Tag: "muni"

Posted May 3, 2010 by christopher

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is pleased to release this comprehensive report on the practices and philosophy of publicly owned networks. Breaking the Broadband Monopoly explains how public ownership of networks differs from private, evaluates existing publicly owned networks, details the obstacles to public ownership, offers lesson learned, and wrestles with the appeal and difficulty of the open access approach.

Download Breaking the Broadband Monopoly [pdf]

Executive Summary

Across the country, hundreds of local governments, public power utilities, non-profits, and cooperatives have built successful and sometimes pioneering telecommunication networks that put community needs first.

These communities are following in the footsteps of the publicly owned power networks put in place a century before. We watch history repeating itself as these new networks are built for the same reasons: Incumbents refusing to provide service or charging high rates for poor service.

Cities like Lafayette, Louisiana, and Monticello, Minnesota, offer the fastest speeds at the lowest rates in the entire country. Kutztown’s network in Pennsylvania has saved the community millions of dollars. Oklahoma City’s massive wireless mesh has helped modernize its municipal agencies. Cities in Utah have created a true broadband market with many independent service providers competing for subscribers. From DC to Santa Monica, communities have connected schools and municipal facilities, radically increasing broadband capacity without increasing telecom budgets.

These pioneering cities have had to struggle against many obstacles, often created by incumbents seeking to prevent the only real threat of competition they face. Eighteen states have passed laws that discourage publicly owned networks. When lawsuits by entrenched incumbents don’t thwart a publicly owned system, they cross-subsidize from non-competitive markets to temporarily reduce rates in an attempt to starve the infant public network of subscribers.

Despite these obstacles, more and more cities are building these networks and learning how to operate in the challenging new era in which all media is online and a high speed tele-communications network is as much a part of the essential infrastructure of...

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Posted April 28, 2010 by christopher

Thanks to Catharine Rice, who tipped me off to FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn's presentation at the SEATOA Conference yesterday. SEATOA is a regional group of states from the southeast of the US that are part of NATOA. Commissioner Clyburn noted that the FCC and the National Broadband Plan oppose state preemption of local broadband networks.

Thus, the Plan recommends that Congress clarify that State and local governments should not be restricted from building their own broadband networks. I firmly believe that we need to leverage every resource at our disposal to deploy broadband to all Americans. If local officials have decided that a publicly-owned broadband network is the best way to meet their citizens’ needs, then my view is to help make that happen.

One example of a town that took control of its own digital destiny – Bristol, Virginia saw additional jobs created in that area. And last month I heard Lafayette, Louisiana’s City-Parish President, describe the development of economic opportunities in his city, that were a direct result of the fiber network built by the community. Right here in North Carolina, I understand that Wilson and Salisbury are trying to invest in fiber optic systems, that they hope will transform their local economies.

When cities and local governments are prohibited from investing directly in their own broadband networks, citizens may be denied the opportunity to connect with their nation and improve their lives. As a result, local economies likely will suffer. But broadband is not simply about dollars and cents, it is about the educational, health, and social welfare of our communities. Preventing governments from investing in broadband, is counter –productive, and may impede the nation from accomplishing the Plan’s goal of providing broadband access to every American and every community anchor institution.

I can only hope that North Carolina's Legislature listen to this speech before they vote on preempting communities from building broadband networks. However, as documented at Stop the Cap, Time Warner and other telcos are able to talk pretty loudly with their campaign contributions.

...

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Posted April 26, 2010 by christopher

After focusing on the North Carolina battle at the Legislature (regarding whether cities should be allowed to choose to build their own broadband networks or if they should solely have to beg the private sector for investment), I wanted to check in on Salisbury, which is building a FTTH network.

Salisbury has persevered through many obstacles, including finding financing for the project in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Depression. They will begin serving customers this August.

After choosing the name "Fibrant" as the name of the network, they have established a slick web presence at fibrant.com. The site has a a blog, but is rarely updated currently.

Earlier in the month, the local paper discussed the ways in which the fiber network will aid public safety. The short answer is video, video, video.

Video can be used for security cameras (both in public places and in private homes) as well as to give officers better situational awareness when they arrive on a scene. But wireless video access is often the key - both so officers can stream video in the cruiser and because wireless video cameras are easier to place (no pesky wires to run) and move around.

Though wireless video is helpful, it creates of a lot of data that is best moved across fast, reliable, wired networks. This is why fiber-optic networks and wireless are better understood as complements than substitutes. A robust fiber architecture greatly eases the problems incurred by creating a wireless network because the wireless nodes will be more efficient if all are tied into a fiber network. Rather than streaming data across the entire city to send a single feed to a cruiser, a local access point will stream it across a smaller footprint.

"They are potentially looking at helmet cams," Doug Paris said, assistant to the city manager. "Those who are sitting outside (the structure) will be able to see what's going on inside."

It would make little sense for the fireman to have wires coming out of their helmets. But that wireless signal from the helmet probably won't propagate to the fire hall or police station. Instead, a wireless access point near the fire can grab the signal and make it available to anyone...

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Posted April 9, 2010 by christopher

The folks in Salisbury, North Carolina, have picked a name for their new FTTH network, Fibrant. An article in the Salisbury Post notes that even though the network is not yet offering services, they are seeing some economic development opportunities.

"We've already had a couple of people who have moved to town because they knew it was coming," said Clark, who noted that a medical concierge company (virtual check-ups) has shown a lot of interest in Salisbury's fiber.

The article also goes into the many advantages of fiber-optics over last generation technologies.

Posted April 5, 2010 by christopher

Recent letters in the Chattanoogan reflect frustration with the cable incumbent, Comcast, and the ease of switching to the publicly owned EPB Fiber network. This is one of them:

My Comcast exit was very easy. Step one: Make appointment to have EPB Fiber service installed. Step two: Put all Comcast receivers and remotes in a box and hand it through the "teller" window at the Comcast office. Step 3: Ask for a receipt from the nice lady to whom I handed the box. Step 4: Receive my Comcast credit balance check in the mail and open it while watching TV on the EPBFI system. I never even had to speak to a Comcast phone rep in India.

A previous round of letters discussed several of the ways the publicly owned network is superior to Comcast, though one customer complained that EPB Fiber was too expensive, compared to Comcast's introductory and temporary rates (incumbents like Comcast typically negotiate rates in response to competition without advertising the reduced rate - so customers who are willing to haggle over the phone may find cheaper prices from a private company willing to lose money to deny customers to competition).

One reader noted how fast the local, publicly owned network installed the network.

I left shortly after that call [ordering service] and returned a couple of hours later from grocery shopping. EPB contractors had already been to my home and installed the boxes on the side of the house. Yes, super fast service.

The day the installers came to complete the inside installation, they were on time, courteous and knew just what needed to be done to complete the install. One of the men even told me of a problem with my A/C heating unit duct work underneath my home which needed to be looked about soon. The men cleaned all the areas they worked in, made sure all my services worked correctly and asked if I had any questions they could answer before they left. Both men did a fantastic job and worked quickly to complete the work.

Posted March 22, 2010 by christopher

Seattle, which was recently getting some tips from Tacoma, has now turned to Lafayette for more advice on building a publicly owned FTTH network.

Lafayette's Mayor/City-Parish President, Joey Durel, was in town and spoke with both Mayor McGinn and the excellent broadband reporter Glenn Fleishman who wrote about Durel's visit.

Durel, who is not one to back down from a challenge, argues that the public fight with incumbent providers helped educate the public:

A public fight over fiber meant the public knew more about fiber. Durel said the cable and telecom incumbents “were their own worst enemy. The more controversy they made out of this, the more they educated people.” The local newspaper covered the legal battle fairly, Durel said, and most people understood what they’d get from the new network by the time it launched.

I think this is a good insight - communities should not shrink from incumbent attacks but use them as an opportunity to educate. In the case of Lafayette, a few people formed a group that strategized on how to respond to incumbent attacks. This is one of the reasons these projects need champions - people who are willing to put lots of time and energy into the effort as a major priority.

We have frequently noted the benefits of competition -- incumbents lower prices and often invest more in their networks following a community network. Durel notes additional community benefits:

Incumbents step up. After the network started being built, incumbents have kept rate increases low, while donating more to the local community. “I can tell you: some of the providers here are doing more for the community than they have ever ever done for this community: not a little bit, but millions of dollars, for our university, for various nonprofits and things like that,” Durel said.

In an unrelated post, Central District News discusses the City's plans for an open access network, putting them in context with Seattle's history:

This wouldn't be the first time that Seattle had decided that the city could step in and provide what private industry was failing...

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Posted March 18, 2010 by christopher

In 1999, the city of Spanish Forks in Utah began building a $7.5 million publicly owned cable network to offer broadband and cable television services. Since then, the network has created some $2 million in community savings from the lower rates created by competition. In February of 2009, Spanish Fork Community Network received the "Business of the Month" award from the local Chamber of Commerce.

Last month, they announced that they will be adding telephone services to the network by contracting with a private provider that will actually offer the service.

When most people think of Utah and broadband networks, they think of UTOPIA, the open access network that has had a variety of problems. The Spanish Fork Network has been quick to note their successes (I suspect they are also frequently attacked by the incumbent-loving Utah Taxpayers Association group):

Bowcut gave his budget report and said SFCN had over $400 thousand in retained earnings. "We are not going under."

He also added that they built the network at a time when private providers refused to invest in the community.

Hat tip to FreeUTOPIA for noting these stories.

Posted March 12, 2010 by christopher

Pulaski's public power provider is building a FTTH network and already seeing efficiency gains on the electrical side of their operations. Pulaski has 15,000 electric customers and 5,000 have been passed by fiber, with 1600 taking telecom services. Like Chattanooga, they are using a combination of wireless and fiber for smart-grid applications. Those who take telecom services are used to aggregate the wireless signals from neighbors who do not have a fiber line to their home. This is a great article to read for those curious about the benefits of smart-grids and how wireless can be successfully combined with fiber backhaul (as well as why wireless alone is insufficient).

Posted March 5, 2010 by christopher

Joe Abraham, from the University of Louisiana, recently addressed the LUS Fiber network in Lafayette. This is possibly the fastest and most affordable network in the entire country. Apparently, Joe has been asked by friends if they should switch to the new municipally owned network. His answer is an unequivocal yes - backed up by several points like it is a faster, cheaper service that strengthens the whole community. But really, I like this point:

Inherent in democracy, in the First Amendment, and in free markets, is a central concept: we have no idea what these things will produce. We only know that they are the means-- they are the how-- to produce an endless supply of very important & valuable things. The Internet has proven to be the same, it produces a continuous stream of innovative, valuable things. It should be obvious that building the most advanced community Intranet will attract a lot of innovative people to our city, and encourage our own people to be innovative, as well.

To the extent we require these networks to produce profits, they will not be the "how" of the new economy. Infrastructure rarely pays for itself directly, but pays for itself many times over indirectly.

He also has a response to those who fear the public should not compete with the private:

But what if, instead of public vs. private fiberoptic lines early in the 21st century, you find yourself in the early 18th century, and the question is building state-owned roads and bridges that will decrease the profitability of privately-held services?

What if you live in the early 19th century, and the question is building public libraries that will compete with for-profit bookstores?

What if it is the early 20th century, and the question is creating public schools that will pull students from private institutions?

Well done, Joe!

Another article from the same paper interviews Director of Utilities for Lafayette, Terry Huval. This is a guy that understands the value of publicly owned fiber networks:

In addition, we will launch a digital divide product that will provide Internet accessibility in homes where there are no computers, and no Internet services today.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to come, and much of those are...

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Posted March 1, 2010 by christopher

The Longmont Times-Call continues its coverage of the community network struggles of a Colorado community. This story has a lot of the history behind how Longmont developed a fiber ring and how they have used it even as they are prohibited from expanding it.

Longmont is not alone in working for upwards of a decade to bring better broadband to the community that actually meets local needs rather than maximizing profits. Other communities have also spent ten, fifteen, or even long with on-gain, off-again plans to build a publicly owned network. This reality provides a handy refutation of state preemptions based on the logic that communities will act too quickly in not considering their plan for a network. Communities take years in researching, planning, and developing networks.

In Longmont, the first public fiber investment came in 1996 and was expanded shortly thereafter by the Platte River Power Authority. The city moved more than 40 facilities to a gigabit network, leaving T1s to communities that prefer to vastly overpay for their telecommunications needs.

They worked with a private company, Adesta, to expand the network to residents and businesses but the company filed for bankruptcy in the following year. The arrangement certainly had its upside though - Qwest and Comcast mysteriously decided to start offering broadband in Longmont shortly after the Adesta agreement. This happens almost every time a community invests in infrastructure -- it leads to increased investment from incumbents.

They quote a techie from the Longmont Hospital who explains the one of the benefits of the publicly owned fiber already in the ground:

“It’s at least a three times reduction in cost,” Niemann said of leasing fiber from the city, versus contracting with a commercial provider. “And oftentimes, if you go with a commercial provider, you have construction costs.”

The city would like to expand the network, both to bring competition to the DSL/cable duopoly, and to invest in smart grid applications for its public power utility. Unfortunately, they have to win a referendum per Colorado's incumbent-protection law. The incumbents are more than willing to spend hundreds of thousands against any such measure, knowing they would lose far more in profits if they had to deal with competition in the community.

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