Tag: "rural"

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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Posted January 3, 2011 by christopher

Ontario County was working on a publicly owned solution to Middle Mile long before the broadband stimulus approach made it popular. And now, before most of the stimulus money has been disbursed, they have completed an expanded version of their initial plan.

To date, Axcess Ontario has signed master agreements with eight telecom and broadband companies, including Verizon Wireless and national broadband provider tw telecom. Axcess Ontario is in continual discussions with other service providers, and is working aggressively on its next goal of luring a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service provider to Ontario County. With the fiber ring complete, businesses and municipalities now have access to faster and less expensive broadband, as well as bandwidth equal to global broadband leaders. Businesses can gain access to the ring simply by contacting any of the eight service providers that work with Axcess Ontario. Residents do not yet have access to faster and less expensive broadband, but they will once a FTTH service provider is secured. Axcess Ontario has been working to lure a FTTH provider for more than a year, including submitting an application on behalf of Ontario County, NY, to Google's "Fiber for Communities" ultrafast broadband project earlier this year. More than 1,100 communities nationwide responded to that project, and Google just announced last week that it was postponing its selection of winning communities to early 2011.

We will be interested to see if they can lure a FTTH provider -- though middle mile can lower the operating costs of providing such a service, the capital costs are not significantly changed. And with the robust middle mile already connecting community anchor institutions, a new FTTH provider cannot count on those high-revenue customers. We have seen this previously in Alberta, Canada. Axcess Ontario is an example of a good public-private partnership - as noted in Telecompetitor:

Axcess Ontario credits much of its $2 million cost savings to a lease agreement with Ontario Telephone Co., an incumbent local carrier.

...
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Posted December 8, 2010 by christopher

BVU, which operates OptiNet (the nation's first triple-play muni FTTH network), has transitioned from being owned by the City to being an independent authority. In its last fiscal year (2010-11), the public power utility finished with net income.

OptiNet finished ahead of projections.

Having split from the city, BVU is taking advantage of the Virginia Resource Authority to issue $44 million revenue bonds to refinance its debt.

“We’re going through the VRA pool which helps fund 88 cities and service authorities. Because of that – and because of the market – we’re potentially looking at very low interest rates of 3.3 percent,” Rose told the board during his presentation.

The debt currently has an interest rate approaching 5%. After refinancing, the utility expects to save some $500,000 to $750,000 a year - for a period of 20 years. The cost of refinancing is $900,000.

This story is worth noting for two reasons:

  1. Restructuring debt is not necessarily a sign of weakness -- BVU's OptiNet is quite successful.
  2. A reminder that small communities can benefit significantly by pooling bonding through programs like Virginia's VRA. States should help communities to work together in this way.
Posted December 3, 2010 by christopher

The Chelan Public Utility District in Washington state is upgrading network capacity as it starts expanding the network following its broadband stimulus award. We previously covered their consideration of whether to expand from passing 80% of the territory to 98%.

Chelan is one of the most rural publicly owned fiber networks as well as one of the oldest ones. In a rarity, it looks likely to run in the red permanently (the pains of rural, mountain terrain) with the support of most ratepayers. These ratepayers recognize the many benefits of having the network outweigh its inability to entirely pay for itself. The utility also runs a sewer project that is subsidized by wholesale electricity sales. Though some areas in Chelan are served by Charter and Frontier, the more remote folks would have no broadband access if not for the PUD.

With the planned upgrades in 2011, Chelan's open access services will offer far faster speeds than available from the cable and DSL providers. Under Washington law, the PUDs cannot sell telecommunications services directly to customer. The PUD builds the network infrastructure and allows independent service providers to lease access while competing with each other for subscribers. Though this is a great approach for creating a competitive broadband market, it has proved difficult to finance (if one believes this essential infrastructure should not be subsidized as roads are).

When the PUD considered whether to pursue the expansion (meaning taking a federal grant covering 75% of the costs and agreeing to run the network for 22 years), it asked the ratepayers for feedback:

Sixty-four percent of 450 randomly chosen Chelan County registered voters who were part of phone survey in August said they favor taking the grant and completing the buildout, even if it means their electric bills will go up by as much as 3 percent — about $1.50 more on a $50 per month power bill.

On November 9, PUD Commissioners approved the rate increase.

Chelan's service providers currently offer connections of 6Mbps/384kbps or 12 Mbps/384kbps. As with...

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Posted October 6, 2010 by christopher

In Virginia, Danville's open access all-fiber network, nDanville, currently serves only businesses and large clients. In the early summer, Danville Utilities decided to recommend expanding the network to between 2,000 and 3,000 residential homes with a 10 year, $2.5 million loan.

As Danville Utilities operates the network purely on a wholesale basis, it would not provide services directly. From an article leading up to the decision:

Danville Utilities would run the broadband services to the homes, to a box mounted on the house, and the user would pay a monthly service fee of $8.80 on their utility bill for the box. Gamewood would bill customers for the actual services provided, and pay the city 20 percent of those charges as an access fee for the cable.

Gamewood, a company that would have provided IPTV services on the network, had attempted to measure subscriber interest by mailing a postcard to 1000 local residents. The response failed to persuade at least one city council member, who demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the situation.

Luther bluntly said he had “no faith” in the numbers, and said he is convinced “nDanville is not going to fly.”

“If they want to build it, let Gamewood built it,” Luther said.

Of course, a private company is not interested in an investment that takes 5 years to break even. Even if it were, it would have little incentive to open the network to competition as nDanville does.

Ultimately, the City Council neglected to fund the project - perhaps an unsurprising decision in a time of economic woe. However, for a community like Danville, one wonders how it will recover without access to better broadband than last-generation cable and DSL services that are commonly available throughout the region.

The local paper editorialized in favor of the decision, but noted that the public power utility should continue expanding the network for commercial subscribers.

Posted September 27, 2010 by christopher

This looks interesting...

This video is no longer available.

More Information about Connected States of America here.

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 20, 2010 by christopher

Carroll County, Maryland, has announced a partnership with the Maryland Broadband Cooperative to bring fiber-optic broadband to area businesses that have been neglected by incumbent providers.

The county brought the broadband cooperative in to lease out unused fiber on the county’s 110-mile network, which it built over the past two years. The cooperative will connect business customers with its own members, which include various sizes of Internet service providers that can link the businesses to the network. Prices will vary depending on the service provider and location of the business.

The Carroll County Times offers greater coverage in a story by Marc Shapiro.

The County's $9 million network is financed in part with cost savings from transitioning away from $600/month T1 lines and is the result of many years of work. Remember that a T1 offers 1.5 Mbps of connectivity, the new fiber network likely offers 100Mbps to 1Gbps today and is capable of offering much greater capacity in the future. Building these networks is a far smarter move than leasing T1 lines.

Every county school, every major county facility and Carroll Community College is on broadband Internet, said Mark Ripper, chief information officer with the Carroll County Department of Technology Services. All county facilities and libraries and the board of education will have broadband Internet shortly, he said.

The Maryland Broadband Cooperative, a public/private partnership that promotes economic development through technological infrastructure, will lease the "dark fiber," unused fiber, to its member companies, who can in turn sell Internet service to local businesses. The MDBC has 59 members, about 30 of which are Internet providers, said Patrick Mitchell, president and CEO of the MDBC.

Posted September 16, 2010 by christopher

Western Massachusetts' Wired West is an exciting approach to bringing next-generation broadband networks to rural areas. Thanks to Design Nine's news blog for alerting me to this decision.

For those unfamiliar with our coverage of Wired West, a two page write-up in Berkshire Trade & Commerce Monthly [pdf] offers a good background:

“You often hear that it is too expensive to bring fiber-optic lines to every home, business and institution in a rural area," said Webb, who lives in the remote southern Berkshire town of Monterey. “But that only means it’s too expensive for the business model of private-sector companies who have to show profitability in a very short period. It is not too too expensive if it is done by the communities themselves on a basis that does not have to meet those market demands."

Wired West has announced a decision on the difficult issue of governance structure. They are going to be a public co-operative, comprised of the member towns.

Now the member towns will have to approve the structure and the organization will move forward on the planning necessary to develop, finance, and build their broadband network.

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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