Tag: "muni"

Posted February 23, 2010 by christopher

In a recent issue, the Economist profiled BVU - the first municipally-owned triple-play fiber-to-the-home network in the U.S. Evidently, the Economist thinks Bristol an unlikely spot to find a full fiber-to-the-home network, but some of the best networks in the U.S. are in these unlikely spots because they are built by communities who have realized the private sector will not build the needed infrastructure.

And this infrastructure has brought many jobs to the region:

And the fibre brought jobs. In 2007 both Northrop Grumman, a big American defence contractor, and CGI, an international IT consultancy, said they would hire between them 700 technicians, consultants and call-operators at offices in nearby Lebanon, Virginia, part of BVU’s fibre backbone. Both cited the area’s universities and low cost of living, but neither would have come without BVU’s investment, which Northrop calls absolutely critical.

The article asks a common question but answers it exceedingly well:

Should cities be in the business of providing fast internet access? It depends on whether the internet is an investment or a product. BVU could not afford to maintain its fibre backbone without selling the internet to consumers. And it could not build a subscriber base without offering cable television and a telephone line as well; households these days expect a single price for all three services.

Most communities would rather not have to get involved with selling services like cable television, but such services are generally a necessity to cash-flow the network. So, as they did before with electricity, they do what they must to keep the community strong and competitive.

Posted February 22, 2010 by christopher

Good news out of Louisiana - the LUS Fiber deployment in Lafayette is running considerably ahead of schedule. This is especially important because Louisiana law makes requirements on publicly owned networks to break even within a relatively short time period, explicitly favoring private companies in law.

The city should be fully passed this summer, allowing anyone to take one or more of the triple play services. Fortunately, many are taking the full triple-play:

Although LUS is not releasing the exact number of customers who have signed up for fiber services, Huval said it is "many thousands" and that a higher-than-expected number are signing up for all three services at once.

Networks succeed financially when they generate high amounts of revenue per user - ARPU in industry terms. Because the fixed costs are so high to connect users, the low revenues generated by only a single service (like telephone) may take many years to pay off the connection expense.

The schools are also making use of the network:

Besides serving residences, LUS Fiber is also being offered to businesses throughout the city, and the wholesale numbers have been at or above expected, Huval said. All Lafayette Parish public schools also are connected to the system, and the technology was used for a partnership among Carencro High School, LITE, Louisiana Public Broadcasting and a San Francisco, Calif. school system, during which students were able to teleconference and collaborate with each other.

Posted February 17, 2010 by christopher

The Salisbury, North Carolina, municipal fiber-to-the-home network is set to start offering services this summer. This article in the Salisbury Post provides an update on the situation:

City officials have targeted May 31 as the completion date for fiber-optic cable installation, with the network going citywide by Aug. 1.

As with several other publicly owned networks, they will be promoting the network with a mobile trailer that will demonstrate the technology to people at block parties and other gatherings around the community.

The mobile trailer will feature computer stations and a living room setting featuring everything the city's fiber-optic cable service offers.

"We can roll it into neighborhoods, have small block parties and have people see what a difference it provides," said Mike Crowell, the city's broadband services director.

Posted February 15, 2010 by christopher

Carol Wilson speaks with Jackson's Michael Johnston about JEA's triple-play network in Tennessee. As far as I can tell, this interview took place in September, 2009. Johnston reports that the publicly owned network passes 30,000 residences and about 5,000 businesses. Of those taking cable services locally, 60% subscribe to JEA and half of them are taking multiple services. Jackson started as a purely open access network but has transitioned to offering retail services. At that point, they were starting to use the network to create a smart-grid for the electrical side of the utility.

Posted February 9, 2010 by christopher

Dover, a city of over 12,000 in Eastern Ohio south of Canton, has been considering a publicly owned fiber to the home network for years to complement its water and electric muni utilities. The City Council is mulling the latest proposal, one that shows a lower cost to build (probably due to a combination of technology lowering prices and lower price for labor in a recession).

The summary indicated that total funding costs have decreased from $11,615,791 in December 2008 to $10,663,410 in December 2009. Shaw estimates that operating income would make the system financially feasible after the third year and could enable the city to pay off its debt in 15 years vs. 16 years as had been predicted two years ago.

A press release from Uptown Services, a broadband consulting company provided some history:

They originally hired Uptown in 2004 to complete a broadband feasibility study. The results of that study were promising, but the City chose to wait for the economics to improve as the technology matured and costs came down over time. Uptown completed a refresh of the original study in 2008. The case had improved, but the City wanted to fine tune the cost estimates through the completion of an actual system design prior to making any final decisions on a City wide deployment. Uptown was selected in 2009 through an RFP process from a slate of qualified proposals to complete this design.

Judging from the local site explaining the networks, they really understand the power of publicly owned broadband. The FAQ include this gem:

Remember this critical point: The incumbents look for a profit and answer to their shareholders, while the City of Dover looks for the betterment of the community and answers to its citizens.

They city has Verizon and Comcast as incumbents respectively. I suspect Dover is one the thousands of communities Verizon is trying to dump on Frontier Communications rather than invest in smaller communities. The stumbling block currently appears to be deciding how to finance the proposed network.

Posted February 8, 2010 by christopher

I was the guest on Jesse Harris' February Podcast about the UTOPIA network in Utah. Running time is about 1 hour and we cover a number of interesting issues relating to broadband networks both in and outside of Utah, including the perception of networks, success stories, the tactics of incumbents, the background of my project at the New Rules Project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Posted February 5, 2010 by christopher

Terry Huvall, the head of Lafayette's municipally owned fiber to the home network, discusses the history and motivations behind the community fighting for four years to build their own network. Lafayette has a strong tradition of publicly owned utilities -- they were the first community in Louisiana to build a municipally-owned water and electricity utility, voting to tax themselves to fund it in 1896.

That investment allowed Lafayette to prosper and surpass other communities in the following decades. This investment will have the same effects.

This video is no longer available.

Posted January 27, 2010 by christopher

This community of almost 10,000 near St. Louis has taken another step toward creating competition in broadband by investing in a publicly owned fiber network. In April of 2009, the community voted overwhelmingly (75%) yes to a question authorizing the network with revenue bonds that would be backed by electrical revenues from the city's public power company.

They have started the first phase (focusing mainly on businesses though some residences will be passed) by awarding bids for construction (the bids were below expectations - a slow economy is a good time for infrastructure investments due to the low prices). Though the project has spurred some debate, the majority remain in strong support, as demonstrated in a recent article about the project.

Guillot presented the council with more than 100 email replies from Highland Chamber of Commerce members who are in favor of the fiber project, including banks, schools, manufacturers, realtors and other businesses.

“There are currently other companies providing like services in Highland. This project will not end their relationships with the city, rather it will give consumers a choice and force competitors to provide a better product or better service to remain competitive,” Guillot said. “This will also keep more revenue in Highland.”

Highland resident Brad Korte agreed.

“The fiber-to-the-home parallels paving the streets in the 20s, starting the city’s electric system and water department. I would rather spend my money, and take a chance with my money on Highland,” he said. “If we don’t take a chance on this, I think we would regret it in a couple of years.”

The project will proceed more quickly if they are successful in an application for stimulus funds under the broadband programs. Regardless, the first phase will be completed in a year and needs a 23% take rate to break even financially (ignoring the many indirect benefits of such a network).

Posted January 19, 2010 by christopher

Seattle's new mayor continues to impress me as he makes good on his pledge to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network in the City. He has just met with the mayor of Tacoma to discuss lessons learned from the Tacoma Click! network.

We have previously discussed Click!, an HFC network run by Tacoma's public utility. Here are some additional benefits from the article:

Since its approval in 1997, Tacoma’s hybrid fiber coaxial network has, among other things, ushered in a cable television service, offered customers three high-speed retail Internet service providers, enhanced Tacoma Power’s electrical system and created a communications network among government institutions. In turn, the network and its programs have drastically reduced market rates for cable TV and Internet subscribers; saved local governments about $700,000 in annual expenses; and created several promising projects, such as “smart meters” that can gauge utility consumption electronically and “pay as you go” account options for electricity customers, she said.

I was glad to see the article noting the many differences between when Tacoma built their network and the present situation in which Seattle finds itself. Seattle certainly has bigger difficulties than Tacoma did, but they should continue examining their options to determine if the community should build its own network.

A local blogger was more pessimistic after reading the article, but one of the comments on the post bears repeating:

I have Comcast in Tacoma and all I know is since there is competition down here Comcast is about half the cost as it is in Seattle. They give you a rate good for a year. When your year is up you call up and just say Click! and bam back down you go. A friend in Seattle once called Comcast with both of our bills with similar service and mentioned my price and they said I must live in Tacoma and they wouldn't match the price.

Photo used under creative commons license from flickr.

Posted January 14, 2010 by christopher

I caught an interesting article asking whether Dubuque, Iowa, should build a publicly owned broadband network. Iowa already has a number of publicly owned networks, mostly cable HFC networks, that serve communities.

The article starts with some history, noting that the small community of Hawarden, Iowa, was the first to build a public cable system in the state and had to defend its rights to do so in court.

The northwest Iowa community of about 2,500 people more than a decade ago built a $4 million cable system, only to be temporarily shut down by an Iowa Supreme Court injunction. Hawarden survived the court's order prohibiting municipalities from being in the telecommunications business, and in many respects blazed the trail for publicly run cable, Internet and phone service in Iowa.

More communities may be considering building their own networks (though they will build now with fiber rather than HFC) following Iowa's statewide franchising rules that preempt local authority, giving greater power to private cable companies.

The way it was written, existing franchise agreements may be nullified if a competitor announces plans to serve the community. Fortunately, many Iowa communities voted to formed telecommunications utilities back in 2005, though few have yet exercised that authority.

Unfortunately, the article's author was clearly misled by either Qwest or Mediacom's public relations flacks because he wrote about UTOPIA, as though the problems of a purely open access model under a different regulatory environment poses important lessons for communities in Iowa that may build their own networks. The successes and failures of UTOPIA teach us very little about how Iowa communities should move forward.

Smaller Iowa communities do have a serious disadvantage - building modern networks is very difficult the smaller they get. Below 5,000 subscribers, it can be difficult to make the network pay for itself (though exceptions exist) - suggesting to me that joint efforts combining communities could be a good option. Unfortunately, though the technology has no problems crossing political boundaries, the politics are much more difficult.

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