TCL&P Fiber, which launched earlier this fall, has doubled its subscriber base over the last six weeks. It now has 88 active users, with 17 additional ready to go online and 64 on the waitlist.
Less than seven months has passed since the city of Anacortes, Washington (pop. 17,000) connected the very first subscriber in a pilot project for its municipal network. In the interim, thousands of households have signed up, construction continues at full-steam, and local officials are looking forward to years of providing fast, affordable, reliable service to those living on Fidalgo Island.
Five Years in the Making
We’ve been following Anacortes since 2015, when the city first began discussing the issue, watching as as local leaders and stakeholders assessed community needs, the state of broadband in the area, and options available to them, and much has changed. Read through our previous coverage if you’re interested in how things unfolded, but by the early part of 2019 the city had decided to pass on the other options and build, maintain, and operate the network themselves.
Access-Anacortes, the municipal network borne out of that decision, is approaching the end of a two-year pilot project which by all metrics has been successful. In an interview, Emily Schuh (Administrative Services Director) and Jim Lemberg (Municipal Broadband Business Manager) shared what they’ve learned and how things are going. Throughout 2019 and 2020, construction has passed just over 1,000 premises and achieved a 39.6% take rate, surpassing the 35% bar they set early on, in three pilot areas which sit on the north side and down the middle of town. The city owns, maintains, and operates the network, with the library serving as the center of operations. Access-Anacortes consists almost entirely of new construction, though it does use some of the city’s internal backbone fiber — which itself is only a handful of years old — as well.
The green, yellow, and orange...Read more
An article by Ammon's own Bruce Peterson explains how this model in Idaho works. From the May/June 2018 Broadband Communities Magazine. It explores how the model works for residents, providers, and the municipality.
Traverse City has officially launched its new municipal Fiber-to-the-Home network in the northern Michigan town of 15,000. The city's municipal electric utility, Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P), owns the network and operates it in a partnership with Fujitsu, with the latter building and initially helping operate it, but turning management over to TCLP as the city utility feels comfortable with each aspect of the operation.
TCL&P Fiber is being built incrementally, starting in the downtown area where the economic heart of the community lies. The first phase is estimated to cost $3.5 million and will offer 2,200 locations service. The rest of the community will be connected in coming years and perhaps ultimately areas outside the current electric footprint.
Getting up to Speed
Traverse City has been working in the communications space for more than 10 years with dark fiber leases to major anchor institutions and key economic entities. In more recent years they were providing free Wi-Fi downtown while considering how to improve Internet access to smaller businesses and residents. For years, they examined various options, with serious consideration of an open access network where the city would build the infrastructure but other ISPs would use it to connect customers.
In an interview today, TCL&P Executive Director Tim Arends told us that they moved on this project after sensing a lot of pent up demand for better service — with speed, reliability, and especially customer service as common complaints with existing service. Though TCL&P did not name check the existing providers, AT&T DSL and Charter Spectrum cable are the main incumbent providers.
In 2017 TCL&P's Board voted unanimously to move forward with a citywide fiber approach but did not plan to be a retail provider themselves. But in 2019, a new plan with Fujitsu evolved into the current approach.
Last year,...Read more
WGBH asks if municipal broadband is an answer to Worcester's Internet challenges. Looks at two other Massachusetts networks, Chicopee and Shrewsbury, that have different muni broadband approaches.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made it difficult for local governments to hold in-person meetings, but the people of Block Island, Rhode Island, didn’t let it get in the way of bringing better connectivity to their community.
Late last month, voters in Block Island’s sole town of New Shoreham gathered (at safe distances) in the local school building and on its grounds to approve $8 million in borrowing to build an island-wide, municipal fiber network. Residents were overwhelmingly in favor of funding the broadband network, which would be the first of its kind in the state.
Townspeople and visitors alike have been dissatisfied with communications services on the island for many years. In response, the town built a fiber network to connect anchor institutions last year. Now, New Shoreham is preparing to expand its fiber network to island homes and businesses.
“I believe the vote to authorize the pursuit of the island-wide broadband will prove to be a transformational vote in this town’s history,” Town Manager Jim Kern told the Block Island Times. “And the level of support for the proposal reflected that.”
Coastal Community Needs Connectivity
New Shoreham is home to about 1,000 year-round residents, but the island, located about 9 miles south of the Rhode Island mainland and 14 miles east of Long Island, New York, is a popular destination for summer tourists. More than 40% of Block Island is currently protected via conservation easements.
Local officials have been working to improve broadband access on Block Island for several years. As an island, the community faces unique challenges in providing utility services, like broadband access, to its residents, businesses, and visitors. Currently, slow and unreliable DSL, satellite, and mobile services are the only...Read more
Iowa is home to many community networks, from co-ops to muni cable, fiber, and other technologies. Three communities in the state have just recently made important announcements about their plans, and several others are moving forward with networks. There is so much happening in Iowa right now that shows potential for other states that don't limit competition.
There is a long history of local broadband excellence in Iowa for new networks to draw on. Cedar Falls Utilities was just recognized as the fastest ISP in the nation by PCMag. It has well over 20 years of success, but recent years have seen it sharing its expertise and facilities to lower the cost for other communities to build networks without reinventing the wheel. Local private Internet service provider ImOn is also a partner for these networks, offering voice services.
Many of these networks being built will be able to share services and lower their costs by being on the same ring to get some scale benefits despite being smaller communities. I remember many years ago when Eric Lampland of Lookout Point started pushing for this ring, and I am dumbfounded why we don't see more of this cooperation among munis and small providers in other states. Thanks to Eric and Curtis Dean of SmartSource Consulting who helped me with background for this Iowa update.
We have a brief mention of West Des Moines's recently announced partnership with Google Fiber in here, but we're finishing a longer post that solely examines their approach. Between this, that, and our Coon Rapids podcast this week, it is officially Iowa week on MuniNetworks.org!
Vinton's new municipal fiber network has just started connecting subscribers, leading to a memorable testimonial in the local paper, Vinton Today:
As a gal that uses the Internet every day, and as someone who had the chance to briefly use...
Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) started its broadband division WhipCity Fiber and the buildout of their network five years ago. The project started with only serving Westfield, but WG+E is now contracting with other small towns in Massachusetts to assist in building and potentially operating their own fiber networks.
Today, WG+E is slated to help connect 12,400 households in 20 Massachusetts towns over the next 10 years. In order to do this, WG+E and WhipCity Fiber will receive more than $10 million over the next ten years through the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction, which awarded $1.5 billion in subsidies to broadband providers to expand rural connectivity across the nation. The 20 towns that are partnering with WG+E to build fiber networks are: Alford, Ashfield, Blandford, Becket, Charlemont, Chesterfield, Colrain, Cummington, Goshen, Heath, Leyden, New Ashford, New Salem, Otis, Plainfield, Rowe, Shutesbury, Washington, Wendell, and Windsor.
Adapting While Expanding
Westfield has been slowly building out its network, which is owned and operated by WG+E, and it is now roughly 75 percent complete. Lisa Stowe, the communications manager at WG+E, said that they temporarily paused new installations in Westfield due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, she is hopeful that they will begin connecting new customers and resume their buildout of the network this year.
To construct the WhipCity Fiber network, Westfield issued a $15 million bond. The city must pay down that bond and do routine updates to the network as they continue expanding. Stowe explained that they are well on track to having the network fully constructed within their original six year timeline.
WG+E has been adaptable during the ongoing pandemic. In partnership with the state, they have helped install nine free Wi-Fi hotspots in the region with more on the way. Additionally, as a stopgap for not being able to connect new...Read more
While large Internet service providers routinely face some of the lowest customer satisfaction rates in the country, municipal broadband networks, like FairlawnGig in Fairlawn, Ohio, have set themselves apart by offering superior customer service to residents and businesses.
Case in point: recent subscriber surveys from FairlawnGig revealed that 94% of residential respondents were satisfied with their service from the community-owned network. Businesses in Fairlawn also appreciate the municipal fiber provider. A similar survey given to businesses showed that about 700 jobs — at least — can be directly ascribed to the FairlawnGig network.
“Our customer service revolves around our building a strong and diverse network to our residents and businesses,” Fairlawn Deputy Director of Public Service Ernie Staten said in a press release. “We have the extremely high customer satisfaction scores to prove it.”
Numbers Don’t Lie
FairlawnGig conducted its survey of residential subscribers at the end of April and found an astonishingly high rate of satisfaction among those surveyed. Overall, 94% of respondents said they were satisfied with the service and 77% reported that they were “very satisfied,” which is impressive even with an accuracy range of plus or minus four percentage points. Another three quarters of survey takers said that FairlawnGig’s customer service is “excellent.”
In addition, about half of respondents said that FairlawnGig was “extremely important” in their choice to live or stay in the community. And the survey found that activities like working from home and streaming movies and other entertainment increased after residents started subscribing to FairlawnGig’s Internet access.
A survey given to businesses in March revealed similar satisfaction with FairlawnGig. About half of...Read more
Yesterday, the Transnational Institute (TNI) released The Future Is Public, a book that explores international municipalization efforts and the benefits of public ownership. In addition to tracking the successful transition of water, waste, energy, and other essential services to public ownership in hundreds of communities, the book describes how local governments in the United States have increasingly invested in municipal broadband networks.
Chapter 9, “United States: Communities providing affordable, fast broadband Internet” [pdf], analyzes the significant growth of publicly owned broadband networks across the country. The co-authors Thomas M. Hanna, Research Director at the Democracy Collective, and Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Network initiative, explain in the chapter:
In the United States, one of the fastest growing areas of municipalisation and local public ownership is high-speed broadband Internet networks. This is due, in part, to the failure of the highly concentrated, corporate-dominated telecommunications sector to provide fast and affordable service in many parts of the country – especially rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and communities with low levels of income and economic development.
Download The Future is Public and the chapter on municipal broadband on TNI’s website.
Municipal Broadband’s “Proven Track Record”
Tens of millions of Americans still don’t have access to broadband, and Hanna and Mitchell point to telecom monopolies as the reason for the disparity. “A corporate oligopoly in the telecommunications sector is a major reason why wide swathes of the country (both geographically and socioeconomically) are left with inferior or unaffordable service,” they argue.
As case studies, the chapter features several local governments that have responded to inadequate connectivity by building their own fiber optic networks to connect residents and businesses, including Wilson, North Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and...Read more