Tag: "electric"

Posted March 18, 2019 by lgonzalez

Last week, Trustees in Estes Park, Colorado, unanimously voted to change the community’s municipal code in order to bring constituents what they want — a publicly owned broadband network.

Strong Support

It’s been four years since 92 percent of voters in Estes Park chose to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. By reclaiming local telecommunications authority through the opt out referendum in 2015, the mountain town of approximately 6,300 residents was able to explore possibilities for better connectivity. 

After several days-long outages caused by lack of redundant infrastructure in the area, local business leaders and town officials knew it was time to take control of the situation. Surveys in the community revealed that approximately two-thirds of respondents want better connectivity in the community and of those respondents, 40 percent consider it the most important service the town can offer. 

Recently, local editors from the Trail Gazette echoed the sentiments of the community and urged community leaders to end discussion and take action:

…Estes Park needs more action and less discussion for greater access to information and global connectivity. No longer is accessible, fast and reliable broadband Internet a luxury; it is a necessity in our digital world.

Prior to the March 12th vote, the Broad of Trustees opened up the meeting to allow comments from the public. In addition to Trustees’ questions about economic development, reliability, and potential capacity of the proposed infrastructure, residents stepped forward to voice their opinions.

Not one citizen spoke out against the project.

Town resident Michael Bertrand, who works as an asset manager for a real estate investment firm and works remotely, opened up public comment with a statement in favor of the project. "I need reliable internet," Bertrand said. "I've had fiber in other locations in the past and it's incredible. The speeds you get are just fantastic."

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Posted December 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

It was more than two years ago when voters in Vinton, Iowa, resoundingly gave their blessing to the city to form a telecommunications utility. After study and consideration, the municipality is now ready to move from design to deployment.

In mid-December, a Notice to Bidders went out from the Vinton Municipal Electric Utility (VMEU) and the engineering firm working with the community to develop a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. According to the notice, Vinton plans to build the network “in its entirety” over the next year.

According to the media release, the city plans an underground deployment and anticipates the network will include approximately 82 miles of fiber. The Media Release indicates that several RFPs will be forthcoming throughout 2019.

Read the Notice to Bidders Media Release here.

It’s Feasible

In the fall of 2015, after Vinton voters decided 792 to 104 to put VMEU in control of the broadband initiative, it took until early 2017 for the city to hire a firm to develop a feasibility study. Many people in the community of about 5,100 people were tired of poor Internet access via slow DSL. Cable Internet access is available in some areas of town, but both residents and businesses feel that without high-quality connectivity, Vinton will lose out to other Iowa towns  that already have created municipal networks.

Cedar Falls and Waverly are both within an hour's drive north of Vinton. Other communities in Iowa have invested in fiber networks to improve economic development, including Spencer, Lenox, and Harlan.

The feasibility...

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Posted November 21, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Ninety miles west of Boston, the small town of South Hadley, Massachusetts, will soon have a new, municipal option for Internet access. In October, the South Hadley Electric Light Department (SHELD) Board of Commissioners unanimously approved plans to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout the town of 17,000. The network would bring high-speed fiber connectivity to South Hadley businesses and residents, who can currently choose between Comcast and Verizon for Internet access, while also enabling the municipal electric utility to implement smart grid technologies.

SHELD has been considering offering fiber optic Internet access to residents for several years. After hiring the current General Manager, Sean Fitzgerald, in 2017, management started to seriously examine the possibility of building a FTTH network. “What we’ve really been focused on this last year and a half,” Fitzgerald shared at the SHELD Board of Commissioners meeting, “is being diligent in reviewing the costs, the risks, the economic benefits for our customers and the South Hadley community at large.” In approving the network, Commissioner Vern Blodgett said, “SHELD is really ready financially and management-wise to take on a project like this.”

Smart Grid, Economic Development Benefits

One reason for SHELD’s interest in a fiber network is the potential to deploy Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI). While evaluating plans to provide Internet access, electric department management realized that current meters needed to be replaced, providing a perfect opportunity to upgrade to smart meter technology that could be integrated into the fiber network. This technology could help the utility better manage the electric grid load and respond to outages, ultimately saving SHELD money and improving customer experience. “It’s the future [of electric service],” Fitzgerald explained to the board. “If your power goes out, we will know maybe even before you do.”

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Posted October 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, Chattanooga’s celebrated as municipal network EPB Fiber Optics announced that they now have more than 100,000 subscribers. The high numbers indicate that the network is serving more than 60 percent of premises in the EPB service area. EPB's success also attests to the popularity of publicly owned Internet infrastructure that is accountable and responsive to the community that both own and use the network.

An Expected Milestone, Big Benefits

Hitting six digit subscribership this fall was no surprise based on rapid growth and intense interest in EPB’s affordable, symmetrical 10 gigabit connectivity along with other available speeds. When the city began serving subscribers in 2009, they based initial figures on an estimate of 35,000 subscribers within five years to break even. Within 18 months, they had already surpassed those goals.

Having paid off remaining debt earlier this year, more revenue is now freed up for more investment back into the system or to put back into the community. The utility is now reinvesting around $42 million per year back into the electric system and power rates are lower for the entire community, regardless of whether or not electric customers are EPB Fiber Optic subscribers.

"Contrary to the fears some had about us spending power funds to pay for this service, our power rates are actually 7 percent lower than they otherwise would be because of our Fiber Optic network and the business it has generated for us," EPB President David Wade said.

In addition to significant savings on power rates, Chattanooga has experienced an influx of economic development as tech companies have come to the city specifically for the network. “Gig City” Mayor Andy Berke:

"Our fiber optic network is today's locomotive that is driving Chattanooga's success and positioning us as a model for other communities. It is a powerful recruiting tool to attract new businesses that need reliable, high quality power and communications, as well as a catalyst for launching startups and expanding our existing...

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Posted October 25, 2018 by lgonzalez

Chicopee, Massachusetts, is on its way to better connectivity through a publicly owned network after all. Chicopee Electric Light (CEL) has announced that the municipal utility plans to develop a pilot program yet this year to experiment with business connectivity. If all goes well, they have a long-term vision to also serve residents.

Remember That Resolution You Introduced?

Last week, we reported that at a recent meeting, City Councilor Joel McAuliffe had presented a resolution seeking support for a municipal network. Rather than pass it, however, the council referred the resolution on to the Utilities Committee for further review. McAuliffe created an online petition to show his colleagues on the council that their constituents supported a publicly owned network.

According to local outlet The Reminder, as the issue of municipal connectivity became a hot topic, CEL decided it was time to release news of their plan to launch a pilot project.

CEL General Manager Jeff Cady said, “We’re a municipal utility and operate in the best interest of our stakeholders, the rate payers. We’re going to operate our Internet service in the same way. We’re going to start slowly, providing service to a handful of businesses to iron out any issues.”

Cady went on to tell The Reminder that, even though the feasibility study was a few years old, the data was still valid and CEL are close to finalizing their plans.

CEL has already decided on a name for the service: Crossroads Fiber. The network will be deployed in phases, with businesses closest to existing fiber assets scheduled to be the first for connection. Approximately 70 percent of businesses in Chicopee are already near the community’s existing fiber and some are already receiving service through an agreement between CEL and Holyoke Gas & Electric. Once the initial pilot project is completed and CEL has had a chance to discover and resolve any issues, they anticipate expanding the pilot area in 2019.

Residents Won't Have to Wait Too Long

Cady said that CEL envisions a similar pilot project for Crossroads Fiber residential Internet access in the summer of 2019. The service...

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Posted September 5, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

What started as a pilot project back in 2014 has consistently expanded to more addresses. Now the “Little Gig City” has put a date on when they expect to complete the final phase of their community-wide fiber network — early 2020. “Right now we feel like we’re kind of in the home stretch,” says Erwin Utilities fiber optic engineer John Williams. 

When The Time Was Right

The small town of Erwin, Tennessee first explored the possibility of bringing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to its residents in 1999. At the time, however, the community chose not to pursue a publicly owned network because only 20 percent of homes in the area had a computer and the initial estimated cost of over $20 million was too high for local palates. The market changed over the next few years and in 2012, the town finally felt it was time to invest. They constructed a fiber backbone that connected 45 SCADA locations and six county schools. By 2014, the city announced plans to develop a pilot project for business and residential connectivity in the downtown area.

The pilot project reached approximately 1,000 premises; the utility’s goal was to achieve a 25 percent take rate to ensure the service would be self-sustaining. According to Williams, the utility swiftly surpassed their goal and are now at 36 percent subscribership in the original deployment area. Erwin Utilities has expanded, passing a total of approximately 5,000 premises out of 9,000 total potential premises, which are also electric service customers.

logo-erwin-fiber.jpg Because Tennessee municipal utilities are subject to state law that limits their Internet service area to their electric service footprint, Erwin can only provide connectivity to a limited number of premises. The law creates a situation that protects incumbent monopolies, but forces rural folks who obtain electric service from a different provider to rely on ISPs that generally offer poor Internet access options via DSL or expensive satellite service.

The Ultimate in Self-Reliance

Williams, who designed the network, ...

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Posted August 24, 2018 by lgonzalez

Rural electric cooperatives in Arkansas are stepping up and making the investments to bring broadband connectivity to their members. We recently described plans taking shape from North Arkansas Electric Cooperative. This month, construction began in the northeast region on infrastructure that will provide both broadband access and improved smart grid technology in the eight counties of Craigshead Electric Cooperative Corporation (CECC).

A Multi-Year Investment

The cooperative will deploy approximately 5,000 miles of fiber on utility poles and underground over the next five to seven years. Empower, a subsidiary of CECC, will offer Internet access to more than 30,000 members and non-members in its service area northwest of Memphis by the time construction is finished. FCC data has determined that about 44 percent of CECC’s members aren’t able to subscribe to broadband at the 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload minimum threshold because there is no option in their territory.

CECC wants to make use of smart grid technology in order to improve delivery of electric services. Since fiber optic Internet infrastructure and smart grid can exist hand-in-hand, and the region is in desperate need for better connectivity, CECC and Empower will offer high-speed Internet access where incumbents won’t.

The cooperative will spend approximately $100 - $110 million to complete the project; construction on the first phase began in July and should be finished by the end of 2018. In addition to the economic development benefits that will come to the region as the infrastructure attracts new business, 30 new permanent positions which will be created to manage and operate the network.

logo-empower.png Like many rural electric cooperatives, CECC began by local farmers. The Rural Electrification Act (REA) required that they sign up 612 members in the co-op...

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Posted July 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

Ocala, Florida, is one of those communities that doesn’t think twice about offering high-quality Internet access to businesses and residents. They’ve been doing it for decades and, when media coverage around gigabit connectivity began to expand, they were a little surprised because they had been offering similar services since the early 2000s. The benefits were nothing new to Ocala.

A Familiar Story Taken to Its Logical Conclusion

We touched based with Arnie Hersch, Senior Broadband Engineer for the City of Ocala, who shared the story of the network. Arnie has spent more time working on the network than anyone else in Ocala.

As in many other communities, Ocala started deploying fiber between its municipal utility facilities, including electric substations and water and wastewater locations, to improve inter-facility communications. In 1995, copper connected the city’s substations for SCADA operations. The copper was aged and had been struck by lightning, which negatively impacted its ability to perform; decision makers at the utility decided to replace the copper with fiber optic lines. As they finished deploying that year, Arnie joined the city's telecommunications utility; one of his primary objective was making the most out of the new fiber network.

First, Ocala connected all of its 52 municipal facilities in order to improve connectivity and cut costs. At the time, city offices still used dial-up connections for Internet access. Within two years, Arnie had switched the city to an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), which allowed them to use the new infrastructure for computing and voice applications. The change opened new doors for the city.

logo-ocala-fiber.jpeg Ocala leadership decided that the Telecommunications Utility should charge the municipality the same rates that the local Regional Bell Operating Company (RBOC) had charged for a T1 line, which offers capacity of approximately 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps). Even though utility poles belong to the city, the Ocala Fiber Network (OFN) also pays pole attachment...

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Posted July 20, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

In May of 2017 we congratulated Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber for exceeding 90,000 subscribers and contributing to lower power rates for all (Electric Power Board) EPB customers. Now less than a year later, there is more to celebrate as EPB expects to reach 100,000 subscribers by Fall 2018 and is still lowering electricity costs for all customers. 

The city-owned electric utility launched its citywide fiber optic network in 2009 and never looked back. The original plan issued nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in debt for the utility and had an estimated forecast for only 35,000 subscribers. The city is now reaping the rewards from its investment; the utility paid off the last of its debt earlier this year, and now projected revenues for the fiscal year 2018-2019 from the telecom division sit at $169.1 million.

For a detailed, interesting history on EPB Fiber Optics, take some time to listen to Harold DePriest talk with Christopher in episode 230 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Before retiring, Harold was the tip of the spear in bringing the network to Chattanooga.

Major Savings

While EPB has long been recognized for its lightning fast Internet speeds and has repeatedly been ranked among the fastest in the U.S. (including this year’s fourth fastest ISP in the United States), the utility’s fiber optic lines also help lower power rates for all customers by eight percent. Whether Chattanoogans subscribe to EPB Fiber for Internet access or not, they still benefit from the infrastructure.

The fiber optic network that EPB installed nearly a decade ago not only allow the ISP to provide gigabit connectivity, it was also strategically built on top of the preexisting power grid, creating its “smart grid.” This allows the utility to monitor its electrical system in real time and to read all meters every 15 minutes, saving the cost of sending technicians into the field. Additionally, the smart grid is able to instantly reroute power in...

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Posted July 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

An increasing number of local communities in Colorado are finding ways to improve rural connectivity. The Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), a cooperative bringing electricity to approximately 28,000 members in southwest Colorado, is in the midst of Elevate, their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network that will connect all co-op members. We’ve brought co-op Board Members John Gavan and Brad Harding on the show this week to talk about the project and DMEA.

This conversation describes how and why the project got started and the plans for the future. Cooperatives are member organizations and this story is an example of a member-driven project that started when the community chose to improve their future. Significant employment losses in the region had the potential for widespread ripple effects and community members saw high-quality connectivity as a must for economic development.

John and Brad also discuss how the project is part of a larger effort to cope with the loss of electricity demand due to local job losses in the coal industry and a desire to stay on the cusp of innovation. With new infrastructure, the cooperative is investigating ways to offer such enhancements as electric vehicle charging and energy storage. They’ve also been taking a second look at local renewable energy generation facilities and wholesale contracts. DMEA and its members are taking new steps in self-reliance.

DMEA has produced a short video on the Elevate project:

Read more about how cooperatives are bringing broadband to rural America in our 2017 policy brief, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era.

This show is 31 minutes long...

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