Tag: "stimulus"

Posted November 1, 2010 by christopher

I recently heard that the only place one finds a free lunch is in a mouse trap. As we sift through the lessons from the broadband stimulus programs, we have learned that the federal government preferred funding private projects rather than those that are structurally accountable to the community.

Before the first round of stimulus applications were due, many communities recognized the costs of applying were too high for them. Now, some are recognizing the high costs of complying with the many federal rules that come with accepting federal grants and loans (as detailed by Craig Settles).

And now, North Carolina's city of Wilson has found that applying for the broadband stimulus may have disadvantaged its FTTH network. Though the application was not accepted, the city has had to turn over its full application (chock full with proprietary information) to its competitors.

This is yet another example of ways in which the "playing field" is tilted against the public. The Wilson Times explained the situation and settlement.

The application included a proposed expansion of the network to provide reduced-cost or no-cost broadband lines to homes of Wilson County school children, a health network, increased lines for police and other improvements that would enhance the network in the city, Goings said.

When the North Carolina Telecommunications Association (with prominent member Time Warner Cable - incumbent cable provider competing with Wilson's Greenlight) asked to see the full application, the City refused to turn it over -- even after a court ruled against the City. The City argued the application contained key information regarding the policy and utilities that should not be made public for security reasons. When the Department of Homeland Security ignored the City's requests to intervene, the City was compelled to release the documents.

This is a particularly interesting juxtaposition as privately owned telcos and cablecos regularly argue against having to disclose any information about about their networks as a security...

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Posted October 27, 2010 by christopher

The University of Wisconsin System is involved in a broadband stimulus project to expand fast and affordable broadband access to key community institutions. Just as they have in similar projects around the country, massive companies like AT&T are trying to derail any potential competition to their services.

From the Cap Times, "Surf and turf: Telecom industry protests UW-Extension broadband plan:"

The angst is over nearly $30 million that was awarded to build more than 600 miles of fiber optic cable that will bring high-capacity broadband connections to a range of key public entities and health care providers in the four communities, each of which has indicated a desire for more reliable broadband service and, not coincidentally, has a UW campus. This project’s budget is nearly $43 million when one adds in funds contributed from groups that will benefit from the infrastructure upgrade in each community.

[T]hose backing the undertaking argue it will bring faster and more reliable Internet service to public safety agencies, health care providers, schools and community organizations in Platteville, Superior, Wausau and the Chippewa Valley (Eau Claire) area.

Private telecom companies (led by AT&T) are protesting the project with a rejoinder we commonly hear in these issues:

Bill Esbeck, the executive director of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association, argues the project will duplicate an existing network and take revenues out of the pockets of local Internet providers. The group is asking for a state review of the plan and is considering legal action, says Esbeck.

Interestingly, both sides are mostly right. The public safety, health care, and educational institutions will see faster, more reliable, and less expensive broadband. Private existing providers (mostly AT&T), will lose some revenues.

Of course, those lost revenues would have come from the tax base in the form of local governments having to greatly overpay for telecom services.

The fiscally responsible path for local governments is to build and own (perhaps operate if they wish) their own broadband networks rather than leasing overpriced services from carriers like AT&T. Not only does this cut...

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Posted October 19, 2010 by christopher

DC-Net, the muni-owned and operated fiber network connecting hundreds of community institutions (schools, libraries, local government buildings), is expanding in scope and mission following three broadband stimulus awards.

But first, to introduce DC-Net, I am excerpting a few paragraphs from my comprehensive report on community networks - Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need."

In 2007, DC-NET began with service to 135 sites, a number that has more than doubled to 280, including 140 school buildings alone. The network also provides connectivity for libraries, public hospitals, community centers, and some Wi-Fi networks.

DC-NET staff designed, installed, and have maintained the overwhelming majority of the network. As is common with all these networks, some operations are contracted out (e.g. fiberoptic construction and some aspects of maintenance, such as fixing fiber cuts).

DC-Net controls the locks and determines who has access to any part of its network, including key electronics on site in the buildings and elsewhere in the network, providing a high level of security.

On the critical issue of reliability, DC-NET has proven impressive. The network has more layers of redundancy than one typically finds with a commercial carrier and the uptime shows it. In the first year of operation, it tallied an impressive record – with only four buildings briefly losing their network connection in three events – an average of 15 minutes of interruption per site for the year. This is far better than the industry standard – in DC-NET’s first year of operation.

DC-Net is also more responsive to the needs of its subscribers. Though private companies like Verizon may require a month or even two to connect a new subscriber, DC-NET can do it in as quickly as a week to as long as twenty days. As for the services available, DC-NET will provide service from 2 Mbps -1000 Mbps, allowing subscribers far greater freedom to select the speeds they need than commercial providers offer.

This publicly owned network saves DC some $5 million/year compared to the costs of duplicating functionality using leased circuits. Even then, it would not be nearly as reliable due to limits in redundancy from leased lines. However, this...

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Posted October 2, 2010 by christopher

Missouri's Cass County, has received both a loan and grant from the broadband stimulus program run by the RUS in the Department of Agriculture.

The $26 million “Last Mile, Fiber-To-The-Home” network will be capable of providing service to 18 communities, nearly 12,000 households and 700 businesses within 625 square miles of mostly rural and underserved areas of the county.

The project, funded by an $18 million grant and $8 million in loans, also will connect schools to students and hospitals to patients.

Like the Cook County, MN, project, Cass County is working with Pulse Broadband to build an open access network.

Posted September 26, 2010 by christopher

Almost $45 million from the broadband stimulus is heading to OneCommunity, a nonprofit organization in Northeast Ohio (originally named OneCleveland), in order to expand their network across 27 counties.

OneCommunity expects 800 new subscribers -- colleges, hospitals, universities and governmental entities -- to tie into the network.

OneCommunity generally works by expanding middle mile networks through partnerships with other nonprofits as well as the private sector. Learn more about the plans and background of OneCommunity from its press release or their web site.

Posted September 21, 2010 by christopher

Perhaps the biggest disappointment from the broadband stimulus program was its focus on middle mile investments in a bid to avoid overly upsetting powerful incumbent providers who do not look kindly upon competition (something we discussed here). Some claimed that by increasing middle mile options, the private sector will have greater incentive to invest in the next-generation broadband networks communities desperately need. While this is undoubtedly true, it ignores the biggest hurdle facing network deployers: the high cost of building the network. Reducing the operating expenses of a new network by dropping backhaul prices does very little to allow a deployer (private, public, etc) to better afford the high capital cost of building the network. To illustrate, I could greatly improve my vertical but I still would not play in the NBA (apparently, that requires talent also). Remarkably, we have a fantastic test case of what happens when a government builds massive middle-mile connections and expects the private sector to complete the last mile build: Alberta Province in Canada. Ten years ago, Alberta began building the Supernet, a massive mostly fiber backbone delivering 100Mbps into just about every town in the province (we wrote about this in the back of our Breaking the Broadband Monopoly report). Despite the fact that anyone could get affordable backhaul, a recent Calgary Herald article revealed that half a million people still only have access to dial-up. This illustrates an important lesson: by making ubiquitous backhaul available, the private sector did invest. Unfortunately, it invested only in the profitable areas and has left perhaps a larger problem behind for the public sector to solve.

The plan was to leave it up to private Internet service providers to supply the final leg of the connection between the SuperNet and individual users. Unfortunately for many residents who live outside of major urban centres, there's often little financial incentive for providers to do so.

Some munis in Alberta have built last mile networks themselves...

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Posted September 18, 2010 by christopher

As I was catching up on some of the good broadband stimulus awards, I came across this Sun Patriot newspaper article about Carver County's award. Carver County, perhaps having learned from its neighbor Scott County (which built a great FTTH network quite economically), will soon operate a broadband network far superior to the expensive leased T1 lines it currently uses. Carver County will receive almost $6 million from the award,

The county has agreed to provide $1.5 million, the required 20 percent match of the total project budget of $7.5 million. The county will use $400,000 in cash funds allocated from its Information Technology operating capital budget for the project. The remaining $1.1 million will come from a bond sale. The county’s recent upgrade to AAA bond rating means it will obtain the lowest possible interest rate on the 15-year bonds, according to a Carver County news release.

The Carver County Open Fiber Initiative (CCOFI) network will connect 86 anchor institutions (including 28 schools) in 55 locations and will not provide services directly to residential or business customers. Instead, the network will offer wholesale access to private providers, in hopes that they will improve broadband access in most areas of the county. The County will own the network; Jaguar Communications has partnered with the county to build and maintain the backbone. This network will allow the County to stop grossly overpaying some $230,000 a year for T1 lines delivering too little capacity for their needs. Over time, ownership of the network will allow them to pay less over time (with technological innovation lowering prices) for broadband rather than paying more over time as occurs with those relying on leased T1s. We continue to question any community that relies on leased copper rather the building their own fiber networks for essential muni functions.

Posted September 14, 2010 by christopher

I just spoke with Danna MacKenzie of Cook County and Gary Fields of National Public Broadband (working with Lake County) to find out just how excited they are about yesterday's announcement of broadband stimulus awards. Both Lake and County (separate projects) have been funded to build fiber-to-the-home networks to everyone on the power grid in the region.

They are pretty excited.

In a few years, these North Shore Communities will likely have better broadband options than the metro region of Minneapolis and Saint Paul -- a far cry from the beginning of this year when a single fiber cut stranded the whole north shore.

Bob Kelleher at Minnesota Public Radio covered the awards:

Combined, they will connect 37,000 residents, 1,000 businesses and 98 institutions such as hospitals and schools.

Cook County actually has a double whammy - they already stood to benefit from the North East Service Cooperative, which is building high capacity fiber-optic lines through the North Shore to offer middle-mile backhaul and connect local government facilities and schools.

As of yesterday, they will also get a fiber-to-the-home network from the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative. Cook, currently served in part by Qwest, has little access to true broadband -- some 37% have access to anemic DSL connections and the rest are stuck with dial-up.

Details of the award from Kelleher at MPR:

Joe Buttweiler, who directs membership services with the Lutsen-based Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, said 70 percent of the federal award is a grant and the remainder a loan. He said the cooperative will add another $600,000 for capital.

Back in April, Blandin's Broadband blog published the short summary of the Arrowhead project:

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative proposes to build and operate a fiber optic network to the residential and commercial...

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Posted August 25, 2010 by christopher

The open access UTOPIA network in Utah has been awarded broadband stimulus funds that will allow the network to serve hundreds of community institutions in several communities, which will aid them in the continuing last-mile rollout.

The grant was awarded to begin connecting nearly 400 schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, community college locations, government offices and other important community institutions in sections of Perry, Payson, Midvale, Murray, Centerville, Layton, Orem, and West Valley City.

Jesse at FreeUTOPIA offered some thoughts on what the grant means locally.

I'm positively thrilled at the news - UTOPIA continues to push ahead with a unique approach to fiber infrastructure that would solve most of the nation's broadband problems, including the one abandoned by everyone in DC: creating true competition for subscribers.

Unrelated to the broadband stimulus award, Pete Ashdown penned an excellent op-ed about UTOPIA: Fiber infrastructure best handled by government.

There certainly are commercial examples of roads, airports, sewers, water treatment, but nothing on the scale of the interstate highways, national and international airports, and facilities that service large populations. The interests of business are narrow — returning a profit and increasing shareholder return.

These interests go against broad long-term goals that infrastructure serves — facilitating economic exchange and the general welfare. If every airline was required to build their own airport and every shipping company needed their own road, America would be on par with Somalia as an economic force.

To critics of UTOPIA or more broadly, public ownership of infrastructure, he writes:

There is no doubt that iProvo and UTOPIA have seen mismanagement. The Federal Highways Act saw corruption, graft and bribes during its creation. Yet only a fool would regard our highways as a waste of money.

The remedy to government mismanagement is full transparency with active citizen oversight. It is time this country embraces fiber infrastructure...

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Posted August 23, 2010 by christopher

A community-owned network, infused with broadband stimulus dollars, is bringing broadband to people stuck on long-distance dial-up for Internet access.

Cedar Falls Utilities, which recently announced an upgrade to FTTH from HFC, announced more good news last week: they have received an RUS stimulus grant (PDF, scroll down) to expand their broadband services to nearby unserved areas.

CFU is a public power and telecom utility in Iowa with an electrical footprint that roams outside Cedar Falls muni boundary. For years, CFU has wanted to offer broadband to its whole electrical territory but could not justify the capital expense outside the city because the rural areas would not produce enough revenues to run the network in the black.

With this 50% grant ($873,000) from the Rural Utilities Services, CFU is expanding and will offer broadband to their whole electrical territory. Serving broadband to these areas will be a sustainable enterprise -- the building of broadband is what costs so much money (one of the very good reasons networks should be accountable to the communities -- the "market" will not make the appropriate investment by itself).

Some folks will get fiber services and others will get WiMAX, a welcome change from dial-up (for some, long distance dial-up is the only option to connect to the Internet!).

I asked CFU if people in the area had access to broadband and was told that some had access to satellite services… to which I responded, "So no one has access to broadband?" Satellite is a last ditch option, not a viable competitor to services that deliver actual broadband.

Some also have access to some very slow cellular speeds - again, not really broadband but it is better than dial-up.

We salute Cedar Falls for requesting a 50% grant from the Feds rather than the full 80% they could have gone with. Self-reliance means taking responsibility for the community, not maximizing the "free money" available from the Feds.

Though we at MuniNetworks.org believe in a future with everyone connected with both mobile and reliable wired access, we do not expect it to happen tomorrow. We hope that over time, CFU is able to expand the reach...

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