Idaho Town Builds Incremental, Open Access Network

A small Idaho town near Idaho Falls in the eastern part of the state, Ammon, is creating a new approach for a small open access fiber-optic network. When the vision is fully realized, all businesses and residents will have affordable, fast, and reliable access to the Internet and other telecommunications services via a multitude of independent service providers. The town has adopted a new ordinance spelling out its vision and began building the backbone of the network. The purpose is well written and could serve as a model for others, excerpted here:
To protect the public right-of-way by improving both the management and regulation of competing demands through the elimination of duplicate fiber optic facilities within the public right-of-way. … To reduce the cost of maintaining the sidewalk, pavement and public facilities located within the public right-of-way by minimizing the number of pavement cuts and dislocation of other public facilities necessitated by the construction or installation of fiber optic facilities. To foster competition among retail broadband service providers by providing open Access to the City Fiber Optic System.
Ammon had previously applied for broadband stimulus funds but was not awarded a grant or loan. Undaunted, they continued to examine how they can build the network their community needs to attract economic development and maintain a high qualify of life. An article in the Boise Weekly profiled the network and the man behind it:
Bruce Patterson is the one-man IT department for Ammon, a small town of 13,000 near Idaho Falls. He is fed up with companies overlooking the town when they discover the cost of Internet is prohibitive. … "The City of Ammon wants to be the road, not the traffic," Patterson said. "Nondiscrimination is what we believe is the right thing. We wanna be completely open to every consumer and provider."
As we see time and time again, this community has Internet access from at least one provider, but it does not meet the needs of the community. And while this community wants more choices, it does not want local government to offer retail services directly -- in keeping with the western libertarian stereotype. So the town has started building a network that will be available to independent service providers. open-access-flickr.jpg In keeping with several other recent open access approaches, they have started an incremental effort to avoid the difficulty of growing too fast in an effort to meet debt payment schedules. The network started with a short stretch that will be expanded opportunistically -- as roads are already open or other projects present a low-cost option for increasing its reach. As much as possible, they plan to finance the network up front. Interestingly, they want to deliver multiple fibers to the edge of the network. As a business or resident, I would be able to subscribe to multiple service providers, each over their own dedicated fiber. While some may argue such an approach is unnecessary, it certainly leaves plenty of room for future growth no matter how technology changes -- and the additional cost is quite low when that is how the network is designed from the start. The following explanation comes from the City's newsletter:
On Friday, May 6th, the City lit the first 2.5 mile section of its new City-owned and operated fiber optic system and quietly took its first steps towards fulfilling a commitment made over 2 years ago to assure that broadband services in our community meet our needs, are competitive and provide the broadband access that our vision of the future will require. The City fiber system is a local private network spanning numerous locations within the City. This has become necessary due to increasing demand for network communications required to support essential City services and functions. The City stands to realize a return on its investment in the reduction of monthly operational costs and improved ability to provide for future services at almost no additional expense. However, while this financial reality is reason enough for us to invest in a community network; it is not the only benefit we expect to realize. The Ammon fiber system will be operated as an open access network for the benefit of the entire community. We expect the early beneficiaries of this ‘open’ policy commitment to be community anchor institutions, such as law enforcement, public safety, emergency responders, and our local schools. We are already working to help a number of these agencies meet their broadband needs. It is our hope that creating this open network will also entice businesses which require robust and affordable broadband services to consider settling their operation in Ammon. We also anticipate being able to give you, the Ammon residents, more choices in broadband services and providers and at better rates and much faster speeds than currently available through fiber technology. These are the many reasons why the City of Ammon will soon own and operate its very own fiber optic, open access community network. The result will be a win – win for everyone.
Update: The article quoted above from the newsletter should be credited to Brian Powell of the City Council. Photo used under creative commons license, courtesy of Gideon Burton on Flickr