Tag: "open access"

Posted July 15, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The American Cable Association has profiled Tacoma's Click! network. Click! is an HFC network owned by the city, via the public power utility. Tacoma Power only offers one retail service: cable television. Voice and broadband data services are provided by independent services providers who use the network on an open access basis.

The network has been quite successful. Some 25,000 households subscribe and it has kept competitor rates (Comcast, for instance) far lower than nearby Seattle, for instance. I previously noted the economic development victories attributable to the network.

"If you're a cable TV customer or an Internet customer of any company in our footprint, you pay between 35% and 49% less than if you are not in our footprint," said Diane R. Lachel, Click! Network's Government and Community Relations Manager. "That's really significant. That's what the Telecom Act of 1996 was all about. That's the kind of competition Congress intended."

Other communities aspiring for successful networks should study the approach of Marketing and Business Operations Manager Mitch Robinson. Click! has embraced local content - something every community should do to differentiate itself from absentee-owned incumbents.

One Robinson innovation was the localization of video-on-demand (VOD). The inspiration for this product was the lack of Tacoma community news from the TV stations based in Seattle, about 30 miles northeast of Click!'s headquarters. Tacoma tends to make the local TV news mostly when the news is bad.

In response, Click! decided to build relationships with a multitude of local nonprofits to create a steady inventory of VOD segments exclusively available to Click! viewers.

One VOD service, called Safe Streets, shows how to energize a neighborhood by curbing gang activity, setting up block watches, cleaning up derelict properties, and scrubbing away unsightly graffiti.

Click! also has exclusive VOD rights with The Grand Cinema, a local independent movie theater that also sponsors local film festivals. Through the Click! partnership, local film makers expand their viewing audience to customers hungry for local content.

"We just continue to add hours and hours of that type of exclusive content," Lachel...

Read more
Posted June 21, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Powell, a small community in Wyoming, has bought its own network from the investors who financed it [Powell Tribune], eighteen years ahead of schedule. For a short history of Powellink, see Breaking the Broadband Monopoly.

The decision, unanimously agreed to by City Council, came from the realization that the City's reserves were earning very little interest while they were paying a higher interest rates to those who financed the network. So they decided to invest in themselves.

Under the new agreement, Powellink will become a fifth enterprise for the city, joining the electric, water, waste water and sanitation enterprises. The other four enterprises will loan Powellink the $6.5 million, and payments from service providers using Powellink — such as TCT — will go back to the enterprises to pay off the loan.

City Administrator Zane Logan had previously told me that he thought Powellink was a much better approach to attracting jobs to the area than the approach frequently used by communities - tax breaks to companies in return for creating jobs. In the Powell Tribune article, he explained how this approach allows Powell to be more self-reliant.

Logan said he believes the new agreement will help Powell during a difficult economic climate. The state cut its funding of cities and towns this year, and sales tax revenues are down.

“We’re trying to help ourselves and not be dependent on the state,” he said. “The Legislature is saying cities need to take care of themselves, and I like to think that Powell is doing that.”

Local cooperative TCT had the right to another four years of exclusive operation as the sole service provider but gave that up, meaning the network will now be open access. In return, TCT does not have to guarantee revenue to the City (as it agreed to do in each year it was an exclusive service provider).

These changes come about as Cablevision bought Bresnan, the cable incumbent that had radically lowered rates to compete with Powellink. It will be interesting to see how Cablevision continues or changes company policy in Powell.

Photo courtesy of Ernie Bray...

Posted June 14, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Stop the Cap! has the authored the most recent of several articles examining a unique middle mile broadband approach in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Their title summarizes the motivation: Ontario County, NY: We Need Fiber So Badly, We Just Did It Ourselves. That story includes a video clip of a recent CNBC Power Lunch 2 minute piece about the Axcess Ontario initiative (complete with the factual error that "no provider offers 100Mbps;" in fact, several community broadband networks offer 100Mbps and Chattanooga has moved beyond with a 150Mbps offering).

Ontario County has a population of some 100,000. To stay relevant in the modern era, they determined the County had to do something to improve broadband availability, so they created a nonprofit called Axcess Ontario, an initiative sufficiently impressive for the County's CIO to receive an award - State Public Sector CIO of the Year.

In creating Axcess Ontario (originally named Finger Lakes Regional Telecommunications Development Corp), the County wanted to be locally self-reliant and did not seek funding from the federal government:

Unlike numerous similar attempts in other parts of the country, Ontario County funded its network without dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Those who created Axcess Ontario were insistent the project shouldn't rely on the availability of outside funding, according to Edward Hemminger, CIO of Ontario County.

The network's startup costs were $7.5 million, which the municipality generated through the Ontario County Office of Economic Development/Industrial Development Agency. The organization is a quasi-government agency created by the state to generate economic activity. Businesses pay the agency for various services, the revenue from which pays for initiatives like Axcess Ontario.

In order to mollify the private sector, the county...

Read more
Posted June 11, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Danville's open services fiber-optic network has brought a new employer with some 160 jobs to town. EcomNets is investing almost $2 million to build a green data center to the area.

More jobs may be on the horizon as the White Mill renovation continues and should be finished in coming month (original coverage here and here).

Though the public power utility owns this network, it does not offer services. The network, which currently services municipal locations, schools, and some 75 businesses with Internet access, leaves independent providers to provide the actual services. They welcome major carriers like Comcast and Verizon, who have thus far refused to use open access networks to expand their customer base.

Currently, the network has a single service provider, though the utility has spoken with others and expects more service providers to join the network when it begins making residential connections.

As for when it will begin offering residential access, the City Council will discuss that on July 6 in a work session. The Utility has recommended the City start the next phase, servicing some 2,000-3,000 homes.

Posted June 10, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

A grassroots effort in the broadband desert of Western Massachusetts has been organizing local communities to build a publicly owned, open access FTTH network to everyone in the partner towns (universal access). This story notes that 33 Towns had joined the effort by early May, but the current map of supporting towns show 39 supporting towns now.

Some towns voted to join unanimously; very few have opted not to join the dialogue. Towns are asked to pass this proposed warrant article at their Town Meeting (a practice common in the New England area):

Article [X]:
To see if the Town will vote to enter into immediate discussions with other Western Massachusetts municipalities with the intent of entering an inter-municipal agreement, by and through the Select Board, pursuant to Chapter 40, Section 4A of the Massachusetts General Laws, for the purpose of establishing a universal, open access, financially self-sustaining communication system for the provision of broadband service, including high-speed Internet access, telephone and cable television to the residents, businesses and institutions of these municipalities; or act in relation thereto.

The preamble to the warrant article [pdf] offers the context:

WiredWest Communications, a community broadband network representing citizens in more than 30 towns in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties, has studied how to make high-speed Internet access available to every household and business in our rural towns and has concluded that a universally-accessible, municipally-owned fiber-optic network, open to all providers, is the best solution. We believe that commercial Internet providers, such as Comcast and Verizon, will never expand significantly to reach unserved customers and will certainly never deliver universal coverage. Building it ourselves is our only alternative.

Participating towns will "be convened and pressing issues of governance and inter-municipal agreements will be addressed" in late June.

Though nothing is finalized (obviously), they explained one financing option in the...

Read more
Posted May 18, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The nation's newest open access network opened for business this week - Palm Coast FiberNET in Florida. This network is intended to serve businesses and is not currently a FTTH build. The network uses the City of Palm Coast's fiber assets:

The City of Palm Coast is making its high performance fiber network available for business and commercial use in Palm Coast. The goal of this effort is to create business opportunities for private sector service providers, lower the cost of telecom and broadband for local businesses, and to help attract new businesses and job opportunities to the City. Broadband connections to businesses will provide Internet access, a wider variety of telephone, videoconferencing, and other business class services.

The opening ceremonies (a cutting of the fiber) were covered on Office Divvy, who noted that the network currently has two providers and a plan to connect most businesses in town over the next two years. Services to their facility will be up in early June.

This is a similar approach as used in several networks in Virginia, including the Wired Road, and nDanville. Rather than trying to build citywide all at once, these networks expand as opportunities arise and funding is available.

Clarification: The City has already expanded its fiber assets to create this network; the post should not be read as the City merely leasing fiber it already had.

Posted May 14, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The Chelan Public Utility District in Washington began its county-wide fiber-optic network build. They have since passed some 80% of the county but are temporarily pausing expansion efforts. Chelan is a rural county and the network is not expected to break even for quite some time.

In Washington, state law limits the powers of public utility districts to offer broadband. As with communities in Utah, these public sector entities are forced to operate an open access network and are unable to offer services directly. While the open access model is a great one for some communities (and one we encourage when the numbers work), it can be difficult to implement depending on local circumstances.

The Wenatchee World recently covered the decision to hire a consultant to identify means of lowering costs. The network has cost $80 million to get to this point and will require an additional $40 million to connect the remaining 15-20%.

The network can provide access to over 30,000 residents, businesses, and community anchors (schools, hospitals, muni facilities). Subscribers choose from a variety of service providers for services and take rates vary from 30%-60% depending on the area.

The network is operating at a loss (probably due to a combination of the high costs of FTTH in rural areas, the low take rates, and lower revenues from operating on a purely wholesale basis). Residents were conflicted about the network's inability to pay for itself but a majority have continued to support it because they often have no other broadband options. However, the current economic climate has resulted in more concern about the costs.

Chelan PUD has apparently covered the losses from broadband (as well as some sewer and water services) with the sales of surplus electricity on the wholesale market. Those prices are rather low right now, forcing the PUD to make some difficult choices.

Some residents are frustrated by the delays:

Sanders has already laid underground conduit for her own house and two of her neighbors’, following assurances from PUD staff that it would speed the installation process.

Another resident, Rachel Imper who lives on Brown Road, said she needs a fast Internet connection to exchange writing assignments that she...

Read more
Posted May 13, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

UTOPIA, the open access FTTH network in several cities of Utah, has been seeking some $20 million to continue adding new subscribers to the network. The cities involved seem to be on board, committing to the funding following recent successes.

Mayor Mike Winder, of West Valley City - one of the UTOPIA cities, makes the case for digging deeper to lend money to the network:

UTOPIA's good news is that since June 2008, it's added over 3,500 new customers and reached about 10,000 subscribers, the number of service providers on the network has grown from three to 12, and national voices — from Google to the New York Times — are trumpeting the virtues of an open-fiber network.

The plain and simple fact is that these towns have already committed to the project; they are vested in its success. Now under better management, perhaps his whole town will have access to fastest speeds available in the country:

Only 23 percent of my city has UTOPIA fiber, and there are homes and businesses that want access to the speed of light. After weighing the issue for months, I've concluded that we need to bring UTOPIA fiber to the rest of West Valley City, and just as importantly, to grow UTOPIA to profitability. I will be encouraging my council and my colleagues in UTOPIA cities around the state to join me in charging forward.

A press release from UTOPIA announces ambitious plans:

The new plan anticipates adding about 20,000 more customers over the next several years. “We’ve known for a long time that UTOPIA needs a much larger customer base, and a good mix of business and residential customers, to make the books balance,” says Murray Mayor Dan Snarr. “Our cities are already obligated to the network for years to come, so we need to grow to critical mass rapidly, based on a plan to ensure long-term financial health.”

And Orem's mayor reiterated UTOPIA's philosophy (noting that the NY Times have called for open access networks):

Governments build roads, and allow FedEx and UPS to compete on...

Read more
Posted May 12, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Australia is planning to build a nationwide open access network that will be owned by the public. Ars Technica recently covered their progress - Australia has released a consultant report on the proposed network.

If the major incumbent, Telstra, works with the government on the network, the costs will be lower. But Australia will not let Telstra dictate the terms of their relationship:

But it's clear that the new network won't be held hostage to Telstra's demands. The consultants conclude that, in the absence of an agreement, [the fiber network] should proceed to build both its access network and its backhaul unilaterally." [src: Ars Technica]

Between the original plan and a revised plan suggested by the referenced study (bullet points here), over 90% of Australians will have a real choice in providers over a FTTH connection whereas the rest will have a combination of wireless and satellite options. The prices are expected to be affordable, and will probably be well below what we pay here in America.

The Implementation Study has some words about ownership of the National Broadband Network (NBN):

Government should retain full ownership of the NBN until the roll out is complete to ensure that its policy objectives are met – including its competition objectives

On technology, they reiterate what we have been saying for years:

Fibre to the premise is widely accepted as the optimal future proof technology with wireless broadband a complementary rather than a substitute technology;

Have no fear though, we will undoubtedly hear from many apologists for the private telecom companies that Australiai's NBN has "failed" because it is losing money. Estimates on the break even are many years out:

BN Co can build a strong and financially viable business case with the Study estimating it will be earnings positive by year six and able to pay significant distributions on its equity following completion of the rollout;

Brace yourself for a slew of reports noting the operating losses in the early years as "proof" the government should never have built this broadband infrastructure. These are the tried...

Read more
Posted May 3, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is pleased to release this comprehensive report on the practices and philosophy of publicly owned networks. Breaking the Broadband Monopoly explains how public ownership of networks differs from private, evaluates existing publicly owned networks, details the obstacles to public ownership, offers lesson learned, and wrestles with the appeal and difficulty of the open access approach.

Download Breaking the Broadband Monopoly [pdf]

Executive Summary

Across the country, hundreds of local governments, public power utilities, non-profits, and cooperatives have built successful and sometimes pioneering telecommunication networks that put community needs first.

These communities are following in the footsteps of the publicly owned power networks put in place a century before. We watch history repeating itself as these new networks are built for the same reasons: Incumbents refusing to provide service or charging high rates for poor service.

Cities like Lafayette, Louisiana, and Monticello, Minnesota, offer the fastest speeds at the lowest rates in the entire country. Kutztown’s network in Pennsylvania has saved the community millions of dollars. Oklahoma City’s massive wireless mesh has helped modernize its municipal agencies. Cities in Utah have created a true broadband market with many independent service providers competing for subscribers. From DC to Santa Monica, communities have connected schools and municipal facilities, radically increasing broadband capacity without increasing telecom budgets.

These pioneering cities have had to struggle against many obstacles, often created by incumbents seeking to prevent the only real threat of competition they face. Eighteen states have passed laws that discourage publicly owned networks. When lawsuits by entrenched incumbents don’t thwart a publicly owned system, they cross-subsidize from non-competitive markets to temporarily reduce rates in an attempt to starve the infant public network of subscribers.

Despite these obstacles, more and more cities are building these networks and learning how to operate in the challenging new era in which all media is online and a high speed tele-communications network is as much a part of the essential infrastructure of...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to open access