Tag: "muni"

Posted May 21, 2011 by christopher

With so many community broadband stories breaking this week, I did not dig into an update to Boston seeking authority to regulate some cable rates in response to the many rate hikes they have endured from Comcast. Boston's mayor has previously complained about basic cable rate increases.

The Ars Technica story offers some good regulatory background that limits the power of Boston to do much about rates.

According to the City, Comcast's 2011 Basic Service Rate change went from $13.30 to $15.80 a month. This came in the wake of previous rate hikes—to $9.05 in 2008, to $10.30 in 2009, and to $13.30 in 2010.

That all adds up to "more than 60%, on a service that is supposed to be affordable and is identified in the industry as ‘lifeline service'," Boston says.

"In addition, when comparing Boston to neighboring communities that have rate regulation, Comcast has over-collected approximately $24 million from Boston's Basic Subscribers during the four year period from 2008 through 2011," the City's statement claims. Its own research indicates that neighboring cities that are still regulated, such as Cambridge, have cheaper rates.

This has led the Boston Globe to editorialize "If cable firms act as monopolies, cities should be able to regulate.

When the Federal Communications Commission took away Boston’s power to regulate basic cable rates almost a decade ago, the assumption was that competition for pay-TV services would hold prices down for consumers. That assumption has not panned out. Comcast Corp., the successor to Boston’s original cable franchisee, still dominates — not least because its former monopoly status conveys lingering advantages that hamper competition even now. Those advantages help explain why Comcast’s charges for basic cable — now $15.80 a month for a package of 35 channels, according to a city report — have risen by 75 percent since 2008.

We are strong proponents of public ownership (via local government, coops, or nonprofits) in part because the regulatory environment leaves communities practically no...

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Posted May 18, 2011 by christopher

An article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian about public opposition to AT&T's further cluttering the right-of-way with 726 metal boxes to start delivering their super DSL U-Verse alerted me to people getting organized for community fiber.

AT&T's U-verse upgrade would enable it to offer connection speeds three times faster than current service — but not nearly as fast as what fiber proponents envision. Several members of the tech industry interviewed by the Guardian cautioned that another AT&T upgrade might be necessary after less than a decade to keep pace with technological advancement.

Ha! Considering that AT&T U-Verse tops out at 24Mbps downstream (if you are lucky and live close to the key electronics) and a piddling 1.5 Mbps upstream, it is already obsolete. Cable networks offered considerably better performance last year -- suggesting that AT&T should stop wasting everyone's time in SF with this approach.

We have previously written about efforts to use the City's fiber to bridge the digital divide and the SFBG article introduces us to new ideas using that asset.

Meanwhile, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu recently asked DTIS to examine the possibility of leasing excess capacity on city-owned dark-fiber infrastructure, which is currently in place but not being used. This could boost bandwidth for entities such as nonprofits, health care facilities, biotech companies, digital media companies, or universities, Chiu said, while bolstering city coffers. "There are many places in town that need a lot more bandwidth, and this is an easy way to provide it," he said.

Sniezko noted that other cities have created open-access networks to deploy fiber. "This is really effective because it's a lot like a public utility," she explained. "The city or someone fills a pipe, and then anyone who wants to run information or service on that pipe can do so. They pay a leasing fee. This has worked in many places in Europe, and they actually do it in Utah. In many cases, it's really cool — because it's publicly owned and it's neutral. There's no prioritizing traffic for one thing over another, or limitation on who's allowed to offer service on the network. It ... creates some good public infrastructure, and...

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Posted May 17, 2011 by christopher

A small Idaho town near Idaho Falls in the eastern part of the state, Ammon, is creating a new approach for a small open access fiber-optic network. When the vision is fully realized, all businesses and residents will have affordable, fast, and reliable access to the Internet and other telecommunications services via a multitude of independent service providers.

The town has adopted a new ordinance spelling out its vision and began building the backbone of the network. The purpose is well written and could serve as a model for others, excerpted here:

To protect the public right-of-way by improving both the management and regulation of competing demands through the elimination of duplicate fiber optic facilities within the public right-of-way.

To reduce the cost of maintaining the sidewalk, pavement and public facilities located within the public right-of-way by minimizing the number of pavement cuts and dislocation of other public facilities necessitated by the construction or installation of fiber optic facilities.

To foster competition among retail broadband service providers by providing open Access to the City Fiber Optic System.

Ammon had previously applied for broadband stimulus funds but was not awarded a grant or loan. Undaunted, they continued to examine how they can build the network their community needs to attract economic development and maintain a high qualify of life. An article in the Boise Weekly profiled the network and the man behind it:

Bruce Patterson is the one-man IT department for Ammon, a small town of 13,000 near Idaho Falls. He is fed up with companies overlooking the town when they discover the cost of Internet is prohibitive.

"The City of Ammon wants to be the road, not the traffic," Patterson said. "Nondiscrimination is what we believe is the right thing. We wanna be completely open to every consumer and provider."

As we see time and time again, this community has Internet access from at least one provider, but it does not meet the needs of the...

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Posted May 11, 2011 by christopher

We are hearing exciting news from western Massachusetts -- at least 17 towns have already held the necessary meetings and votes to join the Wired West cooperative that will build an open access, universal, FTTH broadband network in each of the member towns. This is an exciting project in a region largely left behind by cable and phone companies.

Back in January, we described the steps necessary to form a "Municipal Light Plant," in each community but a recent update from Wired West reminds us about the specifics:

Town participation in the WiredWest municipal telecommunications cooperative requires passing two consecutive town votes at separate meetings to establish Municipal Light Plant (MLP) legislation in the town. The MLP legislation was created in the Commonwealth over 100 years ago to enable towns to generate their own electricity. In 1996, the ability for towns to offer telecommunications services was added to the MLP statute. WiredWest charter towns researched various governance options and determined this was the best choice for enabling towns to offer telecommunications services, work together cooperatively and issue municipal debt to capitalize the network.

Towns have been passing the 2/3 votes with overwhelming approval, as in the town of Florida, with a 30-1 vote.

Wired West is maintaining an impressive map of the status of each town along the path. Clicking on a town brings up more information about that town. Kudos to them for making a great map that is easy to use and conveys a lot of information.

The Berkshire Eagle recently published an op-ed discussing the importance of economic development in the area:

Because many Berkshirites work, either at home or in an office, in towns without high-speed Internet service, making such connections widely available is vital to economic development in the county. I’m a volunteer with WiredWest, a cooperative effort of 47 towns in...

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Posted May 3, 2011 by christopher

As we continue to report on depressing campaigns to deny people fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet (as Time Warner Cable is doing in North Carolina), we are also making an attempt to highlight good legislation (as we recently did in Washington state). In that spirit, we turn to HB 2076 / SB 1847 in Tennessee

From the bill summary:

This bill urges all municipalities to endeavor to utilize advanced broadband systems in their operations and to encourage the construction of advanced broadband systems.

The full bill is available here [pdf] but the most interesting part is what was not included. As reported by Andy Sher of the Times Free Press, the bill was intended to go much further.

The bill would have let the municipal utilities extend service up to 30 miles outside their service areas.

Unfortunately, the powerful incumbent lobbying machine (including AT&T, Comcast, and others who already hate having to compete with technologically superior networks in several Tennessee communities) killed the bill, a blow to the future of economic development in the state. Neighbors of Chattanooga, including Bradley County, desperately want access to the impressive 1Gbps network Chattanooga built -- the most advanced citywide network in the country.

epbfiber.jpg

Harold DePriest recognized the power of AT&T and Comcast in the Legislature, but vowed not to give up.

“Well, we would like to see the bill pass, but I think Gerald was dealing with the reality of the difficulty of moving the bill through the committee at this point in time,” he said Friday. “We will be back. We think it is important.”

The article wisely includes a...

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Posted April 21, 2011 by christopher

As we recently noted in our coverage of the Chelan Public Utility District in Washington state, state law restricts the authority of Public Utility Districts to offer retail services over the fiber-optic networks many have built. But at least one Representative is pushing to expand PUD authority.

Representative John McCoy has been working to improve rural broadband access and spurring more competition in Washington State. He brought a bill, HB 1711 that would allow PUDs to begin offering retail services as well as offer telecommunications services outside their traditional boundaries.

The bill did not go far this year, likely due to the considerable influence of large carriers like Charter, Frontier, and others. But Representative McCoy plans to bring it up again next year and may have more support depending on the recommendations of a current study. The University of Washington Law School is studying options to expand broadband access in rural areas. The final report is due in December and will address the option of allowing PUDs to offer retail access.

I strongly encourage people who may be interested in such developments in Washington to contact Rep McCoy or email me to find out how you can get involved. Quite frankly, we need to develop better networks to ensure citizens are aware of efforts like this bill so elected officials can be contacted in a timely manner.

At the bottom of this post, we have embedded a six minute audio clip of Rep. John McCoy discussing HB 1711 and issues around access to the Internet more generally from a Progressive States Network conference call earlier this month.

Digging into this bill, the summary of the bill [pdf] offers some history:

Public utility districts (PUDs) are municipal corporations authorized to provide electricity, water, and sewer service. In 2000, the Legislature authorized PUDs and rural port districts to acquire and operate telecommunications facilities...

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Posted March 16, 2011 by ejames

Communities invest in telecommunications networks for a variety of reasons - economic development, improving access to education and health care, price stabilization, etc. They range from massive networks offering a gig to hundreds of thousands in Tennessee to small towns connecting a few local businesses.

This map tracks a variety of ways in which local governments have invested in wired telecommunications networks as well as state laws that discourage such approaches.

Our map includes more than 900 communities, of which more than 560 are served by some form of municipal network and more than 300 are served by a cooperative (updated January, 2020):
  • 63 municipal networks serving 125 communities with a publicly owned FTTH citywide network.
  • 63 communities with a publicly owned cable network reaching most or all of the community.
  • 237 communities with some publicly owned fiber service available to parts of the community (often a business district).
  • More than 120 communities with publicly owned dark fiber available.
  • More than 230 communities in 33 states with a publicly owned network offering at least 1 gigabit services. And at least 26 communities in 6 states with a municipal network delivering 10 gigabit services.
  • More than 330 communities served by rural electric cooperatives. 10 communities served by one broadband cooperative. (Communities served by telephone cooperatives will soon be on the map as well).

Nineteen states have barriers in place...

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Posted March 15, 2011 by christopher

I continue to find it odd that more communities with publicly owned networks do not create official videos or other promotional material that is readily accessible on the Internet.  Videos discussing fiber-optic investments continue to be the exception to the rule. 

But it was a video promoting Chanute's fiber-to-the-business network that I stumbled across in a search for something else.  It turns out that Chanute has built a network with a variety of current and planned uses:

  • Smart Grid
  • Energy Management
  • Utility SCADA Systems
  • Interactive Distance Learning (IDL)
  • Free WiFi Hotspots
  • Telemedicine
  • College – using broadband for testing, building partnerships
  • City – meeting broadcasts, pool construction, public awareness, accounting, record-keeping, collaborations with other entities, security, emergency communications, and back up to the county 911 emergency operation center.
  • Real-time video surveillance of public assets – Chanute currently monitors over 40 high resolution video cameras connected to its community network. These cameras provide improved public safety and enhance security for the community’s public assets. The cameras can be configured individually for viewing by the City from various display terminals within the City’s emergency operations center, and at governmental, utility and public safety department offices. Video surveillance images from the school district and the local community college can be viewed by government officials.

They have also made significant wireless investments for redundancy:

We have a City-owned Broadband Wireless Network which also provides back up to the fiber system for critical facilities in the community. Most of the broadband wireless links are dedicated to the private use of the City to support its utility operations, video surveillance, and provide wireless backup in the event of a fiber segment failure. There is one commercial customer that uses this as a primary source for Internet connectivity. Chanute views these wireless assets as a mechanism to provide immediate access to the community’s network to support the short-term commercial needs of businesses in Chanute. The wireless links can be deployed rapidly, sometimes in less than 24 hours, until such time as the fiber infrastructure can be extended to the...

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Posted March 8, 2011 by christopher

Salisbury's Fibrant network in North Carolina was recently praised in a letter to the editor of a local paper for improving the educational tools in schools. These networks can have a big impact on educational opportunities, from directly improving the connections to the schools (often at lower prices) to lowering the cost of broadband across the entire community, thereby increasing broadband adoption and giving a new educational tool to children in home.

Previously, when the computers in our lab were being used, the entire system was bogged down. We had to limit the use of video and Skype to class periods where the lab computers were not being used. With some programs, we were not able to have a full class on the computers at the same time.

...

Next up, we will be able to establish full connectivity between the main building and the kindergarten building. This will enable our phones, paging system, and file sharing to work together for the first time ever, and we are very excited about that!

Posted February 8, 2011 by christopher

Following 9/11, Washington DC built a muni fiber network for government use.  We wrote about it Breaking the Broadband Monopoly -- noting its strong record of success.  The Washington Examiner has noted that DC-Net is looking for expansion opportunites.  

The city invested $87 million into D.C.-Net to get there. It now has 350 miles of fiber optic cable connecting city agencies at 355 locations in all eight wards. More than 33,000 District employees use it every day, and it handles calls to the emergency 911 call center and the city's 311 information line. The District also hasn't spent a dime on it since 2007. Instead, the network runs on a surplus, which is reinvested into its infrastructure, officials said. Now, the city stands to earn millions by leasing access to the network out to federal agencies.

While private companies constantly claim that local governments have no capacity to run fiber broadband neworks, DC-Net has proven not only can munis run these networks, they can offer faster speeds, lower prices, and better reliability.  Now DC-Net has a $1.6 million contract with US Office of Personnel Management.  

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