Tag: "community savings"

Posted October 19, 2011 by christopher

When I visited Hometown Utilicom in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, I snapped this photo of a sign they have posted in their office to remind people how supporting the local network helps the local economy.  Not a very good photo, I'm afraid, but it conveys the message.

Hometown Utilicom Marketing

Posted September 19, 2011 by ejames

In the place where “Texas history lives,” the City of Granbury followed a fellow Texas city in delivering a Tropos wifi system that covers all 10 square miles of the city.  Less than a decade ago, Granbury had no functional IT department and after hurdles with a private public partnership, established a functional and successful publicly-owned wireless network.  Initially created to support city functions and mobile police, the network is available to the public, elevating the rural town outside of Fort Worth to the mobile age.

When Granbury hired IT Director Tony Tull in 2003, the technology capabilities of the city were dire: no staff, a budget of $6,000, and only two buildings with access.   Tull quickly brought city and council officials on-board to his ambitious technology plan to deploy wireless WAN to all city buildings in partnership with their existing ISP, Texas-based Frontier Broadband (now acquired by KeyOn).  The initial needs were to equip city personnel with mobile access which focused on police officers, firefighters, and city inspectors.

Other goals included general public and tourist broadband access, reading utility meters, perform live web casts, and connect to nearby governmental networks.   After the City received a Homeland Security grant, $70,000 was earmarked to outfit over 10 police vehicles with wireless laptops.  In 2004 Tull attended the Public Technology Institute’s National Summit for Local Governments in Corpus Christi where he reviewed the city’s 147 square mile wireless network by Tropos.  Convinced the technology was right, Granbury deployed a test run of 40 routers across half the city and eventually 100 more to cover the roughly 10 square miles.

The initial returns on investment came eight months after launch when the police department returned $78,000 in budgeted police salary overtime.  The department later reduced its 2005 budget by $100,000.  The City has also saved time and money with the network reading digital meters, assisting building inspectors and providing cheaper connections to municipal buildings.  The total start-up costs were $325,000 which included acquisition costs, infrastructure, and the Tropos price of $68,000 for each square mile of the network.  City departments continue to streamline with the system and since 2007 public users have been accessing the network for $5.95 daily or...

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Posted September 16, 2011 by christopher

Is subscription sales the only way our municipality is going to see a return on our $500,000 [city-owned wireless network]? Not really. We see other benefits. Police on the street longer because they can do their reports from the cars rather than the squad room. More information to our firefighters before they make scene on a possible structure fire. AMR project. Tourist access to city wide internet. These are all hard dollar and soft dollar returns that are real.

Posted August 22, 2011 by christopher

Lafayette Doing OK, Doubles Capacity for Promotion

John at Lafayette Pro Fiber recently updated us all on LUS Fiber's financials. According to John, LUS Fiber is doing OK, not great, in its FTTH offering (probably the best deal in the nation for fast, affordable, and reliable connections). In reading deeper, it is clear that the impact of the community network on the public is GREAT, not just ok.

From John's writeup:

LUS estimates that the citizens of the community have saved 5.7 million dollars—in part direct saving from LUS' cheaper phone, video, and internet services and in part as a consequence of Cox lowering its prices and giving out special rates. Those special rates were discussed in the meeting with Huval pointing out that Cox had petitioned for and received permission to treat Lafayette as a "competitive" area. That meant that Cox could offer special deals to Lafayette users and, as we all know, has offered cuts to anyone who tries to leave. Those "deals." as Huval pointed out to Patin don't include the rural areas of the parish where Cox has no competition.

But it doesn't end there. LUS Fiber, due to anti-competitive laws pushed through the state's legislature to handicap public providers, is actually subsidizing the City -- providing more benefits to everyone, even those who do not subscribe to the network.

Again it all goes back to the (un)Fair Competion Act. One of the things in that act a concession that LUS Fiber would be able to borrow from LUS' other utilities just like any other corporation could set up internal borrowing arrangements. This is not a subsidy, it's a loan—with real interest. One of the efforts to raise an issue by Messrs Patin and Theriot centered around "imputed" taxes. Those are extra costs that Cox and ATT got the state to require that LUS include in order to force LUS to raise their price to customers (you!) above the actual cost. (Yes, really. See...

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Posted July 15, 2011 by christopher

For years, telephone and cable companies have claimed there is little demand for better networks because they cannot identify a single "killer app" that needs 100Mbps or 1Gbps. Recently, I've heard from kindred spirits saying that the "killer app" is the network itself.

This is a smart response.

Imagine someone demanding we dismantle the Interstates unless we can identify a single use that makes them worthy. The proposition is absurd. There are thousands of ways the Interstates are used. Some -- like ensuring the military can move about the country quickly -- are quite important whereas others are important only to a few people (as when my family goes on vacation).

We are all better off because we have such a robust transportation system. Our markets are more efficient and we have greater freedom of movement. We all also bear the cost (whether it be through taxes, pollution, or other impacts … and yes, we bear that cost unevenly). Roads have been essential infrastructure for centuries -- few argue they should only be built where those along the path can pay for the full cost of doing so.

Access to the Internet is rapidly becoming as important as the roads have long been. Whether for economic development, education, health, or quality of life, a lack of fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet diminishes all.

For years, rural cooperatives have built telecommunications networks in rural areas where no private company would dare invest. Joan Engebretson explains why "Broadband Payback is not Just About Subscriber Revenues.".

Antique Phone

The upshot is that in doing a cost/ benefit analysis on telecom infrastructure investment, it’s important to take into account not only the direct revenues that the infrastructure generates but also the dollars that flow into a community as a result of the investment.

Imagine trying to sell a home today that only had party line phone service and think about the impact that would have on the value of the home. Now apply that logic to broadband. With two-thirds of U.S. households accustomed to having broadband connectivity, I’m already hearing that homes in areas with inadequate broadband...

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Posted April 5, 2011 by christopher

Opponents of public ownership like to claim that publicly owned broadband is somehow hostile to business -- this is a a major Time Warner Cable talking point in North Carolina. The reality is that community networks are incredibly biased in favor of local businesses. Most community fiber networks resulted out of economic development needs, when public leaders realize the fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet is a key to attracting businesses (and that massive absentee incumbents rarely care to invest enough to attract those businesses).

Unfortunately, the argument resonates among a public that rarely remembers the U.S. economy was built on key public infrastructure investments -- from roads and highways to water works to universal electrification, if the public didn't own the infrastructure outright, it attempted to regulate in the public interest. And though regulators are frequently captured by those they regulate, the outcome is still better than allowing unaccountable electrical trusts to arbitrarily decide how much to gouge their customers.

When Google was search for a community partner in building its gigabit network, it was not shy about public ownership -- we now know that a key factor in the decision was Kansas City's publicly owned electrical company. Being owned by the City allowed Google a single point of contact and an assurance that they could all work together to build the network.

Surveying businesses in three early FTTH communities revealed dramatic savings:

In terms of fiber-enabled cost savings, 120 businesses in Bristol reported an average of $2,951 in savings per year, while, in Reedsburg, 33 cited annual cost savings averaging $20,682. Twenty Jackson businesses reported cost impacts due to fiber, with one large organization reporting a total of $3 million in savings. The other 19 Jackson respondents reported a net average cost increase of $3,150 per organization.

Make no mistake, public ownership of infrastructure is not anti-business, it is pro-business. There are a handful of businesses that benefit tremendously when they control infrastructure -- but it comes...

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Posted February 4, 2011 by christopher

We've been raving about Chattanooga' FTTH network and smart-grid for quite some time now, but others are just learning about it. Chattanooga's Electric Power Board serves some 170,000 households and businesses across 600 sq miles. Though we have mostly focused on the triple-play benefits of the network

Chattanooga had been named one of the 2011 Top 21 Intelligent Communities of the year previously, but more recently made the cut to a Top 7 Intelligent Community. Time will tell if is awarded the Intelligent Community of the year.

Green Tech Media covered the completion of the network pass and activation of electric grid smart switches at the end of 2010.

[A]ll of its 170,000 electricity customers could benefit from the infrastructure. The network will serve as the conduit for 80 billion data points on electricity use per year that could help the utility run more efficiently, reduce outages, and give customers more control over their monthly electricity expenses.

“Chattanooga is the epicenter of energy technology,” said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. “One of our biggest jobs is to exploit this technology for the benefit of our community.”

With power outages previously taking a $100 million/year bite out of private businesses served by EPB, the new FTTH network will enable a much smarter network that will radically decrease those outages and thereby make businesses more productive. By mid 2012, businesses will see a 40% decrease outage time. Over time, as EPB's grid grows ever "smarter," those losses will likely decrease further while also providing energy users (residential and business) more opportunities to manage their power consumption.

For those who only associate the smart-grid with enabling time-of-use pricing (paying more electricity during periods of high demand), there are other important, if hidden benefits:

S&C Electric is supplying EPB with the switches’ pulse-closing technology, which injects a low-energy current pulse into an electric line to determine if a fault has cleared. This saves the utility money by reducing wear and tear on substation...
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Posted November 12, 2010 by christopher

Spanish Fork, a well-regarded community broadband network, is now offering triple-play services on its hfc network. Previously, the town was offering broadband and television but recently added telephone after feeling the time was right.

From the article:

John Bowcut, director of Information Systems for Spanish Fork, said 15 percent of homes signed up when told telephone service was available over the cable. The network only used door hangers to advertise at first because it intended to have a slow rollout. Then the service was promoted in the city newsletter.

SFCN's phone rollout was slow for a reason. Small neighborhoods were notified one at a time, which allowed the network to handle the load. Bowcut said they didn't want to open sign-ups citywide and then have to tell people their connection date was three months out. He said the most people had to wait this way was 10 days.

Initially about 1,500 homes signed up for phone service, out of 5,534 homes in Spanish Fork.

The new telephone service runs an economical $14.95 with a variety of features. 75% of the town takes at least one service from the network, perhaps because of the great customer service:

Perrins was a beta tester for the system. He thought going through that process was awesome. They fixed every problem quickly and fine-tuned the network. "It was fun because the employees were so excited and eager to find and fix the problems."

Prior to the telephone rollout, only some 60% of the community took a service from the network, as explained in this article

About 60 percent of Spanish Fork residents already subscribe to SFCN's cable TV and high-speed Internet. The customer appeal of the city-run communications utility is that Spanish Fork provides both the infrastructure and the service -- a practice that was actually outlawed by the Utah Legislature in 2004, though Spanish Fork was grandfathered in.

This means SFCN can cut out any middle-man service provider, which amounts to about $2 million in savings each year, Mayor Wayne Andersen said.

"I think it was a sad day when the state Legislature put the kibosh on that sort of thing," Andersen...

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Posted November 3, 2010 by christopher

Wilson's Greenlight community fiber network is ahead of schedule. They continue to operate ahead of the business plan, despite a few difficulties that offer lessons to up and coming community networks.

We recently covered the fallout from their application to the broadband stimulus program where they had to disclose network information to their competitors.

Fortunately, that was not the only news last month from North Carolina's first all-fiber citywide network. They also surpassed 5000 subscribers and remain 6-9 months ahead of their business plan in take rate, according to the Wilson Times.

The number of customers is expected to reach 5,300 by the end of the fiscal year if the current trend continues, according to Dathan Shows, assistant city manager for Broadband and Technical Services. The city's current business plan calls for Greenlight to reach 5,000 customers by the end of the third full year of operation, which will be June 2011.

This is not the first time the network has exceeded projections; the network was built faster than expected and quickly jumped out ahead of take rate expectations.

One of the reasons Greenlight may be growing is its attention to local needs, as illustrated by the network finding a way to televise local football matches that otherwise would not have been available.

However, the Wilson Times story goes into much greater detail regarding the competition from Time Warner Cable. As we regularly see, Time Warner Cable is engaging in what appears to be predatory pricing to retain customers and starve Greenlight of new subscribers.

A lesson to other community networks, Wilson is documenting the deals TWC uses to keep subscribers. All communities should keep these records.

"Time Warner Cable's market tactics include anti-competitive pricing that interferes with Wilson's ability to secure customers through normal marketing," the application [for broadband stimulus] states. "TWC offers below-market rates to customers seeking to switch to Greenlight, locking them...

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Posted March 18, 2010 by christopher

In 1999, the city of Spanish Forks in Utah began building a $7.5 million publicly owned cable network to offer broadband and cable television services. Since then, the network has created some $2 million in community savings from the lower rates created by competition. In February of 2009, Spanish Fork Community Network received the "Business of the Month" award from the local Chamber of Commerce.

Last month, they announced that they will be adding telephone services to the network by contracting with a private provider that will actually offer the service.

When most people think of Utah and broadband networks, they think of UTOPIA, the open access network that has had a variety of problems. The Spanish Fork Network has been quick to note their successes (I suspect they are also frequently attacked by the incumbent-loving Utah Taxpayers Association group):

Bowcut gave his budget report and said SFCN had over $400 thousand in retained earnings. "We are not going under."

He also added that they built the network at a time when private providers refused to invest in the community.

Hat tip to FreeUTOPIA for noting these stories.

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