Tag: "muni"

Posted February 15, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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.

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