Tag: "muni"

Posted April 21, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

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

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 600 are served by some form of municipal network and many hundreds more by cooperative networks. Our numbers of cooperatives are still being updated. (Muni numbers updated September, 2021):
  • 83 municipal networks serving 148 communities with a publicly owned FTTH citywide network.
  • 57 communities with a publicly owned cable network reaching most or all of the community.
  • 260 communities with some publicly owned fiber service available to parts of the community (often a business district).
  • Approximately 150 communities with publicly owned dark fiber available.
  • More than 315 networks communities in 31 states with a publicly owned network offering at least 1 gigabit services. And more than 30 communities in 10 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. (Our cooperative stats are not current and we are working on resolving that).

...

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Posted March 15, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

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...

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Posted March 8, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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.  

Posted January 26, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The fiber-to-the-farm initiative in Sibley County, Minnesota, has completed the feasibility study and the towns involved are discussing a Joint Powers Agreement. One of the impacted incumbent providers -- Frontier Communications, a rural telco famous for slow DSL) -- has started to spread the usual FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that is common whenever a massive company is about to face competition.

Though I am tempted to comment directly on Frontier's letter, I'll let the community's response stand on its own. The way they misrepresent the record of Windom should be instructive - this same misinformation strategy is used around the country.  We believe publishing these scare tactics and responses to them is helpful to everyone -- so if your project has received one, please let us know.

Frontier's Letter:

Dear Commissioners:

As a provider of telephone, internet, and video services to our customers in the Green Isle, Arlington, and Henderson areas, Frontier Communications is obviously interested in the "fiber to the home" proposal that has been presented. As a nationwide provider, Frontier is aware of other efforts by municipalities of various types to build and operate their own telecommunications network. While these proposals are always painted in rosy tones, it is important for officials to carefully review the underlying assumptions and projections that consultants make when presenting these projects. Unfortunately, history tells us that the actual performance of most of these projects is significantly less positive than the promises. Often times, these projects end up costing municipalities huge amounts of money, and negatively impact their financial status and credit ratings.

A nearby example would be WindomNet, the city-owned network in Windom, Minnesota. That network, which provides telephone, internet, and video service, began in 2005. The financial results to date have been poor; operating losses of $662,000 in 2006, $1,257,000 in 2007, $326,000 in 2008, and $93,000 in 2009. Additional borrowing by the city was required to make up those losses.

Another example is the city-owned network in Burlington, Vermont. Burlington Telecom was begun with high hopes in 2003, to offer...

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Posted January 19, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Just how does the largest citywide community fiber network in the country deal with the thousands of people that want to subscribe? It is a daunting task, but the Times Free Press has an answer: a carefully scripted process.

Chattanooga's Electric Power Board (EPB) largely contracts with a company for the labor to do the installs:

Adesta is responsible for 80 percent of EPB's fiber-to-the-home installations, according to Lansford, project manager for Adesta. EPB itself performs the remaining 20 percent, as well as trouble calls.

Beginning in June 2009, Adesta ramped up from a one-man office to more than 120 locally hired technicians, and now performs an average of 500 installations per week, or about 100 every day, he said.

At the end of October, when the article was written, Adesta had hired some 123 technicians - more than twice as many as they originally expected to need. Perhaps the largest advantage of contracting with a company like Adesta for connecting subscribers is the company's ability to quickly hire more technicians as demand increases. Civil service rules for hiring can hamper hiring when all installs are done in-house. EPB directly employes some thirty installers.

Chattanooga closely supervises the training and quality of work from the contracted technicians. Perhaps the biggest downside to hiring outside contractors for this work is the potential for technicians not being invested in the satisfaction of the customer or rushing from install to install to maximize their income. In Chattanooga, they expect technicians to do two installs per day to avoid encouraging shortcuts.

In talking with an employee of another muni fiber network, he was amazed at the efficiency of Chattanooga's backoffice processes. The Times Free Press was also impressed:

From a control room in EPB, Abed manages every call that goes out, and knows the location of EPB and Adesta trucks at all times. A computer assigns work based on efficiency, and trouble calls are automatically routed to the nearest available unit.

Even in Chattanooga, which has had more of a smooth roll-out than most, getting into apartment buildings (MDU) is difficult:

In addition to servicing homes and businesses, EPB and Adesta have begun rolling out service to apartments as...

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Posted January 18, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Greg Eplerwood has chaired the two Burlington Telecom citizens' oversight committees and has paid closer to attention to BT than just about anyone. He submitted this opinion piece to us as well as shorter versions to local media in Burlington.

We are happy to publish it and hope others enjoy hearing from this unique perspective from the community.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I’m not an apologist for anything illegal, tergiversating, unethical or stupid that BT’s management may have done in the building of our municipal telecommunications system. But otherwise I am an unabashed supporter of our state-of-the-art, triple-play, fiber-to-the-premises information infrastructure. Between my wife and me, we subscribe to BT’s Standard Plus cable with HD and DVR, one home and two business telephone lines, and a 20 Mbps symmetrical Internet connection. Needless to say, our monthly bill is above average; however, we are pleased with our service and happy to pay it.

With all the bad news coming from various parties—the Department of Public Service, the Public Service Board, Comcast, two consulting firms, two resident litigants, private groups offering ‘assistance’ and the broadcast and print media in their incessant reporting of the mess—it would seem inevitable that Burlington’s reputation, bond rating, tax rate stability and world-class telecommunication system are all going down the crapper. Not to mention the damage that the Kiss administration may have done to the local Progressive Party.

Subscribership—literally the lifeblood of a venture like BT’s—has remained stagnant over the past two years. I don’t know about you, but hardly a week goes by without at least one, sometimes two, sales pieces coming in the mail from BT’s direct competitors: Comcast and Fairpoint. But when was the last time you’ve seen or heard a sales pitch from BT? As recently as 18 months ago I was blaming this on poor marketing. Since then I’ve been blaming it on BT’s low cash flow.

Putting blame aside for the moment, I ask my fellow residents, businesses and institutions of Burlington: If we refuse to subscribe to BT, who are we punishing? A better question might be this: Of the following players, which would you most want to see harmed if BT were to fail: Mayor Kiss, Chief Administrative Officer Leopold or your fellow Burlingtonians? If you are truly concerned about tax increases to pay BT’s debt, or...

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Posted December 20, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

While the bad news about Burlington Telecom (BT) has traveled far and wide, it has been marked with errors, misinformation, and inaccurate comparisons to other projects. MuniNetworks.org will weigh in on this issue with a series of posts to explain what happened, what did not happen, and what lessons we can learn from it.

But today, we are publishing a commentary from Tim Nulty, the General Manager who started BT and is now working with the folks in East Central Vermont to build a rural FTTH network. In this commentary he discusses his experiences with Burlington Telecom and what lessons it has for the EC Fiber project. In short, they differ in important ways.

Business Plans of Burlington Telecom and ECFiber

Numerous loose allegations have recently appeared in the press regarding the business plans of Burlington Telecom and ECFiber. DPS Commissioner David O’Brien and John Briggs of the Burlington Free Press are examples but others have also chimed in. These statements are inaccurate, misinformed and unfounded. Since they affect organizations that are important to thousands of Vermonters they need to be corrected.

BT’s business plan was based on those of similar Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks already running and successful at the time…including Reedsburg, WI; Bristol, VA, Kutztown, PA; Dalton, GA and Winona, Minn. Experts from these projects were consulted in developing BT’s plan. Several came to Burlington to assist with and vet BT’s planning and BT staff visited them to in turn. All of these networks were built in towns, which like Burlington, had established broadband incumbents already in place so their experience was highly relevant. By their fifth year all these networks had achieved penetration rates over 55% and most over 65%. A study by survey firm RVA, in 2007 and updated in 2009 identified 57 municipal FTTH networks operating in the USA and calculated that the average penetration, including new start-ups, was 54%. BT’s business plan was constructed so that it would become profitable with 4800 - 5000 customers of the 19,500 potential—a more conservative take rate than comparable networks had actually achieved in practice. This provided BT with a substantial “safety cushion”.

All capital-intensive investments-- power stations, airports, steel mills--take some time to become profitable. This is also true of telecoms. Criticizing any FTTH network (...

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Posted December 17, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Vermont's Department of Public Service has released its audit of Burlington Telecom. The audit is highly flawed and a disappointment in terms of actually illuminating what went wrong with Burlington.

We have been awaiting this audit in the hopes that it would actually explain how the network could have gone into such great debt so quickly. The few answers provided from this audit are entirely unsatisfactory, due in large part to its overall sloppiness. We will soon put up a more substantial post about Burlington and lessons learned, but we wanted to post this information now as readers are undoubtedly wondering.

The audit should be read by any community running or considering a network because it describes a number of bad practices that should not be duplicated. That said, it isn't yet clear how accurate the audit is (they did not even attempt to interview key people), as explained by Tim Nulty in his response to it (linked below). Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that the audit simply did not explain where the money went. Steve Ross examined this question more than a year ago, but we appear no closer to an answer. A longer explanation on this, next week.

Finally, Andrew Cohill's thoughts about lessons learned from BT is well worth a read as well. Regardless of whether BT really did make all those errors, Cohill's post should serve as an educational item to any community considering such an important investment.

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