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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)cityofdavis.org.

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.

utility-pole-1.png

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.

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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.

Grover Beach Conduit: California's New "Silicon Dunes"

The city of Grover Beach, California, recently finalized a 10-year agreement with Digital West, Inc., to bring gigabit speed fiber to local businesses. The coastal town in San Luis Obispo (SLO) County wants to attract tech companies like those making waves in Silicon Valley and the "Silicon Beach" in Los Angeles. 

Terms of Agreement

The agreement specifies that Grover Beach will maintain ownership of the conduit system and lease Digital West conduit access at an annual rate of 5.1 percent of total fiber revenue. Digital West will build, own, and maintain the fiber-optic network, several lines of which will be leased to the city for public administrative use. Upon approval from both parties, the 10-year agreement can be renewed in 5-year increments.

A May 2016 Grover City staff report provided an optimistic forecast from Digital West:

The forecasted revenue amount speculated by Digital West Network, Inc. for the City is estimated to grow from a first year projection of $4,437 to $112,302 in year 10, for a total over the 10 years of $602,285. This amount is much higher than the originally predicted 10 year projection of $32,038 per year represented by Digital West Network, Inc. in 2014. The increase projections are due to the fact that they plan to add the residential market to our options which is projected to fall under the lease agreement. This brings greater benefit to the community, as well as more revenue commission to the City. 

We outlined the network’s projected costs in a story last year.

Fiber Surfin’ USA

The Central Californian coastal city hopes its unique location near a trans-Pacific cable landing station will attract scores of investment and cause the moniker “Silicon Dunes” to stick. Pacific Crossing’s undersea cable is part of a four point fiber ring connecting the Japanese cities of Shima and Ajigaura with Harbour Pointe, Washington, and Grover Beach.

Initial plans call for connecting the city’s 727 businesses. With little more than 13,000 residents and a city area of only 2.3 square miles, locals are optimistic that the rest of the community will be hooked up in the near future. Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals stated in the press release:

“The agreement is a major milestone in moving the City’s Broadband Network Initiative forward and achieving the Council’s goal of strengthening the City’s economic base by attracting new business... We look forward to continuing our partnership with Digital West to bring this important project to the community.”

With the agreement finalized, city officials will soon seek bids to lay remaining conduit. Construction may be underway as early as the end of the summer. 

Soon, Faster Internet Service For Santa Cruz's Small Businesses

As the city of Santa Cruz and local Internet service provider Cruzio bring their negotiations to a close, the parties have been working diligently to dot all the i's and cross all the t's. Announced in June 2015, this public private partnership intends to build a multi-million dollar fiber network throughout the city.

According to Cruzio's most recent blog update:

[W]e’ve been locked away in our Santa Cruz Fiber Project underground bunker with our partners at the City, engaging in high-level cogitation, extreme fine-tuning and the general hashing out of every little detail of the project and the agreement.

Local news station KION covered the benefits of faster Internet service, especially for the small business community in Santa Cruz. The news station also includes a clip from a recent “City Hall to You” community meeting where people learned more about the network.

A Small Business Town

“It's absolutely critical. Without high-speed Internet activity here, we would be dead in the water,”

Explained Susan Pappas, the owner of True Olive Connection, a local olive oil store. She described how her business would fall apart without high-speed Internet access. Everything from printers to inventory would stop working.

At the “City Hall to You” meeting, Santa Cruz Economic Development Manager J. Guevara laid out the facts, emphasizing how Internet access is not just for tech startups. High-speed Internet access makes small businesses function and helps job-seekers find employment. Guevara told KION,

“Over 82 percent of the businesses in the city of Santa Cruz are 10 or fewer employees. This is a small business town and Internet is the infrastructure that makes it all possible.”

Infrastructure from Santa Cruz and Cruzio

The $45 million dollar infrastructure project is a public-private partnership where the city will own the network and Cruzio will operate it. For the first few years, Cruzio will be the sole service provider. After that initial period, the network will become open access and other providers will be invited to offer competitive services. In December 2015, the city council unanimously voted to move ahead with the project.

Check out these Power Point slides from Guevara’s presentation in a May webinar presented by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice.

Warren County, KY, RFI: Responses Due July 8th

Warren County, Kentucky, issued a Request for Information (RFI) in June to find partners in order to improve connectivity for local businesses and residents. County officials want to develop a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network and are willing to consider both publicly owned and privately owned options. RFI responses are due July 8th.

The community has prioritized the following in its RFI:

  1. A community-wide FTTP work to serve both businesses and homes
  2. An open access model to encourage competition
  3. A financially sustainable network
  4. A network that provides affordable base-level service for everyone

Warren County

There are approximately 120,500 people in Warren County with about half living in the county seat, Bowling Green. After Louisville and Lexington, Bowling Green is the most populous. Located in the south central area of the state, Warren County is about 548 square miles. This region of the state had a relatively high growth rate of 24 percent between 2003 and 2014 and Warren County officials want to continue that trend with better connectivity.

In addition to Western Kentucky University, there are several other colleges and technical colleges in the region. STEM education at both the college and K-12 levels is prevalent in Warren County. The area is home to the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematic and Science,  which was named best high school in America three years in a row by Newsweek.

There is a range of industry, including finance, health care, agriculture, and manufacturing. The community seeks to improve connectivity to retain a number of its employers as well as diversify its economy further, encourage better services for residents, and spark competition.

Don't Delay

Get the details on Warren County's RFI by accessing their Bids Calendar. Responses to this RFI are due by July 8th. You can also contact Brenda Hale with questions: brenda.hale(at)ky.gov.

Westminster's Fiber Network Enables Makerspace

The high-speed, municipal fiber network in Westminster, Maryland, (pop. 18,000) is making possible another intriguing resource service for the community’s businesses and residents.

In May, Westminster officials and the city’s fiber network partner, Ting, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the coming this fall of the first Ting Makerspace, a service featuring 3-D scanning technology, including “an electronic router that can carve digital designs into physical objects and laser engraving," reports the Carroll County Times. 

Ting Makerspace And 3D Printing

The Times story notes:

The 3-D scanner “takes any object smaller than a sofa and records the shapes and contours using light patterns, digitizing it,” according to the news story. Then, the digital rendition can be printed on a mini 3-D printer, “which can scale down the scanned object or print original computer designs. The 3-D printer ejects layers of heated, rapidly cooling plastic to create plastic models of these designs.” The newspaper reported that the subscription fee for using the 3-D scanner will be $5 a day, $30 a month or $300 a year. 

The Makerspace will encourage development from local entrepreneurs who would not otherwise have access to affordable 3-D scanning technology.

Westminster Municipal Fiber Network 

Such an innovative community resource goes hand in hand with Westminster getting a high-speed Internet network. Westminster began building its municipal fiber network in October, 2014, and entered into a public-private partnership in February, 2015, with Ting. The city owns the fiber network and Ting leases fiber to bring Internet service of up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) to businesses and residents. Last September, we noted that Westminster’s partnership with Ting earned it honors from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors as 2015 “Community Broadband Innovative Partnership of the Year.” 

Until the arrival of Westerminster’s municipal fiber network, the majority of people in the city had only access to a dial-up network or DSL service. With the new municipal network, residents and businesses can now enjoy access to fast, affordable, reliable Internet connectivity with average speeds that are up to 400 times faster than what was previously available, the newspaper added.

Westminster Showcases "MAGIC"

Since the advent of the Westminster Fiber Network, the city has been able to use its high-quality Internet connectivity in some unique ways. In April, we reported how the city’s network has helped serve a new collaborative initiative called “Tech Incubation,” which gives local students experience exploring their interests in technology. In May, we described how students working on the “MAGIC" initiative created a temporary wireless network for a second project -- the city’s annual Westminster Flower and Jazz Festival held during Mother's Day weekend.  

You can learn more about the project by listening to episode #100 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Chris talked with Dr. Robert Wack, the man who spearheaded the plan in Westminster. 

Blue Ribbon Panel: The Public and Private Sectors Working Together

Like electricity in the last century, advanced communications services and capabilities can become the drivers and enablers of simultaneous progress in economic development, education, government services, digital equity, and just about everything else that matters most to our communities.

This Blue Ribbon Panel explores the challenges of establishing effective partnerships to bring better connectivity to local communities. The video is from the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas, on April 5 - 7, 2016.

Moderator: Lev Gonick - CEO, OneCommunity

Panelists: 

Chris Mitchell – Director, Community Broadband Networks Initiative, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Nicol Turner-Lee – VP and Senior Research and Policy Officer, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council 

Rollie Cole – Senior Fellow, Sagamore Institute for Policy Research

Doug Kinkoph – Associate Administrator, NTIA