Santa Monica has built an impressive fiber network to connect local government buildings, schools, parks, and local businesses. With local jobs dependent on massive media studios that require very robust connectivity, Santa Monica has responded by building an impress community broadband network. That network is now offering 10Gbps connections - if such a connection were available from the local cable company, I shudder to think what they would charge for it.
I added these links to our link section in the right column, but wanted to note them explicitly. One of the goals of this site is to catalog what groups around the country are organizing for better networks that put the community first - if you know of groups, please let us know.
In California's El Dorado County, the Camino Fiber Network Cooperative is seeking ways to finance building broadband to people who currently have no options. Thanks to Eldo Telecom for tipping me off.
In Massachusetts, many communities in the western half of the state have no or poor broadband access, which is why Wired West is investigating options for a publicly owned, open access network.
It looks like Palo Alto should move quickly on expanding its publicly owned fiber-based I-NET - as the city renegotiates the cable franchise with Comcast, the private cable company is trying to rip-off taxpayers with exorbitant prices for community anchor tenants.
California is one of several states to recently take negotiating power on cable television franchises away from communities and grant it to the state. Historically, communities negotiated a free or reduced rate for connectivity to schools, public safety buildings and other key community anchors in return for access to community Right-of-Way - an essential permission necessary to build a cable network.
However, as these agreements come up for review, the regulatory landscape is significantly different than it was when they were negotiated in the past. Federal and state decisions have limited the power of communities to gain concessions from cable companies as they continue to raise prices and post large profits.
In response, many communities have embarked on smart efforts to build their own fiber-optic networks connecting key institutions. These networks often save money while greatly increasing available bandwidth, allowing local governments to be more efficient and use cutting-edge applications. In some communities, these Institutional Networks have formed the backbone of next-generation networks that extend full fiber-to-the-home network access to businesses and citizens. Palo Alto has not yet connected all the necessary buildings with its network and still depends on Comcast for bandwidth to those areas.
Communities should beware - network ownership means power. The network owner can decide what price to charge schools - prices that must be paid with tax dollars. Communities building their own networks have slashed these prices and reduced pressure on the tax base. They don't have to worry as much when cable franchise negotiations are up again - like Palo Alto is now.
Joe Saccio, deputy director of Palo Alto's Administrative Services Department, said Comcast's proposed rates for I-Net would essentially enable the cable company to bill the communities twice for the fiber network. The network's construction was funded by cable subscribers and according to the staff report, Comcast has already largely (if not completely) recouped those costs.
Tropos is a California-based company that sells wireless networking gear, frequently to municipalities. They filed comments with the FCC regarding the National Broadband Plan in response to the request: "Comment Sought on the Contribution of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Government to Broadband."
We fully support their framing of the issue:
Municipalities that own and control their wireless broadband networks, operate public services more efficiently, prioritize broadband traffic for emergencies, and put unused bandwidth to use to attract new businesses, afford educational opportunities to students and in many cases, provide free broadband access to unserved or underserved residents.
Tropos calls for an end to preemption on community networks.
Congress should not adopt legislation that would prohibit local governments from building and operating broadband networks to provide services within a community. Local governments should have the freedom to make decisions on how they want to provide broadband within their community.
And finally, Tropos harkens back to the same political battles from one hundred years ago:
A century ago, when inexpensive electricity was available to only a small fraction of the U.S. population, incumbent suppliers of electricity sought to prevent the public sector from offering electricity for many of the same reasons incumbent broadband providers now argue against community broadband deployment and services. Back then, incumbents sought to limit competition by arguing that local governments didn’t have the expertise to offer something as complex as electricity. They argued that their own businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. Local community leaders recognized that their economic survival and the health and welfare of their citizens depended on wiring their communities. They understood that it would take both private and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans. Fortunately, they prevailed. Just as municipal electric systems proved critical to making access to electric service universal in the 20th Century, municipal networks can be part of the solution in making broadband access universal in the 21st Century – and should be included in the build-out of a national broadband infrastructure.
On the Daily Yonder - offering coverage of rural issues - Craig Settles offers advice to community networks on the need to attract institution and business customers because networks rarely generate enough revenue to make debt payments by focusing solely on residential subscribers.
When communities compare the costs of different technologies, they often get too caught up in the upfront costs and ignore the ongoing costs (operating costs, or opex). He offers an example of a modest wireless network:
It’s important to understand that while it costs a lot of money to create a broadband network, over a five-to-ten-year period, it costs even more to operate that network than to build it. Say it costs $1 million to build a wireless network. During the municipal wireless heyday, it was estimated to cost 20% of buildout expense to operate the network annually – to pay for customer service, maintenance, upgrades, etc. That’s $200,000 a year.
This is a great intro article for those who may not be used to thinking about the economics or business plans networks need.
For the rest of us, it is a strong reminder of how many networks start (and a good path for those who want to create a network):
Santa Monica, California, had a legacy PBX phone system and slow connection circuits from incumbents. The city pooled money it was already paying for voice and data services, using this capital to build a fiber network and implement new communication technology.
City CIO Jory Wolf states, “By switching to fiber we realized a $500,000 savings in data circuits and $250,000 savings in voice circuits, all of which stayed in our fund. Ongoing savings enabled us to provide our police with video streaming in their vehicles. We have excess bandwidth, so we provide (a) large number of sites with free wireless access.” Wolf said that the city is also selling companies fiber lines that haven't yet been turned on. “Our network budget is self-sustaining,” he said, “and I have $2.5 million in capital.”
I remember Tim Nulty saying that Burlington Telecom started the same way. They figured out how much they were paying each month for telecom as a city. They used that number to compute how much they could spend...Read more
San Francisco has leveraged its municipally-owned fiber in a program to overcome the digital divide. Projects like this are a good early step for larger communities. First, invest in fiber to public buildings, schools, etc., to cut costs from leased lines (often, while upgrading capacity). Second, begin to leverage that fiber to increase affordable broadband availability in the community. Expand until community needs are met.
In 2004, the Loma Linda city council passed a short, one paragraph ordinance that modified the building code. From then on, new buildings, or buildings that were significantly renovated had to meet specifications to be added to the Loma Linda community fiber network - the Connected Community Program. This is an interview with James Hettrick, who was largely responsible for it.
I'd like t hose communities to have an opportunity to say what kind of infrastructure is put in, so that they have some say over what kind of services they can provide later. It's pretty tough for cities to re-negotiate with the telcos after they put in their infrastructure and system. The telcos then see them as a revenue source rather than as a partner. After that, it becomes very difficult for cities to do the kinds of things that they may want to do.
Loma Linda is an interesting network because they have put it in the building code - meaning developers pay much of the cost of building it - a strategy that works better in towns with more greenfields than existing developments.
It's built by the developers to our specifications just like the streets, water, sewer and storm drains system. After completion, they deed the infrastructure over to us; we then must maintain it forever. Once it's available to us, we put in our active gear and serve their buyers. They, of course, market their homes in this region as unique. On a side note, studies have shown that homes wired with fiber usually sell for $4000-$14,000 over those without fiber [the additional cost of building the network is estimated at $3,500 per unit to the developer].
Community broadband networks offer some the highest capacity connections at the lowest costs. Many of these communities, before building their networks, were dependent on 1.5 Mbps connections that cost hundreds of dollars, or less reliable DSL and cable networks.
The community broadband networks below are full FTTH networks, so the advertised speeds are the experienced speeds -- unlike typical cable advertised speeds, which users pay for but rarely experience due to congestion on the shared connection.
In comparing some of the fastest publicly owned broadband networks to some of the fastest national private sector networks, we found that the publicly owned networks offer more value per dollar. Update: A few weeks after this was published, Verizon upped its speeds and prices for several of the tiers.
The data we used is below. We thought about comparing also Qwest's "Fiber-Optic Fast" speeds, but their fastest upload speeds are below 1 Mbps, which makes them too pokey for the above networks.
Community Broadband Networks: The Best of the Best
Note: Speeds are expressed as Mbps Down/Up. Each network has distinct offering for each tier.
|Tier 1||Tier 2||Tier 3||Tier 4|
|Lafayette||Louisiana||10/10||$28.95||30/30||$44.95||50/50||$57.95||-||-||All connections come with 100Mbps connections to others on the local network.|