Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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UTOPIA Fiber announced last week that it had completed network construction in Layton, Utah’s ninth largest city. The announcement comes just in time for increasing reliance on home broadband connections as more people shelter-in-place in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Already, UTOPIA has seen a rise in sign-ups for its regional open access fiber network, even setting a new daily record. While some of the growth can be attributed to Salt Lake City’s booming population, many new subscribers point to the need to work from home as the reason they decided to sign up.
On Tuesday, UTOPIA’s sales team signed on 88 new subscribers, nearly doubling the network’s previous one-day record of 48. According to UTOPIA, most new subscribers said that the ability to work remotely — especially considering Covid-19-related restrictions and closures — drove their decision to connect.
In addition to the current pandemic, some of this increase is tied to population growth in the region. Since the new year, UTOPIA’s monthly sign-ups have hovered around 600-700, exceeding the network’s typical average of 500 new subscribers per month.
As we reported earlier today, many networks are starting to see growth in home broadband usage as workplaces and schools close across the county in an attempt to contain the novel coronavirus. However, it’s too early to say exactly how the Covid-19 outbreak will impact broadband subscriptions and Internet traffic going forward.
Building a UTOPIA
The completion of UTOPIA’s fiber network in Layton, worth $23 million, will bring increased access to vital online education, remote work, and telehealth services to the city of 80,000 people. Approximately one third of Layton households are already connected to UTOPIA’s open access network. They can subscribe to one of 11 Internet service providers offering speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second.
With everything from shelter-in-place orders to partying on Florida beaches, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the country have had to figure out their own responses to Covid-19. We reached out to a mix to get a sense of what they are seeing and how they are adapting.
Some ISPs have cut all installs and have disbanded their offices as much as possible to work remotely and try to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. Others have detailed new protocols. Almost all are seeing some increases in bandwidth usage. Lots of ISPs have special, temporary offers to get low-income families signed up during this time of need.
When it comes to usage, we are seeing a lot more activity. We don't have enough evidence to confirm our recent predictions, but things are more or less where we expected. Most networks usually have peak activity in evening prime time hours, and that remains true. The daytime peaks are expanding, but 4K streaming is keeping those evening peaks much larger.
At Sonic, California's largest independent ISP, they have seen an increase of 25 percent in evening peak, which is remarkable, but well within the capacity of their network to handle it.
As schools and businesses ask people to stay home to reduce the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus, I wanted to share some thoughts about how I expect broadband Internet access networks will handle the change and increase in broadband traffic in residential areas.
Our first reaction is that, as with so many areas with network effects, the rich will get richer. This is to say that historic inequities will be exacerbated — people that have been able to afford the high-quality networks will probably see very little disruption and those who have older networks may be effectively disconnected.
Better Network Scenarios
Those on fiber optic networks probably won't notice major changes in demand. This is the easy one — it is why we have long believed that fiber optics should be the goal for the vast majority of Americans.
Most modern cable networks should be also able to handle the demand — especially on the download end. This is good because 2 out of 3 Americans with broadband gets it from a cable network. Upgrades in recent years from the aggressive cable companies (Comcast Xfinity, Cox, and some of the many smaller cable networks — Charter Spectrum less so) should allow more than sufficient download capacity even if home video streaming increases significantly. But in smaller towns, where the local cable companies haven't been able to afford those upgrades and the bigger cable providers have just ignored them, I would expect to see intermittent and in some cases, persistent congestion problems from bottlenecks.
In the upstream direction, the cable networks will have some challenges. I wouldn't expect most Comcast or Cox markets to have too many problems, though neighborhoods with lots of professionals using video conferencing tools could congest. I would expect Charter Spectrum, Mediacom, and many of the others to have frequent congestion for upstream connections, lowering throughput extremely at times.
Revisiting Reedsburg: LightSpeed's All-Gig Telecommuter Paradise - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 327
It’s been a while since we last visited with Reedsburg Utilities Commission General Manager Brett Schuppner. He’s back on the show again to help us spread the word about this Wisconsin town’s decision to switch all their muni network subscribers to affordable gigabit connectivity and to eliminate all other tiers.
Brett and Christopher get into why the RUC decided that going all-gig would benefit the community’s residents and businesses and how they decided that their role was to provide the service and let the community run with it. RUC has been offering high-quality connectivity for about 15 years, making it one of the oldest publicly owned networks in the U.S.
When Brett was on the show in 2015, he and Christopher talked about the RUC’s plans to expand. "Deja vu" as the same topic comes up again on this week’s episode. The RUC has been awarded funding to help pay for expansion to two nearby communities that need Internet access for the 21st century. Brett shares information about those communities and the logistics behind the projects.
Located about an hour from Madison, RUC’s affordable LightSpeed provides the connections that area Wisconsinites need to telecommute. Brett and Christopher also touch on Reedsburg’s recent designation as a certified Telecommute Forward! community. The certification lets companies know that the city and areas served by LightSpeed have the capacity to support remote employees.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
In September, Reedsburg Utility Commission (RUC) in Wisconsin announced that they’re simplifying life for subscribers. They’ve eliminated service tiers and now everyone who signs up for the service receives affordable, symmetrical gigabit Internet access from their recently rebranded LightSpeed service.
Rebranding, Redefining Fast and Affordable
Back in May, RUC decided that they would renew their efforts at marketing by launching the new LightSpeed brand. At that time, they were already signing up new customers for the great gigabit deal, which translated into prices as low as $44.95 per month for 1,000 Megabits per second (Mbps or one gigabit) when purchased as part of a bundle. RUC also offers voice and video.
RUC has been offering Internet access to Reedsburg’s approximately 10,000 people since 2002. In 2014, they were the first in Wisconsin to offer gigabit connectivity. Over the past 16 years, they've expanded into different areas around the city in order to share the benefits of the network.
Growing That Gig
With the new gigabit offering to all, Reedsburg will venture out to two new areas. They received two grants from the state to expand to the Village of Spring Green and the Town of Delton.
In Spring Green, located about 30 miles due south of Reedsburg, town officials have been working with the RUC to obtain the funding to bring high-quality Internet access to town. The grant will help fund the first phase of the project, which will bring better connectivity to several community anchor institutions, the school district, and multiple government facilities. In bringing LightSpeed to Spring Green, approximately more than 260 residential and 35 commercial premises will also have access to fiber.
Out of 58 business applications, the city of Ellensburg, Washington, recently selected 30 local businesses to participate in their fiber-optic pilot project. Nineteen participants are business owners, 11 are business tenants; 22 are located at commercial locations and six are home-based businesses along with two telecommuters, reports the Daily Record.
The participants will obtain a credit of $5,000 to connect to the network from the city’s telecommunications utility. Any connection fees over and above the credit will be the responsibility of the pilot project participants.
Businesses will be able to purchase Internet access from the city at either 300 Megabits per second (Mbps) capacity or gigabit (1,000 Mbps) capacity. Service is symmetrical, which is critical for business, so speeds are just as fast on the upload as on the download. Month service fees will be $39.95 and $59.95 per month respectively. The city expects to begin connecting businesses in August.
High-quality connectivity from the local cooperative is attracting economic development to rural Minnesota. Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC), began developing a fiber-optic network in the Brainerd area in the early 2000s; as the cooperative has expanded the network, businesses are getting fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.
A recent Brainerd Dispatch article highlighted several businesses that credit the local workforce and the network for their decision to build satellite offices in the Brainerd area. In addition to “battle-tested sales people who can establish relationships with customers and can ‘close the deal,’” GovMint.com’s Director of Sales Jim Martin told the Dispatch:
Equally important is the area's fiber optic network, a high-speed Internet connection that allows the sales staff to access the company's giant customer and product database, and efficiently complete online sales forms.
Martin said the company relies on its computer system for call routing, customer information, online orders and sales leads that come through the Internet. GovMint.com's sales staff makes 150-300 customer calls a day.
"The system has to be reliable or Jim's phone starts ringing," Martin said. "The service we have in Crosslake is very fast and very reliable."
The company sells rare and unique coins and has headquarters in Burnsville, Minnesota; the satellite office employs 25 people. The company has doubled revenue over the past five years and needed to expand so established the office in Crosslake, near Brainerd and on the CTC network.
Great For The State
People rave about next-generation connectivity’s possibilities in rural economies, but what does that mean for locals? A recent survey quantified the actual impact of a reliable high-speed Internet connection in an underserved area.
Central Minnesota telephone cooperative, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), released the results of an impact survey on their newest fiber Internet service customers. CTC had extended their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd, with funding from a 2015 state broadband grant.
A Positive for Small Businesses and Farms
The survey of the CTC customers in the grant footprint highlighted the importance of connectivity for the community. Forty percent reported that they could not live in a home without a reliable high-speed connection. At the same time, fifty-six percent of the CTC customers currently use their home Internet connection for work purposes.
The new connectivity had a positive impact on small businesses and farms. More than twenty percent of the CTC customers maintain a home-based business or farm, and thirty-six percent of them reported that Internet service reduced their overall operating costs. Meanwhile, nine percent of all the CTC customers surveyed stated that they plan to start a home-based business in the next few years.
These results are especially refreshing for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program. CTC received more than $750,000 from the program in 2015 to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses in the area.
The previously underserved area sits south of Brainerd and extends to Fort Ripley. To encourage survey responses, CTC offered the chance to win an iPad and sent reminder postcards and emails to their customers. Twenty-eight percent of CTC’s customer base in that area took the survey either online or over the phone
The Co-op Perspective
In the Village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, Springs-Net has created quite a stir among the 3,500 people. This grassroots group of villagers is advocating for a municipal network. Last year, they hosted a community Fiber Forum featuring our own Chris Mitchell. Now, they’re continuing the push for better home Internet access.
Springs-Net released a white paper on a possible municipal fiber network, bringing the results to the Village Council on February 16th. Although cautious of leaping into a large project, the Village Council recognized the benefits a network could have for the town and agreed to meet with the group in April to discuss next steps to improving connectivity.
Working From Home? Yellow Springs Says "Yes"
At the February 16th Village Council meeting, Scott Fife represented Springs-Net to provide an overview of the findings in the white paper. A retired Director of Information Technology at Centerville City Schools, Fife concentrated on information most relevant to the needs of the Yellow Springs community.
According to Fife, over the last 15 years, the local business community has grown to include over 195 home-based businesses, an increase of 35%. In addition, the number of home-based engineering or scientific workers has increased 69% during the same period. Fiber connectivity could boost these existing businesses while attracting new ventures to the Village.
A recent large-scale cross-national study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) offers strong evidence that municipal broadband networks provide numerous benefits for communities around the world. Among the study’s major findings include evidence that municipal networks contribute to efforts aimed at improving local economic development, stimulating business productivity and innovation, and enhancing people’s quality of life.
The study's analysis of European nations is of special interest to us as European municipal networks are the only international municipal networks in the study that closely resemble U.S. municipal networks. In particular, the findings from the study’s central econometric analysis of Swedish municipal networks have direct implications for our understanding of the impact of municipal networks in the United States.
Findings from Econometric Analysis of Sweden
As the researchers note, extensive municipal broadband development across Sweden has contributed to a remarkably high level of nationwide fiber penetration, putting the country far ahead of the US in global rankings. The researchers report a series of features and benefits of Sweden’s widespread fiber penetration and aggressive municipal broadband efforts, including:
Increased rates of employment (with even greater employment increases in highly urbanized municipalities), increased business creation, and reduced car usage (also greater in the most urban cities) as fiber networks make it easier to telecommute to work and to shop for goods and services online.