Tag: "iowa"

Posted September 18, 2012 by christopher

Curtis Dean, the Telecommunications Services Coordinator for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, joins us for our 13th Community Broadband Bits podcast. Curtis explains why Iowa has so many municipal utilities and why 28 of them offer some form of telecommunications service.

We talk about why making sure everyone in rural areas has access to affordable, reliable, and fast broadband is good for everyone in the entire country. And Curtis shares his experiences with the publicly owned FTTH network in Spencer.

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 download the Mp3 file directly from here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted September 17, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have watched Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) for the past several years as they upgraded their cable to fiber and started expanding their municipal network outside town limits. The Iowa water, electricity, and telecom utility just commenced further expansion to bring broadband to more rural residents through wireless and fiber with a broadband stimulus award.

Tina Hinz, at the WCF Courier, covered the story. Three new towers and more fiber installation will bring broadband service that is comparable to the connections in town to rural locations. Construction and customer installation should be completed by mid-2013.

According to Hinz:

CFU received final approval last month on a federal grant to fund nearly 40 percent of the $2.3 million installation cost. This reduces the high per-customer cost of building a communications system in an area with lower housing density. Customers will pay a similar price as those in town.

A PDF map of the rural expansion is available on the CFU website. CFU also provides a recent PDF map of their fiber-to-the-premises project, which is 70% complete.

Hinz spoke with rural customer Chris Hansen, who is in line for service through the new expansion.

Hansen called the development "a godsend." Recently he moved a mile west of the city limits on University Avenue. Accessing the web from his phone is functional but slow, he said.

...

Hansen has the wireless option, which will assist with his business as a sales representative for Bertch Cabinets and in his work on the family farm. He said he may subscribe to Netflix, which streams movies and television programs, and the Internet will benefit his twin children, Christian and Carina, 13, who currently share one phone with Internet.

The expansion will also allow CFU to improve electric service in rural areas and reduce...

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Posted August 13, 2012 by lgonzalez

We told you earlier this year about Indianola, Iowa's network, filling the gap for businesses where private providers had failed. At that time, the network only served local businesses and community anchor institutions, but plans to provide fiber-to-the-home in their community of 15,000 are now unfolding. The town passed a referendum back in 1998 to build a fiber ring which was used first by the local Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) for SCADA and for public safety. The goal was to expand incrementally. It later partnered with Mahaska Communications Group (MCG), located in Oskaloosa, Iowa, about 50 miles west of Indianola. 

According to the IMU website, residential retail services will be available from MCG after October 1, 2012. 

Monthly rates will include triple play at $99.95, double play packages between $49.95 and $94.95, and 25 Mbps symmetrical Internet at $39.95. Residents can upgrade to 50 Mbps for $5 extra or 100 Mbps for an additional $10.00. Home Wi-fi is only and additional $5.95 per month. For complete details, check out their rate sheet PDF.

The network also leases fiber that connects community anchor institutions to the Iowa Communications Network, which provides video to K-12 schools, higher education, hospitals, state and federal government, National Guard armories, and libraries. The network also connects to BroadNet Connect, which is the network used by Iowa Health Systems for telemedicine in rural Iowa.

Posted May 1, 2012 by lgonzalez

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has recently posted an examination of 1999 Iowa Act Chapter 63, which expressly allows municipal networks:

Section 1. LEGISLATIVE INTENT. It is the intent of the general assembly to specifically provide that cities of Iowa which create city utilities in the manner provided by law are authorized to provide on a competitively neutral basis with existing local exchange carriers separate or combined cable communications or television, telephone, telecommunications systems or services, including wireless systems or services, through the ownership of systems or offering of the services.

Sec. 2. Section 362.2, subsection 6, Code 1999, is amended to read as follows:
6. “City utility” means all or part of a waterworks, gasworks, sanitary sewage system, storm water drainage system, electric light and power plant and system, heating plant, cable communication or television system, telephone or telecommunications systems or services offered separately or combined with any system or service specified in this subsection or authorized by other law, any of which are owned by a city, including all land, easements, rights of way, fixtures, equipment, accessories, improvements, appurtenances, and other property necessary or useful for the operation of the utility.

The 1999 legislation opened the door for Iowa communities wanting to provide broadband access in areas that had been overlooked by the private sector. Since 1999, however, lobbyists for the telecommunications industry have found ways to increase regulation of community networks that does not apply to the private sector.

In addition to an analysis of how this rule changed Iowa's approach to networks, ILSR summarizes detailed changes in the original legislation. The analysis includes pros and cons and how the telecom lobby has influenced the Iowa law since its inception.

Read more here in the ILSR Rules Library.

Posted February 22, 2012 by christopher

The latest addition to our Community Broadband Network Map is Indianola, Iowa. The Indianola Municipal Utilities own a network that a private partner, MCG, presently uses to offer services to commercial companies. Come summer, the network will begin serving residents also.

Indianola is the county seat of Warren County and has a population pushing 15,000. Back in 1998, the city had a referendum before building a fiber ring. The utility first used its telecommunications capacity for SCADA applications and public safety communications but began using spare capacity to benefit local businesses after 2005.

Indianola describes its network as open access but the network only has one provider. Nonetheless, it serves 70 commercial customers and is presently expanding. It is not available on citywide basis yet and further rollout will be on an incremental basis over many years.

In the open access arragement, service providers have to come to an agreement with the utility on pricing and adequate levels of customer support.

The utility entered the broadband space because incumbent providers Qwest (now CenturyLink) and Mediacom were not meeting local business needs, a familiar story we hear from communities around the country.

Contrary to the common claims of big cable and DSL companies, the city was still willing to work with its telecom competitors -- but it was Mediacom that said it was uninterested in using utility ducts created when parts of town were transitioned from aerial utility service to buried.

In reaction to the competition, Mediacom dropped its business pricing for customers that agreed to long-term contract offerings. IMU (and partner MCG) once had a considerable advantage in pricing but Mediacom's new packages have eroded some of that difference. Fortunately, IMU has a better reputation for service and does not require long term contracts.

Indianola, Iowa

One of the biggest benefits to the community is the high-capacity connections at schools, libraries, and public buildings. Schools connect to each other at a gigabit, allowing them to centralize network operations and cut costs. The municipal and county governments gain the same benefits.

Todd Kielkopf, IMU General...

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Posted March 30, 2011 by christopher

Cedar Falls Utilities, an incredibly successful publicly owned cable network in Iowa, is upgrading to FTTH.  In these videos, they explain some basics of their system.  The final video interviews some subscribers.  

Their web site has more information, including a fact sheet and price sheet - they have decided to continue offering asymmetrical connections, unlike most of the modern community fiber networks.

Posted August 23, 2010 by christopher

A community-owned network, infused with broadband stimulus dollars, is bringing broadband to people stuck on long-distance dial-up for Internet access.

Cedar Falls Utilities, which recently announced an upgrade to FTTH from HFC, announced more good news last week: they have received an RUS stimulus grant (PDF, scroll down) to expand their broadband services to nearby unserved areas.

CFU is a public power and telecom utility in Iowa with an electrical footprint that roams outside Cedar Falls muni boundary. For years, CFU has wanted to offer broadband to its whole electrical territory but could not justify the capital expense outside the city because the rural areas would not produce enough revenues to run the network in the black.

With this 50% grant ($873,000) from the Rural Utilities Services, CFU is expanding and will offer broadband to their whole electrical territory. Serving broadband to these areas will be a sustainable enterprise -- the building of broadband is what costs so much money (one of the very good reasons networks should be accountable to the communities -- the "market" will not make the appropriate investment by itself).

Some folks will get fiber services and others will get WiMAX, a welcome change from dial-up (for some, long distance dial-up is the only option to connect to the Internet!).

I asked CFU if people in the area had access to broadband and was told that some had access to satellite services… to which I responded, "So no one has access to broadband?" Satellite is a last ditch option, not a viable competitor to services that deliver actual broadband.

Some also have access to some very slow cellular speeds - again, not really broadband but it is better than dial-up.

We salute Cedar Falls for requesting a 50% grant from the Feds rather than the full 80% they could have gone with. Self-reliance means taking responsibility for the community, not maximizing the "free money" available from the Feds.

Though we at MuniNetworks.org believe in a future with everyone connected with both mobile and reliable wired access, we do not expect it to happen tomorrow. We hope that over time, CFU is able to expand the reach...

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Posted June 23, 2010 by christopher

Cedar Falls, Iowa, is the latest of a number of publicly owned cable networks that are upgrading to FTTH. Cedar Falls has been planning this for some time, squirreling away net income over the years as it ran surpluses to help afford the costly upgrade. A story in the WCF Courier notes it will cost $17 million and is expected to be completed in 2012. The bonds used to finance the project will be repaid over 10 years.

When I last spoke to folks in Cedar Falls, they had massive take rates - bolstered by local service that Mediacom could not compete with. Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) had already been offering fiber services to local businesses and will be expanding that to the entire area. According to an article in the Cedar Falls Times, the utility had already been installing FTTH capability into greenfield developments, so they have certainly planned for this transition.

Motivation for the upgrade seems to be the faster broadband speeds and more capacity for HD channels. The Utility also noted that needed bandwidth has been doubling every year -- a likely reason they opted for FTTH rather than a cheaper DOCSIS3 upgrade that would not offer the same scalability as FTTH (and DOCSIS3 is much more constrained in upstream capacity).

The Cedar Falls Times article explains the benefits of FTTH over HFC:

An HFC plant uses thousands of active devices (such as amplifiers) to keep data flowing between the customer and the service provider. Any one of these devices can fail, interrupting service. In contrast, the all-fiber plant will be a passive optical network, with no active components between the distribution center and the end user. Fewer “moving parts” means fewer points of failure and a more reliable system.

CFU puts community needs first:

“We know from experience that economic growth comes to cities that keep their infrastructure up to date, whether it’s roads, water, electricity or broadband,” said Krieg [CFU General Manager]. “CFU is going to do what it takes to make sure Cedar Falls has leading-edge communications technology, and maintain economical rates for internet and video services.”

The network was launched in 1996, one of the first...

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Posted January 14, 2010 by christopher

I caught an interesting article asking whether Dubuque, Iowa, should build a publicly owned broadband network. Iowa already has a number of publicly owned networks, mostly cable HFC networks, that serve communities.

The article starts with some history, noting that the small community of Hawarden, Iowa, was the first to build a public cable system in the state and had to defend its rights to do so in court.

The northwest Iowa community of about 2,500 people more than a decade ago built a $4 million cable system, only to be temporarily shut down by an Iowa Supreme Court injunction. Hawarden survived the court's order prohibiting municipalities from being in the telecommunications business, and in many respects blazed the trail for publicly run cable, Internet and phone service in Iowa.

More communities may be considering building their own networks (though they will build now with fiber rather than HFC) following Iowa's statewide franchising rules that preempt local authority, giving greater power to private cable companies.

The way it was written, existing franchise agreements may be nullified if a competitor announces plans to serve the community. Fortunately, many Iowa communities voted to formed telecommunications utilities back in 2005, though few have yet exercised that authority.

Unfortunately, the article's author was clearly misled by either Qwest or Mediacom's public relations flacks because he wrote about UTOPIA, as though the problems of a purely open access model under a different regulatory environment poses important lessons for communities in Iowa that may build their own networks. The successes and failures of UTOPIA teach us very little about how Iowa communities should move forward.

Smaller Iowa communities do have a serious disadvantage - building modern networks is very difficult the smaller they get. Below 5,000 subscribers, it can be difficult to make the network pay for itself (though exceptions exist) - suggesting to me that joint efforts combining communities could be a good option. Unfortunately, though the technology has no problems crossing political boundaries, the politics are much more difficult.

Posted September 24, 2009 by christopher

In Iowa, we know the municipal model works because we have 20 municipalities providing services at rates far below the incumbents'.

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