Tag: "muni"

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.

Posted January 7, 2010 by christopher

Ars Technica has published an op-ed I wrote after we published our interactive municipal broadband preemption map.

Community-owned broadband is one way to bring fiber to smaller markets, but many states restrict the practice. Researcher Christopher Mitchell argues that it's time for a bit more Roosevelt-style localism in US broadband.

Posted December 22, 2009 by christopher

After campaigning on building a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle, Mayor McGinn has decided to maintain leadership at the Department of Information Technology. Department head Bill Schrier will stay on, continuing his work that lays the groundwork for a community-owned network.

He said he expects the city to apply for federal stimulus money in the first part of the year to move toward that goal. In addition to improving broadband access in homes, the initiative could help Seattle City Light implement smart-grid infrastructure, and improve public safety communications.

Another article further notes their shared ambition:

"Mayor-elect McGinn ran on a platform of bringing fiber to every home and business in Seattle, something I've advocated for several years," Schrier commented.

No post discussing broadband in Seattle is complete without a reference to Glenn Fleishman - who both wrote another story discussing the situation and then patiently responds to many comments in the thread below it. Discussing Tacoma's publicly owned Click! network, he notes that Tacoma's investment benefited everyone:

Click being built actually helped what has become Qwest and Comcast: by creating a market and making it feasible for professionals who need high-speed Internet access in Tacoma to live there, Click spurred the two incumbents to improve their networks, compete, and gain new revenue. Comcast actually thanked Tacoma Power publicly years ago; not sure it would today, but it was seen as a big boost for the viability of competitive broadband.

Photo used under creative commons license from flickr.

Posted December 17, 2009 by christopher

In this short article, Joanne and Ken discuss why Colorado Municipalities need to think about broadband within their community and why Colorado law makes it more difficult for communities in Colorado to ensure they have modern broadband networks.

Even as there is growing consensus nationally that broadband is a key driver of economic competitiveness, the communications industry is not meeting our growing demand for bandwidth and speed in an affordable manner. The U.S. has slipped to 16th in the world in per capita penetration as of May 2007, compared to a ranking of fourth just six years ago. We face a broadband monopoly or duopoly of incumbent cable and telephone companies, with the possibility of no broadband in many rural areas. DSL and cable modem service are not universally available, and even where they are frequently fail to meet business and educational needs. Small and medium businesses cannot compete without affordable, high-speed access. Many businesses will not locate in areas without very high speed access. Homebased businesses fail to grow because of slow Internet speeds. Lack of fast, affordable broadband also precludes development of the collaborative, distributed work that is a hallmark of the emerging global economy.

However, short-sited politicians in the capitol have created roadblocks to community broadband networks:

With support of large communications providers, Colorado passed Senate Bill 152 in 2005, which placed a significant roadblock in front of any local government efforts to invest in broadband deployment. Essentially, local governments are prohibited from investing in these networks, even in the case of public-private partnerships where the customer interaction is through a private sector partner, unless the project is approved by local voters. While problematic, a well-planned project should arguably not have a problem receiving voter approval. However, one of the unintended consequences of the legislation was its failure to anticipate the federal stimulus dollars, and the intent of the federal government to send those dollars to communities with “shovel ready” projects.

Colorado communities are disadvantaged compared to other local governments if we can only represent that our ability to spend these dollars is contingent upon a public vote.

Posted December 17, 2009 by christopher

Highland, Illinois, having overwhelmingly approved a referendum in April, 2009 to own and operate a fiber-to-the-premises system, has continued to examine the potential for a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network. Most of the local government is supportive but one councilmember is vehemently opposed, leading to a ""boom or bust?" article in the local paper.

Interestingly, the city had a significant outage in 2008 due to a fiber cut outside of town.

The new redundancy brought by fiber that would mean a decrease in the chances for a repeat of the winter 2008 when a third-party contractor working to put up a communications tower for AmerenIP cut a fiber optic cable near Maryville, knocking out phone service, most cellular services and Internet service in Highland for nearly seven hours, Latham [city manager] said.

Worried about the future, Latham then spoke with the incumbent provider:

“There was another one for a short span six weeks after that and I spoke with a Verizon official if there were any plans to come in a build a tieback to create redundancy and they said no. The city is fighting for the best interests of this community.”

Whether Highland can get broadband stimulus funding in round 2 or not, they are on the right path for ensuring their community is ready for the future.

Posted December 15, 2009 by christopher

The Jackson Energy Authority (JEA) network now has over 16,000 subscribers and offers speeds up to 100 Mbps for local businesses and 25 Mbps for standard residential users.

Jackson is considered one of the most technologically advanced cities in the U.S. We have four competitors in the market with AT&T, Bell South, Charter and JEA. We computed that over $8 million to $9 million has been saved by residents in this city when compared to other cities of its size because of the competition.

These are the kind of hard-to-quantify savings that too often go unnoticed in discussions about the value of publicly owned broadband projects. What is the value of competition? How much economic development has occurred directly from the JEA network and indirectly from the lower prices and greater investments that result from competition?

Posted December 14, 2009 by christopher

I stumbled across an interesting article about a small community in Illinois - Rochelle - that has used smart public investments to ensure a healthy future. Their utility has long offered broadband, both fast connections to businesses and Wi-Fi to ensure everyone had some method of access.

Just as they now have a city-owned utility offering broadband, they also have a public power company... and a city-owned railroad track connecting to other lines... and a publicly owned airport. All of this public ownership doesn't seem to have the town in an uproar over some "public v. private" ideological dispute -- because it has generated so many jobs and community benefits.

This is another example of how the "public v. private" distinction in telecommunications is mislabeled. It should be called "AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and a few others v. everyone else." The entire private sector benefits from smart public investments in infrastructure, minus a few monopolistic telcos who could very well also benefit if they would work with us.

Posted December 11, 2009 by christopher

As someone who has long researched and followed developments in Burlington Telecom (BT), the city-owned triple-play full fiber-to-the-home network in Vermont, recent developments between BT and the Mayor's office have been deeply disappointing. For those who haven't heard, BT is in the middle of a major controversy -- and it is hard to tell just what is going on (for background prior to current problems, read my Burlington Telecom Case Study and Fact Sheet).

I have wanted to comment on the situation for many weeks but have been waiting as each day seems offer another piece of the BT puzzle. I'll be offering more commentary about it in the future. However, I do not want to the let the current problems lend any credence to the idea that BT has failed. BT is caught in the middle of a political controversy around the Mayor but should continue providing the best telecom services available in the community.

BT has two main problems currently:

  1. It has not passed the entire city within the timeline to which it agreed in receiving its Certificate of Public Good (CPG)
  2. BT has, apparently, borrowed $17 million from the city's pool (used generally for short-term financing of projects) in contravention of its CPG which states that any money borrowed from the City must be paid back within 60 days.

    This CPG condition makes running a network more difficult for BT than it would for a company like Comcast - who can readily self-finance short-term borrowing. Across the U.S., communities have to deal with laws and regulations that benefit private companies over public networks.

    When the economy fell apart, BT was unable to refinance its debt to continue its expansion and chose to borrow from the City to continue connecting new customers. This was the right decision - the CPG did not anticipate such conditions and the terms for outside financing in late 2008 were wretched.

I say "apparently" borrowed above because it is far from clear if all of those funds actually went to BT. As Steve Ross explains here, it is not even clear if BT really required all that it borrowed from the City. Until the Mayor can produce a thorough explanation, I think it prudent to...

Read more
Posted December 10, 2009 by christopher
  • TMCNET interviews Jory Wolf - the CIO of Santa Monica's Information Systems Department - about their application for broadband stimulus funds. Santa Monica has long used its publicly owned network to expand broadband access in the community.

    Our Santa Monica City Net and City WiFi (News - Alert) project will provide the equipment and connections required to expand the City’s free WiFi service that delivers Internet access to the public at our libraries, open space areas, community centers, homeless shelter, senior centers and animal shelters. In addition, our project will provide a connection to over 200 ISPs to obtain affordable broadband options to local businesses and increase the competitiveness of our country’s preeminent post-production companies and intellectual exports located in Santa Monica, Calif.

  • South Hadley, a small town in Massachusetts, may expand its modest fiber network (currently connecting schools, police, and town hall to others in town. Its municipal power company is evaluating options.

  • Baltimore City Paper ran a column discussing the Monticello, MN, city-owned network and the attacks against it by TDS Telecom. This accounting of the history has some errant details, but I found it fascinating how far the Monticello story has spread.

Photo from public domain

Pages

Subscribe to muni