Tag: "iowa"

Posted February 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

Muscatine, Iowa, is ready to begin its upgrade, bringing municipal cable network customers up to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology. Last week, the Board of Water, Electric & Communications Trustees from Muscatine Power & Water (MP&W) awarded the contract to a firm that will transform the network and bring speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Megabits per second) download tier. No word yet on upload speeds.

As we reported last spring, MP&W is taking a slow march toward finishing this project because there are a number of interlocking pieces that need to fit together correctly. The firm awarded the contract was able to introduce several alternatives that reduced the initial estimate of $8.7 million to $7.5 million. The upgrade will be funded with an interdepartmental loan from the electric utility.

At the same meeting, the Board also reviewed the 2016 budget which came out well for the MachLink communications utility.

Net income of $1,372,919 was budgeted for the communications utility, but actual net income was $2,148,272, with an ending cash balance of $8,257,000. There also is debt of $9,044,000 owed to the electric utility. Gowey said revenues were 3.2 percent over budget, while expenses were 25 percent under.

The upgrade will begin in May and customers are expected to be on the new system as early as August. The project should be completed by the end of 2018.

Posted January 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

Last spring we reported that Spencer Municipal Utilities (SMU) was marching steadily on with its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project that it started in 2015. Within a few months, SMU is set to begin the fourth and final phase; the entire community will soon will have access to fiber connectivity. 

Last And Final Phase

As part of the last phase, the utility will place a new substation in the northeast section of town. According to SMU General Manager and CEO Steve Pick, the utility has purchased a prefabricated structure built especially for this purpose. The structure will be delivered and installed by the sellers and the utility will pay approximately $40,000 for the building.

Spencer, Iowa, population 11,200, is one of the many rural towns that chose to invest in the necessary infrastructure to improve connectivity for local businesses and residents, rather than gamble on whether or not national companies would ever deliver. They began serving customers in 2000 with a cable network and, after they realized customers’ bandwidth demands would continue to rise, decided to upgrade to fiber. The network has been good for the quality of life and economic development in Spencer.

Prepping For The Future

Amanda Gloyd, SMU marketing and community relations manager, told the Daily Reporter:

“Our customers continue to use more bandwidth and we only see that continuing to increase in the future. In the areas of Spencer where the conversion is already complete, we are able to offer 50 [Mbps] all the way to 1 [Gbps] of service, which is exciting to be able to offer in addition to the increased reliability, decreased maintenance and paving the way for how our communication services will be delivered in the future.”

Posted January 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

It’s no small feat to plan, deploy, and operate a municipal citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, but communities are doing it. We’ve put together a Citywide Municipal FTTH Networks list and a map, with quick facts at your fingertips. If your community is considering such an investment, this list can offer a starting point on discovering similarly situated locations to study.

The list is divided by state and each state heading offers a description of any barriers that exist and a link to the statute in question. Under each community, we also included relevant links such as to the provider’s website, coverage on MuniNetworks.org, and reports or resources about the network.

We used four basic criteria to put a community on our list and map:

  • The network must cover at least 80% of a city.
  • A local government (city, town, or county) owns the infrastructure.
  • It is a Fiber-to-the-Home network.
  • It is in the United States. 

Share the list far and wide and if you know of a community network that meets our criteria that we missed, please let us know. Contact H. Trostle at htrostle@ilsr.org to suggest additions.

Posted January 5, 2017 by lgonzalez

In November 2015, the voters in Vinton, Iowa, gave the approval for a telecommunications utility. The city and the municipal electric utility are taking the next step with a feasibility study to determine potential deployment costs and in the spring will present their findings to the community.

Vinton is home to about 5,200 people in Benton County, Iowa; it’s the county seat. The town’s area is 4.74 square miles, and there are approximately 2,000 homes and 250 businesses in Vinton. It’s located about 32 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids.

Like many rural towns, Vinton struggles with slow, outdated DSL connections; cable is available in some areas of town. According to one local business owner, slow connectivity is negatively impacting economic development:

Kurt Karr, owner of Monkeytown an online business supplies store, is one of the community business leaders lobbying hard for an increase in high-speed broadband service.

Karr says slow Internet speeds available now can be frustrating. One part of his business is video design work for companies. He says a video file that takes workers an hour to upload now to clients from their computers might take only a couple of minutes in a larger urban area with much faster internet connections.

Mayor John Watson told local channel KCRG-TV9, that incumbents “simply aren’t interested” in making investment in Vinton to provide better connectivity for businesses or residents, so the city is exploring doing it for themselves.

When Vinton Municipal Electric Utility has completed the feasibility study and have estimates for deployment costs they can present to the community, they’ll determine the next step:

Tom Richtsmeier, manager at Vinton Municipal Electric Utility, says some estimates are it would cost $3,000 to $4,000 per home to install fiber optic cable.

“Once we get the pricing back we’ll see if they’re still interested in having that brought into their home,” Richtsmeier said.

Local coverage from KCRG-TV9:

... Read more
Posted December 14, 2016 by htrostle

This is the transcript for episode 232 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, General Manager Josh Byrnes of Osage Municipal Utilities joins the show to share how fiber connectivity has benefited the Iowa community. Listen to this episode here.

Josh Byrnes: Everything is live about it, you can lock in your commodity prices, all your inputs and all those things can be done. We've got to have connectivity, in rural Iowa.

Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 232 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute For Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In Osage, Iowa, the community's electric utility has served the town and some of the rural areas around it for about 125 years. Osage Municipal Utilities also offers natural gas services and invested in its own communication system in the early 2000s. They offer telephone, cable TV and Internet connectivity via their cable network. Clearly Osage is one of those rural communities that think about the future. In this interview Christopher speaks with Josh Byrnes, the general manager of Osage municipal utilities, who discusses their long term plans to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to the community. Josh who is also a former state representative spends some time discussing Iowa's approach to rural connectivity and its investment in the Iowa communications network. Now here's Chris talking with Josh Byrnes, general manager of the Osage municipal utilities and a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives.

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell and today I'm speaking with Josh Byrnes, the general manager of Osage Municipal Utilities in Iowa. Welcome to the show.

Josh Byrnes: Thanks for having me Chris.

Chris Mitchell: I'm excited to talk to you, as I was saying in our pre-interview I actually have this memory and I'm excited to be reminded of the story that you'll be telling us in a few minutes about these cattle prices and an app, around how it's important to have Internet access out on farms near your community. Let's start with a little bit of background for people who aren't familiar with Osage. Where are you in Iowa? What's the community like?

Josh Byrnes:... Read more

Posted December 13, 2016 by christopher

Located in northwest Iowa, Osage has been an innovative utility leader with forward-looking investments in both telecommunications and clean energy with wind and solar. Osage Municipal Utilites General Manager Josh Byrnes joins us for Community Broadband Bits podcast 232. He is also in the midst of retiring after 3 terms in the Iowa Legislature. 

Osage built a hybrid fiber coaxial cable network many years ago that they are considering upgrading to being fully fiber-optic following a lot of community support for next-generation connectivity and most importantly, greater reliability. 

Josh and I also talk generally about the importance of connectivity in rural areas and how the state of Iowa has dealt with the need to improve access. We both agree that Iowa's approach thus far leaves much to be desired and we discuss the challenges that legislatures face in making these decisions. 

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 32 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Posted December 6, 2016 by lgonzalez

Iowans in the small town of Osage have been able to obtain cable Internet access from the community’s municipal utility since 2001. The community is about to take the next step; Osage Municipal Utility (OMU) is acquiring a fiber-optic backbone from a private provider. The purchase will get them started on what will eventually be a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) upgrade.

Serving Osage For More Than 125 Years

Osage, the Mitchell County seat, is home to about 3,600 people and located in north central Iowa. The electric utility began as Osage Electric Light, Heat and Power Company in 1890. After several ownership changes, the municipality became the owner in 1941. In 1959, the utility began supplying natural gas and in 2001, the utility added a communications system. In addition to Internet access, OMU also began offering cable TV and telephone service.

OMU is also developing a Voluntary Community Solar Program in which customers can purchase units of Solar Array capacity and in return they receive a production-related credit on their monthly utility bill.

Another Local Tool

Josh Byrnes, general manager of OMU, described the backbone as “another tool in the economic toolbox.” He noted that the line will create opportunities for people outside of OMU’s service area that live along the backbone to potentially obtain service from private providers.

In addition to providing FTTH to customers in the future, Byrnes noted that OMU will also be bringing much needed redundancy in the area. Incumbent Omnitel Communications is the sole provider of fiber-optic services in Mitchell County. OMU will offer fiber in Mitchell, one of the towns in the county where Omnitel has no fiber presence.

“We are simply getting connectivity to Osage and build out from there. There are going to definitely be opportunities for savings to our rate payers long term. Even more important is the dependability of services moving forward. It’s hard to put a price on that.”

Posted November 4, 2016 by lgonzalez

Consumers should be able to expect a certain amount of privacy and recent rules adopted by the FCC are a step in the right direction. That step has also revealed some key differences between profit-driven national Internet service providers, smaller ISPs, and municipal networks. The different attitudes correspond with the different cultures, proving once again that small ISPs and munis have more than just profit in mind.

On October 27th, the FCC adopted an Order to allow ISP customers to determine how their data will be collected and used. According to the FCC, they made the decision in response to public comments about the concern for personal data protection.

The New Rules

Over the past few years, consumers have become savvy to the fact that ISPs have access to personal data and that they often sell that data to other companies for marketing purposes. Under Section 222 of Title II of the Communications Act, telecommunications carriers are bound to protect their subscribers’ private information. Because those rule are designed to change as technology changes, says the FCC and Congress, this same authority applies to private data collected by ISPs. 

The FCC decided to divide the permission of use of personal information based on type, categorizing information into “sensitive” and “non-sensitive.”

Sensitive information will require ISPs to obtain “opt-in” consent from subscribers, which will allow them to use and and share this type of information:

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  • Precise geo-location 
  • Children’s information
  • Health information 
  • Financial information
  • Social Security numbers
  • Web browsing history
  • App usage history
  • The content of communication 

Non-sensitive information would include all other information and customers would need to "opt-out" in order to prevent their ISPs from collecting such data. Examples of non-sensitive personal information include service tier information.

The new rules also require providers to follow “up-to-date and relevant industry best practices” in reference to managing security... Read more

Posted October 6, 2016 by lgonzalez

 

When big corporate incumbent providers fear a hint of competition from a new entrant, they pull out all the stops to quash any potential threat. One of the first lines of offense involves the courts. Iowa City now leases its fiber to Cedar Rapids based ImOn and to stop it, Mediacom is reprocessing an old argument. It didn't work the first time, but they are going for it anyway; this is another example of how cable companies try to hobble competitors; just stalling can be a "win."

A Lawsuit In Search Of An Offense

Mediacom has a franchise agreement with Iowa City to offer cable television services and it also provides subscribers the option to purchase Internet access and telephone services. As most of our readers are attuned to these matters, you probably already understand that just any old cable TV provider can’t come into Iowa City and set up shop. State and local law require them to obtain a franchise agreement, which often includes additional obligations in exchange for access to a community’s potential customer base.

According to a 2015 Gazette article, Mediacom provides annual payments for use of the public right-of-way, operates a local office, and provides free basic cable services to local schools and government buildings. These types of commitments are commonplace as part of franchise agreements and are small sacrifices compared to the potential revenue available to Mediacom.

ImOn started offering Internet access and phone services to Iowa City downtown businesses in January but the company does not offer cable TV services like it does in other Iowa municipalities. ImOn doesn't have a franchise agreement with Iowa City but Mediacom says that it should. They argue that, because ImOn has built a system capable of offering video service, it should also have to obtain a franchise agreement.

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In August, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Wolle dismissed the case, stating in a nutshell:

"Although ImOn is constructing in Iowa City a system that may become capable of delivering cable... Read more

Posted September 22, 2016 by htrostle

Once again we return to Iowa to learn about community networks and high-speed connectivity. Home to municipal networks such as in Cedar Falls, Lenox, and Harlan, Iowa also grows publicly owned networks of a different kind - cooperatives’ networks. The Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association (WCTA) provides next-generation connectivity to rural areas, and is now upgrading infrastructure in its service area. WCTA uses Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology to provide Internet access of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps). 

Small Towns and Cities To Get An Upgrade

WCTA is now installing fiber in Forest City, home to about 4,000 people and the county seat of Winnebago County.

WCTA General Manager Mark Thoma told the Globe Gazette’s Forest City Summit newspaper, “We have to work closely with the city. Kudos to the city crew for locating (all the utilities). It’s been going very well.”

WCTA intends to install their fiber underground in Forest City and the municipal utilities department is facilitating the cooperative’s efforts by locating current utilities infrastructure. Collaborating will enable WCTA to bury their fiber without disrupting other services.

This upgrade to fiber will replace the copper lines towns served by WCTA, where members still use DSL. Customers in rural areas received an upgrade to FTTH several years ago. 

Rural Areas First

In 2011, WCTA received $19.6 million American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) award for a fiber broadband project in rural areas throughout its service territory. Half of the money was a grant, and the other half was a loan.

While finishing the fiber builds in these rural areas in 2015, WCTA automatically bumped up the speeds of all rural members. Previous top speeds of 15 Mbps jumped up to 100 Mbps via FTTH but the $65 per month subscription rate stayed the same. WCTA's fiber network speeds are symmetrical, so upload and download speeds are the same.

Cooperatives Have Annual Meetings

The WCTA... Read more

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