The city council of Redding, California approved a revised Broadband Master Plan in June that identified a four-phase process to build a 26-mile fiber ring to connect city infrastructure, initiative a pilot project, and eventually connect all homes and businesses to municipally owned broadband Fiber-to-the-Home infrastructure.
This week on the podcast Christopher welcomes back Lee Brown, President and CEO of Erwin Utilities, to talk about what’s been going on since we last spoke with them more than three and a half years ago. Erwin is a town of around 6,000 and the county seat of Unicoi County, Tennessee, along the state’s eastern border.
The two revisit the success Erwin has seen with an incremental Fiber-to-the-Home buildout over the last six years. The utility at this point has no debt, and covers the whole town aside from one remaining pocket to be complete early next year. It has expanded into the county, bringing affordable 25mbps and gigabit Internet access to residents, and enjoys a take rate of nearly 50%.
Lee reflects on the benefits of Erwin’s strategic approach to building a fiber network and lessons learned. In 2019 it completed the transition to becoming the Erwin Utilities Authority, which will give it flexibility moving into the future, and in April of this year connected its 3000th customer.
This show is 26 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.
Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...Read more
In Iowa, New Hampton Municipal Utilities has begun site surveys and beta signups for their Fiber-to-the-Home network, with the first users getting access in the next few weeks.
An article by Ammon's own Bruce Peterson explains how this model in Idaho works. From the May/June 2018 Broadband Communities Magazine. It explores how the model works for residents, providers, and the municipality.
Almost 54,000 electric cooperative residents will see the benefits of a statewide law change in Maryland after a summer filled with changes. After a state vote to allow deregulation, Choptank Electric, which serves member owners across nine counties in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, voted in August to become member-regulated so that the cooperative can pursue broadband projects in a part of the state that has long suffered from poor or no connectivity options.
A State Law and a Membership Vote
The process unfolded earlier this year, when representatives for the co-op spoke with the legislature in Annapolis about offering broadband to its members. State law at the time meant that electric utilities were regulated by the Public Service Commission, which prevented them from entering the broadband space.
The Eastern Shore sits across Chesapeake Bay, with 450,000 people living across its nine counties. Driven by a lack of connectivity options and a desire for economic development, area legislators submitted HB 999, which drew support from dozens of businesses, 1,200 current Choptank customers, and a number of local governments. The “Rural Broadband for the Eastern Shore Act of 2020” [pdf] passed the state legislature on May 8th, 2020, and freed the co-op from regulation by the Public Service Commission. Talbot County resident Pamela Keeton testified to the Senate Finance Committee:
The bottom line is, no one wants to pay taxes and no one wants to spend money, so we’re left with no Internet service.
The move allowed Choptank to become member-regulated after two regular meetings and a membership vote, which took place from May to August both in person and electronically. Ultimately, it needed 7,000 members to vote yes. All told,...Read more
This week on the podcast Christopher talks with IT Manager John Leary and Customer Experience, Marketing, & Communications Manager Lisa Stowe from Westfield Gas & Electric, the municipal utility for the city of 40,000 in the southwestern quadrant of the Massachusetts. The topic of the day is Westfield's municipally owned fiber arm — Whip City Fiber — which is doing some wonderful things as it enters its next phase of life.
First, John and Lisa share their thoughts on the history of the network and what they see as key characteristics of its early success: Whip City embraced a model of incremental buildout in its early years, managing expectations and pursuing careful growth during its $2 million pilot project before transitioning, thanks to a $15 million municipal bond, to expanding so that today the network covers 70% of the city.
The group then digs into Whip City Fiber’s next phase of life: bringing municipally owned gigabit Internet to twenty Western Massachussetts Hill Towns over the next few years, including (but not limited to) Alford, Ashfield, Chesterfield, Leyden, New Ashford, New Salem, Otis, Plainfield, Rowe, Washington, Wendell, and Windsor. With Whip City’s help now and eventual role as Internet Service Provider (ISP) and network operator, nine are already online, with the rest to follow by the end of next year.
The group ends by talking about the future and getting to 100% coverage in Westfield, and the utility’s commitment to closing the digital divide.
This show is 35 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 trancript for this episode....Read more
The Houston, Missouri City Council has finalized speed tiers and rates for their upcoming Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service. Symmetrical residential connections of 25, 50, 100, and 1,000 Megabits per second (Mbps) will run $30, $50, $70, and $90/month, respectively, with a $100 installation cost and $3/month equipment rental.
A year ago we wrote about Illinois’ $420 million commitment to broadband expansion, and now the first round of grant winners has been released. Together they total $50 million in state funds matched by $65 million in additional money for 28 projects by 18 different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that will, ultimately, connect 26,000 homes, farms, community institutions, and businesses in the state. It represents the first milestone in what is a significant commitment to closing Illinois' broadband gap.
Lots of Winners, Some Caveats
The Broadband Grant Program offers applicants up to $5 million in funding for projects with the stipulation that they match it with an equal or greater amount of other, nonstate funds. First-round winners consist of both middle- and last-mile builds touching at least 27 counties throughout the state. For example, Cook County received a little under $2 million to expand its Chicago Southland Fiber Network (CSFN). CSFN provides backhaul services to many, including the Illinois Century Network — which serves over 3,400 public K-12 schools, universities, and libraries. Their application committed to focusing “on fiber paths that will provide distribution and host last mile service platforms addressing those communities with the greatest need, municipalities with no fiber assets . . and key regional education campus facilities.”
In total, providers representing local control and democratic decision-making did well. The Illinois Electric Cooperative got a little under $3.5 million to build out symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) last-mile connections to 746 unserved households and 95 businesses, farms, and community anchor institutions in Calhoun County. Currently, its telecommunications division accounts for a relatively small but growing proportion of the services it provides to its more than 14,000 members across the state. JoCarrol Energy Cooperative, founded in 1939, also received $6 million to complete...Read more
Chicopee, Massachusetts, Ward 1 City Councilor Joel McAuliffe wrote an editorial recently that is well worth reading. In it, he explains how his city of 55,000 people, situated a few miles north of Springfield, has seen in concrete terms the benefits of building a municipal fiber network a year ago. Crossroads Fiber — an initiative of Chicopee Electric Light (founded 1896) — began connecting customers in late summer of last year, with the utility building out in phases. There are plans to provide service to everyone connected to electric. Even so, he says, citizens are already benefitting from municipal fiber during the current pandemic:
Fiber optic cables continue working during power outages and remain lightning-fast no matter how many users are plugged in. These past few months, internet usage has spiked worldwide, but municipal broadband is allowing hundreds of people in Chicopee to stay connected without interruption.
McAuliffe emphasizes the centrality of fiber to towns and cities in all realms who are looking to the future. And while it’s been nice to see large telecoms stepping in to donate or help communities get connected, McAuliffe rightly emphasizes the dangers of relying on corporate generosity instead of investing in local infrastructure that will benefit the community for generations to come:
Chicopee’s investment in municipal broadband is the first step, but we and cities across the country must commit to further investment to build a more prosperous and equitable society. It is becoming clear why a fast, reliable internet connection is absolutely essential for today and for our future.
We’ve covered Chicopee and Crossroads Fiber a couple of times before, and Christopher spoke with City Councilor McAuliffe on...Read more
John Lester, General Manager of Clarksville Connected Utilities (CCU) in Clarksville, Arkansas, knows a thing or two about the value of a municipal broadband network.
“Just keeping the dollars in Clarksville is gonna have a big impact. Do you have a calculator handy?” Lester asked me, when I called him earlier this month to learn more about the city’s planned foray into residential broadband services.
“Let me talk you through something,” he replied, after I said I did. “Let’s say we’ve got 4,500 potential customers and 75 percent of them get high-speed Internet, in some fashion. What’s that number?”
From there, he ran through a handful of calculations to illustrate the economic benefit of Clarksville’s new Fiber-to-the-Home network. Assuming residents save about $20 per month and the savings continue to circulate locally, the network could grow the city’s economy by $4 million every year.
“That stays in our consumers’ pockets right here in Clarksville, Arkansas,” Lester explained. “There is an economic impact today and every year going forward.”
Residential broadband service is only the most recent evolution for Clarksville’s municipal fiber network, which already connects utility infrastructure as well as area businesses and community anchor institutions in the city of nearly 10,000. Home installations are due to start soon, depending on delays caused by the global Covid-19 outbreak.
Starting With a Plan
Clarksville’s fiber journey began in 2016 when the city utilities department (which rebranded last year to Clarksville Connected Utilities) deployed a SCADA system to connect its electric, water, and wastewater systems. At the time, Lester was already thinking about how the rest of Clarksville could benefit from the utility’s fiber network, drawing on his prior experience as the city manager of Chanute, Kansas. “We absolutely needed a communications system for our utility infrastructure,” he explained, “but we leaned strongly on one of Stephen Covey’s...Read more