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Conduits Lead to Competition - Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 182

As we noted in a preliminary story last week, the city of Lincoln has crafted a collection of conduits allowing greater competition for advanced telecommunications services. As we discuss this week in episode 182 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, they have also crafted a smart policy to continue expanding the conduit system.

To better understand their impressive approach, we interviewed David Young, Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager; Mike Lang, Economic Development Aide; and Steve Huggenberger, Assistant City Attorney. We think this policy is one that many communities will want to consider and copy.

Lincoln is already seeing the benefits from the conduit system, with multiple providers using it and at least one investing in an FTTH network. Nebraska prohibits local governments and public power systems from building their own networks to connect local businesses and residents, but this approach allows the community to ensure they have a brighter, more fiber-lit future.

The transcript from this episode is available here.

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

This show is 28 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 can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Pioneer Press Op-Ed: Competition and Community Savings

The Pioneer Press published this op-ed about Minnesota high speed Internet access and availability on December 3, 2015. 

Christopher Mitchell: Competition and community savings

Minnesota has just one more month to achieve its goal of high speed Internet access available to every resident and local business. In 2010, the Legislature set a 2015 goal for universal Internet access at speeds just under the current federal broadband definition. But the state never really committed to anything more than a token effort and will fall far short.

Even for those of us living in metro areas that have comparatively high speed access, we don't have a real choice in providers and most of us lack access to next-generation gigabit speeds.

The big cable and telephone companies excel at restricting competition by manipulating markets, state and federal government policy, and other means. This is why so many local governments across the nation are themselves expanding Internet infrastructure: to ensure local businesses and residents can access affordable next-generation services and create a real choice. We should be encouraging these local approaches.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is tracking more than 450 communities where local governments are expanding choices with direct investments in networks. Just this month, some 50 communities in Colorado and two in Iowa voted to move forward with plans for their own networks or partnerships.

Here in Minnesota, we have seen a variety of successful approaches. Eagan's modest network attracted a data center.

Dakota County has saved itself millions of dollars by placing conduit for fiber in the ground at very low cost as part of other projects. Now it can use that to help local companies to compete with the big cable and telephone companies.

Scott County's fiber network has helped create more than 1,000 jobs and tremendously improved access in area schools. In Sibley County and part of Renville, cities and townships joined together to help launch a new cooperative, RS Fiber, which shows tremendous promise. Cooperatives, which are effectively community-owned as well, offer some of the best connectivity in rural regions of the state.

Some municipal networks have been accused as being failures. For years, cable and telephone companies claimed Windom in southeast Minnesota was a disaster. WindomNet is one of the most advanced networks in the state and has been expanded to serve nearby towns that had been ignored by the big telephone companies.

In our 2014 study All Hands on Deck, we identified more than $400,000 in regional savings from WindomNet every year. In addition, the network helped keep 47 jobs in the community from one employer alone that previously couldn't get the service it needed from the national telephone company serving it. This is a threat to cable and telephone monopolies, not local taxpayers.

With Windom's success, the cable and telephone companies now attack Monticello's municipal FiberNet for not having yet broken even financially. However, that is the not the only metric by which it should be judged.

Ten years ago, Internet access in Monticello was dismal, harming local businesses. They demanded the city take action and the city asked the telephone and cable company to improve their services -- but those companies insisted everything was fine. So Monticello voted by 74 percent to build its own network.

The telephone company sued, costing Monticello millions in lost time despite its prevailing easily in court.

During the case, the telephone company improved its services, and, after Monticello built its own network, the cable company dropped its rates dramatically. The same package that residents in Rochester and Duluth pay $145 per month for was offered for $60 per month guaranteed for two years. Prices in Monticello from all providers are a fraction of what we pay in the metro.

We estimated the aggregate savings in the community at $10 million over the past five years in All Hands on Deck.

Rather than allowing communities to decide locally on the best strategies to improve Internet access, Minnesota discourages them by requiring a supermajority vote before a community can offer telephone service. This requirement particularly harms Greater Minnesota, where mobile phones are far less reliable and telephone service plays a more important public safety role.

We need an "All Hands on Deck" approach to improving Internet access. The state should be lessening barriers to investment, not maintaining them at the behest of large cable and telephone companies. Local government strategies will play an important role in ensuring our communities can thrive in the digital age.

Christopher Mitchell, St. Paul, is director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He is on Twitter @communitynets

Conduit Brings Connectivity in Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln, Nebraska, population 269,000, is making the most of a tough situation to improve connectivity and increase telecommunications competition; the city is doing it with conduit.

The state has severe restrictions that ban communities and public power companies from offering telecommunications services. Local businesses, government facilities, and citizens must rely on the private sector to keep them connected. Faced with that limitation, Lincoln city leaders are enticing private providers with an extensive, publicly owned conduit network.

Using Tubes to Draw in Partners

In 2012, the city invested $700,000 to install a conduit system that has since grown to over 300 miles across the city. Over the past three years, Lincoln has leased conduit space to multiple providers, including Level 3 and NebraskaLink, which offer a range of services to businesses and anchor institutions. NebraskaLink provides backhaul for Lincoln's free Wi-Fi, launched in 2014.

Mayor Chris Beutler recently announced that Lincoln will be partnering with provider number six, ALLO Communications. This local company plans to be the first provider to use the conduit to build its gigabit fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network to every home and business in Lincoln. The network is scheduled for completion in 2019. ALLO is based in Lincoln and offers telephone, Internet, and video to residents and businesses.

Smart Conduit Choices for Long Term Vision

Installing conduit is a major expense when constructing an underground fiber network. Communities which take advantage of opportunities to install conduit during excavation projects, traffic signal upgrades, and development projects, will save in the future if or when those communities decide to move ahead with fiber installation. In addition to reducing deployment costs, existing conduit reduces the number of disruptions that occur when multiple providers want to bring services to a given area.

Local coverage of Lincoln's new partnership:

 

Flipping the Switch in Santa Fe

In May, Chris introduced you to Sean Moody from Santa Fe's Economic Development Division, to explain how the community was investing in a new fiber link to better serve the local business community. With a little competition, Santa Fe officials expect more choice, better connectivity, and improved services.

CenturyLink controls the community's only connection to the Internet and the line bringing access to the web into the downtown district. Santa Fe's $1 million investment creates another path to encourage other providers to compete. Residents in Santa Fe pay approximately $50 per month for average speeds of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps) while nearby Albuquerque pays the same for 10 Mbps.

The situation may soon change.

On Monday, December 14th, the community will celebrate the investment as they "Flip the Switch and Connect Santa Fe to the Future." The event will take place at the Santa Fe City Offices and will begin at 9 a.m. Mayor Javier M. Gonzales will flip the switch at 10 a.m. to activate Santa Fe’s very first gigabit-speed Internet connection.

From the announcement:

Mayor Gonzales and the City’s Economic Development Division invite you to celebrate activating the first gigabit district in Santa Fe through Santa Fe Fiber, the City’s innovative broadband infrastructure project.

...

On Monday, December 14th from 9 until 11 AM Mayor Gonzales will be joined by special industry guests to flip the switch and experience first-hand the power and potential of gigabit-speed Internet delivered over the City’s newly completed fiber optic backbone. The community is invited to bring devices and try out the new speed!

Maine Model for Muni Fiber - Dark and Open - Community Broadband Bits Episode 176

An interesting confluence in events in Maine have resulted in what some are calling the "Maine model" of fiber optic networks that are available to multiple Internet Service Providers to encourage competition and high quality services. The CEO of GWI, Fletcher Kittredge, joins us this week to explain this model and where it is currently being implemented.

GWI is a local firm, rooted in Maine and focused on delivering high quality services with great customer support. It is working with Rockport (which we wrote about here and podcasted on here) and Islesboro (podcast here) as well as others.

Fletcher starts by telling us more about Maine's Three Ring Binder network and then goes on describe the dark fiber model, benefits of that approach, and how he thinks about public vs private ownership of the open access physical assets.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

Note: This podcast was posted a day late due to the very poor Internet connectivity at a retreat center in Minnesota. Thanks CenturyLink for a reminder why communities cannot rely on the national carriers to invest in modern infrastructure.

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

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."

Baltimore City Council Ponders Options for Moving Muni Fiber Forward

Baltimore's City Council has decided it's time to move forward with a plan for city-owned fiber and they are putting pen to paper to get the ball rolling.

Since 2010, we have covered Baltimore's efforts to improve connectivity for businesses and residents. For a time, they expected FiOs from Verizon but when the provider announced it would not be expanding its network, Baltimore began to explore a Plan B.

Plan B included a publicly owned option, possibly making use of fiber assets already had in place. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has supported taking steps to improve connectivity for Baltimore's economy, education, and general livability. A crowd funding initiative from the Baltimore Broadband Coalition has raised over $20,000 and the community has commissioned several studies. Baltimore even has a city broadband czar.

City Leaders Push On

Members of the City Council have recently renewed the call to action. Council Member Mary Pat Clarke introduced a resolution in September calling on the city to quickly develop a broadband plan. The resolution calls for fiber to all homes, businesses, and institutions in Baltimore in order to bring better connectivity to low-income households, improve economic development, and improve options for anchor institutions

The resolution has been referred to the Departments of Planning, Transportation, Public Works, Finance, City Public School System, and is now in the Mayor's Office of Information Technology.

Westminster Inspires Immediate Action 

A recent Baltimore Sun article about the resolution reports that city leaders looked to Westminster for inspiration. With only 18,000 people, Westminster has struck up a partnership with Ting to provide gigabit connectivity to residents and businesses via its publicly-owned fiber network.

As a major urban center, Baltimore faces a different set of challenges but a recent study suggests that the city could use existing municipal fiber infrastructure as a starting point. The Inter-County Broadband Network, which includes at least 122 miles around Baltimore, can also be integrated into the city's efforts. 

In fact, two recent city-commissioned studies suggest investing to improve connectivity to attract the high-tech industry is a must. Otherwise, Baltimore will be left behind other communities that can provide the kind of high-speed environment companies require to bring new jobs to town.

Thirteen City Council members signed on to Clarke's resolution; it seems they feel the time to act is now. The resolution clearly states that the plan for a fiber network should not be delayed because "timely execution is critical."

"I'm sure we have enough studies now to do the unthinkable — move ahead," Clarke said.

Open Access Engineering Options - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 172

The holy grail of Internet access for many of us continues to be a situation in which multiple providers can compete on a level playing field, which should lower costs to subscribers and encourage innovation. Often called open access, this may involve a municipality building a fiber optic network and making it available on a wholesale level - a model that has been tried to various degrees of success.

This week, we talk with Tim Pozar, a long time Internet entrepreneur and community network enthusiast, about why he supports that model and his ideal method of engineering such a network. We talk about different possibilities for how to design the network and trade-offs involved with those choices.

Tim has worked for many years to encourage this model in San Francisco, which already has some of the locally rooted ISPs that we would hope would ultimately thrive if the City had that type of network available.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Debate on Municipal Networks by Federalist Society Now Available

Our own Christopher Mitchell recently participated in a debate hosted by the Federalist Society. You can now listen to the debate at the Federalist Society website. We think it offers an intelligent airing of different points of view.

Chris, who is also Policy Director at Next Century Cities, disscussed the role of municipal networks in improving competition, reveiwed reguatory issues, and debated the anticipated legal outcome of February's FCC decision on local authority in Tennessee and North Carolina. He squared off against Charles M. Davidson, Director of the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute at New York Law School, and Randolph J. May, President of the Free State Foundation. Both organizations have spoken out against community broadband networks.

Rachel M. Bender, Senior Policy Director of Mobile Future, moderated.

Explaining Right-of-Way Basics - Community Broadband Bits Episode 169

For this week's Community Broadband Bits, we are delving into an area of law and practice that is quite important for Internet network deployment but tends to be dry and confusing. Not for us today though, we have Sean Stokes, a Principal at Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, joining us to explain Right-of-Way basics.

We talk about what the public Right-of-Way (ROW) is, who is responsible for maintaining it, how entities can get access to it and how poles are distinct from the ROW. We discuss how much power local governments and pole owners have to deny access to these assets and some of the costs associated with make-ready. If you don't know what make-ready is, you'll know in less than thirty minutes.

We finish our discussion by exploring the "Municipal Gain" policy in Connecticut, where munis are entitled to some space on the poles for any purpose they choose to use it. Historically, this was used only for public safety, but it was recently broadened. Sean also explores how he believes we should simplify access for fiber-optics rather than basing access on the particular end service being offered.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."

Rio Blanco County Has Big Plans for Open Access Network

In Rio Blanco County, you’re almost more likely to find a dinosaur fossil than a human being. This rural county in northwestern Colorado has about two people for every square mile, but its sparse population is not stopping it from advancing an ambitious open-access broadband initiative

More than a year into the rollout of the network plan, Rio Blanco County (RBC) has already succeeded in soliciting $2 million in matched funds from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), contracted a network operator, and secured easements (land-use rights) from the county’s two largest municipalities to begin construction on the FTTx network. The bulk of the funding will come for the County budgeting for the infrastructure.

The network will initially touch every block and ultimately be expanded to deliver a fiber connection to each premise in the two towns. 

Rio Blanco’s network will be a four-tier open access arrangement. The county will own the infrastructure - from the data center to the optical network terminal (ONT) within the home and everything in between. A private company, Colorado.Fiber.Community, will operate the network. And a combination of independent middle-mile Internet service providers and last-mile value-added resalers will offer services directly to residents. 

For Rio Blanco County IT Director, Blake Mobley, this arrangement is what makes Rio Blanco County’s initiative both unique and feasible. Mobley gave a presentation at the MountainConnect conference in Vail, Colorado, where he spoke about the challenges and the early successes of Rio Blanco County community broadband network. Because the network is open-access, he said, the county can focus on what it does best - laying the groundwork and setting larger policy objectives, not taking the mantle of Internet service provider: 

We look at this just like a county building county roads. You build those roads out. You as a county aren’t anticipating a large return on that investment from those roads up front. It’s the utilization of those roads that builds an economy that’s going to be to your benefit.

Mobley, who along with presenting at MountainConnect also spoke with Chris on the Community Broadband Bits podcast this week, emphasized that it was the business community that came to the county in search of better broadband options. In his words:

The drive to do this project originated with the community itself. They came to the commissioners about a year and a half ago...to say... "You’ve got to solve this problem. We have businesses that have come in and looked in communities, large and far-from-large ones, that said we don’t have the bandwidth we need and we’re not going to locate here. We have residents that are having challenges."

Community members demanding better broadband from municipalities is hardly a new phenomenon. Local demand for community broadband networks has forced the hand of municipal and county governments in multiple Colorado locations. In the state of Colorado, underserved communities that wish to build a network must vote to override a barrier (Senate Bill 05-152) that prevents municipalities from building their own broadband networks. Last November, a resounding 82 percent of Rio Blanco County citizens voted to override this barrier. Rio Blanco County joined five municipalities (Boulder, Yuma, Wray, Cherry Hills Village, and Red Cliff) and one other county (Yuma) in overriding SB05-152 and thereby exercising their right to build a community network.  

Along with providing FTTx capacities, Rio Blanco County’s open access network plan includes a goal of expanding of cellular towers and emergency services. The county intends to construct 11 towers initially, which will serve up to 80 percent of the community, and provide FTTB connections of 25 Mbps upstream and 5 Mbps downstream, slightly better than the FCC definition of basic broadband.

RBC believes that by the end of 2015, it will have begun construction on its FTTB network in the county’s primary urban areas, the towns of Meeker and Rangely, as well as its more rural areas. For Mobley, a 5th generation Rio Blanco County resident, it is important that the project is done in a way that is transparent for both community members and private partners. He joked: 

I’m building the solution for my friends and family so I have a vested interest to do a very good job because if I get fired and have to leave that will be very uncomfortable.