Tag: "muni"

Posted July 7, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

This article details the philosophy, approach, and opposition to an effort to allow many communities in Iowa to build their own open access telecommunications infrastructure - full fiber networks. Many in Iowa feel particularly vulnerable to the new economy because their low density puts them low on the priority list for investments by absentee-owned companies:

There is much talk in Iowa today about the need to attract and retain young people. Each year thousands of college graduates leave the Hawkeye State. Today in Iowa, there are more people over the age of 74 than under the age of five. No state grew at a slower pace than Iowa during the last century. Reversing these trends is going to take bold leadership and fresh ideas. OpportunityIowa was created to educate citizens about the vital role 21st Century communications infrastructure could play in doing just that.

Daley argued that without local self-reliance, many towns in Iowa would not benefit in the digital economy because they would not have access to fast and affordable networks.

The current cable and telephone companies serving Iowa have no incentive to replace their copper lines. They have to and they don't want to. They don't have to because they know consumers have no choice but to use their copper wires and they don't want to [encourage open access] because it may bring competition where they currently have none. In fact, the incumbent phone and cable companies have expressed their opposition to upgrading existing infrastructure in order to make Iowa a leader in broadband capabilities.

The article ends with lists of both communities organizing referendums for Nov, 2005, as well as communities that already have telecommunications utilities. Ultimately, many communities authorized the telecommunications utilities but most of those have not followed up by building the envisioned networks.

Posted July 7, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Windom, a small community of only 5,000 people in southwestern Minnesota, upgraded its city-owned cable network to a fiber-to-the-home system. They issued $9.4 million in revenue bonds (of which $800,000 were just for the first two years of interest, when no revenue is generated from the system being built) to pass 2,000 homes and 300 businesses.

But, as with so many other aspects of life, the story was more interesting than that.

Before Windom could formally dedicate resources to address its communications challenge, however, the city was required by state law to obtain a two-thirds majority vote of approval from its citizens. Largely due to the incumbent [Qwest] telecommunications operator's announcement that it would upgrade its infrastructure and roll out digital subscriber line (DSL) services in Windom's area, the initial vote in 1999 on a new city-owned network failed. But after the incumbent cancelled its plans for DSL [while building DSL in other nearby communities], a citizens group petitioned Windom's city council to put the telecommunications project back on the ballot. In spring 2000, Windom received approval by the voters to begin work on a next-generation broadband communications infrastructure project.

This is a two-page article covering some of the history of WindomNet.

Posted July 7, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

In 2004, the Loma Linda city council passed a short, one paragraph ordinance that modified the building code. From then on, new buildings, or buildings that were significantly renovated had to meet specifications to be added to the Loma Linda community fiber network - the Connected Community Program. This is an interview with James Hettrick, who was largely responsible for it.

I'd like t hose communities to have an opportunity to say what kind of infrastructure is put in, so that they have some say over what kind of services they can provide later. It's pretty tough for cities to re-negotiate with the telcos after they put in their infrastructure and system. The telcos then see them as a revenue source rather than as a partner. After that, it becomes very difficult for cities to do the kinds of things that they may want to do.

Loma Linda is an interesting network because they have put it in the building code - meaning developers pay much of the cost of building it - a strategy that works better in towns with more greenfields than existing developments.

It's built by the developers to our specifications just like the streets, water, sewer and storm drains system. After completion, they deed the infrastructure over to us; we then must maintain it forever. Once it's available to us, we put in our active gear and serve their buyers. They, of course, market their homes in this region as unique. On a side note, studies have shown that homes wired with fiber usually sell for $4000-$14,000 over those without fiber [the additional cost of building the network is estimated at $3,500 per unit to the developer].

Posted July 7, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

From the intro:

Clark McLeod, the founder and former chairman and CEO of Iowa-based CLEC McLeod USA, announced his latest project: OpportunityIowa, a grass-roots non-profit aimed at educating Iowans on fiber to the premises (FTTP) and convincing them to create municipal communication utilities — if for no other reason than just to keep their options open.

This is a good short article looking at an initiative that unfortunately did not go very far in Iowa. McLeod explained some of the thoughts behind it:

The larger service providers in Iowa have categorically stated they are not putting in FTTP, and there's no need for it. We want both private industry and municipal options open. But quite frankly, unless private industry steps up to FTTP right now, it's up to municipalities to drive that issue in the state. In Iowa, we know the municipal model works because we have 20 municipalities providing services at rates far below the incumbents'. We at OpportunityIowa have said a network that's open to multiple carriers is the right model. However, all we want citizens to do today is vote on a municipal communications utility. Once that group is put in place, that commission will look at the alternatives.

Posted June 30, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Broadband Property's Muni FTTH Snapshot for Reedsburg, Wisconsin, offers some details on one of the earliest muni fiber deployers. They started in 2002 and began offering services in 2003. The network is run by the public utility, Reedsburg Utility Commission.

They offer a 10 Mbps symmetrical connection for $49.95/month and a very low churn rate.

The economic impact has been significant:

In April 2007 Reedsburg businesses participated in a groundbreaking research project conducted through Reedsburg Utility Commission and the Fiber-to-the-Home Council. The survey, which had a 23 percent response rate, found that the speed, bandwidth, reliability, pricing and customer service provided by Reedsburg’s fiber optic network helped them make operations easier, increase efficiency and save time.

Most of RUC’s business fiber customers were using their broadband connections for research, document transfer, and purchasing. Other uses included banking, advertising, customer service, employee training, online sales and telework.

Six in ten Reedsburg business customers reported cost savings from fiber averaging more than $20,000 per year. Half said they were able to adopt new and more efficient processes, and 46 percent cited marketing benefits. Forty one organizations, or 10 percent of all the businesses in Reedsburg, reported that their sales had increased as a result of their fiber connections, and an overall net increase in employment of 19.8 percent was attributed to fiber.

Extrapolating from the sample, the estimated benefit to the community as a whole amounts to $1.85 million per year in additional sales and a net cost savings of $4.4 million per year.

Posted June 30, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Pulaski, Tennessee, has used its public power utility, Pulaski Electric System, to build a fiber-to-the-home network. They started building the network in 2006 and offering services in 2007.

In this snapshot by Broadband Properties, the technical aspects of the network are explored.

Some economic development impact:

Local economic development leadership has begun marketing PES’ services to nearby Huntsville, Alabama, which is home to a large number of defense and space industries. Before PES built its network, the community had never attempted to approach the defense or aerospace companies because it had little to offer that met their special needs.

The FTTH network has allowed several existing industries to receive superior service at much lower prices. The system has become a focus of community pride and an example of the community’s willingness to invest in the future.

One key lesson learned has been that the long term needs of the community are not reflected in the current preferences of residents:

Although we built a state-of-the-art fiber network, we came to realize that most residential customers do not concern themselves with future applications. They are looking to replace or upgrade the services they have today. So even though we built a system capable of cutting-edge services, it often still comes down to which TV channels you offer and at what price. Customers are shoppers first.

They have also offered increasing educational opportunities:

PES established a partnership with the local college to operate our local access channel, 3PTV. This channel provides the students at Martin Methodist College with an opportunity to learn video production and technical editing, and it provides a valuable and exclusive channel offering for PES.

Also, we partnered with AT&T to provide a turnkey network that links all the schools in our county. PES provides the fiber connection, and AT&T manages the data and technical support. This allowed the local school district to use AT&T’s state contract pricing, yet be linked with PES’ fiber network.

Posted June 30, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Kutztown, a small community in Pennsylvania, built a fiber-to-the-home network in 2002 run by the public power utility called Hometown Utilicom. The small town network was taken very seriously by major networks, like Verizon, that pushed to create laws in Pennsylvania that would make it difficult for other communities to build the networks they needed.

This snapshot from Broadband Properties offers some history and technical specifications of the network. This was the economic development impact:

Several businesses relocated to or expanded in the area because of the network. The amount of student housing has increased. The municipality itself has saved significantly on telecommunications costs. Residents have saved $1.5 million due to Hometown Utilicom’s lower rates and the competitive discounts offered by other local service providers.

Posted June 11, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Doris Kelley takes a look at one of the early citywide publicly owned broadband systems - Cybernet in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Cybernet is run by CFU and is an HFC (cable) network that also offers some fiber-optic connections for businesses. In this paper, Kelley takes a look at some of the benefits the network has brought to the community.

From the start of the paper:

Cedar Falls Utilities, the largest municipally owned four-service utility in Iowa, provides electric, natural gas, water and communications services to a community of over 36,000 people. The citizens of Cedar Falls have been and continue to be the driving force behind Cedar Falls Utilities. Because of citizen demand and involvement, what once began as an unreliable water supply from “Big Springs,” a small light plant built with discarded bricks and an outdated manufactured gas system, has grown into an organization that is recognized nation-wide in the utility industry for outstanding performance management and some of the most favorable utility rates in the country.

Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) is a strong supporter of economic development. Through the years, the Cedar Falls community has directly benefited by the operation of its municipally owned utilities through direct customer rate savings, free or special customer service programs and fund transfers to the City’s general fund.

CFU has made great strides to further its commitment to economic development. In 1994, a new horizon was encouraged through visionary thinking. Considerable strategic planning and analysis preceded the decision to design, construct and operate a Broadband Fiber Optic Communications System. The Cedar Falls Board of Trustees spent approximately 24 months studying the technical and financial feasibility of constructing and operating such a network. Finally, on October 24, 1994, the Cedar Falls City Council adopted ordinance No. 2072 forming the country’s second Municipal Communications Utility and transferring authority to the Cedar Falls Utilities Board of Trustees.

Posted June 11, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Chattanooga, Tennessee is predicting it will offer FTTH in its entire service area by next year. The public power company has used fiber-optics in the past to manage its electrical operations and has been planning to offer a full FTTH network for awhile.

"There are two primary components to building this system. One component is taking longer than we thought and the other is happening much faster than we anticipated", said Harold DePriest, President and CEO. "The end result is that services will be available to the entire cities of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Red Bank by summer of 2010."

DePriest says once in place, EPB's fiber optic network will be the largest of its kind in the country.

However, Chattanooga has suffered the same problem that has plagued other publicly owned broadband projects around the country: incumbent telco and cableco lawyers. Comcast has sued Chattanooga in multiple courts in an attempt to limit competition (see here, here, here, and here for a few examples). As with these cases across the country (from Monticello, MN to Bristol, VA, to Lafayette, LA), the incumbents have lost the cases but successfully slowed the build-out, which hurts the community while padding company profits for an extra couple of years.

The network will offer symmetrical speeds of 10-50Mbps while keeping costs lower than the standard prices in the market.

Posted June 9, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

The Broadband Properties Muni Snapshot of Jackson Energy Authority, serving Jackson Tennessee, offers a fiber-to-the-home network. As is common to the snapshots, it is heavy on technical data.

After 4 years, they had an overall take rate of 39% as well as some businesses locating in the area due to the network. Residents have saved some $8 million in aggregate since the network began offering services.

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