As we greet each holiday season, we try to re-live the classic creations from years gone by and treasure hoilday memories the creative writers at MuniNetworks.org have developed to enjoy the season. Four years ago, Tom Ernste and Hannah Trostle wrote “Twas the Night Before Muni Fiber” which has always been one of our favorites.
Both authors have journeyed on to other careers but we get to keep their contributions to ILSR’s work, including this poem in the style of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore. We've made it a tradition each year to publish the piece for new readers.
With an incredible resource such as the Greenlight Community Broadband Network in town, leaders in Willson, North Carolina, have the ability to pursue any number of innovations. This past November, Greenlight, Wilson Community College, and the Gig East Exchange held their first Fiber Boot Camp, a training program to certify people interested in working as fiber optic technicians.
Accessibility for Students
The boot camp was borne from a prior course that lasted 10 weeks. The longer course filled up quickly and, recognizing the need for the training, Manager of Outside Plant Gene Scott and his team realized that a more intensive, but shorter course could benefit people from other communities.
“The class filled to capacity right quick. People came from as far away as Salisbury to attend, a two-hour drive each way once a week, for 10 weeks.”
He added, “Affordability was a big factor in our approach. Most fiber certification classes run a few thousand dollars. We want this untapped workforce to have a chance at this training. Our 10-week course was $140.”
The course received an outpouring of positive feedback.
When they realized the high demand for the training and that people all over the state were interested in the course, they knew that making the course a fit for people from other areas of the state would pay off.
“What if we had a fiber boot camp. Something where folks did not have to drive back and forth, but could stay here and get 10 weeks of training in five days?”
“To our amazement,” Scott said, “we had representatives from as far away as Asheville sign up.”
Islesboro Municipal Broadband (IMB) is about to celebrate its second birthday. Instead of two candles on a cake, the community has around 630 lit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) subscriptions to mark the occasion. With more than 90 percent of the premises on the island connected to the network, the community can revel in its accomplishment as it considers the future.
Super Affordable, Super Satisfied
Residents pay only $360 per year to connect to the gigabit service, which has become part of the "fabric of the island" says Roger Heinen, Selectman who's part of the Islesboro Broadband Committee. Property owners also pay a modest increase in property taxes to satisfy the municipal bond the community issued to pay for deployment. In total, most property owners pay less than $85 per month for gigabit connectivity and the optional voice service from GWI. In addition to bringing fast and affordable high-quality Internet access to the community, Roger says that its reliability is so consistent that he thinks people have forgotten what the situation was like before the community network served the island community.
Subscribers report high satisfaction with IMB on biannual surveys. While there are still a few people in the community that have not connected to the IMB, he speculates that those people aren't interested in connecting in any way.
Every connection in Islesboro provides gigabit Internet access and, according to Roger, the decision to limit offerings to one tier was a way for the community to reduce costs. There's no need for complicated inventories of different types of gear, they know that every premise has the same gear and level of service, making billing easier and more streamlined, and they received a substantial discount because they bought so many of the same type of electronics. They knew that standardization would simplify and reduce costs and wanted gigabit service because it accommodates future innovation that demands more capacity.
In order to fund the deployment, Islesboro bonded $3.8 million to deploy the dark fiber network infrastructure. The infrastructure belongs to Islesboro, which maintains it. GWI, a Maine Internet access...
For the third year, the Internet Society worked with locals to hold an annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit as a way to teach and share information. In November, participants collaborated to deploy a fixed wireless community broadband network in a small village in Hawai'i and Christopher had the chance to participate.
While he was there, he interviewed Matt Rantanen, Director of Technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association, and Brandon Makaawaawa, Deputy Head of State for Nation of Hawai‘i. Christopher, Matt, and Brandon discuss the summit and the need for connectivity in Pu‘uhonua o Waimānalo, the village where summit participants worked with local indigenous folks to build the network in just a few days.
Brandon talked about some of the obstacles that have faced the people of the Nation of Hawai'i and how those obstacles have put them on the wrong side of the digital divide. Without sovereign nation status, like many other indigenous people in the U.S., Brandon's people don't have access to funding. When the opportunity to work with the Internet Society to establish a community network arose, the village jumped at the chance as a way to learn and teach others in Hawai'i.
Multichannel News recently published an informative and detailed look at municipal networks and the surge in interest that communities have exhibited as they've explored ways to improve local connectivity. Author Mike Farrell provides an indepth examination some of the many local communities that have used fiber optic connectivity to attract job creators and some of the common challenges they've encountered.
Still Some Opposition
As Farrell notes, several candidates for President have mentioned funding for municipal networks in their platforms, bringing more attention to publicly owned Internet networks. The interest has been growing for some time, however, as has opposition. Farrell writes:
But no matter which side you’re on, one thing is increasingly clear: municipal broadband is gaining steam and some communities are finding innovative ways to finance and maintain projects. And the risk, as many areas are finding out, is becoming worth it.
When Farrell spoke with the NCTA - The Internet & Television Association (formerly the National Cable & Telecommunications Association), which lobbies on behalf of large and small Internet service providers, they indicated a dislike of competition:
“Broadly, we support government programs that dedicate money to building networks where they don’t exist or make economic sense for private ISPs to build, and believe that taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize competition where networks already exist,” NCTA senior vice president, strategic communications Brian Dietz said in an email message.
Here and There
Farrell covers communities where networks have been serving the public for years and in places where locals have only recently decided to make the investment. One of the places Farrell writes about, which many other authors have covered, is Chattanooga, Tennessee:
When municipalities want to talk about successes, they usually point to Chattanooga, which built its broadband network in 2009 and became the first municipality in the country to offer 1 Gigabit per second Internet service city-wide. That “Gig City” designation made the community a magnet for business. According to a study by the University of Tennessee, broadband helped drive about $1.3 billion in economic development...
Whenever Christopher attends a Broadband Communities event, he returns with great stories from cities and towns across the U.S. that have invested in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. This week, we share his interview with Mel Poole, Ocala Fiber Network Director.
You may automatically think of Kentucky when you consider horses, but Ocala, Florida, is considered the "Horse Capital of the World." Fast thoroughbreds may end up at The Derby, but they often start in Ocala. Whether it's gigabits or galloping horses, Ocala has found a way to capitalize on the concept of speed.
The city first began with publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure for SCADA operations and later expanded their use to reduce telecommunications costs. Since ending leased T1 lines, the city has saved millions and taken control of connectivity. That was before Mel worked for the city, but he's well-versed in the story of the Ocala Fiber Network, and describes how they expanded to offer services to more sectors of the community.
Mel and Christopher talk about the city's decision to begin working with the public and how, by educating local decision makers, Mel and his team were able to help them make an informed choice. As Ocala worked with more entities, they've also faced challenges related to deployment and marketing. There's a fine line they need to walk between spreading the word about great service and their ability to connect subscribers in a timely fashion. Christopher and Mel talk about demographics, economic development, and Mel's vision for Ocala that's tied into their fiber optic infrastructure.
Anacortes, Washington, is ready to serve fast, reliable, and affordable fiber Internet access to its residents. The city is rolling out fiber to three pilot areas by the third quarter of 2020 and hopes to have citywide fiber coverage by 2023. Anacortes Fiber Internet began taking subscription sign-ups in October. The move is a major milestone in a plan that started more than three years ago, as the community looked for ways to improve communications between utility facilities, later expanding to establish this large pilot project.
Rapid Progress Expected
Residents and businesses living in the first pilot area, Central Business District, can expect so obtain fiber Internet access before the end of the year. Old Town is scheduled to finish within the first quarter of 2020 and M Avenue is set for the third quarter of 2020. Emily Schuh, Anacortes Administrative Service Director, hopes to have fiber Internet access available citywide by 2023.
For a one-time $100 installment fee, residents can expect to pay $39 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or $69 per month for 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access. Businesses can subscribe to $89 per month for 100 Mbps or $149 a month for 1 Gbps. All speeds are symmetrical.
The city used the unconventional method of putting fiber optics in conduit within existing water pipe infrastructure. Using this strategy, the city will not have to concern themselves with road closures or storm damage. Since the fiber optics aren’t in contact with water, it has no impact on the water quality and has been greenlit by Department of Health. "Why didn't we think of this? You're just putting a water pipe inside a water pipe and then putting fiber optics in there,” said Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer.
In late October 2019, Christopher travelled to the D.C. area to attend a Broadband Communities Economic Development event and while he was there, he sat down with Executive Director Adrianne Furniss and Senior Fellow Jon Sallet from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. This week, we get to sit in on their conversations about the recent change at Benton from "foundation" to "institute" and about their recent report, Broadband for America's Future: A Vision for the 2020s.
First, Christopher speaks with Adrianne, who discusses the reasons why the organization has recently changed in order to stay current with their mission and with the times. She talks a little about the history of Benton and describes some of the reasons for developing the report.
Christopher spends most of the interview with Jon Sallet, who authored the report and who has a long career in antitrust and communications. After working in D.C. in telecommunications and Internet policy for several decades, he's seen the influence of the Internet grow. In this report, Jon analyzes stories and situations from around the U.S. and establishes a vision that will help us move forward to connect as many people as possible. He and Christopher discuss the four major factors that, if nurtured correctly, can help us integrate broadband into all sectors of society and maximize its usefulness. Christopher and Jon give special time to competition, an issue that arises repeatedly in the work at Benton and in our work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The interview will spark your interest in the report that...
Residents and businesses in Carencro, in the northern region of Lafayette Parish of Louisiana, now have access to LUS Fiber. The expansion is the latest step in efforts to deploy the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to every community within the Parish.
In 2018, the publicly owned network began offering services in Youngsville and Broussard, an expansion that had been more than two years in the making. As the utility adds more expansions to their list of accomplishments, they'll also add knowledge on how to contend with challenges and demand will grow.
According to Teles Fremin, Interim Director of LUS Fiber:
“The residents of Carencro have expressed their interest in LUS Fiber for many years. We are extremely honored that so many residents throughout Lafayette Parish appreciate the value that LUS Fiber can bring to their communities.”
Local leaders in Carencro look forward to the economic development potential that comes with bringing fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to the community of about 9,000. The suburb of Lafayette has shown slow but steady population growth since 2000, and high-quality Internet access will keep that trend alive.
Currently, much of the residential community relies on Cox Cable and AT&T DSL for Internet access. Businesses have very little access to fiber connectivity; LUS Fiber will be able to fill that gap.
Carencro Mayor Glenn Brasseaux:
“The tremendous growth in residential and commercial development in Carencro makes this a great time for LUS Fiber to offer services here. We welcome LUS Fiber and are pleased that our citizens and businesses will have a range of advanced options to choose from for their telecommunications needs.”
Learn More About LUS Fiber
In 2018, Christopher has a great interview with Terry Huval, one of the men who spearheaded the development of the network and has since retired from the utility. Check out the interview to learn more about the development of LUS Fiber:
After five years of planning, meetings, and overcoming obstacles, the town of Estes Park has officially launched its Trailblazer Broadband Internet service to pilot neighborhoods.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
The Broadband journey started back 2015 when the residents of Estes Park experienced catastrophic outages due to ice and flooding which led to long telecommunications outages. It bacame obvious to community leaders that the town needed a different solution that entailed reliability and redundancy, not available from the incumbent provider. The city held a referendum and with the support of 92 percent of those voting, the town of Estes Park opted out of SB 152.
Fast, Affordable, Reliable Connectivity for Residents and Tourists
Estes Park, considered the gateway to the Rock Mountain National Park, depends on its tourism industry and current Internet speeds may deter vacation goers who need to remain connected to work during time away from work. With the introduction of high-quality Internet access at their resorts and lodging, Estes Park will have an edge over their competition as well as ensuring future economic development opportunities for the entire region.
For town officials, staff, and the majority of residents, the implementation of high-quality Internet access is a welcomed project.
The expected project construction cost is around $26 million. Based on an anticipated take rate of 30 - 40 percent, the community expects to pay off the investment in 10 - 12 years.
Trailblazer Broadband is being rolled out to pilot neighborhoods and is expected to serve the entire town in three to five years. The schedule is based primarily on construction feasibility, population density, and potential revenue.
Check out this marketing video on Trailblazer Broadband: