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Murfreesboro Wants to Use Existing Fiber for Better Connectivity
In the center of Tennessee sits Murfreesboro, the fastest growing city in the state with 108,000 people and one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. (Just 10 years ago there were only 68,000 residents.) Murfreesboro is also one of the next communities to show an interest in a publicly owned fiber network to improve connectivity.
In an August press release [PDF], Murfreesboro Electric Department (MED) described their existing 19-mile fiber infrastructure, used for communication and control purposes for the electricity distribution system. The fiber was deployed in 2008, says MED General Manager Steve Sax, and the utility is now making plans to use spare fibers for Internet connectivity. MED is in the process of expanding its network by an additional 20 miles.
Sax also stated that MED is working with Middle Tennessee State University to develop a fiber optics pilot project but did not offer details other than it is "very similar to what Google is doing in Nashville."
MED and the Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative (MTEMC) recently entered into negotiations for MTEMC to acquire the MED. The city of Murfreesboro is in the center of the MTEMC service area and the two have been duplicating efforts in some areas. The city and cooperative signed a memo of understanding in June and the process is moving forward slowly. MTEMC serves over 200,000 cooperative members in a four county service territory; the MED provides electricity to approximately 56,000 customers.
MTEMC does not offer telecommunications services at this time but according to a Daily News Journal article, the cooperative is investing in fiber:
"We have been working with an enterprise ... on a fiber network," said [Brad Gibson, MTEMC chief business officer] about the utility that covers Rutherford, Wilson, Williamson and Cannon counties.
MTEMC has contracted with a private company to install and manage its fiber network but the utility is also researching the possibility of developing its own network, he said.
"We are dedicated to fiber," Gibson said.
Baltimore for Broadband Op-Ed Demands Local Authority
On July 27 an important op-ed appeared in the Baltimore Sun to argue for the creation of a Baltimore Broadband Authority (BBA). Written by a cohort of three philanthropic organization presidents, two consultants, one broadband coalition leader, and one state senator, the op-ed echoed the calls of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and community groups, such as the Baltimore Broadband CrowdFiber initiative, who believe that in order for Baltimore to continue its development into a haven for young people, minimize pernicious digital inequalities, and ensure economic growth, the City must take charge of its fiber assets. As the authors wrote:
We urge the city of Baltimore to move quickly, but carefully, to create the much-needed Broadband Authority and act with all deliberate speed to devise a comprehensive, workable plan to move us forward.
The most recent op-ed comes in the wake of a series of moves by the City of Baltimore to study existing broadband infrastructure and adapt plans to expand access across the region. In June, the City released two studies to address increasing demand for broadband in areas that incumbent providers Comcast and Verizon have neglected (that being the vast majority of the city). One report, by the Smarter City Task Force, highlights the severity of the digital divide in the City of Baltimore:
There are no precise estimates of how many people in Baltimore lack access to broadband Internet. While national surveys suggest that about 20 percent of Americans do not have broadband at home or a smartphone, it’s reasonable to conclude that the percentage of Baltimoreans who lack broadband is higher. Baltimore has a large population of African Americans and people who have low incomes or low educational attainment – three demographic and socio-economic groups that nationally are significantly more likely to lack home broadband access.
Want a Gig? Ask Consultants the Right Questions
Hillsboro officials have heard back from the consultant they hired to examine the feasibility of building a municipal fiber network that would bring high-speed, lower-cost Internet service to city residents. The answer? Don't do it.Stories like this make my blood boil. It is the absolute wrong question. But to delve into it, I want to abstract away from any specific consultants or approaches. This is not a failing of a single consultant, but something we have seen to various degrees from many. Jumping ahead, the correct approach is to develop a description of the problems a community faces or wants to solve relating to Internet access. Then, examine a variety of approaches to pick the best option rather than only evaluating the single most expensive option. Some consultants are very happy to bid a project, answer a narrow question, and then let the community go on its perhaps puzzled way. They have the list of phone poll questions, the spreadsheet full of assumptions, and final feasibility report template all ready for the next community. (We do not offer consulting services.) Other consultants go out of their way to educate, guide, and otherwise help the community develop and achieve its objectives. These consultants may appear to cost a [no-glossary]bit[/no-glossary] more, but actually can be much more cost effective. Some consultants bid the bare minimum, planning to charge extra later for supposedly supplemental information that is actually essential for continuing the process. A consultant should be a guide to achieving objectives rather than simply evaluating a single, likely over-simplified question. It all starts with what questions a community asks.
Cleveland Investigating Fiber Pilot Project in Tennessee
After a feasibility study on the possibility of a municipal triple-play fiber network left Cleveland Utilities feeling "…not overly optimistic…" community leaders have decided to rethink their strategy. The utility board recently voted 5-0 to look deeper at a network that would offer only Internet and voice services.
Rather than study the feasibility of serving the entire community, CU wants to first try their hand at working on a limited area with a pilot project. The next step is to work with a consultant that will conduct a more focused feasibility study and develop a business plan.
In June, CU CEO Ken Webb told the board:
"I will go ahead and tell you that it's not overly optimistic about us being able to provide 'triple play' [Internet, television and phone] services," Webb said. "The capital requirements are extensive, and the startup cost could present issues."
"There is a possibility of offering services that are not full-blown services," Webb said. "There are a lot of decisions yet to be made, and a lot of review has yet to take place."
After more review of the study, Webb asked the board at the July meeting to consider further consideration for the pilot project, much like the process in Erwin, Tennessee. The Times Free Press covered the meeting where Webb reported that Erwin expected to break even on its pilot project once it took on 180 customers. After recently commencing the project, it quickly signed up 150 subscribers.
More Feasibility Studies in Colorado and Ohio
Two more communities in Ohio and Colorado are seeking information through broadband feasibility studies.
The Aspen Daily News recently reported that Pitkin County has already completed phase one of its feasibility study. This past spring the primary Internet path coming into Aspen via CenturyLink fiber was severed causing widespread outage for 19 hours. The first half of the feasibility study sought ways to introduce a redundant path.
The first option was a 100 percent fiber solution and a hybrid fiber/microwave solution was proposed as an alternative. For option A, the consultants recommended a fiber backbone along Highway 82 with fiber lines running into Redstone, Marble, and Snowmass. Microwave could serve nearby Fryingpan Valley. Option B would travel the same route but make more use of microwave.
Early cost estimates:
Estimated operating costs for option A would be more than $122,000 per year, while option B would cost just over $92,000 annually. Yearly maintenance costs for the fiber-only model were projected at just under $62,000, and the hybrid model would run more than $123,000.
A survey or residents in several communities in Pitkin County indicated most are not happy with speeds or reliability of current Internet access. Approximately half of the region does not have broadband as defined by the FCC at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
[One of the consultants] said that according to the survey, customer satisfaction in the area is “significantly low.” It also noted that 34 percent of responders said they run a business out of their home, and an additional 10 percent replied that they will start up an in-house business within the next three years.
Adams relayed that more than half of respondents felt that the county should build some sort of “state-of-the-art communications network.”
“It’s clear that the residents would like to see the county do something,” he said.
Erie County, New York Will Hire Consultant for Feasibility Study
Erie County's leadership recently decided it is time to get serious about publicly owned broadband infrastructure. The Erie County Legislature approved funding to engage a consultant for a feasibility study. Patrick B. Burke spearheaded the initiative, reports the county's website. Burke stated:
“Consumers, businesses, schools and government agencies need to have affordable and accessible high speed internet service in order to function in today’s world; the build out of a fiber cable network is a no-brainer. This is a win for social justice, economic development and public safety.”
In addition to funding, the county has also formed a Municipal Broadband Committee and released a policy agenda which addresses service problems in the county. Next the county will issue an RFP for a consultant.
Earlier this year, the Broadband Committee released a report [PDF] that estimated a municipal fiber network would, among other things, boost GDP in the county by 1.1 percent or $450 million per year. That report recommends public ownership of infrastructure, with private partners acting as managing operators with private ISPs offering services via the network.
The report also noted that the Buffalo Metropolitan Area peak speeds come in 294th in the state at 22.2 Mbps. The horrible result is in part due to dead zones in the southern areas where there is NO Internet access. Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state - this result is completely unacceptable in the 21st century.
In March, Burke told WBFO:
"This has to happen...There is no doubt that there will be a build- out of fiber networks in this region and throughout the country."
LUS Fiber "Ask Me Anything" July 14th 1:30 p.m. CDT
The community of Lafayette voted 10 years ago this month to create its own municipal FTTH network. In doing so, they created a standard that other communities have tried to emulate. On Tuesday, July 14th at 1:30 p.m. CDT, City-Parish President Joey Durel and LUS Fiber Director Terry Huval will host a Reddit Ask Me Anything about the initiative.
This is a great opportunity to learn about the community's vision, mobilization efforts, and the way it overcame challenges to create a highly successful municipal fiber network.
Prepare your questions and join the conversation at http://reddit.com/r/iama
Here is your video invitation from Terry Huval:
In West Texas, "Hub City" Conducts Fiber Feasibility Study
A feasibility study conducted by the Lubbock Power & Light (LP&L) Electric Utility Board this April discussed several potential benefits of installing a fiber optic cable in the City of Lubbock, Texas. Charles Dunn, a member of the Utility Board, proposed installing fiber optic cables alongside the city’s utility lines, which are currently being buried underground as part of a three-phase, $1.9 million downtown redevelopment initiative.
A fiber optic cable, Dunn contended, could increase Internet speeds hundredfold (from a max speed of around 10 Mbps to one above 1 Gbps), attract high tech companies to the city, and induce Texas Tech University students to stay in Lubbock after they graduate. In Lubbock, where Internet speeds run about 35 percent slower than they do in the rest of the state, a fiber network could be a boon for businesses and residents alike.
According to the April feasibility study, the fiber project might not even eclipse $100,000. LP&L would shoulder the costs of the project by drawing from its own budget. Both Dunn and LP&L director of electric utilities, David McCalla, believe that fiber would greatly benefit the community.
CEO of McDougal Companies, Marc McDougal, also argued in favor of the installation of the cable. From Fox 34 News:
Quite honestly, it would give us something that very few cities have... It would give us a huge advantage in another market to recruit businesses for downtown Lubbock.
Maine Island Stranded Without Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 155
Many communities feel like they are an island without proper connectivity but Islesboro, Maine, is literally an island... without proper connectivity. This week, we talk with Page Clason, Manager of the Broadband Internet Working Group for the island that is moving toward a fiber solution to expand high quality Internet access. We discuss the differences between a mainland community and island life, the dynamic between full time residents and people who live on the island part of the time, and what Islesboro is doing to ensure everyone has high quality Internet access. We also touch on the discussions around how to pay for the fiber. We recently wrote about the vote to move forward with an engineering study and contractor search. Read the transcript from this episode here. We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."