Tag: "utility"

Posted July 26, 2013 by lgonzalez

The Longmont community will soon have the chance to decide how quickly they want ubiquitous FTTH. On July 23rd, the City Council unanimously approved a proposal to ask voters in a referendum if they want to bond for funds to speed up construction of the LPC fiber network. Absent bond financing, the network will expand much more slowly over many years.

Readers will remember the 2011 referendum to allow the electric utility to offer broadband services to the people and businesses of Longmont. At the time, Comcast spent over $300,000 via the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association to fund an unsuccessful Vote No astroturf campaign. The community approved the measure with 60% of the vote. There was an earlier referendum in 2009 that ended in a victory for Comcast following a successful astroturf campaign. Records showed a similar infusion of cash to sway the vote. 

In the recent meeting, some Council Members expressed concern over the city bonding to invest in the telecom business. The Longmont Times Call reported on the meeting:

"We're again a government playing in the private world of capitalism," [Councilman Brian] Bagley said. "What if we don't know what we're doing?"

City Manager Harold Dominguez noted that even if voters approved a bond, the city could still take on a partner. If it passes, he said, the city would have a pretty good idea of how big a piece of the market it could get. And implementation wasn't a huge risk, he said, because the city already knew it could provide the service; it had been doing so for itself, the school district and a few other large users for years.

"Based on the information we've received, yes, we can do it," Dominguez said.

Finance Director Jim Golden outlined several options, including sales tax bonds, utility bonds, and certificates of participation, which use existing city assets as collateral. After discussion, Council agreed that the revenue bonds from the electric utility was the best option. If the voters approve the referendum, the City will bond a total of $44 million for capital costs ($35.4 million), interest, and...

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Posted July 9, 2013 by christopher

For our 54th episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we are back in Tennessee to interview Brian Skelton, General Manager of the Tullahoma Utilities Board. They built the network in 2008 and have weathered the tough economy, meeting the business plan while greatly benefiting the community.

This is a particularly content-rich interview, covering the importance of non-gimmick pricing, benefits to schools, local programming, and why they decided to become a gigabit community.

They haven't increased prices of the Internet or telephone service even though they have increased speeds five times for subscribers and added new telephone features. Despite facing tough competition and deep discount pricing, Tullahoma has experienced extremely low churn, which itself is a sign of how valued the service is. You can read our historic coverage of Tullahoma here.

Read the transcript from this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Eat at Joe's for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted June 24, 2013 by lgonzalez

The Waverly City Council in Iowa recently voted 5-2 to establish a communications utility and to move ahead with a feasibility study. We spoke with Diane Johnston, Waverly Light and Power (WLP) General Manager, who told us the decision to get this far started over a decade ago.

In 2000, the community passed two ballot measures that sat dormant until this year. At the time, incumbents Mediacom and Qwest (now CenturyLink) did not meet the needs of residents, who were increasingly frustrated with poor service and shoddy customer relations. Incumbents cherry-picked the local commercial segment, ignoring smaller businesses and establishments more challenging to serve. When asking for better connectivity, Johnston says local businesses "hit the wall." Incumbents flatly refused to invest in Waverly.

The 2000 ballot measures, establishing the municipal telecommunications utility per Iowa law (requiring a majority vote) and having the entity governed by WLP's board of trustees passed with 86 percent and 80 percent of the votes. Clearly the public wanted more choices but Johnston told us the time was just not right. A feasibility study, focused on phone and video service, prompted Mediacom and Qwest to make some improvements and improve customer service. As far as WLP was concerned, the problem was solved and Ordinance 970 went on the shelf.

Since 2000, businesses and residents have approached WLP about establishing the utility but the proposal did not gain traction until six months ago. When reviewing the strategic plan for the electric utility, WLP's Board of Trustees concluded that Waverly and WLP needs a telecommunications utility to stay vital.

Johnston notes that advanced metering infrastructure is essential for the future of electric services. WLP wants to be able to provide customers with the ability to monitor their electric usage, control the use of appliances, and conserve. The utilty also needs its own connectivity. Johnston and WLP recognize that access to a high speed network is critical to economic development and WLP needs economic development for healthy electricity sales. In order to supply affordable electricity for all customers, WLP's wants to continue to increase sales. A fiber ring around the city provides connectivity between substations today and will...

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Posted June 13, 2013 by christopher

We continue to see more and more of what we might call "gigabit fever." This is not just a "me too" bubble centered around superfast Internet access. It is a recognition by more and more communities that the refusal of their cable and DSL duopoly to invest in next-generation networks is materially harming their future.

Shortly after Cedar Falls announced it was the first community in Iowa with universal access to a gigabit courtesy of the municipal utility, the Ames Tribune made the case for a gigabit there also.

Ames is home to the excellent Iowa State University (as is Cedar Falls, with U of Northern Iowa). I can praise them as long as I don't say anything about the Hawkeyes, rivals to my beloved Gophers.

Unfortunately, the municipal utility in Ames is less than enthusiastic about following the Cedar Falls approach.

Yet Don Kom, director of the City of Ames Electric Department, tells us: “There has been no discussion at my level of bringing fiber from the city to our customers. We’re not having that discussion.”

Certainly the city has many pressing issues and priorities to address, but super-fast Internet service ought to be high on its list. Besides the fact that it’s the wave of the future and we ought to try to keep pace with that wave, Ames has an impressive history of ambitious and innovative achievements. From burning trash for power to building a large man-made lake, from CyRide to the Main Street revival, Ames is a leader, not a follower, in tackling big things.

Ames provides a reminder that while municipal electric utilities have been at the forefront of investing in FTTH networks historically and gigabit networks more recently, many municipal electric utilities are spending a lot of energy trying to avoid stepping outside their historic business models.

I'm reminded of an interview with Harold DePriest, the visionary CEO of Chattanooga's Electric Power Board, who runs the first network in the US capable of delivering a gig anywhere in the city at a moment's notice (see our case study, Broadband at the Speed of Light).

...

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Posted June 4, 2013 by lgonzalez

The community of Sebewaing, located in the "thumb" of Michigan is moving closer to its own FTTH network, which will be the first new municipal FTTH project in the state.

Because of a state law impinging on local authority in Michigan, local governments must first issue an RFP and can build a telecommunications network themselves if they receive fewer than three qualified bids. If the community builds the network themselves, it probably must adhere to the RFP as if it were a private entity. This approach ignores the fact that a community operates a network with different incentives than a private company, so the two are not interchangeable. 

We wanted to know more about this effort, so we contacted Melanie McCoy, Superintendent of the municipal utility Sebewaing Light and Water. We discovered that the town of 1,700 residents, known for its beet farming, has several factors going for it. 

Communities with their own utilities already in place have personnel, equipment, and expertise which saves money and time. And because they already own the utility poles, they are often able to get started quickly rather than waiting for other firms to do "make-ready," which can take months as wires are shifted on poles. Sebewaing has a municipal fiber loop currently in place - another plus. McCoy tells us the fiber was installed in 2001 and 2002 at a cost of about $50,000.

Private Internet choices were limited to dial-up for about $20 per month or a T1 connection for around $1,000 to $1,500 per month. At the time, Sebewaing Light and Water shared a T1 connection with local businesses.

Residents, business and government needed better connectivity and community leaders also realized the need to boost economic development. Sebewaing Light and Water leadership also wanted to increase efficiency with a SCADA system and considered a telecommunications utility a good investment. And looking toward the future, they knew installation of the fiber would position them favorabley for future investment. 

Sebewaing Map

Changes in community leadership, tight budgets, and...

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Posted May 20, 2013 by lgonzalez

Longmont, Colorado, will move ahead with plans to offer fiber connectivity to the entire community. After presenting this business plan to the City Council, members voted unanimously on May 14th to support the measure. Scott Rochat from the Times-Call attended the meeting.

Residents stepped forward to express their opinions and all but one urged the council to "get it done."

From the Rochat article:

The plan projects a four-tier price structure. For residential rates, that's proposed to range from $39.95 a month for 10 megabit-per-second upload and download, to $99.95 for 100 mbps.

The study estimates that 35 percent of homes would choose to get their Internet service from the city, still leaving plenty of the field for the existing providers.

"Competition is good," Councilman Alex Sammoury said. "Just because we're a government entity doesn't mean the free market doesn't apply to us. If someone can do it better, more power to them."

The plan proposes to have the city provide Internet directly and work with a private partner for phone service.

Video service would not be provided, Roiniotis and the Uptown consultants said, because Internet video has eroded the market for traditional television.

Vince Jordan, LPC Manager, began the presentation and stressed economic development, education, and lifestyle.

Representatives from Uptown Services reviewed recommendations and the business plan. They answered about 3 hours of questions from council members, including skeptical members who want to avoid becoming the next Provo, Utah. Neil Shaw and Dave Stockton from Uptown Services provided some perspective between the two communities. They pointed out the large number of successful networks in states across the country.

Longmont had been prepared to incrementally expand the network using the cash on hand from the many years of dark fiber leasing. Such an expansion could be done without borrowing but would take a long time (more than ten years, likely) to get to everyone. This is the approach Danville, Virginia, has been using.

Instead, Longmont is now developing a plan to finance the...

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Posted May 13, 2013 by lgonzalez

In January, Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) announced they would begin connecting businesses located within 500 feet of the existing network. As we reported, local businesses were chomping at the bit to get hooked up and enjoy the high-speed next generation network. Even without efforts at marketing or advertising, more businesses have added themselves to the queue. LPC will present the formal business plan for expanding the network to the City Council on May 14th. Tony Kindelspire recently reported on the race to get on LPC's network in the Longmont Times-Call:

"We are bringing to council a business plan to build out all of Longmont," [Vince] Jordan, [Broadband Services Manager], said. "It's the whole enchilada."

The fact that there has so far been only limited rollout is due to economics. Currently, the installations are being paid for from a reserve fund that Longmont Power has built up over the years leasing portions of its fiber-optic loop to entities such as Longmont United Hospital and a third-party provider that services the school district. Those leases bring in about $250,000 annually, Jordan said.

For 2013, the Longmont City Council authorized LPC to use $375,000 of that reserve fund to begin connecting businesses and residents to the loop.

This model works, but does not connect everyone fast enough for their liking:

To expedite the build-out, extra up-front dollars will have to be allocated, but where those dollars will come from is yet to be determined, Jordan said, adding that ultimately, the decision will lie with City Council.

Map of Longmont Fiber Rings

Right now, Longmont will cover the initial cost of connecting subscribers except in cases of extraordinarily high cost cases. If it would cost $10,000 to install but the payback to the utility in 2.5 years is only $6,000, a customer would have to cover the $4,000 difference presently. While there are over 1,300 businesses with in 500 feet of the network, connection...

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Posted April 26, 2013 by lgonzalez

We spoke with Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller in episode 40 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast and learned all about the community's FTTH project. Local residents and businesses decided to go beyond the substandard services they received from Charter Cable and build their own municipal network. At the time of the interview, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was well into construction and is now testing the network, according to an article in the article in the Opelika-Auburn News.

Steve Harmon, director of OPS, said there are between seven to eight test sites in the city that are basic residences receiving these services. Throughout the trial run, OPS will monitor what services are working efficiently and which ones have problems that need to be fixed.

“We’re getting feedback from those people and we are working on fine-tuning the system’s channel configurations,” Harmon said.

As this stage, test sites do not have telephone capability, which will be part of triple-play service from OPS. Harmon noted that service will not be offered until all issues are resolved. That being said, OPS expects launch to be in late spring or early summer.

The community faced one of Charter's misinformation campaigns, but citizens still approved a referendum to bond $41 million for the network and smart grid project. Since then, Opelika has moved forward steadily with network construction and construction of a network hub facility

From the OPS News website:

“This is a most exciting time in the life of our community.  Opelika is about to become the first city in Alabama to have fiber to the user.  Very soon we’ll fully deploy smart grid along with telecommunications that include video (cable TV), ultra-high speed internet and telephone service.  The...

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Posted April 11, 2013 by lgonzalez

Bartow, Florida, located in Polk County near the center of the state, is considering a FTTH network for the community's 17,000 residents. At a recent City Commission meeting, members decided to put city administrators on task and develop a plan to eventually offer triple play services to residents.

Suzie Schottelkotte reported on the initiative for The Ledger.com, quoting Mayor Leo Longworth, who commented, "I think the residents are ready for it and it's something that's needed."

The City has an existing 100 mile fiber network and offers connections to some local businesses. Government and schools also use the network. At the meeting, city commissioners heard from a fiber optic consulting firm that estimated an expansion to households at $3.3 million for capital costs and $2.5 million to run the network during the startup years until the network breaks even. 

Comcast now serves the community through its cable television franchise agreement and is a source of constituent discontent:

"Without discrediting anybody, we just don't have the quality," [Mayor Longworth] said.

The Polk County Democrat also covered the discussion. Steve Steiner referred to the Mayor's comments about the private sector:

[Mayor] Long reminded commissioners that they as well as city staffers and the general public present, are familiar with the problems experienced with the current broadband provider. Long also expressed the doubt another provider would be willing to come to Bartow to install and upgrade the current system in place. The number of businesses and the size of the population does not provide any true incentive.

The Florida Cable Telecommunications Association (lobbyists for the cable industry) responded to the initiative in a predictable fashion. From the Ledger article:

"Before the city fathers take the taxpayers' money and move in this direction, they had better understand what they're getting into," he said. "It's going to be a long time before they're making money. How long do they want to lose money? — that's the real...

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Posted April 10, 2013 by lgonzalez

Flash back to May 5, 1998 and the community of Emmetsburg, Iowa. This town of just under 4,000 people voted to establish a municipal cable communications or television system. It has taken fifteen years, but Emmetsburg is on the verge of joining the many other Iowa communities with municipal networks. Jane Whitmore of the Emmetsburg News reported on April 2 that the City Council adopted Ordinance #577, establishing the Board of Trustees of the Emmetsburg Municipal Communications Utility.

Emmetsburg will be joining four other local communities as part of The Community Agency (TCA), a coalition of cities in northwest Iowa that collectively own a hybrid fiber coaxial cable network. TCA began as a cable television system in 2000 and now offers Internet, telephone, and limited wireless Internet in O'Brien County. Emmetsburg will build a FTTH network as part of TCA.

Talks to join TCA began last summer; City Administrator John Bird commented for the article:

"It's important for our readers to know that when the Board (of Trustees) started talking about this late last summer, their reasons for wanting to get into this (communications utility) are noble. Their goals, their objectives are noble from an industrial and economic development standpoint," Bird noted.

He continued, "They believe that we're at a gross disadvantage, considering today's global economy. In the global market, people can work from their home in Emmetsburg, Iowa, for a corporation located anywhere in the world, or higher tech industries who really need quality, high speed broadband. We're at a disadvantage."

DJ Weber, General Manager of TCA, noted the lack of interest from the incumbents to invest in the area. He also commented on how the existence of municipal networks often lower rates and improve service for all customers due to increased competition.

Emmetsburg currently provides sewer, water, and gas to residents. The network will be financed with municipal revenue bonds, but the other utilities will also contribute some revenue toward it as each will benefit from benefits such as remote meter reading.

A 1998 study on a potential communications...

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