Palmdale, California is considering a proposal from SiFi Networks to become a FiberCity. The project would see $600 million from the private infrastructure builder to construct 800 miles of fiber and lease it on an open access basis, as well as provide the infrastructure necessary for smart city applications and 5g.
In the city of Fullerton, California (pop. 140,000), privately owned infrastructure builder and operator SiFi Networks has turned on the first section of what will be a city-wide, open access Fiber-to-the-Home network. The project makes Fullerton SiFi’s first FiberCity — a privately built, financed, and operated open access network it plans to duplicate in more cities across the country in the future. When complete next fall, the Fullerton FiberCity network will pass every home and business in the city, with the company's subsidiary, SiFi Networks Operations, selling wholesaling capacity to as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as want to enter the market.
A Different Approach
SiFi’s FiberCity model remains somewhat unique in the United States, and is much more common in Europe and Asia. CEO Ben Bawtree-Johnson attributes their success to cracking the economic code for private investment in open access information infrastructure, which has seen more attention in recent years as investors and fund managers have seen opportunities. “[O]ur vision really is to create as many last-mile fiber optic networks as we can across the USA in a long term sustainable fashion,” Bawtree-Jobson remarked on an episode of the podcast last fall. “[W]e're all about long term, dry, low yielding, risk mitigated investments, so everything we do is based around 30-year plus type investments.”
Fullerton, according to SiFi, was an ideal candidate for its first FiberCity because it applied to be one of the original candidates (though not chosen) for a Google’s fiber program, begun in 2010. The company sees it as sitting in the Goldilocks’ zone in terms of size and population. Construction started last November, and currently consists of around 600 miles of fiber all underground via microtrenching. Nokia serves as the main equipment partner on the project.
Turning on the Lights
The first residential customers...Read more
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...Read more
Most residents and businesses in Oconee County, South Carolina, used dial-up connections when county officials applied for stimulus funding in 2010; there were still people in the county with no Internet access at all. A few had DSL connections, but even county facilities struggled with antiquated infrastructure. After an AT&T attack upended their plan to offer retail services, they pressed on and improved connectivity in the rural community. Powerful incumbent forces and a bad state law, however, eventually led this community to choose privatization.
Ripe For Stimulus
We spoke with Kim Wilbanks, who served as Project Manager for Oconee FOCUS, the 240-mile fiber optic publicly owned network. She worked with a small team of people that applied for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to obtain funds for the project. Wilbanks and former FOCUS Director Mike Powell were instrumental in establishing the infrastructure. The Wilbanks family used dial-up Internet access until 2010 when AT&T finally installed DSL on her street on the edge of town in the mostly rural county.
The mountains and hills across the county’s 674 square miles create a terrain that is speckled with man-made lakes. Fishing, water skiing, and sailing are popular and the lakes and waterfalls contribute to the region’s hydroelectric energy. Approximately 75,000 people live in Oconee County scattered within many of the small rural communities. The largest city’s population is only about 8,000.
Oconee County’s rural environment with a sparse population, sluggish economic growth, and high number of unserved and underserved premises, was the type of region where stimulus funds helped jump start projects. When the county received a grant in the second round of awards in the summer of 2010 for $9.6 million, officials at the county planned to connect community anchor institutions and municipal and county facilities first. They planned to later expand and bring businesses and residents better Internet access. The county matched the federal grant with $4.7 million to deploy the $14.3 million fiber optic infrastructure. After the RFP process, they were able to start construction in early 2011. By the end of 2013, they had finished construction; by 2014...Read more
This is the transcript for episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer join the show from Mason County, Washington, to discuss how a publicly-owned network delivers high-speed Internet service throughout the county. Listen to this episode here.
Justin Holzgrove: They didn't bring pitchforks, but they brought their pens and they were ready to sign up with their checkbooks. And they said, "Bring it on. We want this now."
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Public Utility District 3 in Mason County, Washington, delivers symmetrical gigabit connectivity to every customer in its service area. They have no speed, capacity or data thresholds. You have access to a gigabit regardless of whether you are in a rural area or within city limits and whether or not you're a household, business, or one of the ISPs that work with PUD 3. This week Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer from PUD 3 in Mason County spent some time talking with Christopher about how the Public Utility District is working to bring high quality connectivity to each customer. In addition to describing their plan to build out and manage their network, Justin and Joel share the story of how connectivity has come to be offered from PUDs in Washington. Now here's Christopher with Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer talking about Public Utility District 3 in Mason County, Washington.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I am Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis. Today I'm speaking with Justin Holzgrove the Telecommunications and Community Relations Manager up at Mason County's Public Utility District number 3. Welcome to the show.
Justin Holzgrove: Hey how's it going?
Christopher Mitchell: It's going well. I'm excited to learn more about what you're doing. But first I have to introduce our other guest. Joel Myer the Public Information and Government Relations Manager at PUD number 3. Welcome to the show.
Joel Myer: Thank you it's a beautiful day in the Fiberhood.
Mason County Public Utility District 3 covers a large area with a lot of people that have poor Internet access. If "PUD" didn't give it away, it is located in Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula and had already been investing in fiber as an electric utility for monitoring its internal systems.
Mason PUD 3 Telecommunications & Community Relations Manager Justin Holzgrove and Public Information & Government Relations Manager Joel Myer join us for episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss how they are expanding their open access fiber optic network to the public after seeing tremendous support not just for Internet access but specifically for the PUD to build the infrastructure.
We talk about how they are financing it and picking areas to build in as well as the role of the Northwest Open Access Network, which we have discussed on previous shows and written about as well. We cover a lot of ground in this interview, a good place to start for those interested in open access and user-financed investment.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is...Read more
The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency’s (UTOPIA) regional fiber network serves communities in the north central region of the state. Without the publicly owned network, it’s doubtful the eleven communities served would have access to high-quality Internet access. It’s almost certain they wouldn’t be able to choose between so many providers who operate on UTOPIA's open access infrastructure. Now, the city of Bountiful, Utah, wants the network to extend its reach to their community.
Reaching Out To Other Communities
Recently, the city council voted to give UTOPIA a franchise agreement so the network but the city will not contribute financially to the deployment. According to the Standard Examiner, officials from the networks anticipate the first customers will be business subscribers who would help pay for the expansion.
Bountiful isn’t alone - other communities have granted franchise agreements to UTOPIA.
“This is just kind of a natural progression out of the Salt Lake Valley,” said [Roger] Timmerman, executive director of UTOPIA… The deal “brings more options to Bountiful,”
Bountiful City Councilman Richard Higginson described UTOPIA as a “proven player” in an email to the Standard Examiner. Other communities with franchise agreements include Salt Lake City, Draper, South Jordan and Pleasant Grove. Higginson wrote:
“If UTOPIA and its member cities find that providing services to customers in neighboring cities benefits their operation, then it could be a win-win for both UTOPIA and non-UTOPIA cities alike."
The franchise agreements will allow UTOPIA to deploy in cities' rights-of-way in order to connect customers to the network.
Broadband Benefits In UTOPIA Towns
Last fall we spoke with Mayor Karen Cronin from Perry City, which already connects to the UTOPIA network. She described how competition from the open access network has improved local services, the economy, and the general quality of life. Roger Timmerman participated in the interview as well. Listen to the podcast here.
There are...Read more
Susan Crawford has come back to the podcast to tell us about her recent travels in North Carolina and Tennessee, talking to people on the ground that have already built fiber-optic networks or are in the midst of figuring out how to get them deployed.
Susan is a professor at Harvard Law, the author of The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance and Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, and a champion for universal high quality Internet access.
We have an informal discussion that ranges from what is happening on the ground in North Carolina and Tennessee to the role of federal policy to why Susan feels that municipal wholesale approaches are important to ensuring we have better Internet access.
It was a real treat to have Susan back on the show and to just have a discussion about many of the issues that don't always come up in more formal presentations or media interviews. We hope you enjoy it! Susan was previously on episode 125 and episode 29.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is ...Read more
While people in rural Washington State continue to limp long on DSL, satellite, and even dial-up, two bills in the state legislature that would have allowed public utility districts (PUDs) to offer retail services stalled in committee.
Rural Areas Need Retail Service From The PUDs
State law requires PUDs to adhere to the wholesale-only model so rural residents and businesses can't obtain the connectivity they need because national providers don't offer high-quality Internet access in those regions. If no providers are interested in working with the PUDs to lease fiber infrastructure to serve rural areas, potential subscribers in the hardest to reach areas are just out of luck. These two bills would have filled the gaps by allowing PUDs to directly serve customers.
One Step Forward
HB 1938 was reviewed and there was some testimony in the House Technology & Economic Development Committee, but no vote. The Senate companion, SB 5139, was never picked up in the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee. In order for the bills to advance, they needed to pass out of their referred committees by February 17th.
Even though these bills failed to move forward, the fact that they were introduced and one obtained attention from committee members is encouraging. If you live in rural Washington, you understand how difficult it is to obtain fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. You don’t need to wait until a bill has been introduced to contact your elected officials to let them know you support state policies like HB 1938 and SB 5139; they want to hear from you all year.
Two Washington state bills in separate committees would allow public utility districts (PUDs) to offer retail communications services. HB 1938 and SB 5139 are the kind of legislation that would allow local communities to improve connectivity. Now, PUDs are restricted to the wholesale-only model, but businesses and residents in rural areas question the wisdom of the restriction.
Unfortunately, big incumbent providers have sent their lobbyists to fight against the two bills and the efforts to pass them are having a difficult time competing. A few representatives from local public utility districts testified in the House committee hearing, but the telecom industry sent out its army in full force.
In order for this bill to go anywhere this session, it needs to be passed by the House Technology & Economic Development Committee and the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee this week. While the bill has had some attention in the House Committee, it has yet to be voted on. It isn’t on the Senate Committee’s agenda, so it doesn’t look likely to move in that body.
Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for Washington constituents to call their state elected officials and let them know that, even if this bill doesn’t go anywhere this session, this is the type of legislative change they want for better connectivity.
You can contact House Committee and Senate Committee members and also touch base with your own Representatives and Senators and express your desires to see more legislation like this. Even if the bill doesn’t go anywhere this session, lay the groundwork for future change.
Video from the brief discussion of the bill in the House Committee: