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Lakeland, Florida, Takes Small Steps

This spring, Lakeland city officials began contemplating the future of the city’s dark fiber network with an eye toward making a firm decision on whether or not to expand how they use it. Rather than pursue a municipal Internet network, Commissioners recently decided to seek out private sector partners to improve local connectivity.

Too Much For Lakeland?

Kudos to Christopher Guinn of the Ledger for very thorough reporting on the issue. According to his article, the city will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a solution that provides Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity to replace the current speeds in Lakeland. Cable serves the community now with maximum speeds of 150 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and about 10 Mbps upload.

In addition to the difficulty of establishing an Internet access utility, City Commissioners appeared intimidated by incumbents:

“I look at us trying to develop and design a fiber-to-the-home (network), the marketing, the technical support and all that, and going up against current providers, and I don’t see it,” Commissioner Don Selvage said.

Pilot Won't Fly

One of the options the Commission considered was a pilot project in a limited area, but that idea didn’t catch on either. Commissioner Justin Troller advocated for the pilot project:

“I think we should have a test area. If that’s something that costs we can say we tried it, we invested in it, it didn’t work and we’re moving on and finding a private partner,” Troller said.

He added: “I’m not against going out and seeing what the private sector will offer us. I’m saying how do we know we can’t do it if we don’t do it?”

While a number of Commissioners agreed that high-quality Internet access is critical for both economic development and the residents’ quality of life, fear of facing off against incumbent Charter overcame any vision of how a municipal network could benefit Lakeland:

“For most of us there is not a philosophical problem with expanding utilities. This is a utility; we can pretty well justify it ... (and) when you look at the revenue possibility down the road to replace the hospital it makes good governmental sense,” [Mayor Howard] Wiggs said.


But incumbent providers are not obligated to play nice with new competition, Wiggs said, and he worried an operation like Charter Communications could severely drop prices and erode the city’s market edge.

Not A Total Loss

While Commissioners chose not to pursue the municipal network plan, they did support a number of items intended to encourage better connectivity in Lakeland:

  • It will submit a bid for supplying internet access to Polk County schools when its current contract expires with the goal of making money from existing assets while reducing the cost of the School District’s services.
  • To address the “digital divide” between rich and poor, Lakeland will consider expanding its free wireless service, SurfLakeland, into neighborhoods. The service is currently available in municipal buildings and in Munn Park.
  • Wiggs recently made a pitch to other municipal leaders in Polk County to join forces in encouraging broadband expansion throughout the county.
  • The city will continue its “dig once” policy for all infrastructure work — that when roads are closed and crews dispatched for underground utility work, conduit that could be used for fiber optics is put in place.
  • The city’s “dark fiber” network, which provides intra-city connections for companies and organizations with multiple facilities, will be more actively marketed. Currently the program generates about $4 million each year.
  • The city will also look at fees and licensing costs to determine if they are discouraging private investment.

The Lakeland Regional Airport will deploy its own fiber infrastructure and will offer Internet access to tenants. The project had been considered as a business pilot and, according to the article, costs are now going to be covered in part with federal and state grants specifically earmarked for airports.

Citizens Want Action

Gigabit Lakeland, the grassroots organization advocating for a municipal network, expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision. Shane Mahoney, one of the group’s leaders, talked to the Ledger:

A partnership with a private provider has not been his favored outcome, Mahoney said, but his group intends to continue pressuring the city toward better internet infrastructure in the city, particularly for residents who do not have quality access because of price or location.

Santa Cruz And Cruzio Call It Quits

The city of Santa Cruz seemed well on their way to a productive partnership with Cruzio as the two entities hammered out an agreement for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) citywide open access network. We recently learned that both parties have stepped back from the partnership, leaving the multimillion-dollar vision in a dark limbo.

The Plan

The $45 million infrastructure was to be owned by the city of Santa Cruz and Cruzio would operate it while also offering high-quality Internet access to the community. For the first ten years, Cruzio was to have an exclusive contract after which the network would become open access. There are approximately 62,000 people living in the community situated near Silicon Valley and this project was one of the larger public-private partnerships (P3).

In July, Cruzio announced that it would begin deploying fiber in one of the city’s downtown neighborhoods by Thanksgiving, ahead of any agreement to use city-owned fiber. The deployment will bring FTTH to approximately 1,000 homes; Cruzio’s plan is self-funded.

Now What?

There is nothing that prevents the two parties from picking up where they left off and reaching an agreement some time in the future, but they would need to rebuild trust. Sadly, they lost over a year as the two parties negotiated while residents and businesses across the city happily anticipated better Internet access.

These events remind us that P3s are fragile unions that are the apex of many interlocking pieces. Like a house of cards, when one segment falls, the entire structure can come tumbling down. As more local communities consider P3s to bring high-quality Internet access to residents, businesses, and local government, they need to stay realistic, consider the long term, and keep risk in their sights.

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 222

This is episode 222 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Centennial, Colorado's Fiber Director Tim Scott joins the show to discuss conduit policy, dark fiber strategy, and Ting. Listen to this episode here.

Tim Scott: How do we create a more competitive environment and enable new entrants to look at the market and put together products and services, leveraging the city’s backbone that can create this new, competitive, compelling environment in Centennial?

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 222 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In 2013, Centennial, Colorado voters chose overwhelmingly to opt out of the state's law that restricts local telecommunications authority. Since then, they've steadily advanced toward a plan to use their publicly owned fiber to bring better connectivity to the community. Last month, Internet service provider, Ting, announced that it would be partnering with Centennial to bring gigabit Internet service access via the city's publicly owned fiber-optic network. Tim Scott, the city's director of fiber infrastructure, joins Chris today to talk about Centennial's voyage from a new Denver suburb to a city that has the fiber to draw in a growing provider like Ting. He explains what the city has created and how, what providers are looking for, and offers more information about the new partnership. Now here are Chris and Tim Scott, director of fiber infrastructure from the city of Centennial, Colorado.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm speaking with Tim Scott, the director of fiber infrastructure for the city of Centennial, Colorado. Welcome to the show.

Tim Scott: Morning, Chris. Thanks for inviting me.

Christopher Mitchell: I got it right, Tim Scott?

Tim Scott: Yeah, you did. You got it right. Good job.

Christopher Mitchell: The community of Centennial, I've actually been down in that area, in the Denver metro area. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Tim Scott: As you say, it's really considered a suburb nearly of Denver. We're right down on the southeast corner of the Denver metro area. What's kind of interesting about the city of Centennial, a lot of people don't know this, it's a very new city. We're only 15 years old. We were incorporated in February 7th, I believe, 2001. It's a very new city that was pieced together in a lot of what was unincorporated Arapahoe County land. We're 14 miles wide across. We often refer to the city as shaped a bit like a dumbbell. We've got this larger eastern residential area, which would be one of the dumbbells, and then it sort of narrows along the middle where we kind of have more of our central business district, or CBD area, and then it widens out again into more of a dumbbell shape on our western side of the city. 14 miles across and a population, I believe, of 107,000.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that shape actually plays into a lot of our discussion in terms of what Centennial's done with fiber-optics. We'll talk in a minute about the partnership that you're going to be engaging in where Ting is going to be leasing some lines from you. First let's talk about what Centennial has. What has Centennial built over the years?

Tim Scott: The city really has been on a path of really trying to figure out how fiber can continue to develop the city and keep it ahead, really, of a very competitive growing Denver metro area and sort of looking at ways to use fiber as a leading edge tool that continues to keep the city at the forefront, whether it's from an economic development perspective, for creativity, for our own city services. This has really been a path that the city's been on probably for, I would say, four years. It's probably a good indicator hopefully to some listeners of really how long it can take to figure all these pieces out. I know, Chris, that you've met many of their council members that attended some of the broadband shows over the years as they really tried to put these different pieces together. During those years, they took some really important steps, I think, to sort of get the city prepared ultimately for a broader fiber initiative with partnerships, potentially. Across those years, they continue to invest in some city owned fiber. We have about 50 miles today of fiber along most of the major roads through the city. They primarily are used— it’s city owned fiber, what we call ITS for intelligent traffic signaling. It really doesn't do anything more than that. That in itself has really served a purpose because the city through our Public Works Department built, deployed, managed contractors to deploy that fiber— some of that knowledge is internal within the city now, which is great. Probably most importantly really what it required was the building and the ownership of existing city conduit that that fiber would reside in. I think what we learned as a city is that ownership of that physical asset is so important and in this case ownership of as much as our own city conduit was really important because ultimately that's what's going to be leveraged in our next phase of our fiber build out.

Christopher Mitchell: I think the shape of the city actually really works to your advantage because if I understand it correctly, you were able with your intelligent traffic signaling to put in conduit and fiber along a few major corridors and yet be very close to the vast majority of the premises in the community.

Tim Scott: Yeah, that's correct. If we look at 2013, which is really our starting asset for our fiber master plan, which we'll talk about, which is really our 2016 initiative, if we look at our assets in 2013, where we had fiber in conduit, it really isn't that different from where we're going to invest and build new fiber in 2016 going forward, it's just that's called a different type of fiber with a different purpose, and that's going to be for serving our community anchor institutions and for serving ultimately businesses and residents. You're right, even in 2013, the city already had a strong footprint of existing city owned conduit and some existing fiber serving our traffic signaling, would run east to west across the city down those main roads, main lines, as you said really passes some significant residential populations and again with our coming down the core of that central business district in the middle of that dumbbell, passing a lot of business in our city as well that ultimately can be served with fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: Tim, I'm curious, I think a lot of people just sort of think, well if you had fiber to a lot of these places in 2013, why do you have to do something different now to achieve different ends, rather than the original ITS, intelligent traffic signaling ends?

Tim Scott: It's a great question, Chris. It's something I think that the city probably took a good 12, maybe even 24 months to really understand and get their head around completely that this strategy for fiber from a broader perspective needed to be a little different. Around 2013, the city had deployed fiber in typically a let's call it a point to point fashion, where the pure purpose of that fiber was to go from really one street crossing to another street crossing to serve traffic lights. That was a good purpose and why it was built at that time, but obviously when it was built at that time from a fiber density perspective, it was also low count fiber, like everything from 12 fibers up to 40 type fibers, but what we would call low density fiber. Also perhaps most importantly, I always feel a lot of communities tend to forget this, is it's really the accessibility to the fiber that becomes important. It's not just where the fiber goes, but it's where the handholds are and the future splice points are that ultimately that stretch fiber could be utilized to be used from an expansion perspective. Where do you break into that fiber to create a lateral that can connect to an anchor institution, a business, or a resident? It was a great starting point because it was, again, conduit that the city went through the process of either building and owning itself or getting it co-built with a carrier that may have been building some conduit in the city too, and then being able to use that existing conduit to serve a purpose in 2013, but again, revisit that conduit now in 2016 and say, "Okay, the best way for us would be to build a new, what we would call, carrier grade backbone infrastructure," but again using that existing conduit, a lot of it, that was built in 2013 and prior to 2013 to run this high count. In the case of the city of Centennial's backbone, you're going from low strand fiber to a 432 fiber backbone. That is a lot of fiber. A lot of people fall off their chairs when they say, "The city's building a 432 fiber backbone," so absolutely the city's backbone that will be deployed all around the city and in many of the same locations where we had ITS fiber and city owned conduit, except now it'll be probably 65 plus miles of new fiber backbone, 432 fiber count, the latest and greatest from a spec perspective in terms of fiber that's on the market today. Again, with all the records that we think are really important to accompany that. You've got to be able to prove conduit ownership. You've got to be able to create the right splice points and the right accessibility to the backbone fiber, and ultimately then back that up with the right level of documentation that shows the correct as-built exactly where it is, exactly how it's accessible. It's really building it with a purpose to serve as a facilitator for the private sector. I think that's very different than building fiber that has a single purpose, which in our case was ITS, and then building fiber as a backbone that really can be leveraged ultimately someday by the private sector who could come and use it, but has a higher level of expectation in terms of documentation, accessibility, support, how it was built, all that complex stuff that ultimately becomes important. We're going through all that complex stuff to build it exactly in the right way so it could be considered carrier grade.

Christopher Mitchell: There's a couple of questions that sort of spring to mind, and one is when you say you're reusing the conduit, did you have enough space to just put additional fiber in there or do you have to pull out those original 40-some strands?

Tim Scott: Yeah, good question. We have a lot of conduit conversations because actually what's quite interesting with this project is that we're 100% underground. It's all city owned conduit or ultimately what will be city owned conduit. In a lot of places, that's two inch conduit. Where we have two inch conduit and we have city fiber already there, we may build, as we go through this build process, another parallel conduit that will sit right beside it that will serve the 432. We're really going through that process right now with what we're calling our design engineering firm or our owner's project manager that really looks exactly what where do we have conduit, where do we have clean, clear two inch conduit that we can use for the new 432 backbone. Great. Where do we have existing conduit where it's clean and it's a quarter inch conduit, and where do we have existing city conduit where it's maybe two inch but there's going to be some fiber already in there? The plan right now, and of course this is all subjective to ultimately final budgets and stuff, but the plan right now is we really don't want to have to cut and pull out any fiber and then replace it with new backbone. Our preference would be to ensure that the city has lots of available city conduit, both for this project but even for the future too. I mean, if we can put in three two inch conduits in some locations, we'll look to do that because we believe that's still an asset and 10, 20 years down that could be very valuable.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, let's get onto what many people might consider the big news, which is that we've just learned that Ting, a company that's already working in Charlottesville, Virginia, Westminster, Maryland, we've talked about many times. They've also announced Holly Springs, North Carolina, and Sandpoint. And their fifth community they're going to be working with is Centennial, which I think is pretty tremendous, given that everyone seems to love their services. I've long been a wireless customer of theirs and I'm very happy. What's your relationship with Ting in terms of how they're interacting with you?

Tim Scott: Two weeks ago Ting broke the news that they were coming to Centennial, Colorado, which I think as you mentioned is their fifth planned community project. We're very excited about Ting. Ting is a company that certainly I've followed over the last couple of years as they've worked really diligently to get their first couple of projects on the eastern seaboard off the ground. I've had the pleasure of visiting those communities and really understanding both what Ting does locally, but also probably even more importantly is their engagement with the local community. Ting followed an RFI process that the city had, expressed their interest in leveraging this new, to be built, carrier grade 432 backbone, to really come and enter what I think is a wonderful market for them. It's an extremely fast growing area of the country. It's an extremely fast growing area of the Denver metro market. We have actually, in Centennial, we have the highest Internet adoption rate in the country of 96%. We believe we've got a very educated, very connected community. We think it's a great opportunity for a fiber player to come to town, leverage the city's backbone that gives that pervasive coverage across the city, and ultimately invest their dollars to bring the backbone to the premise, whether it's businesses, whether it's residential. One of the things you mentioned I think that's been a real standout has been what we've learned about their customer service. You've experienced that obviously on the wireless side, but it appears to be very similar on the wired side, the fiber side. We're excited about that. Obviously we're excited about their products and their future services, which hopefully they'll be bringing out as well to markets like Centennial. I look at it as a real game changer for the city. I really think that this presence of Ting will really transform the city of Centennial. I'm excited to see their white and blue trucks and vans drive around Centennial just like I saw them in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious, are they actually going to be leasing your fiber then or your conduit or will it vary depending on location? Is that all worked out yet?

Tim Scott: No, it's not all worked out yet. Basically the announcement is I think confirmation that they're in the what I would call research stage. They've already done their preliminary research. They're very happy about the demographics and obviously what they consider is a great market opportunity in Centennial. Now they dropped down a layer and they start to figure out, okay, where exactly should we target first? Which residential areas of the city make sense? What about the businesses? How do we do that? Obviously they have a large step up to create in terms of creating a local team in the Colorado market, something they'll be starting very soon. There's a lot of actions that they have to take. Then really their relationship with the city at this point is ultimately they will execute some sort of agreement or lease of fiber on the city's backbone. I think that will obviously be dictated a little bit about some of the decisions they have to make about where they will go first, which areas of the city, which residential areas of the city. The business relationship, if you want to call it that, is basically they're taking an IRU for fiber lease from the city of Centennial, which would absolutely be obviously available to the next partner that might want to take an IRU on the city's backbone.

Christopher Mitchell: That's actually something I wanted to ask you about. With 432 fiber strands, it seems like you have plenty of capacity then for any other ISPs that might want to also invest in Centennial.

Tim Scott: Yeah, we do. I mean, we are building deliberately a backbone that has a lot of capacity, both for opportunities for private carriers to lease dark fiber capacity on the backbone, but also for our community anchor institution use, public safety use for many agencies across the city. The opportunity is there for other carriers to lease fiber on our backbone and make that bet of investing to create fiber to the premise opportunities. I think a lot of people think about it and I think a lot of people see those opportunities, but actually taking the steps that Ting have done to create the brand around it, create the local teams around it, have the product services and customer support to back it up, those are different. Those are different steps. We're very pleased with the partnership. We're very pleased with where we are with Ting and we look forward to the decisions that they make over the next few months, which will really set up what they do in 2017 and beyond.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, this is a key moment in the podcast that I usually come up against, and that is we could end it right now and have a nice short podcast, but there's another question that's burning in my head. You're a unique person that can help answer it, I think. You have a pretty long background in dealing with various open solutions, both dark and lit open access approaches. Your background, you've worked previously with Axia, which is an open access provider working in the state of Massachusetts. I'm really curious if you can just – Some of our other cities who aren't Centennial who are trying to figure out how to think about their different options in terms of a dark versus a lit strategy for encouraging open competition in the community. What thoughts can you give them?

Tim Scott: Yeah, and it's a great question and I think one, Chris, that we've seen tossed about for years at various broadband and community fiber forums. I think the way that I would answer this is, first of all, just talking about what the city of Centennial did. The city of Centennial really tried to figure this out for a number of years. Went through the process, you've got to sit in a room and have everybody say, "Okay, we can either, at one end of the scale, do nothing or, at the other end of the scale, we can do everything," meaning that we can build a network, fiber, electronics, offer services, move into the whole competitive environment. At one end of the scale it's obviously $0, do nothing, and the other end of the scale it could be $150 million plus and become this new entity. I really believe that in all situations, depending on the community, there's a model for each. In the case of Centennial, it was not really to pick a middle ground or anything, but the right answer because of our drivers which was we didn't have a significant fiber in our community from a city perspective that we could really leverage. We had a competitive environment in the sense that we have Comcast and CenturyLink, but no fiber products being developed or being brought into the community from a fiber to the premise perspective. We had small, small numbers of fiber where the largest enterprises could get served with basically expensive fiber. We really felt, from an economic development perspective, the focus was on how do we create a backbone that can create a more competitive environment and enable new entrants to look at the market and put together products and services, leveraging the city's backbone that can create this new competitive, compelling environment in Centennial? Again, that just takes a lot of time to go through the process as a team to figure that out, to get through the right political support behind it, to educate everybody that's on council, not just the wonderful three members that we had on our fiber subcommittee who are all three sitting council members as well. It just takes time to go through that. In our case, the answer to what Centennial should provide became very evident through a lot of different workshops. It became very evident of what we felt we needed to do to change those dynamics. I see other communities that maybe are more rural and they really, truly believe that they have to move into what I would call the business. Maybe they only have one carrier serving their community and maybe they're not very focused on doing a great job. Obviously they need to go further on that scale towards that number that I talked about, that $150 million number, where they need to not just build fiber, but they might need to light up the electronics and even provide— compelling at least Internet services.

Christopher Mitchell: What I'm curious in particular is for a community that is really set on providing services indirectly, really focusing on wholesale services or wanting to encourage that, I'm curious about the merits of a dark versus a lit strategy. The city's basically already saying, "We're not going to provide services ourselves."

Tim Scott: Yeah. I feel like in our case we chose that dark fiber strategy because we see a line in the sand between being a provider of dark fiber and the complexity that's associated with making that business work and making those prices and products compelling for the marketplace. Then on the other side of that line, the complexity of moving into wholesale lit services is just a different ballgame. You've got to have a different type of team and you've got to have different capital and you've got to have different levels of expertise and different levels of support, and that option which would be wholesale lit services. Again, for us, it just became apparent through our process that creating a dark fiber backbone that was citywide, that has been built to a carrier grid standard that you can prove to any private parties that you sit down, whether it's the biggest guy in the country or the smallest guy. You can say, "Here's how it was built. Here's the as-builts. Here's the quality. Here's the data centers and carrier hotels that the backbone connects to." That becomes a very compelling proposition. There's other things that are important too, Chris. To ensure that dark fiber proposition works, the city has got to be organized. The city's got to have this permanent fix. It's got to have the right of ways fixed. All that stuff, what Google looked towards cities to provide, a lot of that work has gone on in the background as well over the last couple of years as the city also got organized to ensure that we could really be very responsive as it related to our codes and permitting and all those other requirements.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. One last follow up question, which is you mentioned this a couple of times and I think you're probably someone who could define it well, when you talk about carrier grade, I assume that's in contrast to enterprise grade, which is not a Star Trek reference. Aside from all the paperwork, which I find very interesting to prove that it's not going to cause any headaches for someone who's using it in the future, what are some of the other things that a potential ISP would be looking for in terms of something that's carrier grade?

Tim Scott: Yeah. It seems to get thrown around, but I think you got to be able to demonstrate to a private carrier that this backbone fiber that ultimately they're going to use and really treat as their asset under an IRU, you have to be able to demonstrate that it's been built correctly, with the right as-builts, that it's been tested correctly with the right fiber test results, such as OTDR testing, which they would, I assume, expect to see and many of them will, and that it's ultimately the right type of fiber in terms of its specifications. Some of those ... Those three elements I would certainly say all factor into something being termed carrier grade. Then the other piece that we touched on earlier that I didn't want to forget about is accessibility. There's no point in having the latest and greatest fiber backbone from point A to point B if you can't get at it in between. It's the getting at it in between that creates the valuable laterals that connect to the residential communities or connects to the businesses or connects to anchor institutions. It's combining, I feel, all the factors, right, and into that definition of what's carrier grade. Unfortunately, I've sat down over the years with many communities that might have the fiber asset but really struggle to explain and demonstrate to a private party that it's carrier grade because they don't have the documentation or they don't have the test results or they can't prove that it connects to the right points, A and B or A and Z locations, or that it's accessible in between and they've got the documentation to demonstrate where it's accessible in between. All those factors I feel melt into that broad definition of carrier grade.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you for coming on the show to tell us so much more about what's happening in Centennial. I think also almost uniquely in this history of this show at least to really give us the nuts and bolts between the differences between building a network out for intelligent traffic signaling and how to attract a brand new carrier. It's been great.

Tim Scott: Thanks, Chris. Thanks a lot for having me on the show. I look forward to seeing you in Colorado sometime soon.

Lisa Gonzalez: Thank you for listening to episode 222 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Again, that was Tim Scott, director of fiber infrastructure from Centennial, Colorado. Read more about Centennial at Remember we have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcast available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow's stories on Twitter, where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Thanks to the group, mojo monkeys, for their song “Bodacious,” licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening.

Mediacom Lawyers Slow Competition With Court Time, Resources


When big corporate incumbent providers fear a hint of competition from a new entrant, they pull out all the stops to quash any potential threat. One of the first lines of offense involves the courts. Iowa City now leases its fiber to Cedar Rapids based ImOn and to stop it, Mediacom is reprocessing an old argument. It didn't work the first time, but they are going for it anyway; this is another example of how cable companies try to hobble competitors; just stalling can be a "win."

A Lawsuit In Search Of An Offense

Mediacom has a franchise agreement with Iowa City to offer cable television services and it also provides subscribers the option to purchase Internet access and telephone services. As most of our readers are attuned to these matters, you probably already understand that just any old cable TV provider can’t come into Iowa City and set up shop. State and local law require them to obtain a franchise agreement, which often includes additional obligations in exchange for access to a community’s potential customer base.

According to a 2015 Gazette article, Mediacom provides annual payments for use of the public right-of-way, operates a local office, and provides free basic cable services to local schools and government buildings. These types of commitments are commonplace as part of franchise agreements and are small sacrifices compared to the potential revenue available to Mediacom.

ImOn started offering Internet access and phone services to Iowa City downtown businesses in January but the company does not offer cable TV services like it does in other Iowa municipalities. ImOn doesn't have a franchise agreement with Iowa City but Mediacom says that it should. They argue that, because ImOn has built a system capable of offering video service, it should also have to obtain a franchise agreement.


In August, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Wolle dismissed the case, stating in a nutshell:

"Although ImOn is constructing in Iowa City a system that may become capable of delivering cable programming, ImOn is not now delivering cable programming. Therefore, ImOn is not presently required to seek a cable franchise.” 

Blast From The Past

This isn’t the first time this argument has echoed off the walls of a courtroom. Back in 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed a similar case between Time Warner Cable (TWC) and the city of North Kansas City. The situation was similar, except the city had not yet decided whether to invest in the required head end to provide video over the fiber-optic network they wanted to deploy. At the time, a Missouri law required a vote if the community planned to build and own a system in order to offer cable TV services. TWC wanted the use the court for a pre-emptive strike: to bar the city from using the network for video services stating that they could not do so because they had never held a vote.

TWC's argument revolved around the question of whether or not the city owned or operated a cable television facility, which was in violation of state law. Since the network was not offering cable services and there was no head end yet - in fact they didn't even know if they wanted to invest in one - what really mattered was whether or not North Kansas City owned a "cable TV facility" without prior voter approval. In other words, were they building a network that was capable of offering cable TV services?

As in Iowa City, the court determined that the issue was not “ripe.” From the opinion:

It is factually undisputed that the City's fiber-optic network is not connected to the required head end facility to receive such signals nor is there any plan to acquire it. Thus, Time Warner's statutory claim rests on a contingent future event:  the ownership or operation of a cable-television facility by the City;  therefore, Time Warner's claim that a vote is required under Missouri law is not ripe in that the City does not currently own or operate a cable-television facility because the planned fiber-optic network will not be capable of transmitting cable-television signals and because the City recognizes that in order for it to provide cable-television services a public vote would be required.


Let's not put the cart before the horse.

Jeff Janssen, vice president of sales and marketing for ImOn said in December that if the provider’s plans change, they will take the necessary steps:

“Franchise agreements are all around cable TV,” he said. “Once we decide, or if we decided to offer cable TV in Iowa City, we would get that franchise agreement, we are required to.”

Every Tool In The Anti-Competitive Toolbox

Mediacom has approximately 4,500 employees and, like the other large corporate providers, they have a highly qualified regiment of attorneys. Not likely they missed the similarities between the North Kansas City and Iowa City cases, but there’s more than one way to win.

Traditionally, winning means presenting the facts and proving to the judge that they fit into the law and that your interpretation of how they work with the law is more correct than your opponent's. For companies like Mediacom and TWC, however, winning can also mean delaying your opponents project to drive up their costs or cool subscriber interest. In other words, going after the fruit before it is "ripe."

Winning may also mean forcing the other side to give up and walk away by driving up their legal costs or making them lose progress when construction is delayed and subscribers lose confidence in the project.

Big incumbents have become masters at using the courts for sabotage schemes, no matter how frivolous the perceived infringement. They sue or threaten to sue over poles, attempts to streamline, and what services a city can and cannot offer. The state legislatures that have passed laws restricting local authority have only helped massive telecoms and cable companies abuse the courts by providing vehicles for their lawsuits. At the same time, they have forced local governments to waste citizen funds and stalled Internet access, typically to the communities most desperate for it.

You can read the Order for Summary Judgement, the Order Amending the Order (which appears to correct a typographical error), and the Notice of Appeal for more.

Dark Fiber, Free Wi-Fi, Startups in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Missouri law has severely restricted municipal networks, but local entrepreneurs decided to create their own fast, affordable, reliable community connectivity. The City of Cape Girardeau has made new plans in its Marquette Tech District: free public Wi-Fi and a tech-hub for startups. Although the city is already home to more than 100 large employers, city officials want to also encourage small businesses and entrepreneurship. Underneath all the possibilities is publicly owned dark fiber.

The Marquette Tech District will utilize the City of Cape Girardeau’s dark fiber to connect the new tech-hub and provide free public Wi-Fi. The project hopes to bring new vitality to the Marquette Tower building, a center of the city's old economy, transforming it into a space for new technology-based companies. Local entrepreneurs have created a nonprofit to develop the project and the local Internet Service Provider (ISP) Big River Communications is on board. The city, meanwhile, owns the essential infrastructure - the fiber.

A Nonprofit Drives Development

The Southeast Missourian has followed the development of the project since its inception. From the planning process to obtaining grants, the newspaper has unraveled the complex collaborations across several institutions and levels of government.

The City of Cape Girardeau, population 40,000, has always been a regional commercial hub on the Mississippi River in southern Missouri. In the late 1920s, travelers could stay downtown at the upscale Marquette Tower hotel. More than 100 employers in the city each provide jobs to more than 100 people, including Southeast Missouri State University and several healthcare systems. Community leaders hope the new tech district will attract and retain young professionals; the university next door is an excellent resource for educating and keeping a talented tech workforce.

Local entrepreneurs realized that they could unlock the potential of the city's dark fiber. They created a nonprofit, the Marquette Tech District Foundation, to improve quality of life, accelerate economic development, and provide connectivity in Cape Girardeau. The Foundation developed a plan through an agreement with the city council and a $200,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority, a federal-state partnership.

Details and Dollars

The Foundation has three main goals:

  1. Take advantage of the city’s dark fiber.
  2. Install more fiber downtown for the tech-hub.
  3. Develop free public Wi-Fi.

Downtown small businesses will also have access to affordable high-speed connections. In July, the city council approved the agreement with the Foundation for the use of the dark fiber and for the installation of a new fiber line. 

According to the agreement (July 5, 2016, Resolution No. 2995, Bill No. 16-111), the Foundation will own the hardware to “light” the fiber, but the city will own all of the fiber, including the fiber to be installed by the nonprofit. All plans and specifications must be approved by both the Foundation and the city, ensuring local control. 

The Foundation has up to two years to install the new fiber and commence the public Wi-Fi project. If the Foundation doesn’t follow through, the nonprofit will pay $25,000 to the city to install the fiber. If the Foundation fails to deliver on its promises, the city will install the fiber itself and recoup some of its expenses from the Foundation.

The entrepreneurs behind the Foundation, however, have a strong interest in completing their part of the agreement. The nonprofit's executive director is a cofounder of Codefi, a successful co-working space and tech incubator. Codefi is also an anchor tenant of the renovated Marquette Tower tech-hub. Local Internet service provider Big River Communications also agreed to provide gigabit (1,000 Mbps) Internet service to the Marquette Tower.

In early August, the Marquette Tech District received a $200,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority. The authority is a federal-state collaboration established in 2000 by an act of U.S. Congress to promote economic development in the eight state Delta Region. The funding will cover planning costs and connecting the public spaces. 

While announcing the grant, Mike Marshall, the alternate federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, spoke about the potential of the Marquette Tech District: 

"Cape Girardeau is an important economic and entrepreneurial hub for Southeast Missouri, so we are proud to make this investment in boosting digital connectivity for students, residents and businesses with fiber optic cable in the downtown area."

For more information on the Marquette Tech District, check out their video below.

Medina County Aims to Be Mecca of Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 220

Medina County has built a fiber network to connect its core facilities and leases its fiber to multiple ISPs to improve connectivity in its communities. David Corrado, CEO of the Medina County Fiber Network, joins us to discuss their approach on Community Broadband Bits episode 220.

We discuss how the Port Authority became the lead agency in building the network and the challenges of educating potential subscribers on the benefits of using a full fiber network rather than the slower, less reliable connections they were used to.

Medina's approach allows carriers to buy lit services or dark fiber from the county network. And as we have seen elsewhere, the biggest challenge can be getting the first and second carriers on the network. After that, it can really pick up steam as other carriers realize they are missing out if not using it.

At the end of our interview, we added a bonus from Lisa - she just produced a short audio segment about Pinetops losing its Internet access from the city of Wilson in North Carolina.

Read the transcript of the episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Davis, CA, Issues RFP For Feasibility Study: Responses Due Oct. 31

The city of Davis, California, recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a citywide fiber-optic feasibility study report. The community wants to consider the options for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Responses are due October 31.

The scope of the work includes:

The study should provide an analysis of options for engineering, constructing, provisioning and operating a high speed citywide FTTP network. It should feature both physical and network transport layer components required to pass and potentially connect every home, business, apartment complex, and institutional building within the City of Davis. The analysis should also consider future use at strategic infill and edge points around the City in order to support network growth through the coming decades. 

Davis wants firms to consider public private partnerships, the city’s network as an open access infrastructure, and Davis is only an infrastructure provider.

In early 2015, a group of citizens formed DavisGIG to encourage community leaders to move forward by establishing a Broadband Advisory Task Force and the feasibility study. In March, Davis established a task force to examine the possibility of deploying a network to serve municipal facilities, community anchor institutions, businesses, and residents. Incumbents Comcast, AT&T, Omsoft, and non-profit Davis Community Network offer a wide range of services now and there is little consistency for the city’s 68,000 residents.

The University of California Davis (UCD) is a major employer, as is the State of California. According to the RFP, there is a growing entrepreneurial culture springing up in Davis due to the presence of UCD’s research environment. The community wants to feed that growth with a citywide, future-proof, FTTH network.

Important due dates:

  • Notice of Intent to Respond:  Thursday Sept. 22, 2016
  • RFP respondent questions due: Thursday Sept. 29, 2016
  • Answers to questions distributed: Friday Oct. 14, 2016
  • Proposals Due: Monday Oct. 31, 2016 at 3:00 p.m. PT

Send questions to Diane Parro, Chief Innovation Officer: clerkweb(at)

Problem With Poles In Connecticut: Petitioning PURA For Precision

In Connecticut, local municipalities want to take advantage of the state’s unique “Municipal Gain Space” but invoking the law has not been hassle-free. As towns try to place fiber-optic cables on this reserved section of utility poles, questions arise that need answering. 

Giving Towns Some Room On The Poles

The Connecticut statute grants state departments and municipalities the right to use space on all of the approximately 900,000 utility poles sitting in the municipal Rights-of-Way (ROW), regardless of ownership. One of the state's electric providers and either Verizon or Frontier jointly own most of the poles.

The law was created in the early 1900s for telegraph wiring and as new technologies and wire types evolved, a number of law suits ensued. Cities and state entities usually won, preserving the space, but the process of getting attachment agreements approved became more burdensome and expensive. In 2013, the state legislature amended the law so municipalities could access to the space “for any use.” The change opened the door for hanging fiber for municipal networks and partnering with private providers.

A Little Help Here...

In theory, it seems simple but in practice, pole administrators - Electric Distribution Companies (EDCs) and telephone companies - and government entities need guidance. As communities across the state band together to improve local connectivity and try to use the law, they have uncovered its flaws. It has potential, but the Municipal Gain Space law needs sharpening to be an effective tool. Its application rules are not sufficiently defined and a number of technical issues are not addressed. 

The state’s Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA) has the authority and responsibility to establish rules to settle the problems with the law. Deploying a municipal network is no small task; the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) and the State Broadband Office (SBO) hope to simplify the process for local communities. They have petitioned PURA to clarify the Municipal Gain Space rules. In their formal petition, they ask PURA to investigate and remove barriers that interfere with the “timely and efficient use of Municipal Gain.” Read the petition at the PURA website.

Lack Of Direction Jeopardizes Local Projects

We spoke with Elin Swanson Katz, Consumer Counsel, and Joseph Rosenthal, Principal Attorney from the OCC. Bill Vallee, the state's Broadband Policy and Program Coordinator joined the conversation. They described how a lack of direction for pole administrators and other gaps in the Municipal Gain Space law negatively impacts deployment for municipalities that decide to employ it. From inception to implementation, communities find themselves confronting some common questions.

A city may decide to invest in a project and use the Municipal Gain Space law to determine a route for their fiber-optic network cables.  As they move forward, they find that there are a number of unresolved questions, beginning with where on the pole the Municipal Gain Space should be located. Often the other entities that are using the poles have not reserved space for a municipality’s unrestricted use.


Once they answer the important issue of where on a pole a cable belongs, the next question is who pays to rearrange the existing wires so the new cable can be attached? For example, if a telephone company hung its wire but failed to reserve the space for the town to use later, who should pay for the make-ready costs when the town decides to use its statutory space under the Municipal Gain Space rule? How should make-ready costs, which can make or break a municipal fiber project, be allocated?

Time is critical; that holds true in the telecommunications industry in a number of ways. New rules would also establish who would be responsible for assessing the condition of the poles to expedite projects that depend on pole availability. Scheduling trucks and technicians from the various entities using the poles, fragile financing schedules, deployment delays that cause subscription losses, are only a few factors impacted by timing that affect the viability of a public or private network.

Limiting Competition With “An Offer You Can’t Refuse”

As communities have moved forward with fiber projects, some have entered into agreements with pole owners whose draft pole attachment agreements dictate the terms. Local communities may feel they have little choice, especially if they depend on critical funding tied to a tight deadline.

Some pole attachment agreements violate the law because it includes language that restricts municipalities’ use of the Municipal Gain Space. By limiting the space to “government use,” pole owners are able to prevent partnerships between municipalities and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who may wish to provide services to businesses or residents via publicly owned infrastructure. Such a restriction eliminates a range of options for local communities who may not have the ability to operate and maintain a fiber network alone. Incumbent providers are using their pole attachment agreements to stifle and delay municipal networks, including those that involve private partners, as a way to limit competition.


Local communities must go out of their way to avoid these restrictive agreements if they want to preserve their ability to one day use their fiber for something other than a "government use."

For example, Somers had been awarded state funding to connect to the state education network but refused to sign the pole attachment agreement from Frontier. The resulting delay almost caused them to lose the state grant and they eventually engineered the network to avoid Frontier poles so they would not have to restrict away their Municipal Gain Space.

As part of the petition, the OCC and SBO are asking PURA to develop rules that could be used to build a standard agreement between municipalities and the telecommunications companies or EDCs that own the poles.

Washing Away The Mud For Everyone

In their June 21st news release, the OCC emphasized that the Municipal Gain Space rules affect a number of entities:

Other interested stakeholders in a PURA proceeding regarding the municipal gain would likely include the Single Pole Administrators (the two Electric Distribution Companies), the incumbent telephone companies, the several cable operators, long-term infrastructure investors, the diverse set of utilities, municipalities, investors, other entities that already engage in pole attachments, and Connecticut business and technology promotion groups seeking high-speed internet access.

"The process is daunting and in some circumstances clear as mud...That whole process needs to be clarified," Katz told the Hartford Courant in June. If PURA agrees, the Municipal Gain Space may soon be sharpened and ready to break new ground for Connecticut communities.

Community Connections - Westminster & Ting: The How and the Why

More and more cities are turning to public-private partnerships (PPP's) in building Internet networks that meet the needs of 21st century homes and businesses. If a city builds its own fiber and leases it to a trusted partner, they can negotiate for activities that benefit the public good, like universal access. 

In this video Christopher Mitchell interviews Dr. Robert Wack with Westminster, Maryland and Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, the parent of Ting. The two talk about their revolutionary public-private fiber partnership.

The video outlines a basic economic principle: "Ownership equals control, and control means leverage." If you don't have that leverage (such as ownership of infrastructure) you won't get a good deal from your private ISP.

Noss has long been active in preserving and expanding the open Internet. Dr. Wack is a city council member and driving force behind the open access fiber network partnership. 

For a much more detailed look at public-private partnerships, check out our guide: "Successful Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships". The term "public-private partnership" has been muddied in the past. The report clears up the confusion: public entities and private companies must both have "skin in the game" to balance the risks and amplify the rewards.


I-Net Beginning to Blossom in Greenfield, WI

Greenfield city officials and school administrators recently agreed to cooperatively build a fiber-optic institutional network (I-Net). The Milwaukee suburb of about 37,000 expects to trim thousands of dollars from its annual network bill and bring its students, teachers, and local government up to speed.

Dig Now, Save Now

Just like many communities across the U.S., Greenfield realized that it was paying too much to connect its community anchor institutions (CAIs) to the Internet. In April 2015, Greenfield school district approved a bandwidth upgrade with a private provider that would cost the schools $45,588 annually. Within half a year, they had already hit their new bandwidth limit. In November 2015, they needed to upgrade again to the tune of $119,141 per year. 

With classrooms and public institutions demanding increasingly higher bandwidth, local officials decided to ditch the incumbent providers to build a fast, affordable, reliable network in the coming semester. Their investment will allow them to make long-term budgeting decisions, direct more money toward classroom expenses, and use technology to offer rich educational experiences. 

Construction started in June on the fiber-optic network that will connect Greenfield school district, neighboring Whitnall school district, Alverno College, and Greenfield public safety buildings. With installation slated to finish by summer’s end, local institutions expect immediate savings. 

Financial Terms

The City of Greenfield, Greenfield School District, and Whitnall School District all applied for state trust fund loans through the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands of Wisconsin (BCPL). 

Michael Neitzke, Greenfield’s mayor, expects the town to repay it share - a $700,000 loan from BCPL - within 10 years thanks to annual telecommunications savings. The school districts anticipate even shorter repayment periods. Officials at Greenfield School District expect to pay off their loan within 4 years, according to Superintendent Lisa Elliot.  The School District of Whitnall authorized a $440,000 loan from BCPL with a 5-year repayment term at an interest rate of 2.5 percent. 

More Than Just Money

Greenfield hopes its network will impact the community beyond the balance sheet. In addition to blazing fast download speeds, fiber-optic networks feature faster upload speeds that shorten data transfer times, opening the door to a variety of indirect benefits for public safety and education. Greenfield Now quoted Nietzke, who said: 

“Benefiting most in local government are police and paramedics... Police especially depend heavily on getting data and lots of it. Based on the increasing need of law enforcement, an upgrade of this kind would have been made, anyway.”

The school districts are also excited for new possibilities. Greenfield and Whitnall will consider sharing the costs of virtual classrooms, where students in either district could attend classes via the Internet. Their partnership with the city will allow the school districts to save substantially on telecommunications costs; school officials can direct funds toward educating students, maintaining infrastructure, or other important necessities.

Ottawa, Kansas, and Monticello, Illinois, are two other communities where schools and local government have teamed up to save public dollars while simultaneously obtaining better connectivity. Schools can use federal E-rate funds to pay for the cost of Internet infrastructure investment, reducing the overall cost for deployment. Money saved by lowering telecommunications costs can later be re-invested. When a city strategically locates fiber-optic rings, they can later expand their network to serve other CAIs, businesses, or residents.

Regardless of how far Greenfield eventually takes their network, these first steps will result in significant cost reduction and a valuable publicly owned asset.