Tag: "muni"

Posted December 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

It was more than two years ago when voters in Vinton, Iowa, resoundingly gave their blessing to the city to form a telecommunications utility. After study and consideration, the municipality is now ready to move from design to deployment.

In mid-December, a Notice to Bidders went out from the Vinton Municipal Electric Utility (VMEU) and the engineering firm working with the community to develop a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. According to the notice, Vinton plans to build the network “in its entirety” over the next year.

According to the media release, the city plans an underground deployment and anticipates the network will include approximately 82 miles of fiber. The Media Release indicates that several RFPs will be forthcoming throughout 2019.

Read the Notice to Bidders Media Release here.

It’s Feasible

In the fall of 2015, after Vinton voters decided 792 to 104 to put VMEU in control of the broadband initiative, it took until early 2017 for the city to hire a firm to develop a feasibility study. Many people in the community of about 5,100 people were tired of poor Internet access via slow DSL. Cable Internet access is available in some areas of town, but both residents and businesses feel that without high-quality connectivity, Vinton will lose out to other Iowa towns  that already have created municipal networks.

Cedar Falls and Waverly are both within an hour's drive north of Vinton. Other communities in Iowa have invested in fiber networks to improve economic development, including Spencer, Lenox, and Harlan.

The feasibility...

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Posted December 24, 2018 by lgonzalez

As authors at MuniNetworks.org have the opportunity to add to our growing cache of holiday-themed, broadband-centric writings, we try to remember to share classics like this one from 2015. “Twas the Night Before Muni Fiber” was crafted by Tom Ernste and Hannah Trostle. Both have moved on to the next phases of their careers but their contributions to ILSR’s work, including this poem in the style of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore will be appreciated for many years to come.

Enjoy, share, and thank you for your support!

 

 

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Posted December 18, 2018 by lgonzalez

When he spoke at the “Free Speech America” Gala in October, did FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly think he would still be explaining himself almost two months later? After trying and failing to justify his false claim that munis violate the First Amendment, he’s once again on the defensive. He's getting no help from the big national ISPs he's trying to support.

“Flirting With A Perverse Form of Socialism"

In October, O’Rielly’s accused municipal networks, including Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics, of violating the First Amendment by limiting subscribers free speech. Journalists and organizations who know better were quick to correct him. In a December 13, 2018, blog post, he lashed out at his critics and tried to defend or explain his earlier comments, but once again missed the mark.

In his newest commentary, O’Rielly dramatically describes local decisions to invest in broadband infrastructure as “flirting with a perverse form of socialism.” He goes on to state that publicly owned networks deter private entities from entering the market. He’s correct if we only consider the large, corporate ISPs that refuse to compete with anyone on order to preserve the characteristics monopolies created through concentration of power: shoddy customer service, unchecked rates, and lackluster Internet access.

If we look at private ISPs more interested in serving the local community than in boosting share prices, however, we see some healthy competition. As in the case of Grant County, Washington, where more than a dozen ISPs offer services via the Grant County PUD open access network, if a private provider doesn't perform to subscriber standards, there are others to try.

Contrary to what Commissioner O'Rielly claims, when local communities invest in infrastructure, it often encourages private invetment. In Longmont, Colorado, incumbents Comcast and CenturyLink upgraded their services to keep up with the local publicly owned NextLight. In West Plains, Missouri, the local cable Internet access company upgraded...

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Posted November 21, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Ninety miles west of Boston, the small town of South Hadley, Massachusetts, will soon have a new, municipal option for Internet access. In October, the South Hadley Electric Light Department (SHELD) Board of Commissioners unanimously approved plans to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout the town of 17,000. The network would bring high-speed fiber connectivity to South Hadley businesses and residents, who can currently choose between Comcast and Verizon for Internet access, while also enabling the municipal electric utility to implement smart grid technologies.

SHELD has been considering offering fiber optic Internet access to residents for several years. After hiring the current General Manager, Sean Fitzgerald, in 2017, management started to seriously examine the possibility of building a FTTH network. “What we’ve really been focused on this last year and a half,” Fitzgerald shared at the SHELD Board of Commissioners meeting, “is being diligent in reviewing the costs, the risks, the economic benefits for our customers and the South Hadley community at large.” In approving the network, Commissioner Vern Blodgett said, “SHELD is really ready financially and management-wise to take on a project like this.”

Smart Grid, Economic Development Benefits

One reason for SHELD’s interest in a fiber network is the potential to deploy Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI). While evaluating plans to provide Internet access, electric department management realized that current meters needed to be replaced, providing a perfect opportunity to upgrade to smart meter technology that could be integrated into the fiber network. This technology could help the utility better manage the electric grid load and respond to outages, ultimately saving SHELD money and improving customer experience. “It’s the future [of electric service],” Fitzgerald explained to the board. “If your power goes out, we will know maybe even before you do.”

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Posted November 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

As LUS Fiber approaches it’s 10th anniversary of bringing fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to the community, there’s a growing interest in their story. We’ve spoken with Terry Huval about the network that beat back the incumbents determined to see it fall. Now that he’s retired, Terry has the time to talk to other media outlets to tell the story of the network. Joey Durel, the City-Parish President who worked side-by-side with Terry and who has since stepped out of that role, is also making sure to share his wealth of knowledge so other communities can learn from Lafayette’s experiences.

The local Discover Lafayette podcast dedicated two episodes to the story of LUS Fiber this fall. Both Terry and Joey appeared along with attorney Pat Ottinger and Mayor-President Joel Robideaux to offer their perspectives on what the infrastructure has offered to the community.

Be sure to check out our extensive coverage on Lafayette and LUS Fiber, including our 2012 report, Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next Generation Networks.

Part one is 38 minutes, part two is 55 minutes.

Part one:

Terry Huval Shares History of LUS Fiber from Discover Lafayette on Vimeo.

Part two:

History of LUS Fiber - Part Two from Discover Lafayette on Vimeo.

Posted November 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

We knew that Longmonters loved their publicly owned network, but recent numbers show how many of them have shunned incumbents to switch. More than half of the market in Longmont has now signed up with NextLight. While NextLight subscribers enjoy fast, affordable, reliable connectivity from their network, benefits from competition are also creating a better environment for Longmonters who have stayed with the incumbents.

When Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) set out to serve the community in 2014, their goal was to reach approximately 37 percent of the market within five years. According to LPC’s Scott Rochat, they’ve blown away that goal and have already reached 54 percent.

No Tricks, Just Gigabits

While large national providers focus their efforts to capture customers with gimmicks such as reduced introductory rates that later increase, LPC has appealed to subscribers with a series of intelligent moves that show their commitment to the community.

At the start of 2018, LPC dropped the cost of their symmetrical gigabit Internet access from $99.95 per month to $69.95 per month. If subscribers have been connected for 12 continuous months, they’re eligible for a loyalty discount which brings the price down another $10 per month. During deployment, LPC created a special program in which folks who signed up for service within three months that service was available in their areas were able to cut yet another $10 per month off their gigabit rate for as long as they stayed connected. These Charter Members are able to take that $49.95 per month rate with them when they move to a different Longmont address where NextLight is available and the rate stays at the premise that they sell.

Approximately 93 percent of NextLight residential subscribers are Charter Members, Rochat told the Times Call. The network currently serves 17,400 premises.

Subscribers who referred friends were also able to get a free month of service for each referral and they had extended the promotion to digital voice service.

Competition=Better Rates, Better Services

The...

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Posted October 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

On October 24th, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly spoke before the Media Institute at their “Free Speech America” Gala. In a speech for the telecom-backed group, O’Rielly delivered exactly what many of the big hitters in the audience would want to hear. He falsely accused, with nothing to back up his claims, municipal networks of posing  an “ominous threat to the First Amendment.”

Whaaaa?

Karl Bode reported on the event, noting that O’Rielly goes on to falsely claim that local governments have or will attempt to limit free speech through municipal networks. Bode immediately addressed the baseless statements and reached out to Christopher, who confirmed that, ”There is no history of municipal networks censoring anyone's speech.” Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica also wrote a well-reasoned article reminding readers that O'Rielly previously called rules to protect against censorshop by ISPs "baseless fearmongering." Huh... that sounds right. 

Apparently, the impressionable O'Rielly had been reading up before his speech and had just put down a copy of a document from the Free State Foundation, an organization funded in part by deep pocketed ISPs. The document implied that community networks would be more likely to interfere with free speech. Such is the disinformation game.

The American Civil Liberties Union has addressed this concern in the past because they oppose any efforts to censor speech, whether by government or corporations. In their paper on municipal broadband networks, they wrote:

And indeed, First Amendment principles prevent the government from targeting certain ideas or viewpoints for censorship or reduced access. Governments risk violating the Constitution if they create blacklists of disfavored websites, only permit access to “approved” websites, engage in content filtering, or ban anonymous online browsing or writing.

Subscribers living in communities with publicly owned networks often boast about how satisfied they are with their connectivity, customer service, and the benefits their networks have brought....

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Posted October 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, Chattanooga’s celebrated as municipal network EPB Fiber Optics announced that they now have more than 100,000 subscribers. The high numbers indicate that the network is serving more than 60 percent of premises in the EPB service area. EPB's success also attests to the popularity of publicly owned Internet infrastructure that is accountable and responsive to the community that both own and use the network.

An Expected Milestone, Big Benefits

Hitting six digit subscribership this fall was no surprise based on rapid growth and intense interest in EPB’s affordable, symmetrical 10 gigabit connectivity along with other available speeds. When the city began serving subscribers in 2009, they based initial figures on an estimate of 35,000 subscribers within five years to break even. Within 18 months, they had already surpassed those goals.

Having paid off remaining debt earlier this year, more revenue is now freed up for more investment back into the system or to put back into the community. The utility is now reinvesting around $42 million per year back into the electric system and power rates are lower for the entire community, regardless of whether or not electric customers are EPB Fiber Optic subscribers.

"Contrary to the fears some had about us spending power funds to pay for this service, our power rates are actually 7 percent lower than they otherwise would be because of our Fiber Optic network and the business it has generated for us," EPB President David Wade said.

In addition to significant savings on power rates, Chattanooga has experienced an influx of economic development as tech companies have come to the city specifically for the network. “Gig City” Mayor Andy Berke:

"Our fiber optic network is today's locomotive that is driving Chattanooga's success and positioning us as a model for other communities. It is a powerful recruiting tool to attract new businesses that need reliable, high quality power and communications, as well as a catalyst for launching startups and expanding our existing...

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Posted October 19, 2018 by lgonzalez

Once again, restrictive state laws designed to help big ISPs maintain their monopolies have helped push a publicly owned network to privatization. Opelika, Alabama, recently announced that they will sell their OPS One fiber optic network to Point Broadband, headquartered in West Point, Georgia. They expect the deal to be finalized in early November.

The Road to Now

The city of Opelika installed the network to overcome poor services from Charter and to improve municipal electric services with smart grid applications. In 2010, Charter’s astroturf campaign to stop the network failed when local voters supported the ballot initiative to build the broadband infrastructure to allow the city to provide services. By 2014, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was making Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) available for residents and businesses; folks in the community were loving the service from Alabama’s “Gig City.”

Nearby communities still stuck with poor Internet access wanted OPS to serve them also and OPS wanted to add more subscribers, but state law prevents Opelika from expanding beyond their current coverage area. As in the case of Bristol, Virginia, when a state prevents a municipal network from growing and increasing revenue, the state makes it difficult for the network to remain sustainable.

Mayor Gary Fuller recently told WLTZ:

“We attempted on three occasions to get the legislature to [allow us to] expand beyond our city limits, into North Auburn and rural Lee County, Beauregard, and we could never do that because we couldn’t get the law changed.”

seal-alabama.png Each attempt to convince lawmakers that Opelika’s neighbors deserve more options than what the incumbents offer have evoked attacks from misinformation groups,...

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Posted October 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

Located only 30 miles east of Houston, it’s hard to believe that Mont Belvieu, Texas, ever had poor Internet access. Faced with complaints from residents and businesses, city officials decided to deploy fiber and bring fast, affordable, reliable gigabit connectivity directly to the community via MB Link.

How to Fix the Problem

While it’s not far from the center of a large metro area, Mont Belvieu still maintains a rural character. The town’s history is based in the oil and natural gas industry, which began in the early 1900s. As City Manager Nathan Watkins told Christopher Mitchell in episode 326 of our podcast, approximately 85 percent of natural gas liquids in the U.S. travel to Mont Belvieu for processing. With more than 10,000 miles of pipeline within their salt domes, the town of 8,000 has become a centerpiece of oil and natural gas processing.

Before MB Link, the community dealt with a patchwork of services offered by several different providers. Even though more than one provider operated in town, they didn’t compete with each other. Without competition, ISPs had no impetus to improve services. Residents complained about DSL download speeds of 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) and cable Internet access download speeds topping out at 5 Mbps. There were even premises that could not obtain Internet access because ISPs reported saturated networks and were not willing to make investments to serve more subscribers.

In 2016, a feasibility study in Mont Belvieu revealed that 60 percent of residents and 79 percent of businesses felt that local Internet access wasn’t adequate for their needs. In the same survey, 90 percent of residents and 100 percent of business respondents opined that high-speed Internet access is an essential service in the same manner as electricity and water.

logo-mont-belvieu.png In addition to the problems that Mont Belvieu was already having with poor Internet access, the community was growing — something city leaders wanted to encourage. New subdivisions were planned but incumbent ISPs didn’t want to deploy infrastructure to the new areas, leaving...

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