Tag: "muni"

Posted June 23, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Craig Settles recently interviewed Dan Speers, the Executive Director of the Pulaski-Giles County Economic Development Council, focusing on the publicly owned PES Energize muni FTTH network.

Craig started by asking how the network is used by local businesses:

There’s a printing operation here with their corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. They have to be able to send artwork all the time to headquarters. There’s a guy who works developing catalogue books that are published by an outfit in Canada. Before the network it would take him six hours to upload materials and now it’s done in minutes. One company has their offices on the north side of community and the manufacturing plant on the south side. They’re always sending large data files back and forth.

Hospitals here can upload and download files such as x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans immediately between other hospitals and doctors 75 miles away in Nashville. Patients don’t have to be transferred there, and they don’t have paper records that have to be carried by hand to specialists like they did in the old days. All of this saves lives and it saves money.

When Craig asked what the Obama Administration can do to expand broadband to "improve local economies," Speers asked for an end to state-created barriers to community networks and mentioned a Tennessee bill that would allow muni utility networks to offer services to communities outside their historic electric territories:

From a Tennessee perspective, first put us on a level playing field with the telcos. Allow municipalities to get into the business with none of the restrictions we have. We wanted to be able to wholesale our network services. Take Lawrenceberg, for example. They have no broadband and the telcos flat out refuse to build it there. We can expand our network over to them and they’d save $3 Million. But with the law the state legislature passed, we can’t serve them because they’re out of our area. If we shared head-in facilities, this would go a long way for economic development there.

Posted June 21, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

If you the take a look at our community broadband map, you'll see that Texas has only one citywide wired network owned by the public: Greenville. The story behind it is the same story we hear from just about every other community - but they actually spelled it out on their history page.

In 1999, Greenville, Texas' economic development leaders were unable to attract certain businesses and on the verge of losing existing companies due to a lack of high speed Internet.

In response, Mayor Sue Ann Harting asked SBC for a commitment to deploy DSL. That request was denied. The city's cable franchise, Time Warner, also declined to commit to cable modem Internet deployment.

Greenville found itself in a situation similar to one that many towns had faced years ago when railroads changed transportation. If the railroad was not routed through a town, that town just might die. What would happen to Greenville if the information superhighway did not come through the city?

Incumbent cable and telephone companies, their lobbyists, and associated "think tanks" like to claim that communities are somehow "duped" into building publicly owned networks. The truth is that just about every community wants to avoid the hassle of building a network but incumbents refuse to invest sufficiently to keep the community competitive for economic development and a high quality of life.

They build networks when backed into a corner, not because they want to. Fortunately, all that hassle almost always pays off with far more benefits than problems over the long term as communities transition from depending on some distant corporation to solving their own problems locally.

In fact, the results are often like that of Greenville:

Greenville citizens were not willing to take that chance. They took destiny into their own hands by amending the city charter to allow their revenue-only supported, municipally-owned electric system to build a hybrid fiber coaxial system to make high speed Internet available to everyone. Digital cable TV was offered as an option on that same system.

Once the citizens had committed to this venture, the city's incumbent telephone and cable franchises found ways of deploying that high speed Internet that they had only recently declared not feasible in Greenville.

In...

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Posted June 17, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The Daily Yonder recently ran a cleverly titled article by Craig Settles, "Wyoming Town Creates Broadband Bonanza." We have previously written about Powell and its unique public-private partnership approach to an open access muni FTTH network.

Craig offers some more details, including some of the planning:

The planning team went a step further. Broadband feasibility studies typical include asking constituents about their level of interest in Internet services. Powell’s team secured firm commitments from institutions such as schools and hospitals that would not only subscribe to the network but entice their customers to subscribe, too. They contacted businesses about moving or expanding operations to Powell.

With agreements and letters of intent in hand, Powell was able to give Tri-County Telecom (TCT) more credible revenue predictions. “We presented our data and potential institutional subscribers,” states Bray. “TCT then adjusted for what their real costs were and described how the buildout was going to look, what the real breakeven was (and based on what assumptions), when certain goals had to be met and how long it will take to reach certain milestones over 20 years.” Bray calls all of the TCT forecasts, “conservative.”

He also notes that Powellink broke even at the end of 2010, an impressively short period of time.

Posted June 10, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

I wrote this short case study of the Powell network in Wyoming for our Breaking the Broadband Monopoly report but it never got published on this site. As we noted a year ago, Powell bought its system back from investors last year.

The city of Powell started talking about a fiber network in 1996 but did not make progress for almost ten years. They developed a plan to build a FTTH network and lease it to an outside operator. The incumbents declined to partner with the City and later spent considerable effort to derail the City’s efforts. However, the City found a local cooperative, TriCounty Telephone (TCT), willing to offer triple-play services on the City’s network.

Financing the deal took more time than expected because the City was unwilling to commit public money directly or even as a backstop if the network fell behind on debt payments. While the City worked on the financing, cable incumbent Bresnan and telephone incumbent Qwest tried to convince the state legislature to abolish Powell’s authority in this arena. The legislature did create new obstacles for cities building such systems but Powell was grandfathered in.

In late 2007, the City agreed to an arrangement where TCT would exclusively lease the network and make up shortfalls in debt payments if required for a period of six years. After that period, the network would be open to other service providers as well and it would be the City’s responsibility to cover any shortfalls if needed. If the City chose not to appropriate in that situation, the investors could take the network. Estimates suggested a 33% take rate would allow the network to break even by the fifth year but most expected a higher take rate.

In early 2008, Powell completed the $6.5 million bond financing. As is more common in small builds, they immediately connected a line to the home rather than waiting for the subscriber to sign up. They trenched a fiber to the side of every house regardless of whether they were taking service, putting the fiber in a box on the side of the house. If the occupant signs up, a crew only has to install electronics rather than bringing a line down from the pole. This approach increases the capital cost slightly but can significantly decrease operating expenses as residents subscribe.

...

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Posted June 2, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

On June 1, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an oxford-style debate over the proposition: "Governments should neither subsidize nor operate broadband networks to compete with commercial ones."  

Jim Baller and I spoke against the proposition while Rob Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach defended it during the 2 hour, 15 minute session.  I was unable to be in DC and thus participated by the magic of modern telecommunications.  

This is a long but valuable and unique discussion.  We left talking points behind, actually responded to the points raised by the other side, and presented both sides of this debate in a reasonable manner.  In short, this is exactly the kind of discussion we would elected officials to consider before legislating on the matter.  But it very rarely happens -- nothing even remotely close to it occured in North Carolina when Time Warner Cable pushed its bill through the Legislature to enact a de facto ban on muni networks in the state.

You can watch it here.

 

Posted May 21, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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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