Tag: "utility"

Posted May 15, 2012 by lgonzalez

Recently, we let you know about the situation in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, population 15,039. The town is now investigating the possibility of building their own fiber network. They have had several community meetings and a "vote of the people" is set for May 22, 2012.

Pamela Hill is investigating the twists and turrns in a series of articles about the vote. In one of her articles, Hill looked into another Arkansas community, Paragould, home of the annual "Loose Caboose" Festival.  This community, located in the northeast corner of the state, has successfully operated their own cable network since 1991. Unlike Siloam Springs, the people of Paragould weren't focused first on generating new revenue for the local government, they just wanted to be able to watch tv for a reasonable price.

Back in 1986, Cablevision was the only provider in Paragould. Hill spoke with Rhonda Davis, CFO of Paragould Light, Water & Cable:

"The public wasn’t happy with Cablevision’s service or rates,” Davis said. “We took it to a public vote and did it.”

Prior to Paragould's decision to build their own network, the City had a nonexclusive franchise agreement with Cablevision. The town was dissatisfied by the service they received and, in 1986, Paragould voters approved an ordinance authorizing the Paragould Light and Water to construct and operate a municipal cable system. Three years later, there was a referendum that authorized the city to issue a little over $3 million in municipal bonds to finance the system.

That same month, Cablevision filed suit alleging antitrust violations, breach of contract, and infringement of first and fourteenth amendment rights. The district court dismissed the antitrust and constitutional claims and Cablevision appealed unsuccessfully. The case attracted attention from lawyers and business scholars across the country.

By 1998, the City had purchased Cablevision's remaining service and began offering Internet service. The City has continually upgraded their investment, which now consists of fiber lines that run to nodes throughout the city. Coaxial cable delivers signal and data...

Read more
Posted March 30, 2012 by lgonzalez

The Chattanooga Times Free Press, reports that the City's last IntelliRuptor, or "smart switch," will be installed on April 24th. No wonder EPB was named one of The Networked Grid - Top Ten Utility Smart Grid Deployments in North America by Greentech Media. EPB also received a special award for Best Distribution Automation, thanks to its fiber-optic network. EPB and Chattanooga have been similarly recognized in the past.

Quickly locating and localizing power outages will continue to limit power loss which will save tens of millions of dollars each year. According to Harold DePriest, CEO of EPB, "Nobody has applied them (IntelliRuptors) in the numbers we've applied them." A tornado on March 2nd tested the new system and, while 3,470 customers lost power, estimates are that the number would have been double without the use of the smart switches. Smart meters are also being installed, allowing customer usage data sent to the utility, which means that EPB will immediately know who has power and who does not in the aftermath of storms.

EPB saved about 5 million customer minutes in 2011 with half of the switches installed and half of installed switches set up to function automatically. EPB estimates and annual saving of up to $40 million to $45 million for businesses, and between $6 million and $7 million in savings for the utility because of fewer and limited outages.

Putting a dollar amount on loss due to power outages is no easy task. Estimates for losses in the United States vary but a 2005 research study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) put the figure at $80 billion dollars annually. With more smart grids like the EPB system, that figure could be significantly reduced. Community fiber networks are uniquely poised to offer the best option to electric utilities that need reliable, robust connections across their footprint.

A significant number of smart meters (approximately 60,000) and automation points (approximately 300) remain to be installed in Chattanooga.

Posted March 14, 2012 by lgonzalez

Chelan PUD is asking the people of their rural community whether they “love” or “just like” their beleaguered and pioneering fiber-optic network. At a series of public input meetings to be held across the county over the next month, residents will have the chance to hear opinions from business, economic, and marketing consultants, as well as express their devotion, or lack thereof, to the network. The future of the network is in question and the Chelan PUD needs to hear from its owners.

At the first meeting, on February 28th, most residents of Chelan County said that having a locally owned and controlled network available to them was a priority. Consultants hired by the PUD said the fiber-optic network could be self-sustaining in the long term with changes in business planning. Recommendations included writing off internal debt, more aggressive marketing efforts to existing and ready locations, and collaborating with ISPs to obtain more subscribers in the open access network. Yes, the PUD Fiber-optic network has had its problems, including high installation costs due to the landscape and lack of conduit, changes in PUD leadership, and incompatible existing residential technology. Nevertheless, experts and the local community appear patient and cautiously optimistic. More meetings will follow; the next is scheduled for March 19th.

Providers lease from the PUD (state law prohibits them from competing directly with retail services) and proceeds from wholesale electricity sales have allowed the network to continue expanding. As we have reported in the past, the PUD is an open access network and while it has not been able to pay down its debt, and has had some difficulties, the PUD network has recognized value in the community, as evidenced at this first meeting. It certainly beats not having access to the essential infrastructure necessary to succeed in the modern economy.

John Tomkins, a Plain resident wants fiber, if it comes to his area. “Business is going to go where they can get a high-speed network. Let’s give our county the opportunity to grow.”

Chelan PUD is finding creative ways...

Read more
Posted December 15, 2011 by christopher

Tullahoma, home to the LightTUBe FTTH network of Tennessee, is starting to roll out smart meters for its electrical and water utilities (owned by the city). They have initiated a series of public meetings to discuss the AMI - Advanced Metering Infrastructure. From a recent press release:

“The meetings are designed to answer any questions the Tullahoma community has about the AMI technology”, said Ernie Hobbs, Communications and Marketing Specialist for TUB. “We want to assure the community that automated meter reading is the next step in providing exceptional customer service. AMI is a step forward for Tullahoma, and it will provide additional opportunities for our customers by allowing them to monitor their own usage of utilities.”

The AMI installation is a replacement of current water and electric meters. The
new meters can transmit usage data through TUB’s secure fiber network. The infrastructure upgrade has been in the planning stage for several years. However, with Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) moving to Time Of Use (TOU) rates, TUB decided it was time to begin the AMI project to align with the TVA rate change.

A recent newsletter from the utility explains further, noting that the Tennessee Valley Authority (a federal agency that produces the power used by Tullahoma and many other public utilities) is going to start charging time-of-use rates starting in fall of 2013. This is because electricity is more expensive to produce and distribute based on the amount being used - time of use pricing will encourage people to use more power when it is cheaper to produce and less when it is expensive.

This time-of-use pricing is one component of a "smart-grid." Unfortunately, some investor-owned utilities have used time-of-use pricing to increase their revenues without substantially benefiting ratepayers -- which is one reason many are suspicious of the entire concept. Hence the public meetings.

Because Tullahoma has its publicly owned network already connecting much of the community, it is better positioned to deal with TVA's changing rates than other communities.

Posted December 14, 2011 by christopher

One month after the Johnson City Power Board (Tennessee) approved a fiber-optic network, they have issued a request for qualifications to identify potential partners that would provide broadband services over the publicly owned fiber-optic backbone.

Johnson City lies between Chattanooga and Bristol (Virginia), two communities with advanced next-generation networks that have created significant economic development.

According to a feasibility study by the utility, the third-party vendor approach would give the JCPB the best return on investment, balancing low risk with possible profits. The Power Board would provide the “backbone,” while the vendor, working under JCPB’s brand, would provide the “last mile” services and equipment to the commercial customers. The utility’s telecommunications division would be self-sustaining, and have absolutely no effect on electric rates.

This seems similar to the approach of Lafayette, Louisiana almost 10 years ago. Lafayette eventually decided to build out the network to residents and all businesses when the ISPs using its network were not able to use the backbone to expand to serve everyone (the economics of building last mile fiber-to-the-home connections rarely coincide with private sector goals of maximizing short term returns).

Judging from their projections, Johnson City does not need to hit particularly ambitious targets:

To reach its revenue and return on investment projections, the JCPB would need to capture about 20 percent of the area’s total market for data services, about 15 percent of the market in phone services, and about 5 percent of private data services over five years, based on a market of 3,000 commercial users.

However, even those modest goals will be difficult unless they find a good, trusted partner. Most public power utilities have the trust of residents or businesses -- that trust may not extend to whoever they work with.

Posted November 7, 2011 by christopher

An excellent article drawing wide lessons from the referendum battle in Longmont between the community and Comcast.

The city of Longmont, Colo., built its own 17-mile, million dollar fiber-optic loop in the mid-1990s. The infrastructure was paid for by the local city-owned electric utility, though it offered promise for bringing broadband to local businesses, government offices and residents, too.

For years, though, the network has been sitting largely unused. In 2005, Colorado passed a state law preventing local governments from essentially building and operating their own telecommunications infrastructure.

Behind the law was, not surprisingly, the telecom lobby, which has approached the threat of municipal broadband all across the country with deep suspicion and even deeper pockets. Companies like Comcast understandably want to protect their corner on the market from competition with city-run non-profits. What’s less understandable is the route their interests have taken: Residents and state legislators from Colorado to North Carolina have been voting away the rights of cities to build their own broadband, with their own money, for the benefit of their own communities.

Posted November 7, 2011 by christopher

Rob Cox, a writer for Reuters, has delved into the disappointing response of some investor-owned utilities in Connecticut following the recent blizzard, noting the better performance of muni power companies. Hurricane Irene recently revealed the similar superiority of muni electrics compared to the investor-owned in Massachusetts, prompting us to note the parallels with Wired West's initiative in Western Massachusetts. They have created an electric light coop to build a next-generation fiber-optic network out to everyone in the area.

And on the same day that Longmont embraced locally owned broadband in Colorado, nearby Boulder started the process of kicking Xcel out in favor of an electric grid that is accountable to the public.

So let's see what the New York Times has to say about municipal ownership of infrastructure. They begin by noting the many ways Connecticut Light and Power (the subsidiary of Northeast, an investor owned utility presently consolidating with another large IOU) has cut its maintenance spending over the last few years -- leaving many more power lines vulnerable to the tree-bending blizzard.

There’s even a near-perfect model of how Connecticut Light and Power could have done the job better. Norwich, Conn., a city of 40,000, has owned its own electric utility, as well as those for sewage, gas and water, for 107 years. Norwich Public Utilities’ customers pay, on average, a bit less than Connecticut Light and Power’s. Yet after this past weekend’s snow dump, power was out for only about 450 of its 22,000 customers — and for no more than an hour. As of Thursday morning, nearly half a million Connecticut Light and Power customers were still waiting for the lights to go on.

That’s not luck, either. After Irene hit, just 13 percent of the city’s customers lost their power for more than a day. Within three days, the whole of Norwich had been restored. It took more than a week for Connecticut Light and Power to fully restore power.

To reiterate, the publicly owned system is cheaper, more reliable, and responds more quickly...

Read more
Posted November 3, 2011 by christopher

Two years ago, we first wrote about the Johnson City Power Board considering using its fiber-optic network to encourage economic development and create more broadband competition. Last year, we again saw them examining their options, with a recognition that DSL and cable are not enough for economic development when Chattanooga and Bristol are so close by, as well as other publicly owned FTTH networks.

The JCPB has decided to move forward with a public-private partnership approach that will focus first on serving commercial clients and may later expand to offering residential services.

The decision on the third-party vendor approach stems from a feasibility study by Kersey Consulting, a firm that offers broadband consulting to municipalities and public utilities. The study began in July, and examined three models the JCPB could use to offer the services: having the JCPB be the retailer; leasing the extra fiber capacity to another company; or bringing in a third-party operator to provide the network access electronics, customer support, billing services, etc.

Working with a third-party vendor gives the JCPB the best return on its investment, balancing low risk with possible profits, said JCPB spokesman Robert White. The Power Board would provide the “backbone,” while the vendor, working under JCPB’s brand, would provide the “last mile” services and equipment to the commercial customers.

This approach could be somewhat similiar to the Opelika, Alabama, partnership with Knology, except Knology is clearly going after both residential and commercial customers right away.

The article uses these numbers, but they don't seem to make a lot of sense to me on first glance:

Initially, according to the feasibility study, the Power Board would most likely make a capital investment of $1.5 million over five years, which could include installing more of a fiber backbone to reach businesses if needed. On the flip side, revenues from the extra service could reach $1.3 million over 10 years, depending on...

Read more
Posted November 2, 2011 by christopher

What a difference two years and a strong grassroots campaign makes. Two years ago, Comcast's ability to spend $245,000 on a campaign of lies was the determining factor over Longmont's decision about using publicly owned infrastructure to expand broadband competition.

Yesterday, despite Comcast spending even more by again funneling hundreds of thousands through the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Commission, voters overwhelmingly supported question 2A - reinstating local government authority to offer telecommunications services using its infrastructure.

Full congratulations must go to the Longmont citizens who organized a truly grassroots campaign that sent people out on the streets with signs, organized informational events, disseminated press releases, maintained an information web page (and Facebook page), wrote letters to the editor, commented on online news stories, and otherwise educated their peers about the opportunity 2A offered. Craig Settles is also celebrating with a post describing the victory.

Once again, the question was:

Without increasing taxes, shall the citizens of the City of Longmont, Colorado, re-establish their City's right to provide all services restricted since 2005 by Title 29, article 27 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, described as "advanced services," "telecommunications services" and "cable television services," including any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, utilizing community owned infrastructure including but not limited to the existing fiber optic network, either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, to potential subscribers that may include telecommunications service providers, residential or commercial users within the City and the service area of the City's electric utility enterprise?

Question 2A results

The results were 60.8% Yes, 39.2% No. 13,238 voted yes whereas 8,529 voted against.

The Times-Call has already posted a story about the results, including some...

Read more
Posted September 29, 2011 by christopher

As we previously noted, the city of Longmont, Colorado, is preparing for a referendum to allow the City to offer telecommunications services to local businesses and residents using a fiber ring it built long ago. This is due to a 2005 law (the "Qwest" law) that was pushed through the Colorado Legislature by incumbents seeking to prevent competition.

That law has succeeded -- most Colorado communities can only choose between slow DSL from the incumbent telephone company and comparatively faster services from the incumbent cable company. And when Longmont last attempted to pass a referendum to share its fiber infrastructure with local businesses, Comcast and Qwest swamped the town with unprecedented sums to confuse residents -- leading to the referendum failure with 44% voting yes.

But after the referendum passed and people had time to better understand the issue, many who voted against it realized they had been duped. We have seen the same dynamic elsewhere -- in Windom, MN, for example, where the second referendum succeeded. WindomNet has since saved a number of jobs and is expanding to eight other underserved rural communities around it.

Longmont built its fiber ring in the late 90's but it still has a lot of unused capacity that could be used to attract economic development if the publicly owned power utility were authorized to offer services to businesses. Without this authority, the community has a valuable asset that they are forced to leave unused -- even as local businesses could benefit greatly from it.

The Longmont Times-Call outlined the situation in July:

Without that vote, the city can't let homes or businesses use that fiber without a vote, thanks to a 2005 state law. It's a fight the city's lost once before in 2009, when opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to urge the measure's defeat.

This time out, there's a different tack. The city has been underlining in discussions that the measure would "restore its rights" to provide telecommunications service. And it's stressing that no high-dollar project is on the table -- the first words of the ballot measure now read "...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to utility