Carol Wilson speaks with Jackson's Michael Johnston about JEA's triple-play network in Tennessee. As far as I can tell, this interview took place in September, 2009. Johnston reports that the publicly owned network passes 30,000 residences and about 5,000 businesses. Of those taking cable services locally, 60% subscribe to JEA and half of them are taking multiple services. Jackson started as a purely open access network but has transitioned to offering retail services. At that point, they were starting to use the network to create a smart-grid for the electrical side of the utility.
The Jackson Energy Authority (JEA) network now has over 16,000 subscribers and offers speeds up to 100 Mbps for local businesses and 25 Mbps for standard residential users.
Jackson is considered one of the most technologically advanced cities in the U.S. We have four competitors in the market with AT&T, Bell South, Charter and JEA. We computed that over $8 million to $9 million has been saved by residents in this city when compared to other cities of its size because of the competition.
These are the kind of hard-to-quantify savings that too often go unnoticed in discussions about the value of publicly owned broadband projects. What is the value of competition? How much economic development has occurred directly from the JEA network and indirectly from the lower prices and greater investments that result from competition?
Communities around Rutland in Vermont are moving forward with a planned universal full fiber-to-the-home network. Interestingly, this network has been spear-headed by the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, not a local City Hall.
Back in Tennessee, the Clarksville Fiber Network is running ahead of schedule.
Having reached the 6,000-customer mark, CDE Lightband's broadband service is slightly ahead of schedule in adding new subscribers, an official of the Clarksville utility said Wednesday — good news for a telecommunications division, which is still in its infancy.
Initial projections had the utility servicing around 8,000 broadband subscribers by next June.
New installations usually have about a six-week wait, primarily because of high demand, Batts said.
Though demand is high, the goal of profitability is still a ways off — around 4,000 additional customers are needed to push the utility's telecommunications into the black, according to early department projections.
Seattle's new mayor campaigned on building a publicly owned, full fiber-to-the-home network. Reclaim the Media asks if Seattle will get its broadband 'public option.'
As Reclaim the Media noted last summer, the main obstacles to moving forward with next-generation fiber to underserved areas in Seattle are (1) money and (2) political will. The city budget remains in slash-and-burn territory this year; next year's budget would be the earliest that the new Mayor would be able to effectively push a significant new priority. This winter, however, Schrier's office will be able to apply for federal broadband stimulus funds to build out the skeleton of a citywide fiber network (possibly in collaboration with Seattle City Light), and to provide actual door-to-door "fiber to the premises" (FTTP) service to underserved neighborhoods in the Central District and Beacon Hill. McGinn's leadership will be key in making this project happen.
The homeowners have discussed the problem with Charter Communications Director of Government Relations Nick Pavlis three times.
Pavlis said in a telephone interview it would cost the cable company $130,000 to run an underground cable 2 1/2 miles and “it’s just not a reasonable payback.”
He said the company spends $500 per house as a general rule, which gives them a 36-48 month return on investment.
Yet Charter has no problem lobbying the states to prohibit publicly owned networks. Tennessee probably has more fiber-to-the-home initiatives than any other state - perhaps it is time Cleveland looked into their own or cajoling a nearby network into expanding.
On the Daily Yonder - offering coverage of rural issues - Craig Settles offers advice to community networks on the need to attract institution and business customers because networks rarely generate enough revenue to make debt payments by focusing solely on residential subscribers.
When communities compare the costs of different technologies, they often get too caught up in the upfront costs and ignore the ongoing costs (operating costs, or opex). He offers an example of a modest wireless network:
It’s important to understand that while it costs a lot of money to create a broadband network, over a five-to-ten-year period, it costs even more to operate that network than to build it. Say it costs $1 million to build a wireless network. During the municipal wireless heyday, it was estimated to cost 20% of buildout expense to operate the network annually – to pay for customer service, maintenance, upgrades, etc. That’s $200,000 a year.
This is a great intro article for those who may not be used to thinking about the economics or business plans networks need.
For the rest of us, it is a strong reminder of how many networks start (and a good path for those who want to create a network):
Santa Monica, California, had a legacy PBX phone system and slow connection circuits from incumbents. The city pooled money it was already paying for voice and data services, using this capital to build a fiber network and implement new communication technology.
City CIO Jory Wolf states, “By switching to fiber we realized a $500,000 savings in data circuits and $250,000 savings in voice circuits, all of which stayed in our fund. Ongoing savings enabled us to provide our police with video streaming in their vehicles. We have excess bandwidth, so we provide (a) large number of sites with free wireless access.” Wolf said that the city is also selling companies fiber lines that haven't yet been turned on. “Our network budget is self-sustaining,” he said, “and I have $2.5 million in capital.”
I remember Tim Nulty saying that Burlington Telecom started the same way. They figured out how much they were paying each month for telecom as a city. They used that number to compute how much they could spend...Read more
On Tuesday, September 15, EPB, the public power utility serving Chattanooga and nearby communities in Tennessee, rolled out fully fiber-powered triple-play services to 17,000, a number expected to grow by July 2010, when services will be available to some 100,000 people and businesses. It will take three years before all 160,000 potential subscribers are passed.
Chattanooga has had a relatively rough time creating the network due to the litigious nature of its incumbents, who have filed 4 lawsuits to stop the project only to have each of them dismissed by the courts. (This is a predictable outcome, many of these companies file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate communities with lost time and legal fees - leading to a no-lose situation for companies that invest more in lawyers than in the networks communities need in the modern economy.)
Prices and Options
All broadband speeds are symmetrical; prices by month
|15 Mbps and basic phone||$68.83|
|15 Mbps / basic phone / basic cable||$92.97|
|15 Mbps/ phone & 120 min long distance / 77 Channels||$117.24|
Caveats: an extra $5.99 a month for HD Capability on the TV, but even the basic phone package comes with caller ID and 3-way calling
The Tennessee Cable and Telecommunications Association kicked off the lawsuits in 2007 and Comcast chimed in a year later. As has been done in other communities, the private companies alleged the power utility was cross-subsidizing its triple-play telecom offering with revenues from the electric side. Aside from this just being a poor business practice, the companies say such cross-subsidization would be unfair to them even as major carriers routinely cross-subsidize from community to community - overcharging in non-competitive markets to make up for keeping prices low in competitive markets.
Nonetheless, public power companies and other public agencies have learned to keep meticulous books to show they are not cross-subsidizing, something courts recognize each time their time is wasted by lawsuit-happy incumbent providers.
EPB has long offered some telecom...Read more
Johnson City, Tennessee, is considering the pros and cons of expanding the fiber network its public electrical utility is installing to connect substations in order to improve grid reliability. They may follow the example of many other Tennessee public utilities that have offered broadband services to residents, creating competition in a sector sorely needing it.
They will need to speed the process along if they are going to get any stimulus money - many communities have been considering these options for longer and are ready with plans.
When Johnson City first considered connecting the substations, providers opposed it, afraid they would ultimately offer broadband services to residents. These providers said they already had fiber and would be happy to connect the substations at a "fraction of what JCPB [Johnson City Power Board] is about to spend."
Undoubtedly, they were comparing the costs of building a public network against the costs of leasing services for one year. Johnson City was smart to rebuff them and pursue owning the fiber - companies like Charter and Comcast don't make a profit by offering fair prices on connectivity (in fact, Charter is still bankrupt despite overcharging for its slow broadband speeds). Communities that own their fiber (regardless of whether they offer retail services to businesses and residents) find that they get better services at lower costs than when leasing connectivity.
These cable companies in Tennessee are brutal - they abuse the courts with frivolous lawsuits (that are frequently thrown out at the first opportunity) and invent data to suggest public ownership is a poor choice. Ultimately, Johnson City Power Board will have to choose what makes sense based on the numbers, not on fearmongering from companies that are just trying to protect high profits protected by a lack of competition.
Folks who are mostly interested in broadband are probably unfamiliar with video franchising laws. Many people still apparently believe that cable companies are able to get exclusive franchises from the city (granting them a monopoly on providing cable television). However, that is not true and has not been true for many years.
Most cable companies still have a de facto monopoly because it is extremely difficult to overbuild an existing cable company - the incumbent has most of the advantages and building a citywide network is extremely expensive. This is not a naturally competitive market; it is actually a natural monopoly.
However, most people want a choice in providers (something that goes beyond a single cable company and a satellite option or two depending on whether you rent/own and your geographic location. In talking with many local officials and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers (NATOA), it seems that almost every local government wants more competition in its community too.
This is where telephone and cable company lobbyists have stepped in - more successfully at the state level than at the federal level. They have convinced legislators that the barrier to more competition is local authority over the franchise (the rules a company agrees to in return for the right to use the community's Right-of-Way in deploying their network). These rules include red-line prohibition (you cannot refuse to serve poor neighborhoods), an affordable "basic" tier of service, local public access channels, broadband connections at public buildings, etc.
Some states have listened to the lobbyists and enacted statewide franchising - where local communities are stripped of the authority to manage their Right-of-Way and companies can offer video services anywhere in the state by getting a state franchise from the state government. Every year, we gather more data that this practice has hurt communities, raised prices, and barely spurred any competition. Most of the competition it is credited with spurring came from Verizon's FiOS deployments, which would have occurred regardless of state-wide franchise enactment.
This touches directly on broadband because the statewide franchises often give greater power to companies like Verizon to cherry-pick who gets next generation broadband. Wealthier neighborhoods will increasingly get access to faster...Read more
A couple of short interesting stories this week:
The Chattanoogan.com published a "Declaration of Independence from Comcast", written by a "fi-oneer" or person who is testing the new publicly owned FTTH services.
Unsurprisingly, there are some glitches this early in the process, but the fi-oneer seems pretty happy with it overall:
The television is fantastic; we have a multitude of channels, both high def and non high def; local, 'cable,' sports, movies, etc. Contracts are still being completed with a couple of providers, so we are missing my favorite, HGTV. I have been told that it will be coming in less that two weeks.
Although as with any new product there are occasional glitches, but we have only had a few, minor not major ones, at that. The picture might freeze for a few seconds, or pixilate for a few seconds. There are some things you need to learn about the remote control.
Interestingly, early problems can actually help community networks. In Burlington, Vermont, early problems allowed the publicly owned network to demonstrate how good its customer service was compared to the incumbents and gained a better reputation.
More news out of Seattle - following up on our recent story noting Reclaim the Media's push for public broadband in Seattle, Seattle radio station KUOW's program "The Conversation" had some guests discussing the existing network in Tacoma and a potential network for Seattle. Follow that link to listen in, the relevant portion runs from 14 minutes to 21 minutes (a total of 7 minutes).
- Karl Bode at DSL Reports slams a recent report by incumbent-flack group Discovery Institute that concludes government regulation of broadband is unnecessary. Bode's response is worth reading, here is an excerpt:
All of this makes Swanson's whining about "groups that want heavier regulation" disingenuous, given men like Swanson just got done seeing more than a decade of sustained deregulation in the telecom sector thanks in large part to his own lobbying. The result was the United States setting new records for being thoroughly mediocre, given American consumers pay more money for less bandwidth than a significant...
Pulaski, Tennessee, has used its public power utility, Pulaski Electric System, to build a fiber-to-the-home network. They started building the network in 2006 and offering services in 2007.
In this snapshot by Broadband Properties, the technical aspects of the network are explored.
Some economic development impact:
Local economic development leadership has begun marketing PES’ services to nearby Huntsville, Alabama, which is home to a large number of defense and space industries. Before PES built its network, the community had never attempted to approach the defense or aerospace companies because it had little to offer that met their special needs.
The FTTH network has allowed several existing industries to receive superior service at much lower prices. The system has become a focus of community pride and an example of the community’s willingness to invest in the future.
One key lesson learned has been that the long term needs of the community are not reflected in the current preferences of residents:
Although we built a state-of-the-art fiber network, we came to realize that most residential customers do not concern themselves with future applications. They are looking to replace or upgrade the services they have today. So even though we built a system capable of cutting-edge services, it often still comes down to which TV channels you offer and at what price. Customers are shoppers first.
They have also offered increasing educational opportunities:
PES established a partnership with the local college to operate our local access channel, 3PTV. This channel provides the students at Martin Methodist College with an opportunity to learn video production and technical editing, and it provides a valuable and exclusive channel offering for PES.
Also, we partnered with AT&T to provide a turnkey network that links all the schools in our county. PES provides the fiber connection, and AT&T manages the data and technical support. This allowed the local school district to use AT&T’s state contract pricing, yet be linked with PES’ fiber network.