Tag: "minnesota"

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 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 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 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 December 4, 2010 by christopher

On November 29, 2010, MPR published our commentary about community broadband. The Twin Cities has slower and more expensive broadband Internet than the nearby town of Monticello. The Twin Cities metro area has a population of 2.8 million and the highest density of people and businesses in the state. So why is our broadband Internet slower and more expensive than that enjoyed by Monticello, population 12,000? Several years ago, the city of Monticello (45 miles northwest of Minneapolis) recognized the increasing importance of reliable, high speed, low cost broadband. After the incumbent telephone and cable companies declined to build the network city leaders had in mind, the community decided to build one itself. Now, FiberNet Monticello offers some of the best broadband packages available in the country, while the Twin Cities is lagging. A new analysis by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance compares the available broadband speeds in Monticello to those available in the Twin Cities metro. In the metro, as in most of the United States, broadband subscribers choose between DSL from the incumbent telephone company (Qwest) and cable broadband from the incumbent cable company (Comcast). Monticello's offerings are faster at every price point, but Comcast appears to offer comparable downstream speeds in the highest tier of service. This apparent equivalence, however, is like comparing dirt roads with interstates. Both are roads that allow you to travel from point A to B, but they have fundamentally different characteristics in carrying capacity and reliability. For a variety of reasons, DSL and cable almost always fall short (and often, well short) of the advertised "up to" speeds, whereas full fiber networks regularly achieve the speeds they promise. In the metro, cable offers most residents the fastest option for broadband, but only one choice of provider. The Monticello network not only created a new choice for its residents, it induced the incumbent telephone company to greatly upgrade its network to remain competitive. Now, Monticello residents can choose between two extremely fast broadband providers, as well as a cable internet connection. The community-owned network may have only been the third broadband option, but it fundamentally changed the market. Prior to Monticello's investment, residents and small businesses had access only to asymmetrical broadband...

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Posted November 28, 2010 by christopher

Two weeks ago, we released an analysis showing that the private broadband providers in the Twin Cities of Minnesota could not keep up with the small, community fiber network in nearby Monticello.

Minnesota Public Radio covered it with a brief post and Ann Treacy at Blandin on Broadband also wrote about it, adding a key observation after comparing its findings to that of a recent Small Business Administration report showing that rural businesses pay more for broadband in general.

The quick answer is that it appears as if generally rural access is more expensive – but that doesn’t need to be the case – as demonstrated by Monticello. Communities who are interested in pursuing municipally-directed network might make talking to Monticello one of their first steps. Monticello has been very generous with information on their strategy and deployment.

Posted November 17, 2010 by christopher

Today, we at MuniNetworks.org have released the first of a series of regional broadband comparisons examining the benefits of community networks. We decided to start with the Minneapolis / St Paul area, where we live and work. Read the Analysis [pdf]
Read the Press Release
Our analysis, "Twin Cities Broadband No Match For Community Network," compares the available broadband plans in Minneapolis and St. Paul to small town Monticello, located 45 miles NW of Minneapolis. Monticello, as we have frequently discussed, has built a publicly owned FTTH network (which then pushed its telco incumbent to invest in much faster connections as well). Despite Comcast's much touted DOCSIS 3 upgrades and Qwest's "Heavy Duty" DSL, neither comes close to the value of Monticello's services. These companies have continued to use last-generation DSL and cable technologies with significant downfalls, including much slower upstream speeds than downstream -- a limitation particularly damaging to small businesses and people attempting to work from home. Qwest advertises "fiber-optic fast" but its speeds come nowhere near Monticello's actual fiber-optic network. Further, Qwest's actual speeds are often far below their claims due to limitations with DSL technologies. Comcast offers faster speeds than Qwest, even advertising a 50 Mbps downstream speed that appears to rival Monticello's until you consider the Comcast cable architecture rarely delivers promised speeds because entire neighborhoods have to share bandwidth. Both providers struggle to deliver fast upstream speeds, whereas Monticello's network services all include upstream speeds just as fast as the downstream speeds. When it comes to prices, Monticello's are lower, despite the faster speeds they offer. Minneapolis residents have access to a low-cost Wi-Fi network, but in that case, the low cost reflects the slower available speeds and significantly lower reliability. Our analysis also includes Clear, a new Wi-Max provider, to discredit any claims that 4G wireless will somehow change the fundamental dynamic at work in the Twin Cities: Comcast and Qwest are content to deliver 2nd rate speeds at inflated prices. Wireless provider have...

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Posted November 10, 2010 by christopher

The Intelligent Community Forum has released their list of 2011's 21 smart communities.

The 2011 Smart21 ... highlights communities from 12 nations and includes 7 that appeared on last year’s list. Two communities, Issy-les-Moulineaux and Northeast Ohio, returned to the list after a 1-2 year absence. There were two Chinese, one Indian and one Australian communities on the list, as well as six from the USA, four from Canada and one each from the UK, France, Hungary and Brazil.

As usual, the list of US Communities that made the list is dominated by communities that have taken greater responsibility for their broadband infrastructure. Chattanooga was on the list (how could it not be?) with its 1Gbps community fiber network that we have covered.

Dakota County, Minnesota, is on the list and was a pioneer in county-owned fiber and conduit. For some reason, ICF is under the mistaken impression that the county has been well served by commercial providers… as my parents live in the County as well as a number of friends, I strongly disagree.

Danville, Virginia, has built an open access fiber network for local businesses and plans to expand it to residents (our Danville coverage).

[T]he city-owned electric utility launched the nDanville open-access fiber network to bring world-class connectivity to business and government.  Danville (a 2010 Smart21) developed the fiber infrastructure – now 125 miles in length – while leaving it to private-sector providers to deliver services.   With all government and school facilities plus 150 businesses on the network, it is now financially self-sustaining.  The city partnered with county government to develop a business incubator and with Virginia Tech to build a new research institute. 

Dublin, Ohio, has done quite a bit of public investment for their network infrastructure needs:

A strategic planning exercise led Dublin to install underground conduits to encourage fiber-optic deployment.  This became DubLink, a public-private fiber network for business, government and schools, which spurred aggressive roll-out of e-...

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Posted September 19, 2010 by christopher

Southwest Review News covered discussions to build a publicly owned fiber I-Net in West St. Paul (a city located, oddly enough, due south of Saint Paul, MN). The estimated cost is $143,000 and will be undertaken in partnership with Dakota County.

Current I-Net services come from Comcast, which recently tried to grossly overcharge Palo Alto for such services.

They are contemplating offering connections to the private sector as well as public institutions:

The infrastructure would put the city in the position of providing connectivity as it would any other utility. Businesses could pay to install connecting lines on their property to the city's fiber, similiar to how sewer and water systems operate.

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.

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