Tag: "muni"

Posted March 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

Whip City Fiber has big plans to serve more residents in its hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts, and is already helping some of its neighbors as they seek better connectivity.

Expanding At Home

In February, Westfield City Council unanimously approved the municipal utility’s request for a $15 million bond to fund expansion to more areas of the city. Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity is currently available to approximately 15 percent of the city. The additional funds will allow Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) to expand the network to about 70 percent of the community, or about 10,000 additional households. WG+E is planning the expansion on a two-year timeline.

As in the past, WG+E will use the “fiberhood” approach, giving priority to neighborhoods with the highest interest. They will also consider seasonal practicalities and the locations of existing infrastructure. According to their announcement, they will be installing overhead services this month and will begin underground installation when the ground thaws.

As Westfield’s FTTH has grown piece by piece, they’ve had opportunities to work out the rough patches and determine what challenges communities in western Massachusetts may face when they build out Internet networks. Now, WG+E is reaching out to other communities who are looking for guidance.

State Finally Releases Funding

A change in recent policy from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has enabled Westfield and it's neighbors to have a little more control over their telecommunications future.

Since 2014, MBI has grappled with how it intends to distribute $50 million worth of state funding designated for communities in need of better connectivity. After several changes in policy, the agency required rural towns to get approval from MBI for business plans and to work with the organization before they could receive funding. The agency and the state have been widely criticized for its heavy-handed, yet slow-footed approach.

In February, representatives from a number of rural towns let MBI officials...

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Posted March 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

Residents and businesses in rural regions between Reno and Las Vegas recently learned that their odds at obtaining high-quality Internet access just went through the roof. A collaboration between county owned Churchill County Communications (CC Communications), the Valley Communications Association of Pahrump (VCA), and Switch technology company to deploy a middle mile fiber-optic backbone will open up a range of possibilities for rural communities along the U.S. Highway 95. The route runs north and south along Nevada's far west, passing through a number of small towns that are welcoming the new alliance.

A Backbone Running North And South

For the past 11 months, CC Communications and the VCA have been working to deploy more than 450 miles of fiber from north to south. Switch provided funding for the deployment to link its data centers in Las Vegas and the Tahoe-Reno area and will also provide funding for expansion to some rural communities. VCA will service the network in the south and Churchill will care for the north section.

Along the backbone, CC Communications and VCA will connect local communities. Beatty, in southern Nevada, plans to be the first use the new infrastructure and to deploy fiber in the community. The unincorporated community is home to about 1,000 people and is about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. According to Valley Electric Association, the rural electric cooperative that owns and operates VCA, they have plans to expand fiber throughout the Beatty community.

“With that backbone, you can link up any town anywhere near it,” said Michael Hengel, spokesman for the Valley Electric Association. “The first all-fiber community in Nevada will be Beatty.”

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Like other rural electric utilities that have chosen to offer broadband, Valley Electric will be using its existing fiber resources initially installed for managing electric distribution for customer connectivity. The cooperative is currently offering fixed wireless Internet access with plans to offer...

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Posted March 4, 2017 by lgonzalez

Tennessee State Senator Janice Bowling, a Republican from Tullahoma, has once again introduced legislation that would help bring high-quality connectivity to rural residents and businesses. The bill is not complicated and would allow municipal electric utilities that offer broadband connectivity to expand beyond their electric service area. In a video from 2015 Senator Bowling takes a few minutes to explain her proposal - to eliminate the restriction and allow places like Tullahoma, Chattanooga, and Clarksville to serve neighboring communities.

This year, the bill that eliminates the restriction is SB 1058 and its House companion is HB 0970 from Representative Dan Howell. For now, her bill is in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee waiting to be heard. Sen. Bolling has also introduced similar bill that allows municipal electric utilities to offer telecommunications service with no geographical limitations.

Senator Bolling gets it. She understands that the people of her district and the rest of rural Tennessee need high-quality connectivity to keep pace with areas that already have such access. We’d like to see more legislators like her who put the needs of their constituents before the interests of the big cable and telephone companies.

In the video Senator Bolling describes why the bill, which she has introduced several times, has not passed. She explains what the bill does legally and practically, and she gives a frank assessment of what the situation is now in many rural areas of her state. Even though the video is from 2015, her comments are still relevant.

The video is short and to the point - only 4:20 - check it out and share.

Posted March 3, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for episode 242 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Our Christopher Mitchell invites Professor Susan Crawford to reflect on her recent travels through North Carolina and Tennessee. Both states have restricted communities from building new municipal networks. Listen to this episode here.

Susan Crawford: It's much more about a very bipartisan, quite progressive group of people thinking about how to make life better in their communities, and that's terrific. That's truly American.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 242 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. We're pleased to have Susan Crawford back on the show this week. She's a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, but she's also served as Special Assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation policy. Susan's CV is too long for us to go through point by point. She's authored several publications, including The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance, and The Telecom Industry and Monopoly power in the New Gilded Age. She's been on the show before to talk with Christopher about access to high-quality connectivity, and it's always a pleasure to have her back. As it turns out, Susan has been on a walkabout of sorts, visiting local communities as she works on her current book, and in this discussion she shares her impressions with Christopher. She's got some ideas on how she feels are the most effective ways to bring better connectivity to the most people, especially in rural areas, and she and Christopher hash through her findings.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey, folks. This is Chris Mitchell, the host of Community Broadband Bits, and I just wanted to ask you if you could do us a real big favor to help us spread this show around. And that's to jump on iTunes or Stitch or wherever you found this show and to give us a rating. Give us a little review. Particularly if you like it. If you don't like it so much then maybe don't do that, but if you're...

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Posted March 1, 2017 by christopher

I have been a Google Fiber supporter, believing that Google's investments and policy goals would move the United States forward, away from the monopolies of entrenched incumbents. When others claimed that Google was abandoning fiber, I argued that Google had not yet decided... it was arguing internally about the right path. 

But now I think it is pretty clear that Google is done with significant fiber investment, particularly for single family residential homes. I have strong doubts that Google will continue with the Huntsville-type approaches of leasing dark fiber, but I hope that will continue.

Google's decision to pursue other, likely more lucrative investments like AI and autonomous driving may be more profitable, but it is certainly disappointing for those of us working to ensure everyone has high quality Internet access.

It is important to note that companies like US Internet, Ting, and Sonic, among others have establishing strong businesses competing against the biggest telephone and cable companies. Google's exit is not evidence that ISPs cannot do well. It is evidence that Google has other opportunities and that its large scale focus on building its own fiber had too slow of a return for its Silicon Valley expectations.

This brings me to something I wrote 5 years ago, not actually expecting that Google would give up after only 5 years. 

If I were moving south of Minnesota in the near future, it would be to Chattanooga or Lafayette, not Kansas City. Who knows what Google will be doing in 5 years? We know exactly what EPB and LUS will be doing.

Wow. I think Kansas City is definitely better off for having worked with Google to enable that network. But there is no doubt in my mind that local investments are a better bet than hoping some distant company will save your community. I think this article understates Google's impact in KC significantly, but we are once again reminded that there is much more to benefiting from a network than simply laying fiber.

There is a lot of work that must be done to take full advantage of a modern network to benefit an entire community. This is why at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we put a greater focus on local investments with...

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Posted February 14, 2017 by christopher

The most rural area of Missouri is getting a Fiber-to-the-Home network from the United Electric Cooperative, which has created United Fiber and is expanding across its footprint and to adjacent areas that want better Internet access. Chief Development Officer Darren Farnan joins us to explain why his co-op has taken these steps.

We discuss how they are rolling it out - focusing on areas that need the service while respecting the telephone cooperatives that are within their electric footprint. The project has benefited from a broadband stimulus award and also incorporates fixed wireless technology in some areas.

We discuss some of the economics behind the project and are sure to clarify that though the utility has needed some capital subisides to build the network, it does not need any operating subsidies to continue - it runs under its own revenue. And we talk about the demand for better, faster connections - it is much higher than most realize.

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

Posted February 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

The city of West Plains, Missouri, is now offering high-quality fiber connectivity up to 1 Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second to local businesses. The community is also exploring the possibility of a pilot project to a limited area of households as the city considers whether or not to also offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).

No Time To Dawdle

According to City Administrator Tom Stehn, the decision to move forward was prompted by the state legislature: first last year's HB 2078 and now by SB 186, which will be heard in committee tomorrow, Feb. 14th. City leaders decided to preserve their local authority by establishing a broadband utility and expanding a plan to improve local connectivity. Since they are up and operating now, they expect to be grandfathered in under the language of the statute.

Open For Business

The network is now serving the West Plains Senior Center and the Ozarks Small Business Incubator. Ozarks Medical Center may soon be on the network and, according to Stehn, the city is still deploying the network but wants to let local businesses know that it is up and running. Access from incumbent providers is available in West Plains, but prices are high and some local businesses report rates up to three times those paid for similar needs in urban areas. City leaders see the network as an economic development tool that will attract new businesses and will help control prices for existing businesses and keep rates in check for residents.

West Plains is home to approximately 12,000 people and the county seat in Howell County. The town is in the center of the county, which is located on the southern border. Missouri State University has a campus at West Plains with a number of Associate degree programs and the community has an airport, the Heart of the Ozarks Fairgrounds, and several private schools in addition to the public school system.

Potential Pilot...

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Posted February 9, 2017 by lgonzalez

Not long ago, FairlawnGig in Ohio began serving businesses with symmetrical connectivity, offering speeds up to 1 Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second. The incremental build is progressing and now the city is offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to residents in Fairlawn.

They Want It

According to a recent Akron Beacon Journal article, demand for residential services is already strong with more than 1,400 subscribers in line for installation; one-third of the installation is now complete. If 4,100 households and businesses in Fairlawn sign up, the city estimates it will break even. In the neighborhood where the first series of installations are taking place, 80 percent of households have signed up.

Fairlawn's goal is not to make profits from its investment; city leaders consider the network an essential piece of infrastructure like roads or sewers. They’ve chosen to fund the investment with municipal bonds, an atypical funding mechanism for Internet infrastructure. Their decision, however, underscores their commitment and belief that better connectivity is an essential service that will keep the community competitive.

“It’s going to make [Fairlawn] much more attractive,” [said local business development manager Mike Perkins]. “Fairlawn is at the forefront and everyone else is going to be playing catch-up.”

Nuts And Bolts Of FairlawnGig

When we interviewed Deputy Director of Public Service Ernie Staten about the project last spring, he described the city’s partnership with Extra Mile Fiber, an Ohio company that collaborates with Fairlawn to provide Internet access services. The city and Extra Mile will share revenue from the service, FairlawnGig.

The first business subscribers connected to the network last summer. Two local hotels anticipated heavy Internet access needs due to the Republican National Convention in August, so the city made a special effort to get them on the network. The RNC was in Cleveland, but attendees were also staying in Fairlawn, about 30...

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Posted February 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

Muscatine, Iowa, is ready to begin its upgrade, bringing municipal cable network customers up to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology. Last week, the Board of Water, Electric & Communications Trustees from Muscatine Power & Water (MP&W) awarded the contract to a firm that will transform the network and bring speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Megabits per second) download tier. No word yet on upload speeds.

As we reported last spring, MP&W is taking a slow march toward finishing this project because there are a number of interlocking pieces that need to fit together correctly. The firm awarded the contract was able to introduce several alternatives that reduced the initial estimate of $8.7 million to $7.5 million. The upgrade will be funded with an interdepartmental loan from the electric utility.

At the same meeting, the Board also reviewed the 2016 budget which came out well for the MachLink communications utility.

Net income of $1,372,919 was budgeted for the communications utility, but actual net income was $2,148,272, with an ending cash balance of $8,257,000. There also is debt of $9,044,000 owed to the electric utility. Gowey said revenues were 3.2 percent over budget, while expenses were 25 percent under.

The upgrade will begin in May and customers are expected to be on the new system as early as August. The project should be completed by the end of 2018.

Posted February 2, 2017 by lgonzalez

Mount Washington has selected a firm to handle the design and construction services for its planned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Mount Washington

This past summer, the community received word that it would receive a $230,000 grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the state agency set up to administer federal and state funds for broadband network deployment. Mount Washington had already obtained special permission from the state legislature to proceed with a network sans a Municipal Light Plant (MLP). In Massachusetts, municipalities are required to establish MLPs to operate and manage any publicly owned Internet network. Because Mount Washington is so small, however, they felt creating another administrative entity would be an undue burden; state legislators agreed and created an exception for them in statute.

This past spring, they released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to locate a firm for design and construction.

An Important Step

The town of 150 full-time residents is located in the far southwest corner of the state and much of the community is covered by forest. The Mount Washington State Forest, the Mount Everett State Reservation, and the Taconic Mountains, give the community its nickname: “The Town Among The Clouds.” Incumbents have shied away from investing in Mount Washington; even plain old telephone service is bad there. 

The town considered participating in the Wired West broadband cooperative, but eventually chose to pursue their own network. Mount Washington’s publicly owned network will connect to MassBroadband 123, the statewide middle mile network. The network will also need to find an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to offer Internet access via the new infrastructure.

In the press release, announcing the decision to move on to the next step:

“High-speed internet access has become an essential service in today’s economy, similar to that of electricity,” said Gail Garrett, Selectboard Member, Town of Mount Washington. “We believe our town...

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