Tag: "utility"

Posted December 17, 2009 by christopher

Highland, Illinois, having overwhelmingly approved a referendum in April, 2009 to own and operate a fiber-to-the-premises system, has continued to examine the potential for a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network. Most of the local government is supportive but one councilmember is vehemently opposed, leading to a ""boom or bust?" article in the local paper.

Interestingly, the city had a significant outage in 2008 due to a fiber cut outside of town.

The new redundancy brought by fiber that would mean a decrease in the chances for a repeat of the winter 2008 when a third-party contractor working to put up a communications tower for AmerenIP cut a fiber optic cable near Maryville, knocking out phone service, most cellular services and Internet service in Highland for nearly seven hours, Latham [city manager] said.

Worried about the future, Latham then spoke with the incumbent provider:

“There was another one for a short span six weeks after that and I spoke with a Verizon official if there were any plans to come in a build a tieback to create redundancy and they said no. The city is fighting for the best interests of this community.”

Whether Highland can get broadband stimulus funding in round 2 or not, they are on the right path for ensuring their community is ready for the future.

Posted November 2, 2009 by christopher

Tacoma's Click! network, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, has announced a coming price hike to cover increased costs for carrying channels.

Tacoma's Click! network is a long-standing example of a community coming together to solve a common problem - ensuring they have the telecommunications infrastructure necessary for success in the modern world. Being built before FTTH was viable, the network is a combination of fiber and coaxial cable.

More importantly, they have enacted important rules to ensure everyone has access to the network:

Click’s low-income and senior customers will continue to receive a 20 percent discount, Anderson added.

The reason for the price increase is not to generate profits for absentee shareholders, but due to an increase in programming costs:

Click officials said the primary driver behind the proposed customer rate increases is newly imposed “retransmission” fees by local broadcasters. In all, Click faces about $750,000 of the new fees in 2009 and 2010, Wykstrom said.

Facing declining advertising revenues and increased costs caused by the recent change to all-digital formats, local broadcasters required the payments when negotiating new agreements with Click, officials said. In the past, local broadcasts were provided free of charge to Click.

“They basically held us hostage,” said Diane Lachel, Click’s government and community relations manager.

Posted October 22, 2009 by christopher

For another real-world example of how companies respond to public entry into the telecom market (as opposed to theoretical arguments about crowding out investment), let's look back down to Lafayette and how cable incumbent Cox responded:

“Cox froze the cable rates in Lafayette, and they didn’t freeze the rates in other areas,” said Terry Huval, director of LUS, a municipally owned utility company which fought major incumbent opposition before building an FTTH network in Lafayette and starting to offer service earlier this year. “We figured our citizens saved over $3 million in cable rates even before we could offer them service.”

I have yet to see a cable company leave a market or reduce investment following the introduction of a public competitor. The opposite tends to happen - they increase investment and often drop prices or leave them lower than in surrounding, non-competitive areas. Often, the rates are not really advertised but if you call from the competitive area, they will offer a better deal:

Trae Russell, communications manager for EATEL, the local telephone franchise in Ascension, La., and some surrounding communities, had seen the same thing happen in his area, when EATEL started offering FTTH-based services in 2006. In fact, EATEL went so far as to take out an ad in the Lafayette newspaper, alerting cable customers there to the discounts that Ascension customers were getting and forecasting similar lower rates in Lafayette once the LUS network was in the works.

“It was an incredibly bold move on our part,” Russell said. “Cox came in with an incredibly aggressive promotion for TV service with every bell and whistle you could imagine. We couldn’t figure out how they could even make money on it. So we took out an ad in the Lafayette newspaper that basically said, ‘Hey Lafayette, look at the great prices you are going to get from Cox.’ Cox was not amused.”

This is also a lesson for those who want to build a public network. Don't expect to win just because you have a better service and you offer lower prices from what was available before a competing network is built. The incumbent has often already paid off its network. Additionally, incumbents are often larger companies that pay less for their television contracts, so they can lower prices farther than one might...

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Posted September 28, 2009 by christopher

On Tuesday, September 15, EPB, the public power utility serving Chattanooga and nearby communities in Tennessee, rolled out fully fiber-powered triple-play services to 17,000, a number expected to grow by July 2010, when services will be available to some 100,000 people and businesses. It will take three years before all 160,000 potential subscribers are passed.

Chattanooga has had a relatively rough time creating the network due to the litigious nature of its incumbents, who have filed 4 lawsuits to stop the project only to have each of them dismissed by the courts. (This is a predictable outcome, many of these companies file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate communities with lost time and legal fees - leading to a no-lose situation for companies that invest more in lawyers than in the networks communities need in the modern economy.)

Prices and Options

All broadband speeds are symmetrical; prices by month

Option Price
15 Mbps $57.99
20 Mbps $69.99
50 Mbps $174.99
15 Mbps and basic phone $68.83
15 Mbps / basic phone / basic cable $92.97
15 Mbps/ phone & 120 min long distance / 77 Channels $117.24

Caveats: an extra $5.99 a month for HD Capability on the TV, but even the basic phone package comes with caller ID and 3-way calling

The Tennessee Cable and Telecommunications Association kicked off the lawsuits in 2007 and Comcast chimed in a year later. As has been done in other communities, the private companies alleged the power utility was cross-subsidizing its triple-play telecom offering with revenues from the electric side. Aside from this just being a poor business practice, the companies say such cross-subsidization would be unfair to them even as major carriers routinely cross-subsidize from community to community - overcharging in non-competitive markets to make up for keeping prices low in competitive markets.

Nonetheless, public power companies and other public agencies have learned to keep meticulous books to show they are not cross-subsidizing, something courts recognize each time their time is wasted by lawsuit-happy incumbent providers.

EPB has long offered some telecom...

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Posted September 24, 2009 by christopher

Glenn Fleishman, of the excellent Wi-Fi Net News, recently interviewed Mike McGinn, a candidate for Mayor of Seattle that has talked frequently about the need for a publicly owned full fiber network in the City.

Larger cities have been slow to move on publicly owned broadband, in part because they typically already have some level of service available throughout the city (though perhaps not universally). Fleishman rightly notes this:

But is the fact that people can “only” get slow Internet connections enough to float $450 million in bonds, however financed? McGinn says that there are two separate reasons to push for universal availability. “Access to the Internet is access to the economy, access to the community, in some cases access to democracy, access to issues,” he says. But it’s also about the bottom line: “It’s an essential [piece of] infrastructure to compete in a world economy.”

Fleishman also notes a concern frequently cited by incumbent carriers who don't want a public network to compete against:

There have been many concerns raised about public entities, especially those with regulatory power over competitors–such as Seattle’s cable franchise board that controls access to public rights of way and facilities–entering the broadband market. But most of those concerns imply that the market will solve the problem. However, with no requirement for building out service to all customers, or having the same level of service available, an efficient market won’t provide universal coverage.

In my experience, this is a theoretical fear. Typically, when a community decides to build its own network, the incumbents rush to upgrade their infrastructure (often after denying that they thought there was a need for faster services in the area). If local governments were abusing their authority over the right of way, you can bet there would have been lawsuits filed - these incumbents have sued over everything else. I do not know of a single successful lawsuit against a local government for what would be a violation of law.

Getting back to the interview, they discuss both Lafayette, Louisiana:

The reason for the fight wasn’t about the right to 500 channels, about low prices, or about the city wanting a piece of the action. It was about the city’s desire to have 21st...

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Posted September 4, 2009 by christopher

Johnson City, Tennessee, is considering the pros and cons of expanding the fiber network its public electrical utility is installing to connect substations in order to improve grid reliability. They may follow the example of many other Tennessee public utilities that have offered broadband services to residents, creating competition in a sector sorely needing it.

They will need to speed the process along if they are going to get any stimulus money - many communities have been considering these options for longer and are ready with plans.

When Johnson City first considered connecting the substations, providers opposed it, afraid they would ultimately offer broadband services to residents. These providers said they already had fiber and would be happy to connect the substations at a "fraction of what JCPB [Johnson City Power Board] is about to spend."

Undoubtedly, they were comparing the costs of building a public network against the costs of leasing services for one year. Johnson City was smart to rebuff them and pursue owning the fiber - companies like Charter and Comcast don't make a profit by offering fair prices on connectivity (in fact, Charter is still bankrupt despite overcharging for its slow broadband speeds). Communities that own their fiber (regardless of whether they offer retail services to businesses and residents) find that they get better services at lower costs than when leasing connectivity.

These cable companies in Tennessee are brutal - they abuse the courts with frivolous lawsuits (that are frequently thrown out at the first opportunity) and invent data to suggest public ownership is a poor choice. Ultimately, Johnson City Power Board will have to choose what makes sense based on the numbers, not on fearmongering from companies that are just trying to protect high profits protected by a lack of competition.

Posted September 3, 2009 by christopher

Catching up a variety of recent stories:

  • An article from the Lafayette Advertiser notes: LUS Fiber plans faster rollout. Community networks are frequently attacked by incumbent groups and private providers for failing to immediately turn a profit after launching a network (something we have addressed here). LUS Fiber wisely started slow and will now start to ramp up the number of customers as they progress further along the learning curve of running the fiber-optic network.

    logo-LUS.gif

    As LUS Fiber passes the six-month mark, officials are planning to significantly increase the number of customers and areas that receive television, telephone and Internet service.

    The system launched in some areas of the city in February, and thus far, the rollout has been somewhat slower than many anticipated. Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval said the process hasn't gone faster because of a desire to focus on providing high-quality customer service.

    "This is a new business," Huval said. "I intentionally held back because I wanted to make sure that every attempt we made to serve a customer was the best we could deliver. Now, we can start really accelerating."

  • A commentary worth reading: American broadband infrastructure: A national embarrassment

    Several months ago, I visited the Netherlands and had the rare opportunity to be personally embarrassed by our terrible broadband infrastructure. The Dutch were literally making fun of me. The fact that our country, with its vast resources and its illustrious history -- Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs -- has such terrible internet service should be an outright national scandal.

  • If you live in Seattle and want to get involved in telecommunications issues, the city is looking for tech advisors. More details about the Citizens' Telecommunications and...

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Posted July 10, 2009 by christopher

Another in the series of Municipal FTTH snapshots from Broadband Properties Magazine, Gainesville Regional Utilities network is a utility owned fiber network that is slowly working its way to citywide coverage. They serve the city and surrounding unincorporated areas.

The article covers their biggest challenges - including the importance of educating the population as to why the utility upgraded to fiber-optic connections.

Posted July 7, 2009 by christopher

From the intro:

Clark McLeod, the founder and former chairman and CEO of Iowa-based CLEC McLeod USA, announced his latest project: OpportunityIowa, a grass-roots non-profit aimed at educating Iowans on fiber to the premises (FTTP) and convincing them to create municipal communication utilities — if for no other reason than just to keep their options open.

This is a good short article looking at an initiative that unfortunately did not go very far in Iowa. McLeod explained some of the thoughts behind it:

The larger service providers in Iowa have categorically stated they are not putting in FTTP, and there's no need for it. We want both private industry and municipal options open. But quite frankly, unless private industry steps up to FTTP right now, it's up to municipalities to drive that issue in the state. In Iowa, we know the municipal model works because we have 20 municipalities providing services at rates far below the incumbents'. We at OpportunityIowa have said a network that's open to multiple carriers is the right model. However, all we want citizens to do today is vote on a municipal communications utility. Once that group is put in place, that commission will look at the alternatives.

Posted June 30, 2009 by christopher

Broadband Property's Muni FTTH Snapshot for Reedsburg, Wisconsin, offers some details on one of the earliest muni fiber deployers. They started in 2002 and began offering services in 2003. The network is run by the public utility, Reedsburg Utility Commission.

They offer a 10 Mbps symmetrical connection for $49.95/month and a very low churn rate.

The economic impact has been significant:

In April 2007 Reedsburg businesses participated in a groundbreaking research project conducted through Reedsburg Utility Commission and the Fiber-to-the-Home Council. The survey, which had a 23 percent response rate, found that the speed, bandwidth, reliability, pricing and customer service provided by Reedsburg’s fiber optic network helped them make operations easier, increase efficiency and save time.

Most of RUC’s business fiber customers were using their broadband connections for research, document transfer, and purchasing. Other uses included banking, advertising, customer service, employee training, online sales and telework.

Six in ten Reedsburg business customers reported cost savings from fiber averaging more than $20,000 per year. Half said they were able to adopt new and more efficient processes, and 46 percent cited marketing benefits. Forty one organizations, or 10 percent of all the businesses in Reedsburg, reported that their sales had increased as a result of their fiber connections, and an overall net increase in employment of 19.8 percent was attributed to fiber.

Extrapolating from the sample, the estimated benefit to the community as a whole amounts to $1.85 million per year in additional sales and a net cost savings of $4.4 million per year.

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