Tag: "virginia"

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 August 20, 2010 by christopher

I wrote a short piece for Tech Journal South, "Fastest and cheapest US broadband systems are city run in the South."

In it, I discuss some of leading broadband networks in the country - publicly owned systems in southern and southeastern states. There are others I would have liked to have noted - some in Florida and a community in South Carolina working toward joining the elite. I hope to expand that list next year!

This is not an uprising against a single cable or phone company, rather general dissatisfaction with de facto monopolist providers who focus first on shareholder returns rather than community needs.

Throughout the south, nearly every national cable co has had to deal with an upstart community that chose to own its information infrastructure: Comcast (Chattanooga, TN), Cox (Lafayette, LA), Time Warner (Wilson, NC), and Charter (Opelika, AL).

Posted July 14, 2010 by christopher

Bristol Virginia is again expanding broadband access in rural Virginia. Following a $22.7 million BTOP (broadband stimulus) grant and matching $5.7 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, in combination with in-kind contributions from the Virginia Department of Transportation, BVU will greatly expand middle-mile broadband throughout 8 counties in Southwest Virginia. The project is expected to take 2.5 years to complete.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph covered the story:

“With this broadband network, Bristol Virginia Utilities will enable service to more than 120 of what we refer to as anchor institutions,” [US Senator] Boucher said. “That includes schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, major government facilities and other large public facilities. The new network will also come within two miles of 18,000 homes and 500 businesses. That makes it feasible for what we refer to as last mile service to be provided to these 18,000 homes and 500 businesses. Some of these have broadband today, but not all of them do.”

This project will add onto the economic development successes resulting from previous networks built by the publicly owned utility:

Boucher said the original broadband line deployed across the region several years ago has already helped to create a number of new jobs, including 137 new virtual call center jobs that have been created in the region by DirectTV, and another 700 plus jobs that have been created by the Northrop Grumman and CGI technology centers in Lebanon.

Read BVU's press release on the grant award [pdf].

Though BVU is expanding middle mile access, it cannot offer last-mile services in most of these communities. Virginia law prevents BVU from offering some services outside its existing footprint - a policy that is great for telco profits but terrible for people that actually want modern telecom services.

For its existing broadband subscribers where it is allowed to offer services, the utility has boosted downstream and upstream speeds [pdf]. The new tiers remain asymmetrical, as with a number of the earlier muni broadband networks....

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Posted July 12, 2010 by christopher

In January 2001, or about 1 million years ago in tech time, Site Selection Online published "Wired Cities: Working-Class Communities Build Next Frontier of High-Speed Connectivity". I found it years ago when reading up on the Click! network in Tacoma, Washington.

I recently stumbled across it again and thought it might be interesting to evaluate its claims after a decade (or close to it) had passed.

The lead of the article discusses Tacoma its relationship to Seattle. Tacoma had extremely poor connectivity from the private sector and its public power utility decided to build an HFC network to extend broadband to everyone in the community. Tacoma's Mayor notes that over 100 companies poured in after the community solved its own broadband problems - generating some 700 jobs in 18 months.

Fast forward to today, and this paragraph:

As a result, the next frontier of information companies isn't being confined to the Silicon Valleys of the world. It's taking root where you might least expect it: in places like Tacoma, LaGrange, Ga., and Blacksburg, Va.. And in most cases, it's government taking the lead, beating business to the punch by stringing fiber and building networks in working-class communities that most bottom-line corporations would otherwise ignore.

The principle of self-reliance is timeless. And we see the same idea in news articles today: local governments bringing broadband to areas the private sector cannot. In 2010, the fastest and more affordable broadband networks in the US are not in Silicon Valley -- they are in Lafayette, Chattanooga, Wilson, Utah, and other places where the community decided to prioritize big broadband.

Because of the competition in Tacoma, prices for telecom have remained lower than in nearby Seattle - as I quoted a Tacoma resident previously:

I have Comcast in Tacoma and all I know is since there is competition down here Comcast is about half the cost as it is in Seattle. They give you a rate good for a year. When your year is up you call up and just say Click! and bam back down you go. A friend in Seattle once called Comcast with both of our bills with similar service and mentioned my price and they said I must live in Tacoma and they wouldn't match the price.

Seattle...

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Posted June 11, 2010 by christopher

Danville's open services fiber-optic network has brought a new employer with some 160 jobs to town. EcomNets is investing almost $2 million to build a green data center to the area.

More jobs may be on the horizon as the White Mill renovation continues and should be finished in coming month (original coverage here and here).

Though the public power utility owns this network, it does not offer services. The network, which currently services municipal locations, schools, and some 75 businesses with Internet access, leaves independent providers to provide the actual services. They welcome major carriers like Comcast and Verizon, who have thus far refused to use open access networks to expand their customer base.

Currently, the network has a single service provider, though the utility has spoken with others and expects more service providers to join the network when it begins making residential connections.

As for when it will begin offering residential access, the City Council will discuss that on July 6 in a work session. The Utility has recommended the City start the next phase, servicing some 2,000-3,000 homes.

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 12, 2010 by christopher

The Wired Road, a community-owned open access network in rural Virginia, has added an additional wired service provider and announced expansion plans. This is a network in Grayson and Carroll counties as well as the city of Galax. Services on the Wired Road are provided exclusively by independent service providers, not the network owners. The network currently offers services in limited areas but plans to serve most of the region by 2012 with both fiber-optic and wireless options.

NationsLine now offers a variety of services, including VOIP and broadband to those on the network. The network will expand this spring:

Bolen also announced The Wired Road plans to add fiber and wireless services to Grant in western Grayson County, with groundbreaking tentatively set for spring. Funding this expansion is an $837,453 Community Connect grant received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. This latest project includes a public computer center that will be housed at the Grant Grange Hall.

Posted November 23, 2009 by christopher

BVU's OptiNet has received a grant to expand its fiber network in rural Virginia from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

The project adds redundancy in a rural area where telecommunications infrastructure tends to be ignored by the private sector.

“The broadband expansion fortifies the existing fiber route between BVU and Citizens as well as giving our area a redundant fiber-optic line to Northern Virginia, where bandwidth needs are increasing all the time. It is necessary to our region’s future and the survivability of our existing telecom network,” he [Virginia Delegate Terry Kilgore] noted.

BVU was the first municipal network in the U.S. providing the triple-play over a full fiber-to-the-home network.

And it is doing quite well according to its annual audit report.

Conducted by Brown Edwards & Co., certified public accountants, the audit revealed increased revenues and no surprises, partner and accountant Richard Linnen told the BVU board of directors at its Monday meeting.

“It was a clean opinion and an unqualified audit, as it is every year,” Linnen said.

Such independent audits are a useful exercise to ensure these essential networks are operating efficiently and accountably. Additionally, these audits are useful to refute false claims of impropriety from private sector companies looking to discredit publicly owned networks.

Posted August 13, 2009 by christopher

Folks in the Isle of Wight County in Virginia are looking to Wilson, NC, (which runs its own FTTH network called Greenlight) for inspiration as Charter will not expand broadband access locally. Interestingly, industry-backed Connected Nation would not consider these people to be unserved because they could buy wireless broadband cards that offer slow speeds at expensive prices and are still often capped at a monthly transfer of 5 Gigabytes ... which is to say not really a broadband option.

Charter will not expand their cable networks because

Charter requires that an area have a density of at least 30 rooftops per square mile in order to offer service, which leaves large swaths of the county, especially southern and western areas, without access.

Sounds like a good opportunity to investigate a publicly owned network.

Posted August 12, 2009 by christopher

What can states do?

Many states want to improve broadband access for their citizens. Some states genuinely want to act and others are content to give some money to industry-front group Connected Nation and form a Task Force in order to give the appearance that they are doing something rather than actually taking action.

However, the problem is difficult because in a time of severe budget crunches, states may not have the funds to invest directly in infrastructure or help communities do so themselves. There are some options - and I recently highlighted one: Virginia's Broadband Infrastructure Loan Fund.

The Virginia Resources Authority (VRA) now has a revolving loan fund to help communities build the broadband infrastructure they need. Unfortunately, the fund has started empty but they are in search of grants to get started until the state can seed it.

Even without the revolving loan fund, which keeps a very low interest rate for loans, the VRA is available to help communities that want to approach the capital markets for infrastructure funds. Communities may not have sufficient experience in this arena or may just benefit by having the VRA combine multiple small needs into a larger package at a better rate.

Elsewhere, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority was supposed to serve a similar function but seemed to be immediately captured by Fairpoint and turned into a tool for private companies.

One of the most basic things a state should do is ensure it has not created barriers to public investments in broadband networks. It may be a few years old, but the American Public Power Association created a list of laws blocking or retarding community broadband networks. These should be repealed. Those arguing that the public sector has too many advantages should read our discussion about the level playing field.

Capitol photo by Rob Pongsajapan

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