Tag: "utility"

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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Posted April 5, 2010 by christopher

Recent letters in the Chattanoogan reflect frustration with the cable incumbent, Comcast, and the ease of switching to the publicly owned EPB Fiber network. This is one of them:

My Comcast exit was very easy. Step one: Make appointment to have EPB Fiber service installed. Step two: Put all Comcast receivers and remotes in a box and hand it through the "teller" window at the Comcast office. Step 3: Ask for a receipt from the nice lady to whom I handed the box. Step 4: Receive my Comcast credit balance check in the mail and open it while watching TV on the EPBFI system. I never even had to speak to a Comcast phone rep in India.

A previous round of letters discussed several of the ways the publicly owned network is superior to Comcast, though one customer complained that EPB Fiber was too expensive, compared to Comcast's introductory and temporary rates (incumbents like Comcast typically negotiate rates in response to competition without advertising the reduced rate - so customers who are willing to haggle over the phone may find cheaper prices from a private company willing to lose money to deny customers to competition).

One reader noted how fast the local, publicly owned network installed the network.

I left shortly after that call [ordering service] and returned a couple of hours later from grocery shopping. EPB contractors had already been to my home and installed the boxes on the side of the house. Yes, super fast service.

The day the installers came to complete the inside installation, they were on time, courteous and knew just what needed to be done to complete the install. One of the men even told me of a problem with my A/C heating unit duct work underneath my home which needed to be looked about soon. The men cleaned all the areas they worked in, made sure all my services worked correctly and asked if I had any questions they could answer before they left. Both men did a fantastic job and worked quickly to complete the work.

Posted March 12, 2010 by christopher

Pulaski's public power provider is building a FTTH network and already seeing efficiency gains on the electrical side of their operations. Pulaski has 15,000 electric customers and 5,000 have been passed by fiber, with 1600 taking telecom services. Like Chattanooga, they are using a combination of wireless and fiber for smart-grid applications. Those who take telecom services are used to aggregate the wireless signals from neighbors who do not have a fiber line to their home. This is a great article to read for those curious about the benefits of smart-grids and how wireless can be successfully combined with fiber backhaul (as well as why wireless alone is insufficient).

Posted March 5, 2010 by christopher

Joe Abraham, from the University of Louisiana, recently addressed the LUS Fiber network in Lafayette. This is possibly the fastest and most affordable network in the entire country. Apparently, Joe has been asked by friends if they should switch to the new municipally owned network. His answer is an unequivocal yes - backed up by several points like it is a faster, cheaper service that strengthens the whole community. But really, I like this point:

Inherent in democracy, in the First Amendment, and in free markets, is a central concept: we have no idea what these things will produce. We only know that they are the means-- they are the how-- to produce an endless supply of very important & valuable things. The Internet has proven to be the same, it produces a continuous stream of innovative, valuable things. It should be obvious that building the most advanced community Intranet will attract a lot of innovative people to our city, and encourage our own people to be innovative, as well.

To the extent we require these networks to produce profits, they will not be the "how" of the new economy. Infrastructure rarely pays for itself directly, but pays for itself many times over indirectly.

He also has a response to those who fear the public should not compete with the private:

But what if, instead of public vs. private fiberoptic lines early in the 21st century, you find yourself in the early 18th century, and the question is building state-owned roads and bridges that will decrease the profitability of privately-held services?

What if you live in the early 19th century, and the question is building public libraries that will compete with for-profit bookstores?

What if it is the early 20th century, and the question is creating public schools that will pull students from private institutions?

Well done, Joe!

Another article from the same paper interviews Director of Utilities for Lafayette, Terry Huval. This is a guy that understands the value of publicly owned fiber networks:

In addition, we will launch a digital divide product that will provide Internet accessibility in homes where there are no computers, and no Internet services today.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to come, and much of those are...

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Posted March 1, 2010 by christopher

The Longmont Times-Call continues its coverage of the community network struggles of a Colorado community. This story has a lot of the history behind how Longmont developed a fiber ring and how they have used it even as they are prohibited from expanding it.

Longmont is not alone in working for upwards of a decade to bring better broadband to the community that actually meets local needs rather than maximizing profits. Other communities have also spent ten, fifteen, or even long with on-gain, off-again plans to build a publicly owned network. This reality provides a handy refutation of state preemptions based on the logic that communities will act too quickly in not considering their plan for a network. Communities take years in researching, planning, and developing networks.

In Longmont, the first public fiber investment came in 1996 and was expanded shortly thereafter by the Platte River Power Authority. The city moved more than 40 facilities to a gigabit network, leaving T1s to communities that prefer to vastly overpay for their telecommunications needs.

They worked with a private company, Adesta, to expand the network to residents and businesses but the company filed for bankruptcy in the following year. The arrangement certainly had its upside though - Qwest and Comcast mysteriously decided to start offering broadband in Longmont shortly after the Adesta agreement. This happens almost every time a community invests in infrastructure -- it leads to increased investment from incumbents.

They quote a techie from the Longmont Hospital who explains the one of the benefits of the publicly owned fiber already in the ground:

“It’s at least a three times reduction in cost,” Niemann said of leasing fiber from the city, versus contracting with a commercial provider. “And oftentimes, if you go with a commercial provider, you have construction costs.”

The city would like to expand the network, both to bring competition to the DSL/cable duopoly, and to invest in smart grid applications for its public power utility. Unfortunately, they have to win a referendum per Colorado's incumbent-protection law. The incumbents are more than willing to spend hundreds of thousands against any such measure, knowing they would lose far more in profits if they had to deal with competition in the community.

Posted February 15, 2010 by christopher

Carol Wilson speaks with Jackson's Michael Johnston about JEA's triple-play network in Tennessee. As far as I can tell, this interview took place in September, 2009. Johnston reports that the publicly owned network passes 30,000 residences and about 5,000 businesses. Of those taking cable services locally, 60% subscribe to JEA and half of them are taking multiple services. Jackson started as a purely open access network but has transitioned to offering retail services. At that point, they were starting to use the network to create a smart-grid for the electrical side of the utility.

Posted February 9, 2010 by christopher

Dover, a city of over 12,000 in Eastern Ohio south of Canton, has been considering a publicly owned fiber to the home network for years to complement its water and electric muni utilities. The City Council is mulling the latest proposal, one that shows a lower cost to build (probably due to a combination of technology lowering prices and lower price for labor in a recession).

The summary indicated that total funding costs have decreased from $11,615,791 in December 2008 to $10,663,410 in December 2009. Shaw estimates that operating income would make the system financially feasible after the third year and could enable the city to pay off its debt in 15 years vs. 16 years as had been predicted two years ago.

A press release from Uptown Services, a broadband consulting company provided some history:

They originally hired Uptown in 2004 to complete a broadband feasibility study. The results of that study were promising, but the City chose to wait for the economics to improve as the technology matured and costs came down over time. Uptown completed a refresh of the original study in 2008. The case had improved, but the City wanted to fine tune the cost estimates through the completion of an actual system design prior to making any final decisions on a City wide deployment. Uptown was selected in 2009 through an RFP process from a slate of qualified proposals to complete this design.

Judging from the local site explaining the networks, they really understand the power of publicly owned broadband. The FAQ include this gem:

Remember this critical point: The incumbents look for a profit and answer to their shareholders, while the City of Dover looks for the betterment of the community and answers to its citizens.

They city has Verizon and Comcast as incumbents respectively. I suspect Dover is one the thousands of communities Verizon is trying to dump on Frontier Communications rather than invest in smaller communities. The stumbling block currently appears to be deciding how to finance the proposed network.

Posted February 5, 2010 by christopher

Terry Huvall, the head of Lafayette's municipally owned fiber to the home network, discusses the history and motivations behind the community fighting for four years to build their own network. Lafayette has a strong tradition of publicly owned utilities -- they were the first community in Louisiana to build a municipally-owned water and electricity utility, voting to tax themselves to fund it in 1896.

That investment allowed Lafayette to prosper and surpass other communities in the following decades. This investment will have the same effects.

This video is no longer available.

Posted January 28, 2010 by christopher

A video from Chelan shows the benefits of a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network in a rural public utility district in Washington State. The network has literally saved lived with tele-medicine applications. Citizens also cite educational advantages and increased business opportunities thanks to this smart investment.

This video is no longer available.

Posted December 22, 2009 by christopher

After campaigning on building a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle, Mayor McGinn has decided to maintain leadership at the Department of Information Technology. Department head Bill Schrier will stay on, continuing his work that lays the groundwork for a community-owned network.

He said he expects the city to apply for federal stimulus money in the first part of the year to move toward that goal. In addition to improving broadband access in homes, the initiative could help Seattle City Light implement smart-grid infrastructure, and improve public safety communications.

Another article further notes their shared ambition:

"Mayor-elect McGinn ran on a platform of bringing fiber to every home and business in Seattle, something I've advocated for several years," Schrier commented.

No post discussing broadband in Seattle is complete without a reference to Glenn Fleishman - who both wrote another story discussing the situation and then patiently responds to many comments in the thread below it. Discussing Tacoma's publicly owned Click! network, he notes that Tacoma's investment benefited everyone:

Click being built actually helped what has become Qwest and Comcast: by creating a market and making it feasible for professionals who need high-speed Internet access in Tacoma to live there, Click spurred the two incumbents to improve their networks, compete, and gain new revenue. Comcast actually thanked Tacoma Power publicly years ago; not sure it would today, but it was seen as a big boost for the viability of competitive broadband.

Photo used under creative commons license from flickr.

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