Tag: "utility"

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.

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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