TCL&P Fiber, which launched earlier this fall, has doubled its subscriber base over the last six weeks. It now has 88 active users, with 17 additional ready to go online and 64 on the waitlist.
This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Catherine Nicolaou, External Affairs and Marketing Manager for Sacred Wind Communications, a rural local exchange carrier in NW New Mexico that has been focused on serving the Navajo Nation communities there. She shares the history of Sacred Wind, from buying copper infrastructure from Century Link 13 years ago in a region where just 26% of the households had Internet access to its 400 miles of fiber infrastructure today, allowing it to bring broadband to more than 92% of those living there.
Catherine tells Christopher how the company has had to rely on the full array of technologies to bring broadband access to families in a large area with particular geographic and topographic challenges, from Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) to TV White Space (TVWS) to infrared to fixed wireless and, of course, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). They talk about what it means to Sacred Wind’s subscribers that the provider has never raised prices, and the work it’s been doing during the pandemic to make sure everyone gets and stays connected.
Don’t forget to check out our new show, Connect This!, where Chris brings together a collection broadband veterans and industry experts live on Youtube to talk about recent events and dig into the policy news of the day.
This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.
Read the transcript for this episode.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes...Read more
As voters went to the polls to cast ballots in the 2020 Presidential election, in two major metropolitan areas residents overwhelmingly approved ballot questions to move forward on exploring how to expand broadband access in their respective cities.
In Chicago, nearly 90% of those who cast ballots said “yes” to a non-binding referendum question that asked: “Should the city of Chicago act to ensure that all the city's community areas have access to broadband Internet?" With 2,034 of 2,069 precincts counted, 772,235 voters out of 862,140 cast their ballots in favor of that question.
That vote came on the heels of the roll out of “Chicago Connected,” a new initiative to bring high-speed Internet service to 100,000 households that do not have reliable access within the nation’s third-largest school district.
Meanwhile, in Denver 219,435 voters, or 83.5% of the city’s electorate, cast ballots in favor of question 2H, which allows the city to opt out of the state’s 2005 state law referred to as SB 152. That law prevents municipalities from building or partnering for broadband networks. Approval of the ballot initiative also grants the city “the authority but not [the] obligation to provide high-speed Internet access." Two other Colorado communities – Berthoud and Englewood – also voted in favor of similar ballot questions, asking voters if they want to opt out of SB 152. In Berthoud, 77.3% of voters cast ballots in support of the question. In Englewood, the opt-out question passed with 79.4% of voters in favor, which will allow the city to provide Wi-Fi service in city facilities.
In the 15 years since SB 152 was passed 140 Colorado communities have opted out with resultant networks like Longmont’s...Read more
In the fall of 2019, when the Kaysville City Council was poised to move forward on a $26 million, 30-year bond to build a municipal-owned fiber optic network, the COVID-19 pandemic had not yet turned life upside down.
Although city officials and advisors had spent 18 months thoroughly exploring options in a planning process City Councilwoman Michelle Barber called “one of the most vetted and open projects that we’ve worked on,” a group known as the Coalition for Responsible Kaysville Fiber created enough pushback to convince the City Council to shelve the plan and defer to a citizen-led ballot initiative.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Kaysville voters, in this city of approximately 32,000, will not only cast their ballots in the Presidential election, they will also be asked if they want the city to move forward with Kaysville Fiber. If the ballot initiative passes, it will allow the city to deploy a Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) network.
Currently, Comcast and CenturyLink are the Internet Service Providers (ISP) for most of Kaysville with some areas near the city relying on satellite Internet access. As has been the case in hundreds of communities across the nation that have built out fiber networks, Kaysville city leaders are looking to build a “last mile” fiber network to lower prices and improve services by creating an environment for increased competition.
Proponents are hoping the new “normal” in the face of the on-going pandemic — with the massive rise in virtual classrooms, remote work from home, telemedicine, and online commerce — will help voters see Kaysville Fiber as necessary infrastructure.
“I personally had residents who previously were either unsure of the project or were opposed, which is fine, now they said, ‘Oh I see what you guys were getting at. This is essential,’” City Councilwoman Barber told the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month. “It’s not fair that some of us can function in the city and some of us can’t. COVID-19 has been a really poignant case study.”...Read more
Less than seven months has passed since the city of Anacortes, Washington (pop. 17,000) connected the very first subscriber in a pilot project for its municipal network. In the interim, thousands of households have signed up, construction continues at full-steam, and local officials are looking forward to years of providing fast, affordable, reliable service to those living on Fidalgo Island.
Five Years in the Making
We’ve been following Anacortes since 2015, when the city first began discussing the issue, watching as as local leaders and stakeholders assessed community needs, the state of broadband in the area, and options available to them, and much has changed. Read through our previous coverage if you’re interested in how things unfolded, but by the early part of 2019 the city had decided to pass on the other options and build, maintain, and operate the network themselves.
Access-Anacortes, the municipal network borne out of that decision, is approaching the end of a two-year pilot project which by all metrics has been successful. In an interview, Emily Schuh (Administrative Services Director) and Jim Lemberg (Municipal Broadband Business Manager) shared what they’ve learned and how things are going. Throughout 2019 and 2020, construction has passed just over 1,000 premises and achieved a 39.6% take rate, surpassing the 35% bar they set early on, in three pilot areas which sit on the north side and down the middle of town. The city owns, maintains, and operates the network, with the library serving as the center of operations. Access-Anacortes consists almost entirely of new construction, though it does use some of the city’s internal backbone fiber — which itself is only a handful of years old — as well.
The green, yellow, and orange...Read more
Traverse City has officially launched its new municipal Fiber-to-the-Home network in the northern Michigan town of 15,000. The city's municipal electric utility, Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P), owns the network and operates it in a partnership with Fujitsu, with the latter building and initially helping operate it, but turning management over to TCLP as the city utility feels comfortable with each aspect of the operation.
TCL&P Fiber is being built incrementally, starting in the downtown area where the economic heart of the community lies. The first phase is estimated to cost $3.5 million and will offer 2,200 locations service. The rest of the community will be connected in coming years and perhaps ultimately areas outside the current electric footprint.
Getting up to Speed
Traverse City has been working in the communications space for more than 10 years with dark fiber leases to major anchor institutions and key economic entities. In more recent years they were providing free Wi-Fi downtown while considering how to improve Internet access to smaller businesses and residents. For years, they examined various options, with serious consideration of an open access network where the city would build the infrastructure but other ISPs would use it to connect customers.
In an interview today, TCL&P Executive Director Tim Arends told us that they moved on this project after sensing a lot of pent up demand for better service — with speed, reliability, and especially customer service as common complaints with existing service. Though TCL&P did not name check the existing providers, AT&T DSL and Charter Spectrum cable are the main incumbent providers.
In 2017 TCL&P's Board voted unanimously to move forward with a citywide fiber approach but did not plan to be a retail provider themselves. But in 2019, a new plan with Fujitsu evolved into the current approach.
Last year,...Read more
Almost six years ago, we told readers about Ottawa, Kansas, where the community of around 13,000 people had invested in publicly owned fiber optic connectivity for local businesses. We recently touched base with IT Director Paul Sommer, who updated us on the progress of their broadband utility and how it has impacted the community.
Steady as it Grows
When we first met Ottawa, they had worked with the local school district and Franklin County to capitalize on existing fiber infrastructure and expand to more locations. Local leaders had learned from Ottawa businesses that the best options available from incumbent AT&T were T1 lines for approximately $600. Higher capacity connections were scarce and financially out of reach for local establishments, and AT&T could not be convinced to upgrade their infrastructure. As Bigham put it, AT&T was "milking the cow."
Once the city, school district, and Franklin County established a partnership, Ottawa began to expand fiber to other municipal facilities and businesses as requested. Sommers, who has taken over as IT Director, says that now all 10 city buildings are on the network. In addition to an industrial park on the original infrastructure on the north end of town, the network now reaches an industrial park to the south.
The electric utility has trained their own staff rather than hiring external fiber deployment personnel. In addition to enriching skills, their employees are able to respond quickly if there are downed cables or other maintenance issues. Sommers recalls an instance when a car, which had caught fire, sent shrapnel flying into the air. By a twist of fate, one piece severed the fiber optic cable hanging some distance away. His team was able to rehang and splice the cable that same day and get the subscriber back online.
By using electric utility staff, Ottawa has reduced the cost of their incremental build over the years. They typically budget around $100,000 each year for expansion of the network, have never gone over, and often don’t spend the entire allotment. Sommers says that, since they own the utility poles in town, have necessary personnel on hand, and equipment at the ready, unnecessary bureaucracy doesn’t slow down maintenance, repairs, or expansion efforts.
Bursting at the Streams
As federal, state, and local leaders increasingly recognize the need to make Internet access universal, they are also realizing that adoption is a separate issue. Programs such as the ReConnect and Connect America Funds I and II Auction have helped to expand infrastructure, but even in places where Internet access has been available for years, 100 percent of households do not subscribe. In an effort to better understand digital equity, the House Subcommittee on Communications & Technology of the Committee on Energy and Commerce recently sat down to listen to experts on digital equity. They discussed common misconceptions, hurdles that make wide-scale adoption difficult, and offered policy recommendations to help us achieve digital equity.
Not Only a Rural Problem
Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) described how her experience as a digital equity warrior has changed from working with people to learn the basics of computer use to the additional problem of helping people get online. Angela's statement addressed some of the most common myths associated with the digital divide that NDIA, through boots-on-the-ground research, has discovered, including:
The digital divide is a rural problem: Census results show that populations in urban areas do not have Internet access subscriptions of any kind; these are often low-income households.
5G will bridge the digital divide: Lack of infrastructure and devices deployed in areas where existing problems with digital inclusion continue with regards to this new technology.
People don't subscribe because they don't think the Internet isn't valuable: Accomplishing day-to-day tasks often require access to the Internet, which is a fact not lost on those who don't subscribe, but the cost is out of reach for many of those same people.
If you’re looking to move to a community with a relaxing, rural lifestyle and quality Internet access, then Lyndon Township in Michigan may have just jumped to the top of your list. Now that the community has chosen an ISP to serve the community via its publicly owned infrastructure and established the cost of service, they're eager to start deployment.
Lyndon Township Board recently approved rates for their forthcoming fiber network, setting the price of symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet speeds at a reasonable $69.95 per month. This is a nice reward for the township’s residents, who last year approved a tax increase to fund the construction of the network. The affordable residential gig brings Lyndon Township into the same price range as communities such as Lafayette, Louisiana; Westfield, Massachusetts; and Longmont, Colorado.
Local Support Founds, and Funds, the Network
Though only a 20-minute drive from the University of Michigan, a world class research institution, Lyndon Township residents are mostly stuck with expensive, slow, and unreliable satellite Internet service. Around 80 percent of the community doesn’t currently have access to broadband, which the FCC defines as a minimum of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed.
When attempts to get existing Internet service providers to expand into the community failed, the township decided to build its own Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. To fund the approximately $7 million network, residents approved a millage increase in 2017, with 66 percent of voters in support. The millage amounts to a property tax increase of $2.91 per $1,000 of taxable property.
Fast Speeds, Low Rates...Read more
Consumer Reports (CR) has once again gone straight to the source to collect opinions on subscribers’ experiences with their Internet access, telephone, and pay TV services. Unsurprisingly, a vast majority of respondents to their survey of 176,000 people expressed dissatisfaction with the large national providers. Once again, municipal network Chattanooga EPB Fiber walked away as the only Internet service provider to receive top marks for value, speed, and reliability.
This isn’t the first time the Tennessee publicly owned network appeared at or near the top of the list in a customer satisfaction survey. In addition to consistent high scores on CR surveys, EPB Fiber has also earned kudos from J. D. Power.
After Chattanooga EPB Fiber, Google Fiber was the only private sector ISP to garner a positive rating from subscribers. Google Fiber also obtained a favorable score for value.
Bigger is Better (Not!)
The most recent survey from CR also underscored what many Internet access, pay TV, and telephone subscribers keep expressing year after year — that they despise the big, corporate behemoth providers. When it comes to Internet access, smaller cable ISPs fared a little better, but only Armstrong Cable Company, serving communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and four other states, received an “overall satisfaction” rating.
RCN, Hawaiian Telecom, and Grande Communications also did better than the large ISPs, including Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox Communications.
Hiding Fees in the Bundles
According to a CR article on their survey and analysis of the results, approximately 75 percent of subscribers answering the survey needed to bundle TV, Internet access, and telephone to obtain what they thought was the best deal. Subscribers reported that, even though they had to continually haggle for acceptable pricing, they still felt overcharged.
One of the most prominent areas of complaint from subscribers who answered the survey, dealt with hidden fees, unexplained increased, and confusing bills....Read more