We were glad to hear our friend, Curtis Dean of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities join Craig Settles on his Gigabit Nation Internet Radio show. Listen below to learn more about what local utilities are doing to help their communities thrive in the digital age.
As we reported back in May, Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) now offers citywide gigabit broadband. Mudd Advertising is one local company poised to take full advantage of the new blazing speeds. Mudd invited officials from CFU into its studio for a live panel discussion about the new gigabit service and what it means for the community. The video is embedded below and is available via MuddTV - look for the 6/19/2013 archived show.
When asked what gigabit service means for the community, CFU’s Director of Business Management Rob Houlihan said “We have a lot of businesses that transfer huge files to and from their customers and this enables them to do even more of that activity.” Houlihan elaborated by saying that gigabit broadband opens up “a whole new host of opportunities for them to innovate.”
The panel was moderated by Mudd’s Gary Kroeger...Read more
Waverly, a town of 10,000 in Iowa, decided to create a city owned telecommunications utility with a successful referendum vote in 2000 but has only recently decided to move forward with a major investment to offer services. Mike Litterer, Interim General Manager of Waverly Light and Power, joins us to discuss the project.
Following the vote, the cable and telephone company suddenly decided to upgrade their services, which led the town to hold off on a community owned network. But over time, those companies failed to upgrade the networks and Waverly again finds itself struggling with inadequate access.
He explains why Waverly believes it will struggle to bring new jobs to town unless it has a better network - the economic development director of the town hears that directly from businesses making siting decisions.
Waverly already had a ring and leased dark fiber but is now moving forward on a more ambitious project to allow it to thrive in the digital economy. We previously wrote about Waverly 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.
Thanks to Eat at Joe's for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.
The Waverly City Council in Iowa recently voted 5-2 to establish a communications utility and to move ahead with a feasibility study. We spoke with Diane Johnston, Waverly Light and Power (WLP) General Manager, who told us the decision to get this far started over a decade ago.
In 2000, the community passed two ballot measures that sat dormant until this year. At the time, incumbents Mediacom and Qwest (now CenturyLink) did not meet the needs of residents, who were increasingly frustrated with poor service and shoddy customer relations. Incumbents cherry-picked the local commercial segment, ignoring smaller businesses and establishments more challenging to serve. When asking for better connectivity, Johnston says local businesses "hit the wall." Incumbents flatly refused to invest in Waverly.
The 2000 ballot measures, establishing the municipal telecommunications utility per Iowa law (requiring a majority vote) and having the entity governed by WLP's board of trustees passed with 86 percent and 80 percent of the votes. Clearly the public wanted more choices but Johnston told us the time was just not right. A feasibility study, focused on phone and video service, prompted Mediacom and Qwest to make some improvements and improve customer service. As far as WLP was concerned, the problem was solved and Ordinance 970 went on the shelf.
Since 2000, businesses and residents have approached WLP about establishing the utility but the proposal did not gain traction until six months ago. When reviewing the strategic plan for the electric utility, WLP's Board of Trustees concluded that Waverly and WLP needs a telecommunications utility to stay vital.
Johnston notes that advanced metering infrastructure is essential for the future of electric services. WLP wants to be able to provide customers with the ability to monitor their electric usage, control the use of appliances, and conserve. The utilty also needs its own connectivity. Johnston and WLP recognize that access to a high speed network is critical to economic development and WLP needs economic development for healthy electricity sales. In order to supply affordable electricity for all customers, WLP's wants to continue to increase sales. A fiber ring around the city provides connectivity between substations today and will...Read more
We continue to see more and more of what we might call "gigabit fever." This is not just a "me too" bubble centered around superfast Internet access. It is a recognition by more and more communities that the refusal of their cable and DSL duopoly to invest in next-generation networks is materially harming their future.
Ames is home to the excellent Iowa State University (as is Cedar Falls, with U of Northern Iowa). I can praise them as long as I don't say anything about the Hawkeyes, rivals to my beloved Gophers.
Unfortunately, the municipal utility in Ames is less than enthusiastic about following the Cedar Falls approach.
Yet Don Kom, director of the City of Ames Electric Department, tells us: “There has been no discussion at my level of bringing fiber from the city to our customers. We’re not having that discussion.”
Certainly the city has many pressing issues and priorities to address, but super-fast Internet service ought to be high on its list. Besides the fact that it’s the wave of the future and we ought to try to keep pace with that wave, Ames has an impressive history of ambitious and innovative achievements. From burning trash for power to building a large man-made lake, from CyRide to the Main Street revival, Ames is a leader, not a follower, in tackling big things.
Ames provides a reminder that while municipal electric utilities have been at the forefront of investing in FTTH networks historically and gigabit networks more recently, many municipal electric utilities are spending a lot of energy trying to avoid stepping outside their historic business models.
I'm reminded of an interview with Harold DePriest, the visionary CEO of Chattanooga's Electric Power Board, who runs the first network in the US capable of delivering a gig anywhere in the city at a moment's notice (see our case study, Broadband at the Speed of Light).
Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) just announced that it is ready to serve customers with 1 gig service. Earlier this year, CFU increased speeds for existing customers at no expense and we watched their expansion and upgrade from cable to FTTH.
Jon Ericson reported in the Courier that the city hopes to boost economic development in Cedar Falls with the new 1 gig offering:
Bob Seymour, economic development manager for the city of Cedar Falls, said the "gigabit city" label will help with business recruitment.
"This is a great tool for promoting Cedar Falls as a place to locate or expand a business," Seymour said. "It's an important part of the complete infrastructure package we bring to the table, and it means we can compete with the best broadband communities anywhere in the country."
Business customers already at the most expensive tier will be upgraded automatically. Residential 1 gig service will be $275 per month and businesses will pay $950. CFU anticipates the growing demand for online video and gaming will drive residential requests.
Betty Zeman, marketing manager, said CFU wanted to lead, not follow, the technology curve.
"We want to be on the front end of that, not the tail end of that. We've just seen year after year customers use more bandwidth faster than you ever thought they would. By the time you think you need additional bandwidth, it's already too late," Zeman said.
Congrats to CFU as they join the 1 gig club!
You can find out more about the community and the network in episode #13 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Find out more about CFU's new service in this video.
Flash back to May 5, 1998 and the community of Emmetsburg, Iowa. This town of just under 4,000 people voted to establish a municipal cable communications or television system. It has taken fifteen years, but Emmetsburg is on the verge of joining the many other Iowa communities with municipal networks. Jane Whitmore of the Emmetsburg News reported on April 2 that the City Council adopted Ordinance #577, establishing the Board of Trustees of the Emmetsburg Municipal Communications Utility.
Emmetsburg will be joining four other local communities as part of The Community Agency (TCA), a coalition of cities in northwest Iowa that collectively own a hybrid fiber coaxial cable network. TCA began as a cable television system in 2000 and now offers Internet, telephone, and limited wireless Internet in O'Brien County. Emmetsburg will build a FTTH network as part of TCA.
Talks to join TCA began last summer; City Administrator John Bird commented for the article:
"It's important for our readers to know that when the Board (of Trustees) started talking about this late last summer, their reasons for wanting to get into this (communications utility) are noble. Their goals, their objectives are noble from an industrial and economic development standpoint," Bird noted.
He continued, "They believe that we're at a gross disadvantage, considering today's global economy. In the global market, people can work from their home in Emmetsburg, Iowa, for a corporation located anywhere in the world, or higher tech industries who really need quality, high speed broadband. We're at a disadvantage."
DJ Weber, General Manager of TCA, noted the lack of interest from the incumbents to invest in the area. He also commented on how the existence of municipal networks often lower rates and improve service for all customers due to increased competition.
Emmetsburg currently provides sewer, water, and gas to residents. The network will be financed with municipal revenue bonds, but the other utilities will also contribute some revenue toward it as each will benefit from benefits such as remote meter reading.
A 1998 study on a potential communications...Read more
Spencer Municipal Utilities (SMU) of Spencer, Iowa, will be replacing old copper cable with fiber this summer. According to the Daily Reporter, customers can expect the upgrade with no increase in rates. From the article:
"Just like internet service has evolved from dial up to DSL and cable modem, fiber will give customers the next level of service to continue to improve the way they live, work and play here in Spencer," Amanda Gloyd, SMU marketing and community relations manager," said.
"We want to keep our customers on the cutting edge," she said.
Plans are to upgrade around 700 customers in one section of town during this first phase at a cost of around $2 million.
"This project is all paid for with cash in the bank," [General Manager Steve] Pick said. "This is an investment in the system."
SMU has offered telecommunications services to customers since 2000 and supplies water, electric, cable tv, Internet, telephone, and wireless service in the town of about 11,000. Rates for Internet range from $20 to $225 per month with cable tv analog Basic service as low as $14 and Basic Plus at $46. As options are added, monthly fees increase.
We see regular upgrades in service with little or no increase in price from many municipal networks. Comparatively, increases in price with little or no increase in service is a typical business decision from the private sector. Unlike AT&T, CenturyLink, or Time Warner Cable, municipal networks like SMU consider customers to be shareholders, and do what is best for the community at large.
We spoke with Curtis Dean of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities for episode 13 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He told us about the tradition in Iowa for self-reliance and its manifestation in the telecommunications industry.
Curtis also told us about Hansen's Clothing, a century-old men's clothier in Spencer. This community staple was on the edge of closing its doors until broadband came to town. Hansen's was able to begin selling high quality clothing online, offering pieces...Read more
We have long been impressed with Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) in Iowa. They built an incredibly successful municipal cable network that has now been upgraded to a FTTH network. CFU transfers $1.6 million into the town's general fund every year, reminding us that community owned networks often pay far more in taxes than the national cable and telephone companies.
Last week, Moody's Investor Service gave an investor-grade A-3 rating to revenue debt from CFU, another sign of its strong success.
Moody's rating report noted the utility's large market share, competitive pricing and product offerings, expansive fiber optic network, long-term financial planning and conservative budgeting practices as reasons for the continued strong rating of the utility's revenue debt.
CFU also compiles the community savings resulting from each of its services by comparing its rates to nearby communities (see most recent comparison [pdf]). The benefits total $7.7 million each year, almost $500 per family. This includes a $200 difference in cable TV bills and a $130 difference in Internet service.
Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA), recently recognized the city of Indianola on the US House Floor to recognize the community's municipal network. On February 15th, he spoke to the body about Indianola's recent certification as Connected by Connected Nation and Connected Iowa.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the City of Indianola, Iowa, for earning the Connected program's Connected certification. Indianola is the first community in the state of Iowa and the third in the country to garner this technology designation.
The Connected certification is a title applied to communities that display top-tier proficiency in the access and utilization of broadband-supported technologies. This coveted certification is awarded by Connected Nation and its subsidiary Connect Iowa, who advocate for broadband access on the state and national levels.
The City of Indianola is one of more than 30 communities across Iowa actively participating in the Connected program, and the first to become formally certified. Indianola has a team in place that has developed a comprehensive plan to increase broadband access by assessing the broadband landscape, identifying gaps, and establishing manageable goals. Attaining the Connected certification adds to the long list of desirable attributes that make Indianola such a great place to raise a family or grow a business.
Mr. Speaker, I commend the City of Indianola for its commitment to embracing and efficiently utilizing technology for the benefit of its residents and businesses. It is a great honor to represent the citizens of Indianola, and all of Warren County, in the United States Congress. I know that my colleagues in the House will join me in congratulating the City of Indianola in being selected to receive this certification, and I wish the city and its people continued success in the future.
Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) has built a wonderful network that an independent ISP uses to deliver services to the local businesses and residents of the...Read more