Tag: "expansion"

Posted May 3, 2016 by lgonzalez

Another pilot program is evolving into greater things.

Whip City Fiber, the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network deployed by Westfield Gas & Electric (WG+E) in Massachusetts, announced in April that it has chosen three more neighborhoods for network expansion. Residents in the target neighborhoods are invited to sign-up by May 15th for one month’s free service. WG+E offers symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) service for $69.95 per month for residents and $84.95 per month for commercial subscribers. Wi-Fi routers are included; there is no charge for installation and no contracts. 

Whip City Fiber only offers Internet access but like other municipalities opting out of video services, they see the trend toward Internet TV:

"This is not TV. But what we see is a lot of cord cutters that are streaming programming on Netflix, Hulu and Apple TV," [WG+E marketing and customer service manager Sean Fitzgerald] said. "The only thing missing are sports channel and those are coming around."

Expanding Use Of Fiber In Westfield

A Berkman Center report on nearby Holyoke Gas and Electric referenced Westfield’s recent pilot project. WG+E began using fiber-optic connections to monitor substations and municipal facilities, including schools and administrative buildings, about 20 years ago. The community also has a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity responsible for owning and operating a municipal fiber network, and used the fiber infrastructure to provide Internet access to Westfield’s municipal facilities and local businesses for the past ten years.

In February, WG+E announced that it would expand the network beyond the pilot area and encouraged residents to express their interest by signing up. It was through those sign-ups, in part, that the utility determined these first expansions. According to WG+E General Manager, choosing the target area was no easy task:

“It was difficult to decide where to build next given the strong enthusiasm shown throughout many areas of the city. Unfortunately, we can’t build everywhere at once.” Howard said. “Our priority is to bring the service to as many...

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Posted April 29, 2016 by ternste

In March, we wrote about a prospective municipal fiber network project in the western Michigan city of Holland. Holland’s Board of Public Works (HBPW) began a pilot test in January, offering gigabit speed services to three commercial buildings in the city via a system of dark fiber cable that the city has owned for more than two decades.

Holland’s Board of Public Works (HBPW) has since released a study that details options for a citywide municipally owned Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. Although the study is only a first step toward developing a final business plan for the network, it gives significant insight into the city’s plans for the project.

Prospective Network Footprint and Business Model

In the first option, the city could invest $63.2 million to add nearly 500 miles of fiber lines to the city’s existing fiber infrastructure to create a municipal FTTP network for the entire HBPW service area. The new network would reach all of the homes, businesses, and municipal facilities in Holland and in neighboring communities that fall within the HBPW’s service area.

The second option suggests a $29.8 million investment on a fiber network with a smaller FTTP footprint that would provide gigabit speed fiber connections to all premises within the Holland city limits.

According to the study, the city prefers a “hybrid open access” business model in which Holland would provide retail services while also preserving its current open access model. The study also discusses potential FTTP models the city could consider, including one in which the city serves as the network’s sole ISP as well as several different potential public-private partnership (PPP) models that have been successful in other cities.

The study suggests that the city can finance the larger of the proposed network projects with a combination of bonds and loans. The study assumes a 39.6 percent take rate

Faster Speeds, Better Rates

The fastest connectivity customers in Holland can get from the existing city network is not competitive on speed and price with...

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Posted April 26, 2016 by ternste

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber-Optic Network (ECFiber), a 235-mile Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network that currently connects over 1,200 customers across 24 small towns in east central Vermont, is doing well. It’s doing so well, in fact, that a capital investment group will commit $9 million in long-term financing to the network, a loan that will allow ECFiber to expand and spend down some of its existing debt. 

ECFiber announced last month, that it will use about half of the funds to activate 110 miles of existing fiber this year and add 250 more miles of fiber in 2017 bringing the network to approximately 600 miles. Network officials will use the remaining funds to pay down $7 million in debt; the move will allow ECFiber to save money through reduced interest rates and spread out loan payments over a longer period of time.

Stability Begets New Financing, New Possibilities

The news of this new injection of debt financing comes several years after the original plan to build a larger 1,900-mile, $90 million FTTH network ultimately didn’t materialize in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. When ECFiber failed to secure debt financing for that larger plan, the network scaled back its ambitions, turning to direct investments and raising $7 million from 479 local investors to construct the current network.

This self-financing strategy (for more, listen to our Chris interview Carole Monroe, former General Manager in Community Broadband Bits podcast #177) made ECFiber a reality. This new financing will allow the network to expand at a faster pace and allows ECFiber to significantly stretch its footprint. In the past, the crowd funding approach allowed for targeted, smaller expansions.

The network became eligible for the new debt financing after ECFiber officials took proactive steps in recent years to demonstrate the...

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Posted April 25, 2016 by Scott

Virginia Beach has launched a $4.1 million capital improvement project to extend the city’s high-speed Internet network to all municipal buildings. The network will also offer connection spots on the system for colleges, businesses, and neighboring cities, according to the Virginian Pilot.

The city (pop. 448,479) plans to more than double the reach of its municipal network, adding 73 more sites, including more police stations, fire stations, and libraries. Project work is currently underway and is expected to finish in the next year to 18 months. In addition to extending the municipal network, the project will include buying new networking equipment. The city is using money from its capital fund to pay for the project.

Once the project is completed, Virginia Beach will become the first community in the South Hampton Roads region of Virginia with its own Internet network linking all of its government buildings, the Virginian Pilot reported

Growing City Internet Needs

Virginia Beach started its municipal Internet network in 2002 with the local public schools. Since then, the city has invested a total $27 million to install about 225 linear miles of fiber-optic cable, linking all the public schools along with  “connecting many government buildings, including police stations, fire stations, libraries, recreation centers, and Human Services facilities,” according to a city news release.  

Today, Virginia Beach’s burgeoning Internet needs are fueling its municipal network expansion. The network helps maintain traffic lights, facilitates video conferencing, and provides infrastructure for email. A city spokesperson told us that 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) symmetrical service is available to most of the sites on Virginia Beach’s municipal network. 

Network Yields Savings

Once Virginia Beach’s municipal Internet network is fully implemented, the city will save about $500,000 annually in Internet access fees,...

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Posted April 15, 2016 by ternste

A March article in Broadband Properties Magazine spotlights three communities around the country that are making progress toward creating municipal fiber networks. The City of Centennial, Colorado announced that they have completed a feasibility study and a Master Plan detailing the city’s plans to develop a network. Additionally, the Cities of Indianola, Iowa and Rancho Cucamonga, California announced that they have begun studying the feasibility of starting their own municipal fiber networks. 

Indianola, Iowa

Indianola, Iowa is a city of about 15,000 just 20 miles south of Des Moines. As we wrote a few years ago, Indianola currently owns an open access Fiber-to-the Premise (FTTP) network which provides Gigabit speed Internet access, plus TV, and phone service to most businesses and select residents in Indianola. The study they recently commissioned will explore the feasibility of using this existing network for constructing a FTTP network to the entire community. 

Indianola built its existing fiber network, which they launched in 2012, out of frustration as CenturyLink refused requests from the community to upgrade their DSL network and the incumbent Mediacom began overcharging for their Internet services. Today, Indianola Municipal Utilities is the infrastructure owner and a wholesale provider of this fiber network while Mahaska Communication Group, an Iowa-based Internet Service Provider (ISP), performs the operations and maintenance services for the network. 

Rancho Cucamonga, California

The City of Rancho Cucamonga, California recently asked a private consulting firm to perform a study to determine the feasibility of creating a fiber optic network. City officials see a municipal fiber network in this city of just over 170,000 as a potential driver of economic development. The city is located about 45 miles east of Los Angeles.

...

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Posted April 14, 2016 by lgonzalez

Ammon now has judicial confirmation to move ahead on their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project.

As we reported earlier this year, Ammon's Fiber Optic Department, led by IT Director Bruce Patterson, is on the verge of commencing the next phase of its incremental network deployment. Bruce explained to Chris in Episode #173 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, how the city will create a utility and residents who choose to participate will pay to have the network connected to their homes. The first area where FTTH will be deployed includes approximately 300 properties.

Innovative Participation Model

As Bruce put it:

"…[I]t seems logical that since fiber to your home raises your property value that we'd find some way to bond for that and put the payment for that bond as on assessment on your property tax because it does actually increase your property value so that's our goal. We do that with what they call a local improvement district."

Ammon intends to issue bonds that will then be paid with funds from assessments levied on the properties of those who wish to connect to the network. If a property owner wants to connect to the network, they will also become a "Utility Member" and will pay a monthly fee to use the service. Ammon's FTTH network will be open access; the city will not provide retail services but will maintain and operate the infrastructure. Residents will subscribe to the services offered by ISPs that operate over the network.

Ammon also intends to offer a low-cost option that will allow Utility Members to access basic functions, such as checking email, messaging, and file transfers without the need to subscribe to an ISP. Their plan will allow people in the community who cannot afford more advanced services to still have access to basic Internet tools.

In order to determine which neighborhoods want fiber, Ammon asks residents to sign up so they know where to aim the next build.

Sweet Validation

gavel.png

As Ammon has developed their open access network from vision to...

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Posted February 29, 2016 by ternste

Officials in the City of Ammon, Idaho, are moving closer to expanding their municipal network to residents with a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The FTTH expansion is the latest phase in their incremental approach in this community of 14,500 people in the southeast corner of Idaho.

Ammon’s Director of IT, Bruce Patterson, told us the history of the network’s development in a 2014 Community Broadband Bits Podcast. After starting the network several years ago with just a single link between two municipal buildings, the network gradually expanded the network to community anchor institutions. They also decided to serve businesses on a case-by-case basis. Since the beginning, the city kept its eye on its goal: to offer fiber access to every home in Ammon.

Ammon's FTTH Expansion Process

Ammon officials are acting prudently to gauge customer demand and wait for the necessary funding mechanisms to fall into place prior to additional construction. As we reported in August 2015, officials are asking residents to submit an online form to express their intent to sign up for service. City officials also held meetings with residents in September and October to explain the proposed expansion plans and give residents a chance to test out the gigabit speed service.

The city plans to extend residential service one large neighborhood at a time, letting customer demand dictate the direction of the expansion. The city will pay for the expansion entirely through service commitments from residents who choose to have a fiber connection extended to their home. This method will allow the city to expand without contributions from non-subscribers.

Patterson told us that the city is currently in the process of getting legal approval to bond on the FTTH expansion phase. He said he is confident the city will soon be approved for the bonding and anticipates that they will be able to put a shovel in the ground by May or June of this year.

...

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Posted February 13, 2016 by ternste

Some of us remember it - not so fondly - as a discarded relic of an early era of the Internet. But it’s not a relic for people in some parts of rural Tennessee: the awful sound of a dial-up modem.

There are approximately 28,000 people living in the county and as Marion County Mayor David Jackson tells it, he knows residents with no Internet access at all. Some of Marion County residents with nothing better than dial-up can actually look across the Tennessee River and see buildings and houses served by Chattanooga's EPB’s gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Given this stark contrast, it’s no wonder the push is intensifying for more access to publicly owned Internet networks in Tennessee.

Marion County Wants Local Authority

Elected officials from the Marion County Commission and the town of Kimball are the latest communities to vote on resolutions asking state leaders to change Tennessee’s state anti-muni law. The legal barrier prevents existing municipal utilities from expanding their fiber network footprints to provide telecommunications services to neighboring communities. 

In fact, city leaders in every Marion county municipality have plans to vote on their own resolutions asking the same thing: give us the local authority to decide for ourselves.

While the U.S. Court of Appeals considers whether or not to reverse the FCC decision to roll back the state barrier, communities are calling on the legislature to solve the problem by restoring local authority.

As Communities Succeed, the Municipal Fiber Movement Grows

These communities hope that changing the law will enable Chattanooga to extend its much celebrated EPB network to serve the people of Kimball and other communities in Marion County. The efforts come in the wake of similar requests out of Bradley County.

"There's a...

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Posted February 12, 2016 by lgonzalez

For more than a decade, the people of Bristol, Virginia have enjoyed what most of us can only dream about - fast affordable, reliable, connectivity.  In recent days, we learned that Bristol Virginia Utilities Authority (BVU) has entered into a deal to sell its OptiNet triple-play fiber network to a private provider. The deal is contingent on approval by several entities.

As we dig deeper into the situation, we understand that troubles in southwestern Virginia and Bristol have led to this decision. Nevertheless, we urge the Bristol community to weigh the long-term consequences before they sacrifice OptiNet. Once you give up control, you won’t get it back.

"...A Few Bad Apples..."

If the people of Bristol surrender this valuable public asset to the private market, they run the risk of undoing 15 years of great work. None of this is a commentary on the private provider, Sunset Digital Communications, which may be a wonderful company. The problem is that Sunset will be making the decisions in the future, not the community. 

OptiNet has helped the community retain and create jobs, attracting and retaining more than 1,220 well-paying positions from Northrup Grumman, CGI, DirecTV, and Alpha Natural Resources. Businesses have cut Internet access and telecommunications costs. Officials estimate around $50 million in new private investment and $36 million in new annual payroll have come to the community since the development of OptiNet. The network allowed public schools to drastically reduce telecommunications expenses and introduce gigabit capacity long before such speeds were the goal among educators.

Schools and local government saved approximately $1 million from 2003 - 2008. Subscribers have saved considerably as well, which explains OptiNet's high take rate of over 70 percent. Incumbent telephone provider Sprint (now CenturyLink) charged phone rates 25 percent higher than OptiNet in 2003. The benefits are too numerous to mention in one short story.

However, BVU is emerging from a dark period marked by corrupt management. This sad reality actually makes its considerable achievements all the more remarkable. Last...

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Posted February 11, 2016 by htrostle

Electric coops empowered communities during rural electrification in the 1930s, connecting people to power grids. Now electric coops have the opportunity again to empower communities through affordable, high-speed connectivity. In Colorado, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) is moving forward with a pilot project for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Unanimous Decision for Fiber

In late December 2015, the DMEA Board of Directors gave the green light to start the pilot project. The move to provide connectivity comes as no surprise. DMEA considered providing middle mile connectivity for a long while before coming to the decision to instead deploy FTTH. If the coop had chosen to develop the middle mile network, they would not have connected members’ homes, but instead would have built infrastructure connecting to the larger Internet. 

Many projects funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds were built as middle mile networks. At the time, policy makers theorized that middle mile projects would encourage private sector last mile providers to complete the link to subscribers. Over time, this theory has proven too optimistic. Municipalities and smaller private providers are connecting to middle mile networks in some places, but the large scale build out expected from big name providers is just not happening.

For DMEA, FTTH is their solution: building a larger network and taking the fiber directly to members’ homes. Virginia Harman, DMEA spokesperson, described the decision to do FTTH as a reaction to member demand. In a recent survey, members highlighted the importance of high-speed Internet access for their homes. The goal now is to build the network in a sustainable way.

Phased Approach to Connectivity

Providing high-speed Internet access to all members will prove a challenge; DMEA serves over 32,000 members throughout three counties (Montrose, Delta, and Gunnison) in Colorado. To complete the task, they will use an incremental approach. As members generate interest in the project in each specific area, the coop will install fiber optic cable in that region. Revenue from that section will help fund the next section of the build, and so on. The...

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