Tag: "iowa"

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'.

Posted July 7, 2009 by christopher

This article details the philosophy, approach, and opposition to an effort to allow many communities in Iowa to build their own open access telecommunications infrastructure - full fiber networks. Many in Iowa feel particularly vulnerable to the new economy because their low density puts them low on the priority list for investments by absentee-owned companies:

There is much talk in Iowa today about the need to attract and retain young people. Each year thousands of college graduates leave the Hawkeye State. Today in Iowa, there are more people over the age of 74 than under the age of five. No state grew at a slower pace than Iowa during the last century. Reversing these trends is going to take bold leadership and fresh ideas. OpportunityIowa was created to educate citizens about the vital role 21st Century communications infrastructure could play in doing just that.

Daley argued that without local self-reliance, many towns in Iowa would not benefit in the digital economy because they would not have access to fast and affordable networks.

The current cable and telephone companies serving Iowa have no incentive to replace their copper lines. They have to and they don't want to. They don't have to because they know consumers have no choice but to use their copper wires and they don't want to [encourage open access] because it may bring competition where they currently have none. In fact, the incumbent phone and cable companies have expressed their opposition to upgrading existing infrastructure in order to make Iowa a leader in broadband capabilities.

The article ends with lists of both communities organizing referendums for Nov, 2005, as well as communities that already have telecommunications utilities. Ultimately, many communities authorized the telecommunications utilities but most of those have not followed up by building the envisioned networks.

Posted July 7, 2009 by christopher

From the intro:

Clark McLeod, the founder and former chairman and CEO of Iowa-based CLEC McLeod USA, announced his latest project: OpportunityIowa, a grass-roots non-profit aimed at educating Iowans on fiber to the premises (FTTP) and convincing them to create municipal communication utilities — if for no other reason than just to keep their options open.

This is a good short article looking at an initiative that unfortunately did not go very far in Iowa. McLeod explained some of the thoughts behind it:

The larger service providers in Iowa have categorically stated they are not putting in FTTP, and there's no need for it. We want both private industry and municipal options open. But quite frankly, unless private industry steps up to FTTP right now, it's up to municipalities to drive that issue in the state. In Iowa, we know the municipal model works because we have 20 municipalities providing services at rates far below the incumbents'. We at OpportunityIowa have said a network that's open to multiple carriers is the right model. However, all we want citizens to do today is vote on a municipal communications utility. Once that group is put in place, that commission will look at the alternatives.

Posted June 30, 2009 by christopher

This article highlights three publicly owned networks that are expanding or building in the midst of a difficult economy - the Dumont Telephone Company in Iowa (a cooperative); Auburn, Indiana; and Greenlight in Wilson, North Carolina.

Dumont is facing the most difficult path:

Deploying rural and small-town fiber is always tough. Doing it without much hope of funding from outside is even tougher. But visionaries in these communities took the long view, planning to stretch out their builds over as much as seven years – longer if they have to. One community – Dumont, Iowa – is profiting from a world-class GPON build with fewer than two households passed per mile and precisely zero businesses to help foot the bill.

Auburn began building a municipal fiber network to keep some local employers in town - called Auburn Essential Services. As happens all over the United States, small towns lose businesses because the private sector is not able to provide the necessary networks. Built at first just to connect some local sites, the city later began to expand it:

In mid-2006 the city adopted a phased rollout plan for FTTP, where each phase would generate revenues that could be used to fund the next phase. The first phase, which includes the neighborhoods where most businesses are located, rolled out between April and December of this year.

The city’s marketing plan includes mailers, door hangers, advertising and even site visits to businesses. Existing technology was leveraged for back-office operations, and customers were given the option of receiving consolidated utility bills or separate bills for electricity and telecommunications.

Wilson, North Carolina, was also dealing with poor local networks that hampered economic development. Time Warner not only refused to build the necessary networks, it then refused to use a network the city offered to let them ride, and finally tried to prevent them by passing what was often called the "Incumbent Protection Act" in the state legislature. Fortunately, Time Warner was not able to prevent local competition and Wilson's network is currently being built. They used a rather unique financing plan:

Rather than issue general obligation bonds, Wilson obtained $31 million in private funding...

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Posted June 11, 2009 by christopher

Doris Kelley takes a look at one of the early citywide publicly owned broadband systems - Cybernet in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Cybernet is run by CFU and is an HFC (cable) network that also offers some fiber-optic connections for businesses. In this paper, Kelley takes a look at some of the benefits the network has brought to the community.

From the start of the paper:

Cedar Falls Utilities, the largest municipally owned four-service utility in Iowa, provides electric, natural gas, water and communications services to a community of over 36,000 people. The citizens of Cedar Falls have been and continue to be the driving force behind Cedar Falls Utilities. Because of citizen demand and involvement, what once began as an unreliable water supply from “Big Springs,” a small light plant built with discarded bricks and an outdated manufactured gas system, has grown into an organization that is recognized nation-wide in the utility industry for outstanding performance management and some of the most favorable utility rates in the country.

Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) is a strong supporter of economic development. Through the years, the Cedar Falls community has directly benefited by the operation of its municipally owned utilities through direct customer rate savings, free or special customer service programs and fund transfers to the City’s general fund.

CFU has made great strides to further its commitment to economic development. In 1994, a new horizon was encouraged through visionary thinking. Considerable strategic planning and analysis preceded the decision to design, construct and operate a Broadband Fiber Optic Communications System. The Cedar Falls Board of Trustees spent approximately 24 months studying the technical and financial feasibility of constructing and operating such a network. Finally, on October 24, 1994, the Cedar Falls City Council adopted ordinance No. 2072 forming the country’s second Municipal Communications Utility and transferring authority to the Cedar Falls Utilities Board of Trustees.

Posted June 3, 2009 by christopher

Jim Baller and Casey Lide are two of the foremost experts on municipal broadband systems in the United States. This report offers a clear and rational defense of publicly owned broadband systems. The discussion takes on philosophical, economic, and pragmatic arguments and comes to the conclusion that communities should not be prevented from building their own networks.

From the Intro:

The Tennessee Broadband Coalition has asked the Baller Herbst Law Group to respond to the main criticisms that opponents of public Fiber-to-the-User (FTTU) initiatives have raised in Tennessee and elsewhere. The Coalition would like to know whether any of these criticisms is valid, and, if so, what lessons the Coalition can learn from them to avoid or mitigate similar problems in Tennessee.

Over the last decade, Baller Herbst has been involved in most of the leading public communications projects in the United States. In almost all of these projects, the incumbent telephone and cable companies have rejected or ignored the locality’s invitation to join in cooperative efforts that would benefit all concerned and have instead mounted massive media and lobbying campaigns in opposition to the proposed public network. Often, the incumbents have funded support from industry “experts” and artificial “grassroots” groups (which have come to be known as “Astroturf”).

In their campaigns, the incumbents and their allies have typically included emotional appeals to private-enterprise ideology; flawed statistics; complaints about supposedly unfair advantages that municipalities have over the private sector; attacks on the motives and competency of public officials; and false or incomplete, misleading and irrelevant examples. In many cases, these arguments have mirrored the unsuccessful arguments that the major electric power companies and their allies made against municipal ownership a century ago, when electric power was the must-have technology of the day, and thousands of unserved or underserved communities established their own electric utilities to avoid being left behind in obtaining the benefits of electrification.

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