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Yellow Springs, OH, Releases RFP: Proposals Due August 22

Earlier this year, the grassroots group, Springs-Net, presented its white paper on a potential municipal network in their town of 3,700 people. The village, located in central Ohio between Dayton and Columbus, is taking up the suggestion and recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a broadband needs assessment and business plan.

The village already operates municipal electric, water, sewer, and storm water utilities, however does not own any municipal fiber. According to the RFP, Yellow Springs collaborates with several local schools and an educational computer association for connectivity to the village’s municipal office location. There is also fiber in the community owned by the Ohio Academic Research Network (OARNet) and a non-profit datacenter in the area.

Yellow Springs wants interested firms to answer their call and provide options for:

  • Mapping Needs Assessment
  • Business and Financial Model
  • Governance and Ownership Strategy
  • Funding and Financial Analysis
  • Public-Private Partnership Development
  • Infrastructure Recommendations

There will be an informal session for respondents on August 1 at 11 a.m. in the Yellow Springs Council Chambers and proposals are due on August 22, 2016. Check out the Yellow Springs website for more details on the RFP.

Leverett Releases RFP For ISP: Responses Due August 15th

Leverett, Massachusetts, has operated its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network since August 2015, working with Crocker Communications to bring Gigabit per second (Gbps) connectivity to residents and businesses in the Massachusetts town. The contract with Crocker is not indefinite, however, and the city has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer services on the network. Responses are due August 15, 2016.

According to the RFP, the ISP selected will have an exclusive agreement to provide services to the community as leverettnet.net. The community seeks a three-year contract and will begin on or before July 1, 2017. 

Leverett’s contract with Crocker Communications was also a three-year term, commencing in 2014. Releasing an RFP now will give community leaders eleven months to review submissions from potential providers and negotiate terms. With their own infrastructure, Leverett has the ability to take a discerning approach and explore other options from the RFP release.

RFP SCHEDULE: 

Written Questions Due: July 18, 2016 at 10 a.m. 

Answers to Questions Posted: July 25, 2016

Submission of Proposals Due: August 15, 2016 at 10 a.m.

Finalist Named: August 26th, 2016

Contract Award: September 2nd, 2016

Haywood County, NC, Releases Feasibility Study RFP

Last month, the Haywood Advancement Foundation (HAF) sowed the seeds for a long-term broadband strategy in Haywood County, North Carolina. The nonprofit foundation posted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study as part of their strategy to develop a master plan and improve local connectivity. A $10,000 grant from the Southwest Commission and a matching $10,000 grant from HAF will fund the early stages of Haywood’s broadband initiative. The due date for proposals is July 15th.

Living In The Present, Planning For The Future

Located about 30 minutes west of Asheville, Haywood County is home to approximately 60,000 residents. Asheville’s status as a cultural hub might be driving up Haywood County property values, but it has failed to bring high quality Internet access to its rural neighbors. 

State law complicates local municipalities' ability to provide fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via municipal networks. North Carolina’s HB 129, passed in 2011, and is currently under review in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overruled the state law in early 2015, citing the bill’s burden on the national goal of advancing ubiquitous Internet access. North Carolina and Tennessee challenged the FCC’s decision, oral arguments were heard in March, and all participants are now waiting for a ruling. A master plan can help the community establish different courses of action, depending on the ultimate outcome of the court case.

Mark Clasby, executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Council, reiterated just how important universal access and higher speeds would be for the community:

“We are committed in making our county have high speed access to the Internet for our citizens, it’s a must for our future. Schools will also be going more digital and kids will need broadband service for their homework. Then there are people who want to move to Haywood to work and have our quality of life. They want to live in Crabtree or Newfound but they have to have Internet access.”

A 2015 countywide survey shed light on the current state of connectivity. More than 20 percent of county households remain unconnected to the Internet, 31 percent connect exclusively through mobile, and 83 percent of those who are connected report insufficient speeds. Local officials are determined to seek educational opportunities, drive up property values, and bring jobs to the region with a fast, affordable, reliable network. 

Fixed Wireless Helping Out In The Hills

Wireless technology may play a factor in serving rural residential pockets. The Smoky Mountain News reported:

“After talking to cable providers like AT&T and Charter and wireless providers like Skyrunner, Clasby said it’s clear that Haywood County needs some kind of hybrid service to offer better speeds and rural access.”

There are isolated Haywood neighborhoods that obtain Internet access from local fixed wireless providers using mountaintop towers. Homeowner Jake Robinson, who uses Skyrunner, told Smoky Mountain News, “We were not prepared for [such difficulties connecting our home to broadband] — had we known, our decision on buying that house may have been different.” 

wireless-icon.jpg

We recently spotlighted Highlands, North Carolina, a community located in the Appalachians. Highlands uses its municipal fixed wireless service to provide Internet access to homes where Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) is not practical. Fiber is serving businesses in Highlands downtown area and plan to extend it to residents. Their long term goal is to bring FTTH to as many properties as possible, but they are using fixed wireless to serve the immediate need.

RS Fiber Cooperative, a rural Minnesota broadband cooperative, is using fixed wireless to temporarily extend to cooperative members in hard to reach areas. Eventually, they will connect all members with fiber.

RFP Deets

So far there are no estimates for what it may cost to build a broadband network in Haywood. The upcoming broadband assessment and feasibility study will provide more information about estimated costs and network structure in the coming months. Clasby hopes to compose a final broadband master plan by year’s end. 

Final proposals are to be submitted to HAF by July 15th at 5:00 pm.

You can get more information by checking out the RFP online or by emailing Mark B. Clasby: mclasby(at)haywoodchamber.com.

Another RFP: Egremont, Massachusetts

Egremont, Massachusetts, population approximately 1,000, is seeking a firm for design, engineering, and consulting services for a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. They released a Request or Proposals (RFP) in mid-May and proposal submissions are due on June 15th.

Small Town Seeks Big Connectivity

The community is one of the many rural towns located in the far western part of the state where high-quality connectivity is rare. Like Leverett, Mount Washington, and the Wired West communities, Egremont has decided the time to wait for the big providers is over.

The town is located near Mount Washington in Berkshire County and has about 950 residents and businesses and 47 miles of roads. It’s situated in a valley east of the Taconic Mountain Range and lies along the Green River. Similar to many of the other small towns in western Massachusetts, there are also a number of vacation homes in Egremont.

Egremont is seeking a firm that will develop a fast, affordable, reliable network to offer Internet access and VoIP. In their RFP, Egremont expresses a requirement that the new infrastructure connect to the state’s MassBroadband 123. For more details on what the community wants to see in proposal submissions, check out the RFP online.

Sandpoint Sends Out RFP : Responses Due June 16

Sandpoint, Idaho, located in the state’s panhandle, is likely to host Ting’s Internet service over publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure. All that remains is for the service provider to determine that the demand exists in the anticipated service area of approximately 9,700 people. In addition to residents and businesses in Sandpoint, properties in nearby Dover, Ponderay, and Kootenai are anticipated potential subscribers.

Sandpoint, Idaho

Approximately 7,500 people live in the city, which is the Bonner County Seat. The community is popular as a ski resort town and is located on Lake Pend Oreille. In addition to tourism, the manufacturing, aerospace, software, and healthcare industries are important employers in Sandpoint. It covers approximately 4.8 square miles and, five years ago, was named “most Beautiful Small Town” by Rand McNally and USA Today.

Seeking Assistance Moving Forward

The city has recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to find a firm to propose a plan to make the best use of their existing dark fiber network. According to the RFP, Sandpoint is looking for consultants to help them engage in conversations with stakeholders and providers, determine the city’s assets, use their assets for maximum economic development, and a variety of other tasks.

Sandpoint has had an existing conduit system in place for some time but, according to the RFP, has not been “proofed” and may not be suitable for larger cables. The city also has an underground fiber backbone and is in the process of installing more fiber-optic cable.

Bonner County also owns conduit within Sandpoint that can be accessed as part of the town’s project. The RFP describes more conduit in and around the city and Sandpoint’s preliminary plans to use it to improve local connectivity.

Important dates:

  • Vendor Questions (if any) Due : June 2, 2016 
  • Answers to RFP Questions Released : June 6, 2016 
  • Proposal Responses Due : June 16, 2016 

For details, check out the RFP on the Sandpoint website.

South Bay Workforce Investment Board Accepting Master Plan RFP Submissions

The South Bay Workforce Investment Board (SBWIB) is now accepting submissions from firms interested in developing a Fiber Optic Master Plan for the organization. Interested organizations need to act quickly, however, as the submission deadline is tomorrow, June 1st, 2016, 5:00 p.m. (PST).

For details on the project budget, the scope of the work, timeline, and other important information, check out the Request for Proposals (RFP) from the SBWIB.

You can also contact Chris Cagle, Regional Affairs Manager, via email at ccagle(at)sbwib.org with questions.

The SBWIB is a non-profit organization working to provide employment and training programs through its four business and career centers. The organization serves the California communities of Carson, El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Lawndale, Manhattan Beach,  Redondo Beach, Lomita and Torrance.

New Braunfels Takes Next Step In Texas

At a recent City Council meeting, New Braunfels council members approved $57,000 in funding for Phase II of a study to explore the feasibility of constructing a city-owned fiber network. The city's Industrial Development Corporation (4B Board), which helps guide the city's economic development initiatives, previously recommended moving on to this next phase of the project. 

Because state laws in Texas prevent municipalities from offering retail telecommunications services, New Braunfels must advance carefully. The city is proceeding with the consultant's recommendation to pursue a public-private partnership (PPP) for the proposed network. With this second phase of the study, the consultant will help the city release a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit interest from would-be private Internet Service Providers (ISP) for the city-owned network.

Clarification from Christopher Mitchell: In Texas, the term telecommunications does not include Internet service. Communities cannot offer telephone service but are able to offer Internet only type services.

Some Findings from Phase I of the Feasibility Study

At a February 4B Board meeting, the New Braunfels Assistant City Manager Kristi Aday noted that the proposed network would cost the city somewhere in the range of $3 - $5 million. A major factor in determining the cost of the network, she said, is whether to use underground fiber for the network or to go with an aerial approach, using poles owned by New Braunfels Utilities.

The full feasibility study, presented at a special joint meeting between the City Council and the 4B Board in March, also reports the results of a survey in which 132 businesses in New Braunfels answered questions about their connectivity needs. According to the results of the survey, 78 percent of city businesses get their Internet service from AT&T DSL or coaxial cable Internet access from Time Warner Cable. Because both technologies rely on copper, many local businesses cannot obtain the high-quality Internet access required for daily operations.

Among the companies who responded, a full 81 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the limited speed and unreliability of their current Internet access. Consultants found that while 15 of the 5,600 companies in New Braunfels have paid to deploy fiber connections to their offices, more than 99 percent of the city’s businesses can't afford such an investment.

How Are We Supposed To Work This Way?

It was just a year ago when at the Texas Legislative Conference in New Braunfels, panelists were not able to take questions from remote attendees because the Internet connection at the Civic Convention Center hit a glitch. At the time, discussions of municipal Internet infrastructure had already started and local leaders understood the urgency:

“We have Texans from across the state here ... and we were dead in the water until 10 a.m.,” [Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce President Michael] Meek said. “That just heightens my awareness, and the awareness of others in the city, on why we’re doing this broadband initiative in town.”

He said the problem was with “the major Internet providers, which we continue to have problems with, whether it be the civic center or Wurstfest. Any business in town will tell you the same thing. That’s one of the reasons why the 4B Board and the chamber are jumping on top of this broadband initiative.”

Islesboro, Maine: RFP For FTTP Is Out There!

Islesboro is moving forward with plans to join Rockport, Sanford, and other Maine communities that want to improve connectivity for residents and businesses. They have released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to take them into the construction phase. From the Isleboro website:

The Town of Islesboro, Maine is seeking a contractor to manage the construction of a Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network spanning approximately 50 miles connecting 750 properties including a wireless component connecting outlying islands.

The Town is seeking bids for an Owner's Project Manager (OPM) to oversee fiber optic and wireless construction, network equipment installation, and inside wiring and customer premise installation.

Bids are due April 28th, 2016

The island town has also published a Question and Answer update to address common concerns.

The Maine Event

We have followed news of the proposed project, and learned that GWI will likely offer services via the publicly owned fiber infrastructure, much like in Rockport. Fairpoint DSL serves most of the island community's residents now and subscribers are not happy with unreliable, spotty Internet access. Last summer the community began the process of approving funding for the network, estimated at $2.5 - $3 million.

For more information, visit the Islesboro website.

Collaborating to Light Up Opportunities in New York

"We have fiber in the ground that is currently dark...It's a resource we have that other communities want," said Rochester, New York, Mayor Lovely Warren at a November press conference. The city is now working with Monroe County to take advantage of that dark fiber.

There are more than 360 miles of fiber under the ground serving public safety entities, suburban police and fire departments, libraries, schools, and public works facilities. In downtown Rochester, there is enough fiber to provide the redundancy that high tech companies need to establish operations. Over the past two decades, there have been several public works projects involving excavation. During those projects, crews installed fiber.

There are approximately 211,000 people living in Rochester, the county seat of Monroe County. The county is situated along the northwest border of the state, along Lake Ontario; about 750,000 people live there.

City and county officials estimate that more than 70 percent of the fiber network capacity is not being used. Local leaders are taking steps to change that. In November, the two entities released a joint request for proposals (RFP) seeking an expert to assess the current network and make recommendations on how to make the most of their investment.

At the press conference to announce the collaboration, Warren said:

The Rochester community is fortunate to have a substantial fiber optic network already in place. Very few cities have the advantage of this infrastructure in their city center. We need to be sure that its capacity is being used wisely and, ultimately, that this capacity is being used to help employers create more jobs. This fiber network gives Rochester a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting companies with high bandwidth needs and the jobs they bring with them.

According to Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and Warren, the city and county are hoping to work with private partners. At the press conference, they suggested leasing out capacity but they acknowledged that this is only the first step in a long process.

“Crazy Fast” Connectivity Expands in Westminster, Maryland

Gigabit Internet access will soon be reaching more residents in Westminster. The high-speed municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in Maryland will soon add more than 2,000 new homes to the network map.

The Incredible Expanding Network

The network is a product of a public-private partnership with telecommunications company Ting. The expansion provides more evidence of the continuing success of the network in this city of just under 19,000 people about 35 miles northwest of Baltimore.

The network was originally planned as a pilot project confined to small, select areas of Westminster, but high demand prompted community leaders to broaden the reach of the project. Eventually, Westminster budgeted for citywide infrastructure.

City Manager of the Ting project, Valerie Bortz, recently said of the network "we are super busy and happy with our progress.” In October 2015, the city released an RFP calling for bids from contractors to provide maintenance on the expanding network - more proof of the city's commitment to ensure the network’s growth and success.

More Money, More Fiber

The Phase 2 expansion was made possible by a $21 million general obligation bond agreement with SunTrust Bank, approved at a September City Council meeting. According to Common Council President Robert Wack, the bank’s willingness to buy the bonds came in part as a result of the proven high demand for fast, reliable, affordable, symmetrical fiber service in Westminster. He also added:

We don't want to spend money unless there is revenue from the payments to support the debt payments. The bank liked the fact we were being cautious about this. I'd like to go full steam ahead but we need people to sign up.

The bond agreement has been in the works for some time now:

All along, our plan was to borrow the money necessary to continue the build out. We are getting ready to take down the first draw that will be spent on engineering the next phase.

The city will pay off the bonds on a 30-year amortization schedule but have the option to convert the debt to a 15-year schedule if they find profits from the network allow a faster payment schedule. The city’s ability to pay off the loan faster will depend on the success of the network. The city can draw off the $21 million in bonds for five years.

Growth of the Partnership

Beyond this second phase of the project, Wack expressed optimism about the timetable for completing the two additional phases in the network map. "Ideally, we'd like to be done in three to four years, but it could easily go five to six," he said. Construction variables and the rate of new subscribership will influence the timetable.

In January 2015, Westminster and Ting entered into a partnership which was recognized as 2015’s “Community Broadband Innovative Partnership of the Year” by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA). The city owns, funds, and maintains the network while Ting has a 2 year exclusivity contract to lease the fiber and provide equipment and retail services. At the end of 2 years, the city will have the right to invite other providers to offer services via the infrastructure.

Ting, which markets itself as a provider of “crazy fast” fiber Internet service, also provides high speed broadband service in Charlottesville, Virginia with plans to make Holly Springs, North Carolina the next “Ting Internet Town.”

Listen to Chris interview Dr. Robert Wack, the man who spearheaded the initiative, in episode 100, and Tucows CEO Elliot Noss, parent company of Ting, in episode 134 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.