Tag: "bond"

Posted October 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

Located only 30 miles east of Houston, it’s hard to believe that Mont Belvieu, Texas, ever had poor Internet access. Faced with complaints from residents and businesses, city officials decided to deploy fiber and bring fast, affordable, reliable gigabit connectivity directly to the community via MB Link.

How to Fix the Problem

While it’s not far from the center of a large metro area, Mont Belvieu is still considered a rural community. The town’s history is based in the oil and natural gas industry, which began in the early 1900s. As City Manager Nathan Watkins told Christopher Mitchell in episode 326 of our podcast, approximately 85 percent of natural gas liquids in the U.S. travel to Mont Belvieu for processing. With more than 10,000 miles of pipeline within their salt domes, the town of 8,000 has become a centerpiece of oil and natural gas processing.

Before MB Link, the community dealt with a patchwork of services offered by several different providers. Even though more than one provider operated in town, they didn’t compete with each other. Without competition, ISPs had no impetus to improve services. Residents complained about DSL download speeds of 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) and cable Internet access download speeds topping out at 5 Mbps. There were even premises that could not obtain Internet access because ISPs reported saturated networks and were not willing to make investments to serve more subscribers.

In 2016, a feasibility study in Mont Belvieu revealed that 60 percent of residents and 79 percent of businesses felt that local Internet access wasn’t adequate for their needs. In the same survey, 90 percent of residents and 100 percent of business respondents opined that high-speed Internet access is an essential service in the same manner as electricity and water.

logo-mont-belvieu.png In addition to the problems that Mont Belvieu was already having with poor Internet access, the community was growing — something city leaders wanted to encourage. New subdivisions were planned but incumbent ISPs didn’t want to deploy infrastructure to the new areas,...

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Posted September 12, 2018 by lgonzalez

In episode 320 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, aired on August 28th, we shared news about an opportunity regarding funding local Internet network infrastructure. Jase Wilson and Lindsey Brannon of Neighborly announced that the online investment platform had recently launched the Neighborly Community Broadband Accelerator. Applications to participate in the program close on September 28th, so we want to encourage local communities, Internet Service Providers, or community advocates interested in new ways to develop better local connectivity to check out the program.

More Than Money

For a quick recap, Neighborly is a technology company that provides an online investment platform to give individuals and entities the ability to invest in projects funded with municipal bonds. The projects are publicly owned and centered on improving the quality of life on the local level. Project areas include transportation infrastructure, schools and libraries, housing, and utilities. The accelerator program specifically aims to help local communities develop their own open access municipal networks to improve connectivity and encourage competition for broadband on the local level.

As Jase and Lindsey described in our interview, the numerous moving pieces associated with developing a fiber optic municipal network create a layered and complex project; a key element is financing. While it’s often left as a later consideration — one that makes or breaks the project — chances of success improve when community leaders address funding early and throughout projects development. 

One of the goals of the Accelerator Program is to help local communities interweave funding throughout the process. The program also provides additional resources throughout the process to help ease broadband network development. Applicants accepted to the program pay no fee and receive:

  • Tools to map, multiply & accelerate community engagement, including demand aggregation technology and marketing collateral to build a grassroots movement
  • Education sessions with leading experts who will share best practices for generating local support, working with civic leaders, overcoming legislative...
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Posted August 28, 2018 by lgonzalez

Plenty of local communities are interested in the possibilities of creating publicly owned Internet infrastructure but pause when it comes to funding. This week on the podcast, Christopher interviews Jase Wilson, CEO, and Lindsey Brannon, Head of Public Finance, from Neighborly. The firm is working with local communities and using an innovative approach to financing publicly owned infrastructure projects, including broadband networks.

Neighborly provides an online investment platform that allows individuals to invest in projects funded through municipal bonds. In addition to more traditional projects suited to the muni bond market, such as transportation, education, and housing, Neighborly is working with local communities that want to develop open access municipal networks. In this interview, Jase and Lindsey describe how the open access network fits so well with the firm's philosophy.

In addition to helping drum up the capital for muni deployment, Neighborly sharpshooters recognize that the opportunity for individuals to invest directly in a municipal project in their community will help the project ultimately succeed. After all, the investment is about more than turning profit when it’s providing fast affordable, reliable connectivity in your own hometown.

Lindsey and Jase discuss some of their past work and talk about the new Community Broadband Accelerator program that offers additional tools to communities investing in open access fiber networks. Specifics about the program are available on the Neighborly website and during the interview we get to hear more about the advantages of participating in the Community Broadband Accelerator program.

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

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to ...

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Posted June 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

On May 30th, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed SB 170, a bill local community leaders had watched for more than a year. The measure will allow municipalities to bond for publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. Advocates, local elected officials, and citizens have been seeking the authority for years. SB 170 may raise some questions as it's implemented, but the bill is significant because it symbolizes this state's decision to expand local authority for broadband investment, rather than limit the power of local communities.

Read the final version of SB 170 here.

A Better Measurement

As we reported more than a year ago, SB 170 sought to make changes in existing law by allowing local communities to bond for Internet infrastructure. The bill sat in committee until last November, when it was amended and picked up again. The final version of SB 170 allows communities to bond for projects that will connect premises that don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC — 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Should the definition of broadband at the FCC increase to faster speeds, so will the definition as it applies in New Hampshire. This is a welcome approach as big ISPs around the country have in recent years tried to convince state legislators to reduce the speed definition of broadband in state legislation. Many is the time well-meaning or well-funded state lawmakers decided to use the incumbent-dictated 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps or even 4 Mbps / 1 Mbps in order to appease the likes of AT&T or CenturyLink. Some states, such as New Hampshire, are realizing that such slow thresholds translate into very little investment into the type of Internet access residents and businesses need. Other states can learn from New Hampshire...

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Posted May 22, 2018 by lgonzalez

When municipalities and other local governments are planning for publicly owned Internet infrastructure, they must coordinate many moving pieces to get the project going and to keep it on a successful track. In this interview, Christopher and Tom Coverick, Managing Director at KeyBanc Capital Markets, discuss one of the most important components of community network planning: finance.

Christopher and Tom met up at the May 2018 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas.

In addition to some of the types of bonding and other mechanisms communities use to fund their projects, Christopher and Tom discuss the politics and ancillary issues that affect local leaders’ decisions to take the step to finance for a project. Risk is a consideration and it affects the cost of financing. Tom advocates that financing should be part of the equation early in the planning process and he explains why his experience has led him to this conclusion. Christopher and Tom also talk about some creative funding techniques that local communities have used to make borrowing more palatable and suitable for their unique situations.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You 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. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. 

Posted March 8, 2018 by lgonzalez

On May 8th, voters in Sharon Township, Michigan, will decide whether or not they want to pursue an initiative to invest in a publicly owned fiber optic network. People in the community of less than 2,000 people don’t expect the national ISPs to bring them the connectivity they need, so they will decide if they should take another approach to connect every one with high-quality Internet access.

Like Nearby Lyndon

Sharon Township residents and businesses find themselves in the same type of situation Lyndon Township faced before they decided to take action to develop a network. There is limited wired Internet access in the community, but it’s almost always slow DSL from Frontier or AT&T. Many people must rely on expensive and unreliable satellite for service. Comcast also claims to have a small presence in Sharon Township.

When township supervisor Peter Psarouthakis tried to connect with representatives from incumbents to talk about improving services, he couldn’t reach anyone who could make decisions. Next, community leaders asked smaller companies to serve their areas, but "They told us they have no plans to operate in our township because we don't have enough people, and the return on investment isn't going to be there for them.”

Pressing On

When residents and business owners completed a survey in 2013 as the community considered what route to take, 70 percent of respondents said that their current ISP did not meet their needs; 95 percent expressed an interest in alternative choices for Internet access. Since then, community leaders have hired a consultant to develop a feasibility study and Sharon Broadband Yes, a grassroots group advocating for a fiber network, has formed to educate the public.

The group is asking voters to pass a broadband bond proposal to allow the community to issue $4.9 million in general obligation bonds to fund a fiber optic network project. Community leaders accepted the estimate from the consultant’s feasibility study, which was completed about a year ago. As in Lyndon Township, the bonds would be repaid with a “millage” in which local property owners pay a certain dollar amount per $1,000 of taxable value of their home. In Sharon Township, that figure is $3.2583 or 3.2518...

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Posted January 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

Things have been looking up for the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency’s fiber optic network (UTOPIA) in recent years and in December network officials reported they’ve reached a significant financial milestone. For the first time since the open access network began operations in 2003, revenue will cover bond payments and will provide a 2 percent dividend to most of the member communities.

Despite The Limitations

In keeping with state restrictions, UTOPIA can only provide wholesale services via their fiber infrastructure. Ten ISPs offer residential services on the network, which establishes ample competition and all its benefits for subscribers, including lower prices, better customer service, and the ability to switch providers. Businesses can choose from 25 ISPs.

The wholesale-only model, however, significantly reduces the revenue communities can expect from their investment, which was the case with UTOPIA. The eleven member cities bonded approximately $185 million, but revenue limits due to the restriction, some early management decisions, and general apprehension from member communities, created political controversy. At one point, member communities considered selling out to Australian investment firm Macquarie.

Fortitude Paying Off

In 2011, eight of the member communities created the Utopia Infrastructure Agency (UIA) in order to spur more network expansion. UIA collaborates with UTOPIA as a separate entity; its purpose is to deploy the network in more locations and connect more premises and has issued the dividend to its member communities.

Communities in the region chose to stick with their investment, however, and gradually, as Jesse Harris from FreeUTOPIA noted in 2016, negative public opinion turned around. Things for the eleven member communities were on an upward trajectory and soon neighboring...

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Posted October 10, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

On August 1, 2017, the Franklin County Infrastructure Bank awarded Grove City, Ohio a $2 million loan to support their construction of a municipal fiber optic network. 

The Grove City Plan

According to the city’s Request for Proposal (RFP), the city is focused on first establishing an institutional network (I-Net) and plan to expand it to serve local businesses over time. The initial fiber optic network will connect Grove City to the South-Western City Schools, the townships of Jackson, Prairie, Pleasant, and the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO). The goal is to create a network with a baseline of ten gigabits symmetric service, ten times the speed of current connections provided by Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable).

According to Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage, the increase in network speed will attract businesses and will generate a 100 new jobs for the city. Josh Roth, Senior Program Coordinator for Economic Development and Planning, has said “that Grove City has committed to one hundred jobs over the next three years.”

During the August 1, 2017 general session, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners  passed the resolution to authorize the loan to the city of Grove City. 

Franklin County Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce celebrated the project:

“[T]he fiber optics really makes a difference because companies will look at whether to expand or move there [Grove City]. It could be a deciding factor. Those are jobs that are retained that you may not see."

For more information on the positive relationship between publicly owned Internet network infrastructure and reyaining or...

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Posted August 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

In a record high turnout for a non-general election, voters in Lyndon Township, Michigan, decided to approve a bond proposal to fund a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The measure passed with 66 percent of voters (622 votes) choosing yes and 34 percent (321 votes) voting no.

Geographically Close, Technologically Distant

The community is located only 20 minutes away from Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan and the sixth largest city in the state, but many of the Township’s residents must rely on satellite for Internet access. Residents and business owners complain about slow service, data caps, and the fact that they must pay high rates for inadequate Internet service. Residents avoid software updates from home and typically travel to the library in nearby Chelsea to work in the evening or to complete school homework assignments.

Lyndon Township Supervisor Marc Keezer has reached out to ISPs and asked them to invest in the community, but none consider it a worthwhile investment. Approximately 80 percent of the community has no access to FCC-defined broadband speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

“We don’t particularly want to build a network in our township. We would rather it be privatized and be like everybody else,” Keezer said. “But that’s not a reality for us here.”

When local officials unanimously approved feasibility study funding about a year ago, citizens attending the meeting responded to their vote with applause

A Little From Locals Goes A Long Way

The community will finance their $7 million project with a 2.9 millage over the next 20-years, which amounts to a $2.91 property tax increase per $1,000 of taxable value of real property. Average cost per property owner will come to $21.92 per month for the infrastructure. Basic Internet access will cost $35 - 45 per month for 100 Mbps; speeds will likely be symmetrical. They estimate the combined cost of infrastructure millage and monthly fee for basic service will be $57 - 67...

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Posted August 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

If you’re a regular reader at MuniNetworks.org, listen to our podcasts, or if you simply follow publicly owned network news, you know an increasing number of communities have decided to invest in local connectivity solutions in recent years. We’ve watched the number of “pins” on our community network map multiply steadily, but every now and then, a network drops off through privatization.

FastRoads Sold To N.H. Optical Systems

New Hampshire FastRoads received America Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which combined with state funding, created the open access fiber optic network in the southwest section of the state. Over the next several years, the network expanded with private donations and local matching funds. Many of the premises that connected to the network had relied on dial-up before FastRoads came to town. But in part because state law makes bonding for network expansion difficult, Fast Roads will no longer be locally controlled.

The Monadnock Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a nonprofit organization whose purpose is working to see like projects are completed that will improve economic development prospects in the region managed the project. MEDC contracted with another entity to maintain the network, which cost approximately $15,000 per month. Since they had achieved their core goal - the construction and launch of the network - MEDC had been looking for another entity to take over the network or to partner with them. They recently finalized a deal to sell the network to New Hampshire Optical Systems

logo-fast-roads-2017.png Back in 2013, Christopher spoke with Carole Monroe, who was the FastRoads Project CEO but has since moved on to ECFiber in Vermont. She described how the introduction of the network inspired incumbents to lower prices - a win for everyone, whether they connected to FastRoads or not. She also told us how community anchor institutions (CAIs) were getting better...

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