Tag: "muni"

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...

Read more
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.

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.

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