Tag: "utility"

Posted September 2, 2010 by christopher

Last week I had the good fortune of spending 24 hours in Chattanooga to get a better sense of what the community is doing with their impressive broadband network, EPBFi. It was pretty amazing, especially for an outdoorsy-kinda-guy like me. Chattanooga has an impressive air about it, a place on the up-swing.

I'll be writing more about my observations in the coming weeks (my schedule from last week to next week is jam-packed) but I wanted to note that Chattanooga looks to be one incredible place to be in coming years. They offer the fastest broadband in the nation at prices competitive to Comcast (which is to say, they cost a tiny bit more for a ton bigger, better, and faster service).

The Chattanoogan Hotel, where I stayed, was fed by community fiber and it was the best hotel broadband I have ever used.

The city is committed not just to offering top-notch broadband, but working with people in the community that want to do interesting things. In fact, they are more or less courting people who want to do interesting things. So many communities focus entirely on the need to build the network… not all appreciate the challenges of fully leveraging such a network.

When a community has arguably the best network available in the country, they want to let people know. Especially people who want to design the next-generation applications that will take advantage of everyone having extremely fast connectivity. They have plenty of space for co-location and still more room for expansion (they are as professional as you get in this regard).

But the reason for this post was a reminder in a local story, "Fiber-optic workers take to the woods." Chattanooga is only 25% of the Electric Power Board's footprint, but everyone served by EPB will have access to the same incredible broadband speeds.

Unlike big companies who only roll out services where profits are guaranteed, EPB contends it never considered only serving areas that would be profitable. I asked several times, noting that I frequently see comments from some that people who live in rural areas made a choice and they should simply have to pay more or not be connected as a consequence.

Local leaders reject that approach -- a fitting legacy in a state that was famously electrified by one of the most successful...

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Posted August 12, 2010 by christopher

Despite a coordinated campaign by cable incumbent Charter that offered little honest debate or accurate claims, the citizens of Opelika voted yes on their referendum to allow the city to build a broadband network. The City's public power utility will use the network for smart-grid services and a private company will likely contract to deliver triple-play services.

Opelika's Mayor had this reaction:

This video is no longer available.

Mayor Fuller also said:

It’s a great day for Opelika. It’s a great day for our future. It’s a terrible day for Charter,”

One gets the sense that the Mayor took some umbrage at Charter's tactics to prevent the community from building its own network.

The day before the election, Stop the Cap! ran a fantastic article about Charter's manufactured opposition to the community network.

Phillip Dampier investigated the background and claims of prominent opponents, including Jack Mazzola, who might as well have written some of the articles in the local paper about the Smart-Grid project for how often he was quoted by the reporter (who often failed to offer a countering view from anyone in support of the network).

Jack Mazzola claims to be a member of Concerned Citizens of Opelika and has become a de facto spokesman in the local press.  He claims he is “30 years old and have been a resident of Opelika for almost two years.” During that time, he evidently forgot to update his active Facebook page, which lists his current city of residence as Atlanta, Georgia.  Suspicious readers of the local newspaper did some research of their own and claim Mr. Mazzola has no history of real estate or motor vehicle taxes paid to Lee County, which includes Opelika.

Any community considering a referendum on this issue should read this Stop the Cap! post and learn from it because massive cable companies like Charter all use the same tactics in community after community. When communities do not have a response ready, they can suffer at the polls.

If you are suspicious about the viability of municipal fiber, simply ask yourself if they are such failures, why do phone and cable companies spend millions to lobby against them?  Why the blizzard of scare mailers,...

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Posted August 10, 2010 by christopher

After Seattle's new Mayor campaigned on a community fiber network and consulted with both Lafayette and Tacoma on how to build it, it will now spend a year considering its options.

In discussing the current options for broadband in the city, Governing Magazine notes lack of demand for Comcast's "up to" 50/10 EXTREME package:

The demand for this "Extreme" tier speed, however, is "extremely low," says spokesman Steve Kipp. Later this summer, the ISP plans to offer 105 Mbps download and 12 Mbps upload speeds.

I suspect people mostly aren't interested in the extreme price for supposed extreme speeds. A number of communities that have built their own networks offer faster (and symmetrical) connections for considerably less. However, even there most people opt for lower tiers rather than the fastest speeds.

What the article utterly misses is that faster speeds are only one piece of the reason communities build these networks. Yes, next-generation networks offer faster speeds now and have much more capacity for future expansion than cable networks (and DSL is so far behind as to not be comparable).

But public ownership is about more than faster speeds. It spurs competition and lowers prices for everyone. It offers accountability, ensuring the network meets the needs of the community now and in the future. It allows public agencies to get faster connections at lower prices (though Seattle already has this through its previous investments in fiber-optics). As Seattle owns City Light, it would have greater abilities to invest in smart-grid and metering applications to make the city more energy efficient. When the community owns the network, it can ensure everyone has access to fast connections (particularly children in low-income neighborhoods where absentee companies may be reluctant to invest).

But to get back to the argument about network speeds, there is an argument for FTTH and faster speeds even if people do not demand them right now. Until people have access to robust connections, applications will not be created to take advantage of them. When people have access to faster connections that are affordable...

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Posted August 5, 2010 by christopher

Opelika, Alabama, is home of some 27,000 people and a public power utility called Opelika Power and Light. On Tuesday, Aug 10, the city will hold a special referendum to decide if the community can build a network that will cover telecommunications and smart-grid services.

Alabama is one of the states that preempt local authority to build broadband infrastructure, requiring a referendum and imposing limitations on the business plan for community-owned networks that it does not do for privately owned networks.

The local newspaper has a Q&A to answer questions about the project.

Expected cost is in the neighborhood of $33 million and will be funded with revenue bonds if citizens approve the project. Opelika Power and Light already has a fiber ring that will be used in the project if they move forward (the project could start offering services as early as Fall 2012).

From a distance, it appears that details are not yet worked out (and why would they be -- until they have the authority conferred by a successful referendum, they would not complete any agreements), but the private company Knology will likely provide some of the services on the network built by Opelika.

Opelika Power and Light

The local editorial board endorsed the plan.

“Shall the City of Opelika, Alabama, be authorized to acquire, establish, purchase, construct, maintain, lease and operate a cable television system for the purpose of furnishing cable service to subscribers?”
That’s what the ballot will read in Opelika on Aug. 10.


And the answer: absolutely yes.

Unless, of course, you are a massive company like Charter that already offers services. If you are Charter, you might make absurd claims that cable is somehow more reliable than fiber. The Charter Government Relations Director apparently suffers from what we might call the make-ity-up...

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Posted August 2, 2010 by christopher

Highland Communications Services will soon be the newest community-owned FTTH network. It is on schedule to start offering services to businesses in September and some residences in October. A local news story details some of the costs and contracts behind the network.

The project will be paid for by a $9 million Electric System Revenue Bond issue, utilizing the Build America Bond program, created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as an incentive to communities to put people back to work. Build America Bonds will allow the City to issue taxable securities and then receive a subsidy from the U.S. Treasury equal to 35 percent of the interest.

Highland's population is approximately 10,000.

Please note the spelling error in the story - they are building a head-end, not a "dead-end" (despite the accusations of some).

Posted July 29, 2010 by christopher

John at Lafayette Pro Fiber posted about an upcoming Lafayette TV ad. Apparently, this is an advance copy. It emphasizes the ways in which LUS differs from privately owned networks. Community networks, no matter how technically superior to incumbent offerings, must have an outreach or advertising strategy. Having the best network does little good if few people know about it.

Posted July 8, 2010 by christopher

The May/June issue of Broadband Properties Magazine continued the Muni FTTH snapshot series, this time focusing on a small network in Auburn, Indiana. The network currently has 500 subscribers as it continues its buildout, which is scheduled to finish in 2011. By 2013, the business plan calls for serving 3200 subscribers.

The public power utility, Auburn Electric, has been using fiber-optics for internal use since 1985, but only began offering services to some customers in the mid 2000's. In 2007, they began deploying the FTTH. In 2005, their services kept an employer in town with a $7 million payroll.

Posted June 25, 2010 by christopher

Alex Marshall, Senior Fellow at the Regional Plan Association in New York City, recently asked why more cities aren't building fiber-optic broadband networks. The subtitle: "Don't wait to find out if Google will install broadband in your city."

He correctly notes this is not a new argument - cities have run utilities for decades (and been attacked for it regularly throughout).

Infrastructure is one of the primary ways that towns, cities and states can make themselves more competitive. Build the right thing at the right time, and new residents, jobs and businesses will come. But this terrain is rife with strife. A century ago, towns and cities started public power companies, and saw private power companies resist such efforts in courts and with legislation. Today many of these public power companies are doing quite well, thank you very much, as exemplified by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and others in small towns.

This is not your standard argument for cities to start building networks - Alex makes some novel points and the short column is well worth the full read.

Posted June 22, 2010 by christopher

Some 10,000 households and businesses in rural Kentucky will soon have FTTH as Russellville and Barbourville have decided to make this long term investment to ensure their communities can take advantage of modern technology and communications.

This Calix press release goes into the technical gear involved.

I think Barbourville already had an HFC plant and Russellville offered some wireless services previously. Both utilities work with the TVA and are looking toward future smart-grid capabilities.

(Image: Russellville Welcome Banner, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial (2.0) image from jstephenconn's photostream)

Posted May 14, 2010 by christopher

The Chelan Public Utility District in Washington began its county-wide fiber-optic network build. They have since passed some 80% of the county but are temporarily pausing expansion efforts. Chelan is a rural county and the network is not expected to break even for quite some time.

In Washington, state law limits the powers of public utility districts to offer broadband. As with communities in Utah, these public sector entities are forced to operate an open access network and are unable to offer services directly. While the open access model is a great one for some communities (and one we encourage when the numbers work), it can be difficult to implement depending on local circumstances.

The Wenatchee World recently covered the decision to hire a consultant to identify means of lowering costs. The network has cost $80 million to get to this point and will require an additional $40 million to connect the remaining 15-20%.

The network can provide access to over 30,000 residents, businesses, and community anchors (schools, hospitals, muni facilities). Subscribers choose from a variety of service providers for services and take rates vary from 30%-60% depending on the area.

The network is operating at a loss (probably due to a combination of the high costs of FTTH in rural areas, the low take rates, and lower revenues from operating on a purely wholesale basis). Residents were conflicted about the network's inability to pay for itself but a majority have continued to support it because they often have no other broadband options. However, the current economic climate has resulted in more concern about the costs.

Chelan PUD has apparently covered the losses from broadband (as well as some sewer and water services) with the sales of surplus electricity on the wholesale market. Those prices are rather low right now, forcing the PUD to make some difficult choices.

Some residents are frustrated by the delays:

Sanders has already laid underground conduit for her own house and two of her neighbors’, following assurances from PUD staff that it would speed the installation process.

Another resident, Rachel Imper who lives on Brown Road, said she needs a fast Internet connection to exchange writing assignments that she...

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