Tag: "bristol virginia utilities"

Posted February 12, 2016 by lgonzalez

For more than a decade, the people of Bristol, Virginia have enjoyed what most of us can only dream about - fast affordable, reliable, connectivity.  In recent days, we learned that Bristol Virginia Utilities Authority (BVU) has entered into a deal to sell its OptiNet triple-play fiber network to a private provider. The deal is contingent on approval by several entities.

As we dig deeper into the situation, we understand that troubles in southwestern Virginia and Bristol have led to this decision. Nevertheless, we urge the Bristol community to weigh the long-term consequences before they sacrifice OptiNet. Once you give up control, you won’t get it back.

"...A Few Bad Apples..."

If the people of Bristol surrender this valuable public asset to the private market, they run the risk of undoing 15 years of great work. None of this is a commentary on the private provider, Sunset Digital Communications, which may be a wonderful company. The problem is that Sunset will be making the decisions in the future, not the community. 

OptiNet has helped the community retain and create jobs, attracting and retaining more than 1,220 well-paying positions from Northrup Grumman, CGI, DirecTV, and Alpha Natural Resources. Businesses have cut Internet access and telecommunications costs. Officials estimate around $50 million in new private investment and $36 million in new annual payroll have come to the community since the development of OptiNet. The network allowed public schools to drastically reduce telecommunications expenses and introduce gigabit capacity long before such speeds were the goal among educators.

Schools and local government saved approximately $1 million from 2003 - 2008. Subscribers have saved considerably as well, which explains OptiNet's high take rate of over 70 percent. Incumbent telephone provider Sprint (now CenturyLink) charged phone rates 25 percent higher than OptiNet in 2003. The benefits are too numerous to mention in one short story.

However, BVU is emerging from a dark period marked by corrupt management. This sad reality actually makes its considerable achievements all the more remarkable. Last... Read more

Posted November 20, 2014 by lgonzalez

This is the third year the Open Technology Institute (OTI) at New America Foundation studied the cost and quality of connectivity in the U.S. Once again, the results indicate we trail behind peer countries. On November 11th, Chris joined Sarah Morris, one of the report authors, to discuss the report's findings, municipal networks, and how Title II reclassification may change the landscape. They joined Dave Miller for the Think Out Loud program on Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

In addition to detailed data analysis on where the best speeds and prices are,  The Cost of Connectivity 2014 provides reviews of several other papers from sources such as Akamai, the FCC, and the American Enterprise Institute.

Some notable findings from the report:

  • The average cost of plans in nearly every speed tier studied for the report was higher in the U.S. than in Europe.
  • Cities considered speed leaders have consistently increased speed offerings on an annual basis. In places where the speed was not increased, as in Lafayette, rates decreased. Almost half of the speed leaders cities offer gigabit speeds. 

OTI made special note of the success of municipal networks in places where traditional providers are not willing to invest:

Although there are many examples of successful locally-owned networks, we focus on Chattanooga, TN; Bristol, VA; and Lafayette, LA, which now offer some of the fastest and most affordable high-speed residential products available in the country despite the fact that they have some of the lowest population densities among the cities we survey.

All three cities offer gigabit speeds that place them on par with Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and Zürich in our speed leaders rankings, although the prices vary from city to city, and are ahead of the major incumbent ISPs in the U.S. In fact, the only other provider that offers gigabit speeds in the cities we surveyed is Google Fiber, which sells 1 Gbps service in Kansas City, KS, and Kansas City, MO, for the same price as EPB in Chattanooga, TN. By contrast, Verizon’s top tier is a 500 Mbps symmetrical connection that is available to some residents of New York, NY; Washington, DC;... Read more

Posted June 25, 2014 by lgonzalez

“There are companies that do what we do, but we can do it in hours, and they can take weeks,” said Posey. “Anywhere else, it would take a lot more time and a lot more money ... Chattanooga is essential to our business model.”

Al Jazeera America's Peter Moskowitz recently spoke with Clay Posey, one of the entrepreneurs flocking to Chattanooga for the network. Posey works in one of the startup incubators there, Co.Lab, developing his idea for pre-operative models that allow surgeons to prepare before operating on patients.

While Chattanooga may not be the norm and may not be an easy venture for every municipality, it lifts the bar. From the article:

“Whenever a corporation like Comcast wants to do something like raise prices, we can point at Chattanooga and say, ‘Why can’t we have something like that?’” said Christopher Mitchell, head of the community broadband networks initiative at the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “It establishes a baseline or at least an aspirational standard.”

The article describes lobbying efforts by large corporate providers designed to stop the municipal networks model. Another Chattanooga entrepreneur told Moskowitz:

“Having public or quasi-public Internet service providers is a good solution to consolidation because they most likely won’t be sold,” said Daniel Ryan, a local Web developer who helped run the digital operation of Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign. “Do I think if every city did this, Comcast would go out of business? No. But it means there will always be competition.”

Moskowitz included a brief historical summary of the network, its contribution to the electric utility, and the challenges created by state barriers. He included our Community Broadband Networks map.

For more detail on Chattanooga's fiber network, download our case study Broadband at the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. The case study also covers the communities of Bristol, Virginia and Lafayette, Louisiana. We... Read more

Posted November 13, 2013 by lgonzalez

BVU in Bristol is now offering Quantum Home, a security and home management system that uses the community's publicly owned fiber network. The system allows home owners to also manage lights, temperature, and appliances from anywhere using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. For a quick video demo, check out the BVU website.

Installation costs range between $200 to $2,000 for installation and monthly charges are $39.95 - $49.95. Comcast offers a similar service, Xfinity Home, and requires installation fees to be paid in full when the system is installed. BVU plans to allow customers to amortize the installation fees over 12 months if they wish.

BVU launched OptiNet in 2001 and offers reliable triple-play at affordable prices in Bristol and surrounding areas. We talked with Jim Baller about the history of publicly owned networks in Episode #57 and Episode #63 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. BVU's OpiNet played a prominent role as one of the first publicly owned completely fiber triple-play networks.

Tricities.com reporter David McGee recently attended a BVU Board of Directors meeting where management described the new service.

“This is an exciting new service that is actually in the market and we’ve already been selling it,” [Authority interim CEO Mike] Bundy told the board... "It will be not just home security but home automation. It’s cutting-edge technology.”

Posted July 30, 2013 by christopher

Jim Baller has been helping local governments to build community owned networks for as long as they have been building them. He is the President of and Senior Principal of the Baller Herbst Law Group in Washington, DC. Jim joins us for Episode #57 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss some of the history of community owned networks.

Jim has a wealth of experience and helped in many of the most notable legal battles, including Bristol Virginia Utilities and Lafayette.

We start by noting some of the motivations of municipal electric utilities and how they were originally formed starting in the late 19th century. But we spend the bulk of our time in this show focusing on legal fights in the 90's and early 2000's over whether states could preempt local authority to build networks.

In our next interview with Jim, we'll pick up where we left off. If you have any specific thoughts or questions we should cover when we come back to this historical topic, leave them in the comments below or email us.

You can learn more about Jim Baller on his website at Baller.com.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted September 19, 2012 by lgonzalez

Last week, Christopher Mitchell of ILSR joined other broadband and municipal network experts to present the webinar "How a Municipal Network Can Help Your City" from the National League of Cities.

Christopher was joined by Kyle Hollified, VP Sales/Marketing, Bristol Virginia Utilities, Bristol; Mary Beth Henry, Manager, Office for Community Technology/Mt Hood Cable Regulatory Commission in Portland, Oregon; and Colman Keane, Director of Fiber Technology, EPB, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The group discussed common challenges and benefits communities experience when investing in municipal networks.

If you were not able to attend the September 13 webinar, you can now listen to the archived, hour-long presentation at the National League of Cities website.

Posted May 29, 2012 by christopher

We have been watching Johnson City, Tennessee, examine its options to improve broadband options in their community using extra capacity from fiber-optic investments for smart-grid implementation. Johnson City has been looking for a partner that would offer services to local businesses and perhaps residents.

We were concerned about that approach as a private-sector partner may be interested only in finding the most lucrative high-margin customers rather than seeking ways to serve the whole community.

We are now relieved to learn that Johnson City and BVU Authority have made an initial agreement and are working toward a final contract. BVU Authority originated in and continues to be based out of nearby Bristol, Virginia.

We have long covered BVU Authority and just recently published a case study about them.

BVU Authority should be an excellent match as they provide excellent business services (they are tremendous pioneers in this regard) and have a focus on serving the community as a whole. BVU Authority's investments in southwestern Virginia have led to strong job growth and we expect them to have similar success in northeastern Tennessee.

Posted April 9, 2012 by christopher

We are thrilled to finally unveil our latest white paper: Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. This report was a joint effort of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Benton Foundation.

We have chronicled how Bristol's BVU Authority, Chattanooga's EPB, and Lafayette's LUS built some of the most impressive broadband networks in the nation. The paper presents three case studies and then draws lessons from their common experiences to offer advice to other communities.

Here is the press release:

The fastest networks in the nation are built by local governments, a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Benton Foundation reveals

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is well known for being the first community with citywide access to a “gig,” or the fastest residential connections to the Internet available nationally. Less known are Bristol, Virginia, and Lafayette, Louisiana – both of which now also offer a gigabit throughout the community.

A new report just released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and the Benton Foundation explains how these communities have built some of the best broadband networks in the nation. Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks is available here.

“It may surprise people that these cities in Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana have faster and lower cost access to the Internet than anyone in San Francisco, Seattle, or any other major city,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “These publicly owned networks have each created hundreds of jobs and saved millions of dollars.”

“Communities need 21st century telecommunications infrastructure to compete in the global economy,” said Charles Benton, Chairman & CEO of the Benton Foundation. “Hopefully, this report will resonate with local government officials across the country.”

Mitchell is a national expert on community broadband networks and was recently named a “Top 25 Doer, Dreamer, and Driver” by Government Technology. He also regularly authors articles at MuniNetworks.org.

The new report offers in-depth case studies of BVU Authority’s OptiNet in Bristol, Virginia; EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and LUS Fiber in Lafayette, Louisiana. Each network was... Read more

Posted November 3, 2011 by christopher

Two years ago, we first wrote about the Johnson City Power Board considering using its fiber-optic network to encourage economic development and create more broadband competition. Last year, we again saw them examining their options, with a recognition that DSL and cable are not enough for economic development when Chattanooga and Bristol are so close by, as well as other publicly owned FTTH networks.

The JCPB has decided to move forward with a public-private partnership approach that will focus first on serving commercial clients and may later expand to offering residential services.

The decision on the third-party vendor approach stems from a feasibility study by Kersey Consulting, a firm that offers broadband consulting to municipalities and public utilities. The study began in July, and examined three models the JCPB could use to offer the services: having the JCPB be the retailer; leasing the extra fiber capacity to another company; or bringing in a third-party operator to provide the network access electronics, customer support, billing services, etc.

Working with a third-party vendor gives the JCPB the best return on its investment, balancing low risk with possible profits, said JCPB spokesman Robert White. The Power Board would provide the “backbone,” while the vendor, working under JCPB’s brand, would provide the “last mile” services and equipment to the commercial customers.

This approach could be somewhat similiar to the Opelika, Alabama, partnership with Knology, except Knology is clearly going after both residential and commercial customers right away.

The article uses these numbers, but they don't seem to make a lot of sense to me on first glance:

Initially, according to the feasibility study, the Power Board would most likely make a capital investment of $1.5 million over five years, which could include installing more of a fiber backbone to reach businesses if needed. On the flip side, revenues from the extra service could reach $1.3 million over 10 years, depending on... Read more

Posted October 27, 2011 by christopher

Bristol, Virginia, holds a unique place in the heart of community broadband advocates because it was the first muni broadband network to provide triple-play services over a full fiber-optic network (OptiNet). It is well known among NASCAR aficionados for the Bristol Motor Speedway as well. What I didn't know, prior to my visit to Bristol this week, is that it is also home to a music festival celebrating the community's important contributions to country music.

The second page of the Fall Newsletter from Bristol Virginia Utilities [pdf] discusses how BVU's OptiNet has built a Wi-Fi network downtown to offer free connectivity to festival-goers. But it doesn't end there - they also provided laptops and HDTV to those who wanted to hang out.

From the newsletter:

BVU offers Wi-Fi at Music Festival

At the 2011 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival, BVU set up the “BVU Pavilion,” a temporary technology hotspot. The pavilion offered free WiFi Internet, public laptops, as well as high-definition televisions and seating to festival guests throughout the entire weekend.

In addition to the BVU Pavilion, housed in downtown Bristol VA, BVU also installed equipment to provide WiFi Internet access throughout the twin city’s downtown areas. The access was a huge plus for users of mobile devices such as smart phones. Users could download festival applications like artist schedules, stage maps and more.

“As our second year providing this service, we knew people would be looking for us again. This is simply a gift to our city,” explains Gail Childress of BVU. “We are avid supporters of making our community a great place to live and visit. This complimentary service is just one way that we can say ‘Welcome’ to our visitors and ‘Thank you’ to our full-time residents.”

“BVU has been great to work with,” says Leah Ross, Executive Director for Rhythm & Roots. “This allows our fans to check their email, log onto Facebook or Twitter, blog about the festival or just surf the Internet. It’s really a win-win for everyone.”

Rhythm & Roots guests who prefer to use their own laptops or devices found available space within the... Read more

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