Tag: "muni"

Posted October 15, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Last year, Oklahoma City launched the world's largest muni Wi-Fi mesh network (not residential use, just public safety and other muni uses). Shortly thereafter, they won an award for the public safety aspects of the network.

A GovPro story now suggests networks like this Oklahoma City network could be leading a renaissance for muni wireless networks:

For instance, three years ago, Oklahoma City launched a muni-wireless broadband network using equipment from Tropos Networks covering 555 square miles. Today it has been adopted as the primary network used by all city departments. 


Mark Meier, Oklahoma City’s chief technology officer recently indicated that the city has derived approximately $10 million in value from its broadband network to date. "Some of our critical public safety applications required redundant wireless connectivity, but the cellular data cards have remained virtually unused and handle less than 1 percent of our traffic which has resulted in significant cost savings for the city," he says.

Posted October 8, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Many have held up the CyberSpot Wi-Fi network in Florida's Saint Cloud as a successful example of public provisioning of wireless. From my perspective, the network was always interesting in that it did not attempt to pay for itself out of network revenues. The city built the network and provided services over the 15 square miles for free - they viewed it as a public service. The network start-up cost was $2.5 million and was funded by the Economic Development Fund. It cost another $370,000 each year in operating costs - some $30,000 a month. Some 77% of the city used the network within half a year according to Free Press. St. Cloud has some 30,000 people and had at least 8500 unique devices connect to it monthly in recent months - due to NAT routers (non-geeks, ignore this) we can safely assume that there are more than 8500 devices using the network. In order to keep the local taxes level, the City Council decided to cut Cyberspot along with a number of a other programs. Popular outrage led to another meeting in which many people testified that they wanted the network to remain funded. The Orlando Sentinel covered the extension of the city service for 3 more months and public reaction:

Scores of angry residents packed commission chambers Thursday, demanding that the city not pull the plug. " St. Cloud is not a hick town anymore," said resident Keith Harris. "We're country folks, but we're not backwards. One of the reasons for that is our Internet."

One of the people (in part 2 - the second video below) noted that the cost to him for raising taxes to cover CyberSpot would be a few dollars a month. The cost of eliminating CyberSpot to him is far greater - he will now have to pay ten times as much to get an Internet connection. I watched the first half hour of the meeting and found the public comments quite interesting. The rest are probably interesting as well - you can find all the videos here. Update: The network stopped offering public service on February 16, 2010.

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Posted October 2, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

At a general discussion yesterday at the NATOA National Conference down here in New Orleans, I was stunned to hear someone from the muni world accept the idea that some municipalities do not want to compete with the private sector. I say stunned, not because I'm surprised to hear that some towns do not want to provide telecommunications services in competition with the private sector, but because towns "compete" with the private sector in many ways that go unnoticed.

Police and education are two examples in which every community provides services in competition with the private sector (security guards and private schools). Most communities have libraries - taking sales away from hard-working bookstores. Some towns provide municipal golf courses or public swimming pools. There are many ways in which it is acceptable for the public sector to "compete" with the private sector.

The problem with accepting the blanket statement that the public should not compete with the private sector is that it 1) is factually inaccurate and 2) suggests that to provide telecommunications services would be a substantial deviation from the historic role for municipal and local governments.

The truth is that local governments have long stepped in, where necessary, to ensure the community has everything it needs to be successful. Interestingly, this has included both municipal liquor stores and lumber yards in many remote communities. Properly posed, the question is not whether communities should deviate from their historic role of avoiding competition with the private sector, but whether telecommunications falls into that area that communities have long elected to serve when a community need is unmet.

This is a question with which most communities will wrestle, but they should do so on honest terms. Though providing telecommunications services in some communities may be novel, they have long "competed" with the private sector in other generally accepted areas. Communities will come down on both sides of providing services and time will tell if they made the right decision for their community.

Posted September 28, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

On Tuesday, September 15, EPB, the public power utility serving Chattanooga and nearby communities in Tennessee, rolled out fully fiber-powered triple-play services to 17,000, a number expected to grow by July 2010, when services will be available to some 100,000 people and businesses. It will take three years before all 160,000 potential subscribers are passed.

Chattanooga has had a relatively rough time creating the network due to the litigious nature of its incumbents, who have filed 4 lawsuits to stop the project only to have each of them dismissed by the courts. (This is a predictable outcome, many of these companies file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate communities with lost time and legal fees - leading to a no-lose situation for companies that invest more in lawyers than in the networks communities need in the modern economy.)

Prices and Options

All broadband speeds are symmetrical; prices by month

Option Price
15 Mbps $57.99
20 Mbps $69.99
50 Mbps $174.99
15 Mbps and basic phone $68.83
15 Mbps / basic phone / basic cable $92.97
15 Mbps/ phone & 120 min long distance / 77 Channels $117.24

Caveats: an extra $5.99 a month for HD Capability on the TV, but even the basic phone package comes with caller ID and 3-way calling

The Tennessee Cable and Telecommunications Association kicked off the lawsuits in 2007 and Comcast chimed in a year later. As has been done in other communities, the private companies alleged the power utility was cross-subsidizing its triple-play telecom offering with revenues from the electric side. Aside from this just being a poor business practice, the companies say such cross-subsidization would be unfair to them even as major carriers routinely cross-subsidize from community to community - overcharging in non-competitive markets to make up for keeping prices low in competitive markets.

Nonetheless, public power companies and other public agencies have learned to keep meticulous books to show they are not cross-subsidizing, something courts recognize each time their time is wasted by lawsuit-happy incumbent providers.

EPB has long offered some...

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Posted September 25, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

San Francisco has leveraged its municipally-owned fiber in a program to overcome the digital divide. Projects like this are a good early step for larger communities. First, invest in fiber to public buildings, schools, etc., to cut costs from leased lines (often, while upgrading capacity). Second, begin to leverage that fiber to increase affordable broadband availability in the community. Expand until community needs are met.

Posted September 24, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

In Iowa, we know the municipal model works because we have 20 municipalities providing services at rates far below the incumbents'.

Posted September 17, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Muniwireless.com recently noted "Eastern and Northern Europe driving broadband and FTTH growth." Of particular interest to us is the crucial role of public investments in creating that growth:

Roland Montagne also says that competition has been driving new FTTH/FTTB projects. He mentioned that more that 56% of the FTTH/B projects were conducted by public entities such as municipalities and utilities. Incumbents originated only 10.8% of the projects.

If we want to see competition in telecommunications, we need public ownership of networks. Private networks tend toward monopoly markets, communities should build a network to ensure competition, especially the robust competition that can only come with open access full fiber-optic networks.

Posted September 11, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Our focus on the broadband stimulus is almost entirely on last-mile infrastructure because it is the most challenging and expensive problem to solve before all Americans will have affordable access to the broadband networks they need in the modern era. As we are most familiar with Minnesota, we decided to take an in-depth look on who is proposing what projects in our state.

Total Infrastructure Grants Requested for Last Mile solely in MN: at least $240 million
Total Infrastructure Loans Requested for Last Mile solely in MN: at least $85 million

Groups seeking stimulus funds to deliver last-mile broadband access in Minnesota have asked for hundreds of millions of dollars. By my tally, some 17 applicants are seeking to serve Minnesota with last-mile access (I threw out applications pertaining to middle mile infrastructure, digital divide, and those last-mile projects that combine Wisconsin and North Dakota areas) have requested some $240 million in grants and $85 million in loans.

If one assumes that the total amount of money is divided evenly among the states, this is somewhere around 3x as much stimulus money that will be awarded to Minnesota applicants over the course of the multiple rounds of funding.

At some point, this list will have to be winnowed and prioritized, so let's delve into it. All applications still must survive the peer review process (ensuring they met NTIA/RUS requirements), the incumbent challenges (incumbents can veto applications by showing that targeted areas already have broadband advertised to them), and the prioritization of surviving projects by each state (no one seems sure of how this will happen in Minnesota, our Governor is too busy not running for President in 2012).

There are two applications that should be jettisoned immediately, Arvig Telephone Company and Mid-State Telephone Company, both of which are owned by TDS Telecom. [Update: I have now heard conflicting reports on whether Arvig is, in fact, a subsidiary of TDS]

When...

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Posted September 8, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

The second line of Rachel Carter's story at TimesCall.com captures the reason we care about community broadband networks:

But others argued that it’s not about whether the city will jump into the cable or Internet business; it’s about giving the city options and giving voters a choice.

Longmont, Colorado, will have a question on its November ballot asking whether the city should have the right to offer retail broadband services. This referendum is a requirement of Colorado state law (passed in June 2005 -- more details about that law from Baller.com [pdf]) for communities that want to offer such services to their community.

A number of people spoke at the city council meeting before they unanimously voted to put the question on the ballot. Responding to some who opposed giving citizens a chance to choose, one Council Member came up with quite the apt phrase:

Councilman Sean McCoy said the Comcast representatives and Denver attorneys who spoke against the ballot question tried to “put a shadow of a doubt” on it by using “red herring” issues. “I believe the concerns are more of an issue of ’not in my monopoly’ more than anything else,” he said.

Longmont has given the private sector plenty of chances to offer the broadband that citizens want - but they have failed to meet community needs. A number of private companies have tried to use the city's assets to build a wireless network: As detailed here, Kite Networks contracted with the city in 2006 to build a wireless network but ran out of money. In 2007, Gobility gave it a shot but also ran out of money. In stepped DHB, who completed the network.

It is not clear what has happened to DHB, but this suggests that many remain dissatisfied:

All council members supported the ballot question, although Mayor Roger Lange and Councilwoman Mary Blue questioned what the city may choose to do in the future. Lange said there are some telecommunications services that the city doesn’t need to jump into, but others — such as wireless...

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Posted September 4, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Johnson City, Tennessee, is considering the pros and cons of expanding the fiber network its public electrical utility is installing to connect substations in order to improve grid reliability. They may follow the example of many other Tennessee public utilities that have offered broadband services to residents, creating competition in a sector sorely needing it.

They will need to speed the process along if they are going to get any stimulus money - many communities have been considering these options for longer and are ready with plans.

When Johnson City first considered connecting the substations, providers opposed it, afraid they would ultimately offer broadband services to residents. These providers said they already had fiber and would be happy to connect the substations at a "fraction of what JCPB [Johnson City Power Board] is about to spend."

Undoubtedly, they were comparing the costs of building a public network against the costs of leasing services for one year. Johnson City was smart to rebuff them and pursue owning the fiber - companies like Charter and Comcast don't make a profit by offering fair prices on connectivity (in fact, Charter is still bankrupt despite overcharging for its slow broadband speeds). Communities that own their fiber (regardless of whether they offer retail services to businesses and residents) find that they get better services at lower costs than when leasing connectivity.

These cable companies in Tennessee are brutal - they abuse the courts with frivolous lawsuits (that are frequently thrown out at the first opportunity) and invent data to suggest public ownership is a poor choice. Ultimately, Johnson City Power Board will have to choose what makes sense based on the numbers, not on fearmongering from companies that are just trying to protect high profits protected by a lack of competition.

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