Tag: "open access"

Posted January 6, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Since 2008, we have followed and reported on the peaks and valleys that is UTOPIA. Recently, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a series on the regional network. The coverage includes a sampling of the bitter and sweet of the complex relationship between the pioneering network, the state, and the customers it serves.

As many of our readers know, UTOPIA is mired in debt and endless political controversy as Comcast and CenturyLink fund "think tanks" to attack it.  Tony Semerad from the Tribune talked to our own Chris Mitchell:

"When you build a network like this, it takes a minimum of several years of spending a lot of money before you start to get it back from your customers,’’ said Christopher Mitchell

As Christopher goes on to note, a large debt from the beginning to create an open access network is not a favorable situation. Additionally, past management made choices that still negatively impact the network. Constricting legislation at the state level prevents the network from expanding to a more profitable retail market, weakening it even further. Also from the article:

State law requires UTOPIA to operate as a wholesaler, a limitation conceived at UTOPIA’s inception when telecommunications giants such as CenturyLink and Comcast, now called Xfinity, grew wary of plans by Spanish Fork and Provo to get into the cable television business and lobbied state lawmakers for protections.

Some communities express derision at the situations they face regarding UTOPIA, having been left with debt and not yet received the ubiquitous access they anticipated. Some communities, who are still waiting for better subscriber numbers, already see improved economic development and remain patient. Connected communities vary in their satisfaction and level of support:

Layton » Mayor Steve Curtis believes UTOPIA fiber-optic lines already are luring business to his Davis County city and benefiting residents. The grid is built out to a small portion of Layton, one of eight municipalities that have...

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Posted December 13, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

In August, we reported on the results of a report on UTOPIA by the Office of the State Auditor General of Utah. As you will recall, the results were less than favorable and presented more fodder for those opposed to municipal telecommunications infrastructure investment.

The same old arguments often rest on the financial investment in municipal networks - they are considered failures if they don't break even or make money. Pete Ashdown, founder of ISP XMission in Utah, addressed those arguments in the Salt Lake Tribune:

UTOPIA provides broadband service in 11 Utah cities. Today, communication infrastructure is no less critical than transportation, sanitation and clean water. Government is not a business, but the infrastructure it provides contributes to a robust business environment.

Consider how private businesses rely on government funded infrastructure. Why don’t entrepreneurs clamor to build the next generation of roads? Why don’t airline companies get off the public dole and build their own facilities? Why are sewer facilities so rarely handled by anyone else but the state?

Does effective infrastructure cost? Considerably. Does it make a profit? No.

For decades now, public service entities have contended with the argument that if they are "run it like a business" they will be more efficient, productive and even profitable. While lessons from the private sector may contribute to increased efficiency at times, government is NOT a business. Applying business tenets should be done sparingly and not in the case of critical infrastructure like electricity, roads, and yes, access to the Internet.

Gary D. Brown, who lives in Orem, shared a guest opinion through the Daily Herald and drew a similar parallel between UTOPIA's status and the business world:

When UTOPIA was first proposed, I was all for getting a fiber optic connection to every home and business in the at-that-time 17 cities. In my opinion, the original business model was sound; install fiber to each home/business and offer data,...

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Posted November 20, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

While I was in Danville, Virginia, for the Broadband Community Magazine Economic Development Conference, I had a chance to sit down with Jason Grey, nDanville Network Manager. This interview is our 22nd episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Jason and I met five years ago when I first visited Danville to learn about its municipal open access fiber-optic network. Danville is located in southern Virginia and was hit hard by the demise of tobacco and the loss of manufacturing jobs. But the municipal utility loaned itself enough capital to build a fiber network connecting the schools -- by provisioning its own service, they were able to pay back the loan, make contributions to the general fund, and still have enough money left over to expand the network to connect local businesses.

The network has been a tremendous success, attracting new employers and helping existing businesses to expand. And the network is just starting to connect residents in a few neighborhoods. Read our stories about nDanville.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 15 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can download the Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted November 13, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

For this week's Community Broadband Bits, we venture outside the U.S. to interview Benoit Felten of Diffraction Analysis about the Stokab muni fiber network in Stockholm, Sweden. Stokab appears to be the most successful open access fiber network in the world.

Benoit has just published a case study of Stokab and is an expert on broadband networks around the planet. Our discussion covers how Stokab was built and what lessons it has for other cities. Because Stokab was started so long ago, other local governments will find they cannot simply duplicate it -- times have changed.

Benoit also writes regularly at Fiberevolution and can be found on twitter @fiberguy. Benoit and I last appeared together in a roundtable discussion about bandwidth caps.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can download the Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted November 1, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

The Borough of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, with a year-round population around 5,500 that is swelled by Kutztown University, has been on the community broadband map for 10 years. In this informative Gigabit Nation interview, Craig Settles visits with Frank Caruso, IT Director for the Borough of Kutztown.

The interview is embedded below and runs approximately one hour and is sandwiched between a one hour interview with Chattanooga about smart grid economics and an hour interview with Todd Marriot about UTOPIA -- so if you want to hear the portion on Kutztown, skip 60 minutes into the show.

Kutztown award news article

In the interview, Craig and Frank discuss how the municipal network, Home Net, started out of necessity. The community wanted to link their utilities with a telecommunications network and government facilities needed a cohesive option. FTTH became part of the equation later, but was not the main impetus. Kutztown issued RFPs for a new network, but the response was silence. The community investigated the next option - building it themselves.

After several conflicting feasibility studies, the Borough decided to go ahead and build the network with the hope that "if we build it, they (ISPs) will come." Kutztown issued taxable bonds and built their own fiber network. The goal was to provide the infrastructure for government purposes and in the future create real choice for consumers. Again, no ISPs answered the call.

According to Caruso, large providers were not able to accept a business model which created a "middle man" between them and their customers. The only interest from the private market was from a small local telecommunications company that eventually leased a line from the city to expand their footprint for telephone service.

Caruso goes on to describe how, even though no companies were interested in an RFP bid, curiosity grew as the launch date approached. The Public Utilities Commission and the FCC met with Kutztown leaders to inquire but expressed no objections. Large telcos came to meetings and even spoke up about the design of the network, but none signed on to offer...

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Posted October 22, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

In 1881, Clara Barton started the American Red Cross as a way to offer relief to victims of disaster. Coordinating relief in the face of crisis will always be challenging, but now UTOPIA, the publicly owned, open access FTTH network in Utah, makes it easier and more economical. The change will allow the regional Red Cross to dedicate more funds to helping people, rather than for administrative costs.

The Murray, Utah, Blood Services location is now using an in-house video conferencing system with bandwidth supplied by UTOPIA. From the UTOPIA blog:

“The UTOPIA network definitely has the bandwidth and reliability we need for video conferencing,” says Travis Weaver, Technical Support Analyst at the American Red Cross. “UTOPIA has made in-house video conferencing possible for us. This switch saves us money because doing it in-house is cheaper than paying for the service and it allows for long distance, face-to-face meetings without the cost of travel.”

Weaver also considers the open access an added benefit. The organization is able to work with one of their current providers, easing billing and negotiation. The organization clearly appreciates UTOPIA's presence:

Weaver feels the infrastructure UTOPIA provides is critical. “I believe in the need to continually invest in the communications infrastructure of our municipalities,” he says. “Failure to do so will not let us keep pace with the rapidly accelerating network communications global community. Having access to UTOPIA in Murray City has certainly opened up our capacity to meet the communication needs of our organization by using leading-edge technology.”

 

Posted October 2, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has just released a new case study on community broadband -- this one examines how Chanute, Kansas, built its own broadband network over a period of many years without borrowing.

Download a PDF of Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage here.

Local businesses are strong supporters of the network. From Ash Grove Cement to MagnaTech, business clients have remained satisfied subscribers. The network continues to encourage economic development and provides connectivity options that attract high bandwidth employers. The network generates $600,000 per year for Chanute’s Electric Utility, 5 percent of which goes to the general fund as a franchising fee each year.

Author Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, believes Chanute can offer valuable lessons to other communities across the United States. “This community has demonstrated that communities can meet their own telecommunications needs with smart public investments — they did not wait for national corporations to solve their problems.”

City Manager J.D. Lester refers to municipal broadband as “the great equalizer for Rural America,” saying: “You don’t have to live in Kansas City to work there.”

The City also operates a 4G WiMAX network that connects public safety and is used to feed Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the community.

Local leaders plan to expand the network to offer access to all residents and businesses in the future as extending it become financially feasible. As it expands, it will offer the potential for smart-grid type investments in the gas, water, and electrical utilities — all of which are owned and operated by the local government.

One of the key lessons other communities can take away from this case study is how planning and prioritizing community investments in broadband can greatly benefit the community, especially local businesses. Chanute took advantage of several opportunities to expand what started as a very basic network over the course of many years at low cost.

Posted August 22, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

We have watched Tacoma's Click! Network for years, sharing its advances and benefits with you. The latest achievement in Tacoma is a new option for customers - 100 Mbps.

The network is a division of Tacoma Power, which has been  providing electricity to the community for over 100 years. The municipal utility upgraded recently to DOCSIS 3.0, increasing Internet speeds for customers. 

Click! allows independent service providers to offer Internet access on the network rather than offering that service directly. This approach has resulted in less revenue for the publicly owned network, creating delays in paying down the debt from the infrastruture investment. Nonetheless, Click! has create benefits far in excess of costs -- from increased investment from incumbents to much lower prices for residents and businesses.

RainerConnectAdvanced Stream, and Net-Venture all offer retail services on the Click! network.

Customers from the three ISPs have multiple choices in speed and price, varying from $29.95 for up to 6 Mbps to $189.95 for the new 100 Mbps option. The choice allows consumers to tailor their Internet (and their Internet bill) to the their individual needs. Vibrant competition continues to create choice and affordable consumer prices. Regardless of what network they subscribe to, Tacoma residents tend to pay less than their Seattle brethren.

Unfortunately, it was no surprise to come across a recent news story that describes CenturyLink's misleading sales tactics. CenturyLink salespeople have gone door-to-door and told people Click! is closing. C.R. Roberts from the News Tribune covered the story in mid-July. According to the report, even after Click! contacted CenturyLink to complain, the lies continued in parts of the city. This is no single anomaly, we have heard of similar tactics being used in the past.

Posted August 3, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

Just this week, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General of the State of Utah released a report to the Utah Legislature on UTOPIA. The report, titled A Performance Audit of the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency rehashes prior criticisms of UTOPIA and tells the abridged story of the Auditor's understanding of UTOPIA's financial troubles.

While one can accept the report as truthful, it certainly is not comprehensive. Jesse Harris, of FreeUTOPIA notes that leaving out certain pieces of information taint the presumed impartiality of the report. From Jesse:

The Legislative Auditor General has published an audit of UTOPIA, and, as expected, it drags a fair amount of ancient history back into the spotlight.  The report concludes that additional accountability will alleviate the problems that UTOPIA has experienced, but it missed the mark on a number of points.

The Audit Scope and Objectives are spelled out in the beginning as:

Members of the Utah Legislature asked for an audit of UTOPIA so residents of UTOPIA member cities might know how the organization has used its funds. Legislators also asked for a review the organization’s general management practices. To address their concerns, we developed an audit plan to review the following areas:

  • The size and use of UTOPIA’s debt financing
  • The causes leading to UTOPIA’s current financial 
condition
  • UTOPIA’s management and board governance practices

While there are many bar graphs, pie charts, and dollar signs in the report and it seems to meet the scope and objectives, financial information alone does not explain UTOPIA's troubles. The first place to look is close to home.

From the beginning, UTOPIA has had to overcome difficult odds in a hostile legislative environment. As we note on our Community Broadband Map, the State of Utah effectively requires that community networks function as wholesale-only. The mandate puts them at a significant financial disadvantage from the beginning, severely limiting the amount of revenue they can collect...

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Posted July 20, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

In 2011, we brought you information about New Hampshire FastRoads, an open access project. At the time, the discussion centered around legislative events. We decided to look into the FastRoads project for an update.

The FastRoads project received partial funding from the Network New Hampshire Now (NNHN) project and its American Recovery and Reinvestment grants. Private donations and matching funds added to the $65.9 million budget to expand broadband across the state. The entire NNHN network planning includes middle- and last-mile fiber installations, along with a middle-mile microwave public safety network. The NNHN network will span ten counties, some of which are still relying on dial-up.

The FastRoads network will bring together 22 communities and 220 Community Anchor Institutions on the western side of the state. The project also includes last-mile networks in Rindge and Enfield and is expected to connect approximately 1,300 businesses and residents in those two towns, many who rely on dial-up.

In March, 2011, FastRoads began the first phase of the project when it awarded the design and project management contract to Design Nine. According to the Design Nine website, the fiber build- out will cover 25% of the entire state.

Shortly after hiring Design Nine, FastRoads released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the building phase of the network. The contract went to Clemsford, Massachusetts' Waveguide last October.

Completion of the project is scheduled for June 30, 2013.

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