Tag: "rural"

Posted May 14, 2010 by christopher

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...

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Posted March 29, 2010 by christopher

Ran across this interesting story out of Silverton, Colorado - where Qwest has refused to provide a reliable telecommunications connection to the least populous county in Colorado. Recall that Qwest's refusal to offer redundancy in Minnesota's most rural County led to a total communications blackout for twelve hours, shutting down public safety and businesses alike.

Silverton is the only town in rural San Juan County. The City is splitting the costs ($121K) of a new publicly owned fiber-optic loop with the County and apparently the State is offering a grant for the balance. As we emphasize time and time again, cities that move from leasing multiple lines from the incumbent to owning their network radically increase available speeds while cutting costs. Silverton estimates it will save 50% or more in its telecom expenditures. These savings will pile up over time because owning the network typically leads to decreasing costs over time whereas leasing lines offers much less control over future telecom budgets.

But perhaps the more interesting aspect of this story is that San Juan County is the only County in the state not connected with fiber-optic lines. Qwest has:

a 10-year, $37 million contract to provide high-speed connectivity to every county seat in Colorado, forming a statewide network known as the Multi-use Network, or MNT.

To save money, Qwest is using a microwave (wireless) connection for San Juan County, which is far less reliable than would be a fiber-optic connection. For such a rural area, microwave might be a good secondary connection, offering a backup in the case of a fiber cut or natural disaster. However, making that the primary connection is what happens when Qwest is calling the shots.

Qwest is not looking out for the interests of first responders, residents, or businesses in Silverton, it is looking for "a compelling business case" in their own words. And this is exactly why Qwest should not be in charge of essential infrastructure.

Posted March 26, 2010 by christopher

Stop the Cap has an interesting series looking back at the history of electrification in the U.S. Part I of the three part series looks at the early years of resident electrical deployments:

Those who believed electricity would deliver social transformation to average Americans were stymied by power companies that wouldn’t deliver enough capacity to make the latest big appliances work. Blenders, mixers, toasters and other small electrical appliances could work, assuming you didn’t have too many lights turned on at the same time, but washers, refrigerators and electric ovens were out of the question.

When consumers inquired about upgrading their service, they were refused by most electric companies. After all, most power company executives believed “illumination-grade” service was more than sufficient for virtually every American. In all, they consistently refused to upgrade facilities to at least four-fifths of their customers, telling them they could make do with what they had.

The electrical industry defended this position for years, and even paid for studies to defend it. A willing trade press printed numerous articles claiming the vast majority of Americans would never require higher voltage service, and it was too expensive to provide anyway. A select minority of customers, typically the super-wealthy, were the exception. In fact, marketing campaigns specifically targeted the richest neighborhoods, offering “complete service,” because the industry believed it would quickly recoup that investment. That, in their minds, wasn’t true for middle class and low income households. In fact, low income neighborhoods of families making between $2,000 and $3,000 were often bypassed by electric companies completely.

The parallels to broadband are enormous and the self-interested arguments of privately-owned incumbents have not changed. Neither has the fight over public ownership, as we see in Part II:

As municipal power attracted attention, some in the private power sector balked. Not only were these companies delivering good service to customers, they were often doing it at far lower...

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Posted March 21, 2010 by christopher

In Mankato, the local Fox station covered the stimulus grants that will allow WindomNet to expand and offer services to nearby rural communities. This is an excellent example of how publicly owned broadband networks can partner with others nearby to expand access:

Jackson Mayor Mitch Jasper says, "Windom took the lead and brought a bunch of communities together saying hey, we can put together a program that applies for stimulus as a group rather than individuals and all of us jumped onboard and the end results is a 12 million dollar broadband project."

Posted March 12, 2010 by christopher
Though I did not spend a lot of time following stimulus proposals, two excellent proposals did catch my eye from Idaho and I hoped that at least one of them would be funded. Alas, neither was funded by NTIA or RUS. These are exactly the networks we need throughout the country, and Idaho is exactly the state that could benefit greatly from federal assistance. I hope these projects have better luck in the second round or in securing future funding from RUS outside the stimulus project. (This is not to suggest I disapprove of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Project that received funding - I am not as familiar with it and therefore have no comment on it.) The town of Ammon, some 13,000 people near Idaho Falls in eastern Idaho, developed a proposal for an a type of next-generation open access network in that it would offer greater flexibility to subscribers and service providers than many current open access networks. The other project, to serve the Northern Panhandle area, was designed with Ernie Bray, who previously consulted on the Powellink network in Wyoming. The Boise Weekly briefly discussed these projects a few weeks ago, noting their open access approach that would serve residents, businesses, and key institutional anchors with fiber-optics:
"Every entity we need to work with is already a stakeholder; we're ready to go," he said. "And we will use revenues for expansion and build out. We're trying to expand the concept of a service provider and services beyond just the triple play, voice-video-data," he said. "Telemedicine is a service, hospitals are service providers. We want to take fiber to every home and every business, then connect them to libraries, schools and job services so they can take advantage of programs to help lift them up."
Local jobs are at stake and incumbent providers are doing little to help:
Quest [Aircraft], who builds the Kodiak airplane, they've gotta exchange large engineering files in real time; 250 jobs are at stake.
Verizon is busy trying to offload all of its rural territories on Frontier (a company famous for slow and poor service) so it isn't about to upgrade facilities in Idaho. More recently, Boise Weekly... Read more
Posted February 26, 2010 by christopher

Folks in New Hampshire are fed up with the private carriers ignoring them and have started an initiative to build their own fiber-optic open access network. Looks like the site is pretty new, so check back for details.

Posted February 25, 2010 by christopher

Last summer, I predicted the NTIA's rules for the broadband stimulus would disadvantage the public sector and tilt the playing field toward the private sector. I was right.

Consider a recent story about the first round of the stimulus:

With time and resources scarce and applications to review from nearly 2,200 entities, favoring vendors was less complicated because they wrote savvier proposals and required less follow-up, in Winogradoff's view.

Private companies were able to submit savvier proposals and generally swamp the system with far more proposals, slowing the entire process because the federal agencies did not expect the volume. NTIA claimed they wanted to make the funds more widely available and instead shut out much of the public sector.

NTIA, along with most federal agencies, simply does not understand that a "level playing field" between private companies and the public sector is simply not possible. The public sector has different interests - maximizing social benefits whereas the private sector is interested in generating profits. Public and private entities are different creatures, operating in different regulatory environments, with divergent motivations. You can no more create an objectively level playing field between the two than one could in designing a contest between basketball and soccer teams. The rules are simply going to favor one or the other.

The question becomes, who should the rules favor? When it comes to infrastructure and tax dollars, the rules should favor those who put the public interest first. This was the lesson of the Rural Electrification Administration, which was horrified at the idea of lavishing grants on profitable companies in the hopes they would temporarily invest in rural areas. Instead, they offered loans to cooperatives and extended electricity to farms across the country during the worst Depression in our history.

What have we learned from that? Nothing. We contort our policies while offering more and more money to companies that time and time again show they have no interest in serving rural America. This is ludicrous - not only have we already built a wire out to almost every home in America, we still have the...

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Posted February 23, 2010 by christopher

In a recent issue, the Economist profiled BVU - the first municipally-owned triple-play fiber-to-the-home network in the U.S. Evidently, the Economist thinks Bristol an unlikely spot to find a full fiber-to-the-home network, but some of the best networks in the U.S. are in these unlikely spots because they are built by communities who have realized the private sector will not build the needed infrastructure.

And this infrastructure has brought many jobs to the region:

And the fibre brought jobs. In 2007 both Northrop Grumman, a big American defence contractor, and CGI, an international IT consultancy, said they would hire between them 700 technicians, consultants and call-operators at offices in nearby Lebanon, Virginia, part of BVU’s fibre backbone. Both cited the area’s universities and low cost of living, but neither would have come without BVU’s investment, which Northrop calls absolutely critical.

The article asks a common question but answers it exceedingly well:

Should cities be in the business of providing fast internet access? It depends on whether the internet is an investment or a product. BVU could not afford to maintain its fibre backbone without selling the internet to consumers. And it could not build a subscriber base without offering cable television and a telephone line as well; households these days expect a single price for all three services.

Most communities would rather not have to get involved with selling services like cable television, but such services are generally a necessity to cash-flow the network. So, as they did before with electricity, they do what they must to keep the community strong and competitive.

Posted February 19, 2010 by christopher

Tim Nulty describes the "most rural" FTTH project in America - a large multi-community build in Vermont, the state with the largest percentage of people living outside metropolitan statistical areas. This is more of a technical article, explaining why the network is necessary, who they have contracted with, and the topology of the network.

Beginning in early 2008, ECFiber developed a project to bring fiber to every single premises in its area: “universal service -- no exceptions, no excuses” without any assistance from the State. This project was completely self-sustaining from the revenues of subscribers alone. A public offering of $90 million of Certificates of Participation, fully compliant with SEC requirements, was prepared by Oppenheimer Company and was on the verge of closing when Lehman Brothers collapsed and with it the entire municipal debt market.

ECFiber had to start again from scratch. Fortunately, the Stimulus Bill passed about this time and ECFiber redirected its financing efforts to that source. It was not a difficult matter to recast its Public Offering documents into an application for a BIP loan. No grants are needed by the ECFiber project and none are asked for. Vermonters generally don’t approve of free taxpayer handouts except in extreme circumstances. ECFiber is completely viable and requesting grants would be, in our view, unnecessary and, hence, improper.

We continue hoping the RUS will stop wasting time with lesser projects and direct a loan to these folks in Vermont.

Posted February 18, 2010 by christopher

Finally, a broadband stimulus project that we can get excited about. RUS has announced a grant to expand the publicly owned WindomNet in southwestern Minnesota. Windom was originally built to bring broadband to a small community that Qwest didn't think ready for DSL. They built their own fiber-to-the-home network.

In rural Minnesota, the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group (SWMBG) has been selected to receive an almost $6.4 million loan and a $6.4 million grant to extend fiber to the Jackson, Lakefield, Windom, Round Lake, Bingham Lake, Brewster, Wilder, Heron Lake, and Okabena communities. This funding, along with an $88,000 private investment, will provide high-speed Internet, voice, and cable television to the participating communities. This will improve the quality of life by increasing the availability of health, education, and public safety services across the region.

Now that network will expand to nearby communities, a move that will strengthen it financially as it can spread the fixed costs of such a network across a wider population base. And these communities will have actually have a choice in providers soon -- rather than relying on absentee incumbents that care only about increasing their profits.

They will be beginning expansion work quite quickly according to this brief article.

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