Tag: "public v private"

Posted January 17, 2018 by christopher

Do municipal fiber networks offer lower prices than the their competitors? Yes, almost always, according to a study from Harvard's Berkman Klein Center called Community-Owned Fiber Networks: Value Leaders in America.

David Talbot, a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, joins us for episode 289 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss the study, conclusions, and challenges. He was last on episode 162 to talk about a report they did on muni fiber in Massachusetts. 

We talk about the challenges of doing an analysis like this, the range of results, and how pricing from munis tends to not only be lower but also more transparent. 

This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted January 2, 2018 by lgonzalez

Most residents and businesses in Oconee County, South Carolina, used dial-up connections when county officials applied for stimulus funding in 2010; there were still people in the county with no Internet access at all. A few had DSL connections, but even county facilities struggled with antiquated infrastructure. After an AT&T attack upended their plan to offer retail services, they pressed on and improved connectivity in the rural community. Powerful incumbent forces and a bad state law, however, eventually led this community to choose privatization.

Ripe For Stimulus

We spoke with Kim Wilbanks, who served as Project Manager for Oconee FOCUS, the 240-mile fiber optic publicly owned network. She worked with a small team of people that applied for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to obtain funds for the project. Wilbanks and former FOCUS Director Mike Powell were instrumental in establishing the infrastructure. The Wilbanks family used dial-up Internet access until 2010 when AT&T finally installed DSL on her street on the edge of town in the mostly rural county.

The mountains and hills across the county’s 674 square miles create a terrain that is speckled with man-made lakes. Fishing, water skiing, and sailing are popular and the lakes and waterfalls contribute to the region’s hydroelectric energy. Approximately 75,000 people live in Oconee County scattered within many of the small rural communities. The largest city’s population is only about 8,000.

Oconee County’s rural environment with a sparse population, sluggish economic growth, and high number of unserved and underserved premises, was the type of region where stimulus funds helped jump start projects. When the county received a grant in the second round of awards in the summer of 2010 for $9.6 million, officials at the county planned to connect community anchor institutions and municipal and county facilities first. They planned to later expand and bring businesses and residents better Internet access. The county matched the federal grant with $4.7 million to deploy the $14.3 million fiber optic infrastructure. After the RFP process, they were able to start construction in early 2011. By the end of 2013, they had finished construction; by 2014... Read more

Posted December 29, 2017 by lgonzalez

The central Washington community of Coulee Dam took a significant step this month to establishing its own fiber optic network. At a December 27th special city council meeting, they announced that they had purchased one mile of fiber optic cable and equipment from Basin Broadband, LLC, for $34,995.

According to The Star, the former owners had only one customer and used the infrastructure to connect the local school district’s offices with the school on the opposite side of town. The district pays $170 per month to lease the line and their agreement expires in 2020; the city promised to honor the agreement.

Changing Charters

Community leaders have considered the prospect of starting a publicly owned fiber optic network for at least 16 months, when they began seeking out the owner of the infrastructure. The city’s population is only approximately 1,100 people, which means national incumbents have little interest in providing high-quality connectivity. CenturyLink offers DSL for residential and business service, but town leaders want to improve economic development possibilities with fiber.

This past summer, the city council began discussing  changing the community’s legal designation in order to step out from under Washington’s restrictive laws that govern the authority of “towns.” City Attorney Mick Howe advised that if the city changed its charter to operate as a “non-charter code city,” they would have more authority. Rather than acting only on specifically allowed activities in state law, they could act as long as they were not engaging in specifically forbidden activities as spelled out in state law.

Councilmember Keith St. Jeor said he knows people who settled in other towns because they have Internet service that is “100 times better.”

Councilmember Schmidt said the town is severely lacking in technology solutions and that they were not likely to come from private enterprise because of the small population. Changing to a code city would simply allow the municipality to explore more options.

“You might be surprised what solutions you... Read more

Posted December 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

Last week, Burlington’s City Council finally chose a buyer for Burlington Telecom (BT), their municipal network that began serving residents and businesses in the early 2000s. City Councilors and representatives from Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners hashed out the details of an agreement at the eleventh hour. The Letter of Intent (LOI) was released on December 6th; the public can now analyze the deal their elected officials chose for them.

Night Work

On December 1st, editors at the Burlington Free Press published a piece highly critical of the process that occurred in the late night and early morning hours of November 27th and 28th. They wrote:

Burlington residents have every right to wonder what happened to the promise of an open and public process for picking a buyer for Burlington Telecom.

Many city residents woke up Wednesday morning to find that their elected representatives had chosen Schurz Communications as their preferred buyer for Burlington Telecom based on a bid significantly revised just hours before the vote.

Editors went on to state that the City Council had “negated the months-long public process for the sale” of BT by allowing Schurz and ZRF to alter their bid and accepting it without giving the community time to review it or weigh in. After so much time and effort invested in a process that was intended to be transparent and include the entire community, Burlington leaders seem to have dropped the ball at the five-yard line.

The Letter Of Intent

People following the process know that Schurz was one of the four bidders that made it to the semi-finalist status but was eliminated when the City Council cut the list down to Toronto-based Ting Internet and the Keep Burlington Local Cooperative (KBTL). When the vote was split between Ting and KBTL, the City Council asked the two to try to work... Read more

Posted November 22, 2017 by christopher

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have been watching the latest developments with Burlington Telecom from afar but with extreme curiosity. We have watched a wonderful local movement grow to Keep Burlington Telecom Local and that fits entirely with our values. 

Because of the challenges from BT's prior mismanagement and court settlement, Burlington's options are limited. The benefits of local ownership are tremendous - from being directly accountable for services to keeping more money in the community. But also the ability to correct problems as they arise. No management is perfect, but local ownership provides the most opportunity to ensure that the network will continue to serve the community, rather than a situation in which the community serves the network. We see the latter far too often in communities stuck with cable monopolies. 

We salute those that have made Keep Burlington Telecom Local a viable option and we continue to hope that BT indeed remain local. But we are concerned that BT may not remain locally controlled. 

In the event that the City Council decides to pick a non-local bidder, we want to offer some observations. We are an organization that shares localism as a strong value and has more than a decade of experience working on broadband policy to best benefit communities. 

We have a long history with Ting (though no financial relationship) but less experience with Schurz Communications. Not only have we extensively documented Ting's partnership with Westminster, Maryland, to build a citywide fiber network, but many of us have been customers of Ting's parent Tucows in various ways. 

In our experience, absentee ownership of broadband networks is concerning, in part, because of a tendency for such a company to cut back on customer service and network investments. Such actions can be financially lucrative in the short term but inconvenient when the owner of the company shops, worships, and/or mingles with those who bear the brunt of such disinvestment. Network owners from afar don't have to worry as much about upsetting their customers from declining standards.

Tucows has long been a force for good in protecting and expanding an open Internet, both in sponsoring important events and via... Read more

Posted November 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

The people of Burlington have proven beyond a doubt that they believe in publicly owned Internet networks. They’ve fought harder than any other community we’ve seen to maintain a voice in the future of their much loved publicly owned fiber optic network, Burlington Telecom (BT). Now after months of ruminating, debating, and examining their options, the future of BT is still uncertain.

The Back Story

We’ve covered BT extensively and dived into both the numerous benefits the community has enjoyed as well as the problems caused by former Mayor Bob Kiss and his administration. Bad choices and a lack of transparency snowballed, leaving the city to contend with sizable debt. Through all the difficulties, residential and business subscribers have consistently praised their hometown publicly owned network and expressed an appreciation for accountability, good service, and BT’s local ownership.

Citibank-Logo-1.png In order to fend off a lawsuit from Citibank, the city of Burlington had to agree to find a buyer for the network. To maximize the funds the city will receive from the transaction, a sale needs to be finalized by early January.

On November 6th, the City Council was scheduled to vote on which entity would be allowed to purchase the network, but that would have been a dull ending to a story filled with drama and, as the fates would have it, that isn’t what happened. At all.

The Kiss Of Debt

The Kiss administration’s choice to hide cost overruns from the public and the City Council led to a $33 million obligation to CitiBank. In 2014, the two reached a settlement after CitiBank decided to sue in 2011 and the parties had haggled in court for three years. As part of the settlement, the community committed to selling BT. In order to obtain the largest share possible of the proceeds from the sale - 50 percent - Burlington must reach an agreement with a buyer by January 2nd, 2018. The longer it takes to find a buyer, the less of the net proceeds the city will retain.

As an added incentive to get a... Read more

Posted September 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

And then there were three. After months of review and vetting, the field of bidders to purchase Burlington, Vermont’s, treasured municipal network is now a manageable number. On September 20th, city officials announced which entities were still in the running and released details of their proposals.


Toronto company Ting, which is owned by Tucows, submitted a bid to purchase the network. The company is already providing services in Charlottesville, Virginia; Holly Springs, North Carolina; and in Westminster, Maryland, where the public-private partnership has received several awards. The company is also planning construction in Sandpoint, Idaho, and Centennial, Colorado, where they will also be partnering with the municipalities to use publicly owned fiber.

They describe the key points of their offer as $27.5 million in cash and they will pay the city an additional $500,000 if BT earns $4.25 million earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) during the 2018 fiscal year. Ting is offering the city a minority interest in the network that they can later divest if they choose.

logo-ting.png Ting will also relocate BT’s equipment, currently housed in the city’s Memorial Auditorium. The move is estimated to cost $800,000. As part of the deal, the company will also donate $250,000 toward the city’s Burlington Ignite and other programs to encourage entrepreneurship and closing the digital divide.

In their offer, Ting guarantees expansion within the city and beyond the city limits. Like the other bidders, Ting plans to keep the current operational team in place. They also guarantee customer rates for 30 months.

Review the details of the Ting/Tucows offer here.


Schurz... Read more

Posted September 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

As fall sets in, the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board (BTAB) is still working on choosing a buyer for the Vermont city’s municipal network. The review of the four semi-finalists continues, concerned people express their opinions and BT’s work benefits the community.

High-Speed For Low-Income

In August, BT officials announced that they would be the first ISP in the state of Vermont to offer high-speed Internet to low-income residents through the federal Lifeline program. Lifeline provides a $9.25 monthly credit for qualifying households; BT will be offering symmetrical 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) service for $9.95 per month, leaving the balance for subscribers.

According to BT General Manager Stephen Barraclough, BT is able to participate in the program due to previous upgrades to the infrastructure:

“Because we have a gigabit network, because over the past three, four, five years we’ve essentially swapped out the majority of equipment that’ll allow a thousand meg to go to every home we have lots and lots of equipment that we’ve actually taken off the side of homes that is more than capable of delivering more than 25 meg symmetrical.  We have lots and lots of routers that can still be used. So if you look at it from a marginal cost perspective, how can we afford to do this, really there’s very little incremental out-of-pocket cost over and above what we already have.”  

Surpassing Goals

August was also an exceptional month for subscriber numbers at BT. In addition to reaching a new height for the number of subscribers added in one month, BT eclipsed their original goal of 7,000 total subscribers. As of the end of August, the network served 7,136 members of the Burlington community.

On their website, BT celebrated with this message for the community:

This amazing level of growth is a historical achievement for Burlington Telecom. We owe special thanks and gratitude to those who make this all possible, our customers – those who stood by us in BT’s darkest days, those who left but then came back, and those growing numbers who have been willing to give BT a chance.... Read more

Posted August 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

The clock is ticking as the city of Burlington examines bids from entities to buy or partner to operate Burlington Telecom. The community has narrowed down what sort of characteristics they want in a buyer, but there is also some debate about the process as city officials move toward the final process.

On To The Next Step

The community received eight bids, none coming from large national telecommunications companies. Early in July, the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board (BTAB) reported that the highest bid was two and a half times the lowest, but they did not make dollar amounts public. They’ve eliminated some of the bids and on July 31st, the finalists are scheduled to make presentations to the City Council in an executive session. 

While price is a factor that the city and the BTAB are considering, it isn’t the only criterion that matters. Last year, the BTAB released a report based on community input, recommending the city first look for a locally based entity. Many people in Burlington like BT as a locally controlled asset and fear it may eventually be swallowed up by one of the large, distant carriers. 

Keep BT Local formed when city residents banded together to create a cooperative. They started in 2012 and have recruited members committed to keeping BT in the hands of local residents. Keep BT Local was one of the entities that submitted a bid.

How Much Public Input?

Keep BT Local is the only bidder that has publicly acknowledged its decision to bid on the network and city officials are still undecided about how much information to release to the public about bidders. Mayor Miro Weinberger has indicated he would prefer the bidders and their bibs remain confidential until after city officials make a final decision.

“Each bidder is working hard to convince the city they can meet those criteria, and they don’t fully know how they stack up against and what the others are offering,” Weinberger said. “That dynamic creates a strong... Read more

Posted August 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

If you’re a regular reader at MuniNetworks.org, listen to our podcasts, or if you simply follow publicly owned network news, you know an increasing number of communities have decided to invest in local connectivity solutions in recent years. We’ve watched the number of “pins” on our community network map multiply steadily, but every now and then, a network drops off through privatization.

FastRoads Sold To N.H. Optical Systems

New Hampshire FastRoads received America Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which combined with state funding, created the open access fiber optic network in the southwest section of the state. Over the next several years, the network expanded with private donations and local matching funds. Many of the premises that connected to the network had relied on dial-up before FastRoads came to town. But in part because state law makes bonding for network expansion difficult, Fast Roads will no longer be locally controlled.

The Monadnock Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a nonprofit organization whose purpose is working to see like projects are completed that will improve economic development prospects in the region managed the project. MEDC contracted with another entity to maintain the network, which cost approximately $15,000 per month. Since they had achieved their core goal - the construction and launch of the network - MEDC had been looking for another entity to take over the network or to partner with them. They recently finalized a deal to sell the network to New Hampshire Optical Systems

logo-fast-roads-2017.png Back in 2013, Christopher spoke with Carole Monroe, who was the FastRoads Project CEO but has since moved on to ECFiber in Vermont. She described how the introduction of the network inspired incumbents to lower prices - a win for everyone, whether they connected to FastRoads or not. She also told us how community anchor institutions (CAIs) were getting better... Read more


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