many locations do you have where I could hop on and hop off?

Frank Smith: It depends on where they want to connect. There are many places. There are places where they could splice into us, into our network, depending on where the equipment is and where they want to connect. There are things called handholes, and if you're walking along the street and you see a box that's level with the pavement, you'll see, for us, it'll say RVBA Fiber, Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Fiber. Those are places where we have connection points, in some cases. We have over three hundred of those. That's places where the fiber's connecting and people can also be able to splice in if we need to connect customers or other locations. The other way is we do, called colocation facilities, co-locates. We have five optical switches, or main switching centers. We have one that's called the, it's a colocation for Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities or MBC.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, we've had them on the show before actually. Tad Deriso.

Frank Smith: We work with them. They're a great partner. Specifically we co-locate in one of their facilities. We actually hand off to them, they hand off back to us. Then in addition to that, we also have other places, there's what they call the higher education center, a beautiful building. They re-purposed that building to be the higher education center. I think it's the Roanoke Higher Education Center, if I get that correct. Multiple universities in there are teaching, but they do that as a remote teaching site. In addition to that, we have a great facility which is a used as a POP, point of presence, or switching center, which is hardened. We put switching equipment in there, that's another place they can connect, and some other carriers come in there already. Then in addition to that, we actually manufactured a telecommunications hut. You sometimes see these, they're about maybe twelve by sixteen, about eight feet tall. We put those in, and there's a place where folks can connect in there, if they want to co-locate. Then there are two others, at the Salem Data Center. Salem is one of the municipalities. They were actually in their data center and that's a place where we can cross-connect to other carriers who want to use our facilities and we can cross-connect to the facilities from other carriers, if we need to get at them. We've done that. The one that we, I think is probably the crown jewel, and this is where it gets interesting from a community stand point is Blue Ridge PBS, and Blue Ridge PBS is public broadcasting, I think it's public broadcasting service or system. Blue Ridge PBS, and their facility was built in the '60's. They are a great local asset. Nobody can be against Elmo or Big Bird, so I look at it that way. They've been great. We've been working with James Baum and he is the present CEO of Blue Ridge public television. We've been working with Will Anderson, who's their vice-president over there. I think he's actually technically the COO. Then Dan Ullmer, who's their Director of Network Engineering. These guys have been tremendous. We have put one of our main switching centers there, but we're also developing a colocation/data facility there because their television operation center is a hardened facility, raised floor. Basically it's a computer room. They've got back-up, huge back-up Caterpillar diesel generator, and all these great things. They are consolidating their equipment. Their equipment has gotten smaller and smaller so that's freed up a lot of space. We have worked with them and we've been able to put a series of Great Lakes cabinets in there and one of our switches in there. In addition to that we have room to expand, so we're talking to several providers right now. We want to co-locate there and be able to cross-connect into our system. That's great because it's a revenue stream for Blue Ridge PBS because they own the facility, we’re leasing parts, so they can rent and gain a new revenue stream to help them in their budget. The other part of that is we're selling capacity. It's a win-win. We've got a great partnership, and they're an integral part of the community. The other thing which is good about this too we think, how we play, it's just not about technology, but it's how you're going to impact the people in your community that you live with, and that you want to support. Blue Ridge PBS is a good example of that. Right down the road is Virginia Western Community College which is part of the Virginia Community College system. One of the things for us, they've connected into our network, and they're using a series of different things to be able to take advantage of it, so there are potential things down the road. We're a facilitator. We're providing an open access network to stimulate growth and economic development which translates into we need to be an ingredient in what people need to be able to do what they want to accomplish. That's our goal. We're there to serve. This goes back to Virginia Western. They have a program, on mechatronics, which I guess is more how things work in a system as far as assembly, manufacturing. Due to fact that they were able to do this and have this ability, that became a key ingredient in attracting an overseas Italian maker of, I think a battery or transmission systems for electric cars, hybrid cars. One thing leads to the other, so we want to make sure that we're providing or enabling different groups to support their missions, execute their missions by providing telecommunication services in an open environment which stimulates growth, stimulates creativity and more important for me, is innovation because that makes a difference in the community.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I love hearing from people is this idea of the open access, of building a network that's open to many people and encouraging innovation, so I certainly salute you for that. We don't always find that the existing providers are so excited about dealing with the competition of the providers that you may well facilitate coming into town. Although I'm sure that you, as you've said, you're network is open to the incumbents. They just tend not to like that business model so much. I'm curious if you've seen any push back from them?

Frank Smith: Oh well sure. We're the new kid in the block. We're new and we are a disruptive force in a medium size to smaller market. Usually, and any time, regardless of who it is, it creates waves. The question is what do you do with that, because waves have energy. The question is how do you translate that into something productive? Again, as I said before, we've got a couple of carriers who we're working with. We just hired a vice president of network engineering and operations, a guy by the name of Dave Armentrout. He's been in the industry for a long time, knows how to work specifically with the existing providers. My belief, all boats rise and fall with the same tide. If we're generating new abilities to track customers, retain customers and grow, the network usage that customers require, that benefits everyone in the community. That includes the existing providers. We have places where we have existing providers already leasing facilities from other providers. In this case, a municipal provider who already has some fiber. It's one of the municipal providers that we partner with, or actually part of our network. It's a question of its time, education, and most of all, patience but probably the bottom line is perseverance. I am rationally optimistic. We will grow a relationships.

Christopher Mitchell: Let me ask you about something that, I'm wondering if it's an old joke yet with the ice cream. When we spoke last it was still something that you were laughing at. I'm assuming that at a certain point you're going to say, "Oh I just wish we could get beyond this," but for my listeners, tell us about the ice cream.

Frank Smith: I'm a public servant. Regardless of what I think personally or professionally, I'm here to serve. That's the other difference of the authority, I am a public servant. Folks, remember part of the interesting thing is, it's kind of public private thing that we're going on here because we're entrepreneurial in how we're running the business, but yet we're also sticking to good, practical, fiscally responsible spending and planning. That's at the core of this. That's just table stakes, we can't get away from that. Then we carry over on the more of the public policy side, so you have elected officials who are elected by their constituents to serve. Part of the course of the politics, is always discourse. Whether you like the discourse or not, that's their job and they can speak their mind because we live in a democracy. Technically republic, but we have a democratic system. As far as the ice cream, the ice cream authority, somebody had said that we should be selling ice cream -- we'd like the government getting in that business.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you were talking about earlier is just how important redundancy and reliability is. One of the arguments that we saw raised is this idea that you aren't doing anything that isn't already available in the market. Therefore, it might be similar to the county or the city or any public entity deciding that they were going to open an ice cream shop and try to perhaps run the other ice cream shops out of business.

Frank Smith: The short answer is that redundancy is basically a table stakes requirement in telecommunications. You need to have multiple paths, you need to have multiple providers. That argument does not hold water because at the end of the day, the more competition they have, the more options you have, the stronger your community is, the stronger it is for those who need to rely on that service. It's an interesting illustration, it's entertaining, but it's not accurate.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I enjoyed was seeing that the local newspaper actually did an editorial on it and for me it's always important to see that, if it's something that the local paper feels strongly about, it indicates something to me I think.

Frank Smith: The paper is for the state and I have a lot of respect. Sometimes I agree with what they put in the paper, sometimes I don't. At the end of the day, that's their job. A very good job and their op-eds and other things have been very supportive, but they've also asked a lot of questions. They've gone through our books and done other things, and we've opened our books. Particularly they've ask for, they wanted to do FOIA or Freedom of Information Act requests, and we said "No, don't worry about. Just come in and see our books." We have a good team and we are doing what I consider the right thing for the community. Part of that all goes back to what's the motivation? It's economic development through, in this particular case, an open access network which is built upon a desire not just from the government side, but really both from public private on the business side, government, education and business to go forward and create something that's different that's a competitive advantage for the Roanoke Valley.

Christopher Mitchell: Well that's one of the other things I wanted to mention is actually as you leave the Roanoke Valley, I think one of the challenges you face is that heading over to Richmond, you're going to run into some pretty powerful lobbyists. A lot of times local governments, your authority, you don't have the capacity to be there every day, every night when these arguments are happening. Are you seeing anything coming out of Richmond that worries you?

Frank Smith: Well I think the thing is, it's not a question of stuff worrying me out of Richmond. It's being aware. We can't keep our head in the grass. We need to make sure that our voice is heard. We need to make sure that we do it accurately, succinctly, and most importantly, that we don't waste people's time. We've got to be on the mark as far as what we're about. Part of that goes to making sure we have an obligation to our customers. I have an obligation to my board and to the community. We're making sure that we are following things. There are different channels. We have things that we can use specifically, if that makes sense, so that those who are in the public policy arena are aware of who we are, what we're doing, why we're doing it, and most importantly, why is it important to them because of the impact it has on us as citizens.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. Is there anything else going on there that you want to make sure we cover that we haven't talked about yet.

Frank Smith: Well we're really excited about trying to develop new verticals for this area, and in particular on the defense side because we've got great cooperation with the folks down there in the Blacksburg community, which is only 30, 35 miles away.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and that's Virginia Tech. I mean that's --

Frank Smith: That's Virginia Tech and Blacksburg and they got their corporate research center. We've got strength in our region, we've got strength in our individual municipalities, and we've got strength in the region that is here as a whole. That region is technically considered the New River Valley, but we're working together. We see even a good play for us, just the strength of the southwestern part of Virginia. The chapter with the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, which is actually headquartered out of the northern Virginia area, will gain greater awareness as far as what's down here. More importantly, what can be brought here. I'm really excited about that because that's something that's going to be a benefit for both the area here and also for the greater region.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time today.

Frank Smith: Thank you Christopher.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Frank Smith, president and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority in Virginia. Remember, we have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at Send an email to with your ideas for the show. You can follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow stories on Twitter, where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Thanks to the group Mojo Monkeys for their song “Bodacious” licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

RVBA Gets Governor Kudos

Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe recognized the community of Roanoke and the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) for their work in bringing better connectivity to the region. McAuliffe presented the Governor’s Technology Award at the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) in Richmond on September 7th.

The award recognizes the project because it has improved government service delivery and efficiency. In addition to serving local government, the network provides high-quality connectivity for businesses, offering affordable dark fiber, transport service, and dedicated Internet service. Christopher spoke with President and CEO Frank Smith about the network in episode #221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

In a Facebook press release, Smith said:

“We are honored  to be recognized by the state for the work we're doing to ensure the Roanoke  Valley continues to be a great place to live, work, and start or grow a  technology business. This  affirms that as a community we have found yet another creative way to ensure our  region is competitive on the national scene.”

Congrats to the RVBA and the Roanoke Valley!


Virginia's Roanoke Valley Opens Fiber Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 221

Having few options for high-quality telecommunications service, Virginia's Roanoke Valley formed a broadband authority and is building an open access fiber-optic network with different options for ISPs to plug-in.

In addition to being our guest on Community Broadband Bits episode 221, Frank Smith is the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority CEO and President. We discuss their various options for ISPs to use their infrastructure and the various services their network is providing, including access to conduit and dark fiber leases. We also discuss why they formed a state authority to build their carrier-grade network.

Though they have had some pushback from incumbents - something Frank seems unphased by in calling the Authority "the new kid on the block" - they have built local support by building relationships with local organizations like Blue Ridge PBS.

Read all of our Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority coverage here.

Read the transcript of the episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Designing A Faster Anacortes Starts With NoaNet

Anacortes, Washington, is officially on the road to better connectivity via publicly owned infrastructure. Community leaders voted on September 19th to collaborate with the statewide middle mile network, Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), to get the project started.

One Piece At A Time

Public Works will be the first to use the fiber backbone to monitor and control its facilities; the community’s current radio-based system is prone to frequent failure. Water and sewer utility funds will pay for the design and construction of this section of the network. Officials estimate the fiber backbone will cost around $3 million.

Turning To Experience

The city approved $175,000 in design fees to nonprofit NoaNet, in part because it is funded and managed by several public utility districts. It brings high-quality Internet access to local government facilities all across the state. NoaNet’s fiber-optic network spans Washington with more than 2,000 miles through metro and rural areas. Its open access model encourages multiple service providers to offer services to more than 2,000 schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions in over 170 communities. The network has served the state for 15 years.

The Anacortes plan would connect its network to the Internet and then to local businesses and homes in a later phase. For now, the city’s priority is the utilities upgrade:

“Every day my guys are telling me we have (communication) failures,” Buckenmeyer said. “A fiber telemetry system is arguably the best system you can have. Our current system is outdated and we need to do something about it.”

Buckenmeyer said the first phase of the network could be finished within 18 months.

An Island Community

Anacortes, home to about 16,000 people, is located on the northern half of Fidalgo Island. Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands surround it on the north; Skagit Valley and Mount Vernon, another community with its own municipal network, are east on the mainland.

Island communities are often plagued by poor connectivity. Often they are hard to reach and large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can't justify the cost to bring high-quality Internet access to places that are not densely populated. Places like Islesboro, Maine, and Doe Bay, which is also in Washington, have taken to finding their own solutions to improving Internet access.

Medina County Aims to Be Mecca of Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 220

Medina County has built a fiber network to connect its core facilities and leases its fiber to multiple ISPs to improve connectivity in its communities. David Corrado, CEO of the Medina County Fiber Network, joins us to discuss their approach on Community Broadband Bits episode 220.

We discuss how the Port Authority became the lead agency in building the network and the challenges of educating potential subscribers on the benefits of using a full fiber network rather than the slower, less reliable connections they were used to.

Medina's approach allows carriers to buy lit services or dark fiber from the county network. And as we have seen elsewhere, the biggest challenge can be getting the first and second carriers on the network. After that, it can really pick up steam as other carriers realize they are missing out if not using it.

At the end of our interview, we added a bonus from Lisa - she just produced a short audio segment about Pinetops losing its Internet access from the city of Wilson in North Carolina.

Read the transcript of the episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Davis, CA, Issues RFP For Feasibility Study: Responses Due Oct. 31

The city of Davis, California, recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a citywide fiber-optic feasibility study report. The community wants to consider the options for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Responses are due October 31.

The scope of the work includes:

The study should provide an analysis of options for engineering, constructing, provisioning and operating a high speed citywide FTTP network. It should feature both physical and network transport layer components required to pass and potentially connect every home, business, apartment complex, and institutional building within the City of Davis. The analysis should also consider future use at strategic infill and edge points around the City in order to support network growth through the coming decades. 

Davis wants firms to consider public private partnerships, the city’s network as an open access infrastructure, and Davis is only an infrastructure provider.

In early 2015, a group of citizens formed DavisGIG to encourage community leaders to move forward by establishing a Broadband Advisory Task Force and the feasibility study. In March, Davis established a task force to examine the possibility of deploying a network to serve municipal facilities, community anchor institutions, businesses, and residents. Incumbents Comcast, AT&T, Omsoft, and non-profit Davis Community Network offer a wide range of services now and there is little consistency for the city’s 68,000 residents.

The University of California Davis (UCD) is a major employer, as is the State of California. According to the RFP, there is a growing entrepreneurial culture springing up in Davis due to the presence of UCD’s research environment. The community wants to feed that growth with a citywide, future-proof, FTTH network.

Important due dates:

  • Notice of Intent to Respond:  Thursday Sept. 22, 2016
  • RFP respondent questions due: Thursday Sept. 29, 2016
  • Answers to questions distributed: Friday Oct. 14, 2016
  • Proposals Due: Monday Oct. 31, 2016 at 3:00 p.m. PT

Send questions to Diane Parro, Chief Innovation Officer: clerkweb(at)

Culver City: Construction Begins For Better Connectivity

Culver City officially broke ground on its new municipal fiber-optic network in August and expects to finish the project within one year. The beginning of construction marked the realization of a process that started some time ago in “The Heart of Screenland.”

Enter Culver Connect

Culver Connect will integrate existing publicly owned fiber to improve connectivity for municipal facilities, the Culver City Unified School District, and local businesses. The design for Culver Connect includes three rings and will add 21 miles to ensure redundancy and expand the footprint of the existing network.

The open access network will connect with carrier hotel One Wilshire and a hub in El Segundo. In addition to improving capacity and spurring economic development, Culver City community leaders want to encourage competition by lowering the cost of entry for Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

In 2013, the city hired a firm to draft a fiber network design and business plan framework. Soon after, members of the business community and leaders in education spoke out in the media, encouraging elected officials to take steps to improve Culver City’s connectivity. In November 2015 the City Council established a Municipal Fiber Network Enterprise Fund to be used for construction costs.

Staff estimated that the capital costs of the network backbone would be approximately $4.9 million and initial lateral builds would be another $2 million. Staff determined operating and maintenance costs would be $150,000 per month and projected revenues from leases after three to four years of operations at around $7.1 million in total. They also estimated that revenues will cover the cost of operation and equipment depreciation once the network is fully operational. The city hopes to lease to ISPs to offer choice to local businesses.