Tag: "utility"

Posted October 20, 2012 by lgonzalez

We are engaged in a rare event - we are moving offices. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance pre-dates our initiative and has been in this location for over 20 years. During the packing and sorting, we have encountered a curious collection of treasures. 

In keeping with this air of nostalgia, we want to present a report from 2001 by John Kelly, who was Director of Economics and Research at the American Public Power Association at the time he wrote the piece. The title caught our attention but the content kept our interest. We want to pass it on as recommended reading.

"Old Snake Oil in New Bottles: Ideological Attacks on Local Public Enterprises in the Telecommunications Industry" (PDF format) is a critique of a Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF) report titled "Does Government belong in the Telecommunications Business?" (PDF) Kelly confirms that the arguments and fallacies advanced by the private telecommunications industry and its lobbyists have not changed in 11 years. The past 11 years have also seen the same slanted arguments and the same shaded research that, even after repeatedly being discredited, arise again and again.

The arguments truly are "snake oil." From the report:

One dictionary definition of "snake oil" describes it as "a liquid substance with no real medicinal value sold as a cure-all or nostrum...." This definition aptly describes the content of the PFF report. Its claims are not solid ones and can be easily refuted. Essentially, it views the elimination of government enterprises from the telecommunications industry as a cure-all, or nearly one, for the competitive problems that exist in the industry. This solution has no real value, and is counterproductive; it would exacerbate the problem of a lack of effective competition in the industry. The problem is a lack of effective competition, not public enterprises.

As a refresher, PFF was a non-profit founded by Newt Gingrich with backing from some of the telecommunications industry's biggest guns along with a long list of gigantic corporate sponsors. Before closing in 2010, the organization was viewed as a diversionary tool to avoid campaign finance limits. The organization described itself as a "...

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Posted October 8, 2012 by lgonzalez

The Chattanooga Gig continues to benefit the community. We have covered some of the jobs that it has created, how it has lowered City expenditures and improved street lighting, and the recently announced speed increase without hiking rates. Now, EPB can also boast about how the network has significantly cut power costs.

Dave Flessner from the TimesFreePress.com reports that, thanks to fiber enabled smart grid technology, Chattanooga's electricity rates are 5 percent less than they would be without the network. From the article:

“The savings from the smart grid and the payments from the telecom division to our electric system are exceeding our costs and that is helping save money for every customer of EPB, whether you are signed up for any of our telecom services or not,” [EPB President Harold] DePriest told EPB directors Friday. “If we hadn’t made this investment, your electric bills would be higher.”

In addition to savings for every electric consumer, the network has been wildly successful for its video, phone, and Internet offerings.  There are 40,000 users to EPB and its telecom division generates more profit than its 73-year old electricity utility. Chattanooga is ahead of the game:

EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson said the [American Reinvestment and Recvery Act] stimulus funds helped speed the installation of the smart grid network from the original plan of 10 years down to less than two years.

“We’re exceeding the goals we set in our business plan,” Ferguson said. “We’ve stayed ahead of schedule; we’ve stayed on budget, and the number of customers who have signed up is better than we expected. The acceptance has been huge and that’s where the revenue comes from that we can plow back into our business and help keep our electric rates down.”

Chattnooga is regularly visited by community leaders from around the country interested in finding out more about their network and how they created it. Obviously, word has gotten out about the many advantages to owning...

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Posted October 2, 2012 by christopher

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has just released a new case study on community broadband -- this one examines how Chanute, Kansas, built its own broadband network over a period of many years without borrowing.

Download a PDF of Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage here.

Local businesses are strong supporters of the network. From Ash Grove Cement to MagnaTech, business clients have remained satisfied subscribers. The network continues to encourage economic development and provides connectivity options that attract high bandwidth employers. The network generates $600,000 per year for Chanute’s Electric Utility, 5 percent of which goes to the general fund as a franchising fee each year.

Author Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, believes Chanute can offer valuable lessons to other communities across the United States. “This community has demonstrated that communities can meet their own telecommunications needs with smart public investments — they did not wait for national corporations to solve their problems.”

City Manager J.D. Lester refers to municipal broadband as “the great equalizer for Rural America,” saying: “You don’t have to live in Kansas City to work there.”

The City also operates a 4G WiMAX network that connects public safety and is used to feed Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the community.

Local leaders plan to expand the network to offer access to all residents and businesses in the future as extending it become financially feasible. As it expands, it will offer the potential for smart-grid type investments in the gas, water, and electrical utilities — all of which are owned and operated by the local government.

One of the key lessons other communities can take away from this case study is how planning and prioritizing community investments in broadband can greatly benefit the community, especially local businesses. Chanute took advantage of several opportunities to expand what started as a very basic network over the course of many years at low cost.

Posted September 18, 2012 by christopher

Curtis Dean, the Telecommunications Services Coordinator for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, joins us for our 13th Community Broadband Bits podcast. Curtis explains why Iowa has so many municipal utilities and why 28 of them offer some form of telecommunications service.

We talk about why making sure everyone in rural areas has access to affordable, reliable, and fast broadband is good for everyone in the entire country. And Curtis shares his experiences with the publicly owned FTTH network in Spencer.

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 download the Mp3 file directly from here.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted September 17, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have watched Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) for the past several years as they upgraded their cable to fiber and started expanding their municipal network outside town limits. The Iowa water, electricity, and telecom utility just commenced further expansion to bring broadband to more rural residents through wireless and fiber with a broadband stimulus award.

Tina Hinz, at the WCF Courier, covered the story. Three new towers and more fiber installation will bring broadband service that is comparable to the connections in town to rural locations. Construction and customer installation should be completed by mid-2013.

According to Hinz:

CFU received final approval last month on a federal grant to fund nearly 40 percent of the $2.3 million installation cost. This reduces the high per-customer cost of building a communications system in an area with lower housing density. Customers will pay a similar price as those in town.

A PDF map of the rural expansion is available on the CFU website. CFU also provides a recent PDF map of their fiber-to-the-premises project, which is 70% complete.

Hinz spoke with rural customer Chris Hansen, who is in line for service through the new expansion.

Hansen called the development "a godsend." Recently he moved a mile west of the city limits on University Avenue. Accessing the web from his phone is functional but slow, he said.

...

Hansen has the wireless option, which will assist with his business as a sales representative for Bertch Cabinets and in his work on the family farm. He said he may subscribe to Netflix, which streams movies and television programs, and the Internet will benefit his twin children, Christian and Carina, 13, who currently share one phone with Internet.

The expansion will also allow CFU to improve electric service in rural areas and reduce...

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Posted September 14, 2012 by lgonzalez

Last winter, we reported on Tullahoma, Tennessee's plans to use their fiber optic network for an Automatic Metering Information system (AMI). At the time, city leaders had just started a series of informational meetings for customers. Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB) technicians are now in the process of installing the new meters in the full service area and expect to complete the project by April, 2013.

Brian Justice of the Tullahoma News, reported:

Brian Skelton, TUB general manager, said Wednesday the results have proven to be very effective, and now the utility is spreading out to install 10,500 electric meters and 9,500 water meters that electronically read and provide TUB with the usage information.

...

In addition to reading electric and water meters automatically, the system will be used for a number of other tasks to reduce peak electric demand and take advantage of TVA’s new wholesale rate plan.

As we reported earlier, utility managers decided to pursue the new system when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced it would change to a "time of use" pricing structure. Because rates will be higher at peak times, the TUB want to give customers the chance to manage their utility costs.

Brian Coate, manager of the electric and fiber departments, told Justice:

“Automated metering will not only reduce personnel costs, but also provide better information on leak detection, outage management, and theft of service,” he said. “The system will also have a server and data portal where customers can examine their time of use habits and have more control over their bill.”

The new meters contain a radio transmitter that sends usage data to a collector secured on a utility pole. The information is then transferred to the TUB via the fiber optic network.

Electric usage will be monitored hourly while water usage info will be available on a daily basis. Customers will also be able to determine if there are any water leaks based on the results. Residents will be able to monitor their usage via a computer or smart phone.

A small number of customers expressed concern over the privacy of their data and...

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Posted June 27, 2012 by lgonzalez

Tahlequah, Oklahoma, far on the eastern side of the state, recently decided to investigate the possibility of building a new network. On June 15th, the Tahlequah Public Works Authority Board approved the financing of a feasibility study on the options. According to Rob W. Anderson's Tahlequah Daily Press article:

“We budgeted $40,000 for this, and I really think it’ll probably take every bit of that, I’m guessing,” [TPWA General Manager Mark Chesney] said. “What we’re suggesting is that we go to some expert to get a proposal to tell us what a return on investment would look like, what our start-up cost would look like, how much of the market we could capture and a pretty good forecast of how long it would take to pay out on those kinds of things. That’s what a study would do.”

Chesney stated that the city wanted to know more about offering services with a fiber network, including Internet, cable, and voice. Chesney alluded to local dissatisfaction of services and the town's desire to expand economic development. The town is home to approximately 15,750 people.

We have reported on other Oklahoma communities, including Sallisaw and Ponca City, that now have publicly owned networks and provide a variety of services. Oklahoma, one of the states with a more friendly attitude toward community networks, does not have barriers in place to curtail development.

Sallisaw's DiamondNet offers triple play packages, like those mentioned in the Tahlequah meeting, for $105.95, $116.95, and 126.95. Things have worked out will in Sallisaw. Keith Skelton, assistant city director of Sallisaw, stated publicly in March that he expects the City to make a profit from the network by the end of 2012.

Ponca City offers free Wi-Fi to all its residents and now serves 11,000 clients...

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Posted June 21, 2012 by lgonzalez

Farmington, New Mexico, currently has 80 miles of fiber and has decided to consider the best way to get the most out of the investment. The City uses the fiber network strictly for its Farmington Electric Utility System but sees potential in maximizing the power of the unused strands. Earlier this year, they commissioned a study from Elert & Associates to investigate the technical possibilities. Front Range Consulting reviewed the financial pros and cons.

In February, both experts provided options to the City Council. While offering triple play services is a possibility, both firms recommended leasing available fiber to existing ISPs instead. Expanding to a triple play offering would require  a $100 million investment to connect the 32,000 current Farmington Electric Utility System's customers.

Dick Treich, from Front Range Consulting, commented on the pushback to expect from Comcast and CenturyLink, if the City decided to pursue triple play retail services. From a February Farmington Daily Times article (this article is archived and available for purchase):

"They won't sit still for that," Treich said. "First they will challenge the legality of whether you can get into that option, possibly tying you down in court for a long time. They will also start the whole argument of public money being used for starting a private business. It would be a two-pronged attack."

The City Council also pondered the option of leasing fiber, which would require a $1.5 million infrastructure investment. Also from the article:

"Five companies have expressed interest," said Assistant City Manager Bob Campbell. "Assuming that those companies would each use approximately 10 miles of fiber, (they) would provide $170,000 annually leasing dark fiber."

Update:

Bob Campbell, Acting Director of the General Services Department of Farmington, emailed us this update:

"...after the February meeting Council requested a study for the leasing of bandwidth, that report was presented to Council in May. Now staff will be making a presentation to Council in July asking Council to adopt a policy for the leasing of dark fiber....

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Posted May 23, 2012 by lgonzalez

Rural electric cooperatives were essential to expanding electricity throughout rural America after private sector business models overwhelmingly failed to electrify our farms over many decades. Electric coops embody the spirit of local community and local concerns. Cooperatives often have decades of experience with project planning and implementation. We have seen electric coops use their own existing resources as a starting point to expand broadband access to their community.

At the Calix Community Blog, there are two videos on electric co-ops, both in Missouri, that have taken on the challenge of providing broadband to their customers.

Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Tipton, Missouri, applied twice for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funding and were twice turned down. Members of the coop expressed their need for improved broadband as a way to improve the economic situation in this central Missouri community. The cooperative pressed on without stimulus funding and have extended their community footprint. Learn more from this Calix video, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative Finds Success With Fiber:

In northwest Missouri, United Electric Cooperative (UEC) is using ARRA funds to bring broadband to the community. The co-op, located in Maryville, serves residents in ten surrounding counties. UEC brought electricity to the area 70 years ago and is doing the same for broadband through their fiber optic network. Calix highlights UEC in another customer video, United Electric Cooperative Expands Broadband in Missouri:

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Posted May 18, 2012 by lgonzalez

Located in the northeast corner of the state of Tennessee, Morristown Utility Systems offers FiberNET to Morristown's 30,000 residents and businesses. MUSFiberNET is another community that decided to take control of its destiny and invest in a municipal broadband network.

And by offering 1 Gbps anywhere in the community, Morristown is in the ultra-elite category of broadband in America.

We featured Morristown in one of the Muni FTTH Snapshots way back in June of 2009. They were doing well at the time but this great news shows how Morristown has brought next-gen, affordable, and reliable capabilities to anyone who wants it.

MUS FiberNET was built in 2006 and maintains a list of reasons why their network is superior to competitors. To advertise their incredible high capacity network, they developed this great billboard:

morristown-gig-ad.jpg

Morristown's Gig announcement never received the attention given to Chattanooga or Google's roll-out in Kansas City, which is unfortunate.

For commercial users, the Gig runs $849.00 per month, a ridiculously inexpensive price point compared to what large carriers commonly charge for the service. Morristown Schools are also taking advantage of the network, including making full use of the gig service. Residential prices vary from 6 Mbps/4 Mbps, download and upload speeds, for $34.95 to 20 Mbps/10 Mbps for $74.95 and MUS FiberNET also offers a variety of triple-play bundles.

Like many other communities in Tennessee, Morristown has few choices for service from private providers. After promising the state legislature major investments in Tennessee in return for favorable legislation, AT&T decided to only served high end, dense neighborhoods, as we have seen just about everywhere else.

Communities that are satisfied with last generation connections and having no control over the networks on which they depend can make do with AT&T and cable companies. But those who want universal access to fast, affordable, and reliable services should consider building a community fiber network.

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