Tag: "rural"

Posted February 9, 2011 by christopher

For two years, National Public Broadband (led by Gary Fields and Tim Nulty) has worked with Lake County, Minnesota, to build a universal rural FTTH broadband network to everyone in the County and some nearby towns in Saint Louis County. Toward the end of 2010, the relationship became somewhat tense as some county commissioners questioned what NPB had told them about Burlington Telecom, and a number of media outlets raised questions about Nulty's relationship to BT's problems without actually investigating the story.

Now the Lake County News-Chronicle (which, over the course of this story, has taken the time to report facts rather than following the lazy lead of the Star Tribune and Duluth News Tribune), reports that Lake County and National Public Broadband are kaput. Lake County is seeking a new partner to build the project.

Lake County could not reach agreement on a permanent contract with National Public Broadband, its consultant firm for nearly two years. The two sides battled for nearly two months and couldn’t solve issues based on bonus payments and the ability for the county to fire NPB without cause and without penalty. The negotiations had bogged down work on the actual project, Commissioner Paul Bergman said, and the board wanted a fresh start.

Additionally, due to the state of financial markets, the County is planning to self-fund the $3.5 million local obligation required to access to the broadband stimulus award. Lake County hoped to bond for the matching funds but the current interest rates make that an fiscally unwise approach.

While this does not change the project, it will change the perception of the project and open it to increased attacks from those who don't want the County to build a network (despite the fact that private providers have no interest in providing anything other than slow DSL and cable networks).

The County had long maintained that no public money would be used. However, most people will likely not care as long as the project keeps its promise to deliver fast, reliable, and affordable broadband to the community. This is the need -- and people need to stay focused on achieving this goal.

At a commissioner meeting in late December, Gary Fields commented to the Board that...

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Posted February 7, 2011 by christopher

As Minnesota's rural county-wide FTTH projects move forward, we have the opportunity to learn more about them in upcoming events.  Thanks to Blandin's broadband blog for covering these issues!

On February 10, Cook County is welcoming Dan Olsen from WindomNet to discuss their experiences with a community-owned fiber network. You can listen to a previous interview on the North Shore with Dan Olsen.  In the interview, Dan Olsen mentions that a number of residents use WindomNet to work remotely, commuting only once a week to their jobs in South Dakota.  

For the rest of us, mostly located in the metro area of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, we can learn about the projects in Cook, Lake, and Sibley Counties at a Telecommuniations and Information Society Policy Forum at the HHH School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Posted February 1, 2011 by christopher

The SF Examiner is the latest to miss the key point when comparing FDR's rural electrification programs with the Obama Administration's broadband stimulus.  Though both programs did extend essential infrastructure to communities either unserved or underserved, an important differentiator is how they approached it.

Seventy years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt realized that if private industry wouldn't run power lines out to the farthest reaches of rural areas, it would take government money to help make it happen. In 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration was established to deliver electricity to the Tennessee Valley and beyond.

But it wasn't just government money that was needed, it was a focus on local self-reliance -- which is what I wrote in a Letter to the Editor submitted to the paper:

Your article rightly notes that many Americans need help in building the broadband networks they need. But it draws a false comparison between FDR's electrification efforts and Obama's Stimulus.

FDR correctly recognized that the private sector is ill-suited to running the infrastructure needed in rural communities and used loans to fund cooperatives that would allow communities to be locally self-reliant.

Obama's stimulus program was a mix of loans and grants (heavy on grants) to mostly private sector for-profit companies that will have less incentive to run the networks in ways that most benefit the communities (upgrades, customer service).

If Obama had learned from FDR, his Administration would have embraced a fiscally responsible approach that encouraged local self-reliance by building networks that are structurally accountable to the communities they serve.

Posted February 1, 2011 by christopher

In a situation similar to the Frontier letters to Sibley we published last week, the cable company Mediacom has sent letters to Silver Bay and Two Harbors in Lake County to scare them into abandoning the rural county-wide FTTH network that they are building with federal broadband stimulus aid.

Interestingly, rather than sticking to the normal fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) campaign, Mediacom apparently based its threats on a draft previous version of the joint powers ordinance rather than the language actually passed by the resolutionsincluded in the current JPA. Whoops.  [See Update below]

Mediacom, perhaps you should focus on improving your networks rather than stifling potential competition.  Please send us copies of letters your community network has received from incumbent providers.

Without further ado, here is the letter [download pdf] sent to Silver Bay and Two Harbors on December 21, 2010 by Tom Larsen, VP of Legal and Public Affairs for Mediacom:


Re: Joint Powers Agreement with Lake

County Dear Mayor Johnson:

Mediacom prides itself in being one of America's leading providers of telecommunications services to small and medium sized communities. As you may be aware, Mediacom offers a highly competitive suite of high-speed Internet, cable television and phone services to homes and businesses throughout Silver Bay (the "City").

It has come to our attention that the City passed a resolution on November 15, 2010 approving a Joint Powers Agreement with Lake County (the "JPA"). Given the significant private capital that Mediacom has invested in order to make advanced telecommunications services available throughout the City, we were extremely surprised to learn that your resolution approving the the JPA includes the following finding in Section 4(e):

The Municipality hereby finds that the facilities composing the Project are necessary to make Internet and other communication services that are not and will not be available through other providers or the private market accessible and available on an equal basis to the residents of the municipality.

As...

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Posted January 31, 2011 by christopher

Update: We have covered the second round of financing from ECFiber here.

The East Central Vermont Fiber Network, connecting some 23 rural towns, announced back in July that they would self finance a pilot project as a preliminary step to securing the full funding for the project.

Right around Thanksgiving, last year, David Brown updated the community on progress via an article in the Vermont Standard:

It would have been terrific to get the $50million needed to build out all 35,000 telephone and electric poles with 1,500 miles of fiber optic cable. Along the way, we learned an important lesson. We noticed that government money went to existing telephone companies to expand existing networks rather than funding start-ups like ours. That’s when the ECFibernauts decided on a change in strategy: build a small network, get a few real customers, and deliver rock-solid ultra-fast Internet to them as a proof of concept – all using our own money. Then, when all the critical components are up and running, go to the commercial markets for funding needed to expand out to all 23 towns.

The ECFiber Governing Board and our technology partners ValleyNet, Inc. are fortunate to have several experienced financiers within our ranks. Working with our attorneys (to keep everything legal) ECFiber is reaching out to the community with a private offering of tax-exempt promissory notes. As of this writing, we have raised more than three-quarters of what is needed to complete Phase I of our project. The ECFiber hub is now under construction on Waterman Road in Royalton and an initial pole attachment application for 500 poles is being processed. Phase I will bring ECFiber service to selected businesses, schools, town facilities and residents in Bethel, Barnard, Stockbridge and Royalton.

This is a commitment that few other communities have made -- self-financing a start up portion. It is actually quite inspiring, though one quickly grasps the huge need from the stories EC Fiber has collected. Any community hoping...

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Posted January 26, 2011 by christopher

The fiber-to-the-farm initiative in Sibley County, Minnesota, has completed the feasibility study and the towns involved are discussing a Joint Powers Agreement. One of the impacted incumbent providers -- Frontier Communications, a rural telco famous for slow DSL) -- has started to spread the usual FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that is common whenever a massive company is about to face competition.

Though I am tempted to comment directly on Frontier's letter, I'll let the community's response stand on its own. The way they misrepresent the record of Windom should be instructive - this same misinformation strategy is used around the country.  We believe publishing these scare tactics and responses to them is helpful to everyone -- so if your project has received one, please let us know.

Frontier's Letter:

Dear Commissioners:

As a provider of telephone, internet, and video services to our customers in the Green Isle, Arlington, and Henderson areas, Frontier Communications is obviously interested in the "fiber to the home" proposal that has been presented. As a nationwide provider, Frontier is aware of other efforts by municipalities of various types to build and operate their own telecommunications network. While these proposals are always painted in rosy tones, it is important for officials to carefully review the underlying assumptions and projections that consultants make when presenting these projects. Unfortunately, history tells us that the actual performance of most of these projects is significantly less positive than the promises. Often times, these projects end up costing municipalities huge amounts of money, and negatively impact their financial status and credit ratings.

A nearby example would be WindomNet, the city-owned network in Windom, Minnesota. That network, which provides telephone, internet, and video service, began in 2005. The financial results to date have been poor; operating losses of $662,000 in 2006, $1,257,000 in 2007, $326,000 in 2008, and $93,000 in 2009. Additional borrowing by the city was required to make up those losses.

Another example is the city-owned network in Burlington, Vermont. Burlington Telecom was begun with high hopes in 2003, to offer...

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Posted January 20, 2011 by christopher

MuniNetworks.org is happy to welcome a new contributor to the site, Mitch Shapiro.  Mitch will author pieces from time to time, the start of our efforts to broaden the contributions to and reach of MuniNetworks.org.  If you are interested in contributing on a one-time or semi-regular basis, please let us know at broadband@muninetworks.org.

Mitch Shapiro has been an analyst, author and consultant in the telecom, media and broadband industries for more than 25 years. His interest in community-controlled networks dates back to his graduate school days at Michigan State University, which included two internship in Washington DC, the first helping to draft a manual for local communities wanting to deploy a cable TV cooperative, the second working for Intelsat, a cooperatively organized global satellite network. That interest remains strong today, and is informed by more than two decades of experience analyzing broadband technologies, business models, competitive dynamics and economic impacts.

Mitch currently serves as CEO of Broadband Market Analysis, a research and consulting firm, and Rural Fiber Works, which supports cooperative and municipal utilities in developing strategies for open-access community fiber networks. He is also a consultant with Strategic Networks Group, a leader in helping public and private entities understand and maximize the economic benefits of broadband networks.

Throughout his career, Mitch has been a leader in recognizing and projecting the impacts of key industry developments. In the mid-1980s, as Research Director of the Michigan Citizens Lobby, he managed a statewide study of the impacts of the AT&T divestiture on Michigan’s low-income households. In the late 80s and early 90s, as lead technology analyst for Paul Kagan Associates, he was early to recognize the significance of the cable industry’s migration to the “hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC)” architecture, which enabled it to expand from a TV-only service to today’s “triple-play” of voice, video and Internet. Shortly after passage of the 1996 Telecom Act, Mitch authored a 375-page report published by Probe Research, which projected the financial impacts of the legislation on cable and telephone companies, including the role of then-emerging broadband and “triple-...

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Posted January 14, 2011 by christopher

Last night, local officials from all over Sibley County gathered in Arlington to learn about the potential fiber-to-the-farm broadband network they could build as early as 2012. Dave Peters, from Minnesota Public Radio, attended and discussed the meeting on MPR's Ground Level blog.

More than 50 elected officials -- county commissioners, city council members, township board supervisors -- gathered in the Arlington Community Center last night to inch ahead a plan to lay fiber optic lines to every home and business in the county plus those in and around neighboring Fairfax in Renville County.

It's an ambitious plan that would require the community to borrow $63 million and then pay off those bonds with revenue from the service. The county-owned operation would offer the usual cable-phone-Internet triple plays, and backers are promising that right out of the gate it would be at a speed of 20 megabits per second, upload and download. That's quite a bit faster than what area residents get now via DSL or cable or wireless.

If the project will move forward, the communities will have to form a Joint Powers Board and seed it with some start-up funds. The next steps will be to do a pre-subscription campaign to get a real sense of how many residents would take service from a new network. Responses are non-binding but will give a better measure of support as well as create an additional sense of responsibility for the project. From Dave Peters:

By the end of February, the 10 governments -- Sibley and Renville counties and the cities of Gaylord, Arlington, Winthrop, Fairfax, Henderson, Gibbon, Green Isle and New Auburn -- will each decide whether they want to create a joint powers board.

The best scenario is that all communities would join. But if one or a few do not, the project may be able to continue as long as some of the remaining communities are willing to take additional risk (which would be rewarded with a higher percentage of net income down the line). As long as the JPA is able to continue, all communities will still be passed by the network and residents able to subscribe. The exception is Sibley County itself; if the County does not join, the project would be hard-pressed to run the fiber out to the farmers...

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Posted January 12, 2011 by christopher

A group of towns in rural western Massachusetts, having already decided on a cooperative structure, have now started the process of joining the coop in order to eventually build an open access FTTH network to serve everyone in each of the member towns.

Originally, the Wired West towns looked to a similar project in Vermont, East Central Vermont Fiber Network, for guidance but found Massachusetts law did not allow them to use the same joint powers agreement approach. After researching Massachusetts law, they found a law previously used by towns to form "light plants" for electrification. In more modern times, the law had been amended to allow such an entity to offer cable television and telecom services. Of the forty muni light plants in Massachusetts, some four provide telecom services.

In order to join the coop, a town has to twice pass a 2/3 vote by those in attendance at a town meeting. The meeting must be no less than 2 months apart and no more than 13 months apart. In talking with folks from Wired West, this approach appears to be unique to Massachusetts.

From the Wired West site:

Passing the MLP legislation creates a new town department, and does not require a town to produce or sell electricity. The Selectboard can choose to oversee its MLP department themselves or appoint a three to five member board. This group is responsible for appointing a manager, making decisions around the town’s participation and representation in the WiredWest Cooperative, and filing annually with the State.

Creating the MLP incurs no cost to the town. If a town decides to join the WiredWest Cooperative, there will be a membership fee of not more than $1,000 per town.

The coop requires at least 2 towns, but that does not appear to be doubt. The towns to consider it thus far have been enthusiastic - Wired West has a helpful map showing where local towns stand in the process. In general, Wired West is an excellent example of how community groups can use a website to keep people...

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Posted January 7, 2011 by christopher

New Update: Mediacom has invented language in the Joint Power Agreement and threatened the Mayors of Silver Bay and Two Harbors. Let's see how dirty Mediacom will get to prevent competition.

Lake County, recipient of a broadband stimulus award to build a rural county-wide (larger, actually) fiber-to-the-home network, has been wrestling with questions they have related to the problems at Burlington Telecom. After some lazy reporting in the Star Tribune and Duluth News Tribune exaggerated Tim Nulty's role in the problems Burlington Telecom now faces, some on the County Board began asking more questions of National Public Broadband (of which Tim is CEO).

I attended a meeting after Christmas to observe the discussion, share our understanding of the situation, and discuss the experiences of other community networks. Next week, the County Board plans to decide whether they will alter the arrangement with National Public Broadband or possibly seek another partner in the project -- a development that may have implications for changes or revocation of the stimulus funding.

It is important to note that due to structural differences, the problems in Burlington (which, at the least, were hidden from the public allowing them to snowball) are extremely unlikely to repeat in Lake County.

The Lake County Chronicle has published a lengthy editorial responding to concerns and noting the ramifications of any changes to the partnership with National Public Broadband. As of this writing, it is not yet behind a pay wall.

It offers some wise thoughts:

Like the debate over whether the meetings being held to draw up the rollout plans for the county should be public or private, NPB needs to better apply the rules of working within the expectations of open government. We demand transparency and a full accounting of tax dollars.

It’s fair to wonder, as some board members did last week, just what NPB would withhold from the board if things don’t go swimmingly with the Lake County plan. All adjustments, all bumps along the road, need to be publicly and fully discussed.

The county can use NPB’s disclosure...

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