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This is the transcript for Episode 257 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Christopher Mitchell and Colman Keane discuss Chattanooga, Tennessee. The city's network has community support with a high number of subscribers. Listen to this episode here.
Colman Keane: When you look at Chattanooga, it was really the perfect time, and really a good place to launch this. When you're able to bring something like this to an engaged community, then you can get the benefits that Chattanooga sees.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 257 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Colman Keane is back on the show for an update on the situation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to surpassing expectations for subscribers, the municipal utility is doing very well financially. Electric rates have been kept in check for everyone in the EPB service area, regardless of whether or not they use the fiber to the home Internet service, and the infrastructure smart grid has kept expensive outages to a minimum. Colman and Christopher also talk about the Chattanooga community, and how it's culture has contributed to the success of the network, which has in turn provided multiple benefits.
First, we want to urge you to take a moment to help us out, by contributing at Muninetworks.org, or ILSR.org. Shows like this don't have commercial interruptions, and we like it that way. But they still cost money to produce. If you're already a donor, we want to thank you. Your contributions help spread the facts about municipal networks, so kudos to you for participating. Now, here's Christopher with Colman Keane from Chattanooga's EPB.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcasts. I'm Chris Mitchell. Again, coming at you from Mountain Connect in Keystone, Colorado, a wonderful regional conference, one of the best in the nation. I'm here today with Colman Keane, the Director of Fiber Technology for EPB Chattanooga. Welcome back to the show.
Colman Keane: Thank you very much.
June will be an exciting month for people living in Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, and Stewart in Minnesota. RS Fiber Cooperative will begin construction so those premises can connect to the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network now serving six other communities in the central Minnesota region. This stage of the buildout should bring another 500 subscribers on to the network by the end of the year; the network already serves 1,100 premises.
Bringing The Last Towns Into The Fold
“As construction of the network continues, we expect our customer numbers to continue to grow. Once we have the final four towns connected to the network, construction can begin on Phase Two of the project which will involve bringing gigabit fiber service to the township members of the RS Fiber Cooperative.”
Customers who take FTTH service now can sign up for voice, video, and Internet access up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps). Addresses that are outside the fiber connection service area have been able to obtain service from the cooperative via its fixed wireless RS Air service.
A Story Of Peaks And Valleys On The Prairie
The RS Fiber Cooperative story began in Sibley and Renville Counties as a regional municipal effort but when Sibley County pulled out, the project had to restructure their plan and design a new strategy. Rather than leave the rural farms behind, the participants decided to form a broadband cooperative to serve as many premises as possible.
Local farms - some of which had no Internet access at all - needed high-quality Internet access in order to operate in the modern agricultural economy. National providers had decided that the area was too sparsely populated to justify investment, so the locals decided they needed to act.
Hudson Oaks, Texas, will be deploying infrastructure this summer in order to bring high-quality connectivity to businesses and residents. At a recent city council meeting, community leaders authorized the project to allow the town of about 1,700 people to be the first to offer gigabit connectivity in Parker County.
Working With A Local Provider
The city will own the infrastructure and recently entered into a partnership with local Internet Service Provider (ISP) NextLink to offer service via the fiber-optic network. NextLink is headquartered in Weatherford, about five miles from Hudson Oaks. Fort Worth is about 25 miles due east of Hudson Oaks.
According to the Weatherford Democrat, properties within city limits will be served by the new fiber service that will be funded with public investment. On the city’s Facebook page, residents asked questions and city administrator Patrick Lawler addressed them:
“The city of Hudson Oaks cannot by state law spend funds outside the city limits unless expressly given the authority such as we have with water. Fiber does not qualify for this exclusion. NextLink, however, may expand the service at their discretion. In order to prepare for that possibility we have placed additional fiber strands for future expansion.”
Earlier this month, the city authorized the issuance and sale of $1.54 million combination tax and revenue certificate of obligation to help fund the project.
Prices for Internet access should run around $50 - 60 per month for 50 Mbps and $150 per month for gigabit connectivity. Construction on the network should start this July.
Beverly Hills may be known for mansions and upscale shopping, but within a few years, it will also be known for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The city is investing in a citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network for all homes and businesses, including apartments and condos, inside the city.
"90210" Wants Something Better
The city (pop. 35,000) is a little less than six square miles and they receive electricity from Southern California Edison (SCE). AT&T and Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) provide Internet access throughout the community but a 2014 survey as part of the city’s feasibility study indicated that 65 percent of respondents would “definitely or probably” switch to services from the city, if the services were offered. As part of the survey, 25 percent of respondents also want video and voice bundles; 86 percent feel using the Internet at home is important.
While incumbents offer fiber connectivity in commercial areas of Beverly Hills, local businesses report that rates are expensive and they must pay for the cost of construction, which is also a big expense. At a recent City Council meeting when the Council approved funding for the project, the Mayor and Members expressed the need to be an economically competitive city. With Santa Monica, Culver City and Burbank nearby (all communities with municipal networks), Beverly Hills wants to be able to attract businesses looking to relocate or hold on to the businesses that need affordable and reliable gigabit connections.
Nuts And Bolts To Networking
Winter Park is considering creating an institutional network (I-Net) to provide gigabit connectivity to municipal facilities. Community leaders are examining the pros and cons of deploying a fiber backbone to 17 city-owned buildings that could save significant dollars and be used for other applications in the future. Some of the uses they've discussed include connecting traffic signals and street lights to address traffic congestion, a common complaint in Winter Park.
“When you talked about ... fiber 10 years ago, it was hard for people to see the future; now the future is here, and we’ve got to do it,” said Winter Park’s Information Technology director Parsram Rajaram, who is working with the task force. “Fiber is essential in my view.”
Not A New Idea
The Orlando suburb, home to 30,000 people, has been considering creating a network for years and last summer released the results of a broadband feasibility study to the City Commission.
“This is something that has been discussed at the city and the City Commission for a decade. If you’re like me, you hear from people multiple times about a dissatisfaction with the (Internet) service that they are offered, a fairly singular service… We’ve been talking about it long enough, and if we started this a decade ago, we would probably already have a backbone for the city that could be utilized,” said Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary.
In March, Leary created a Fiber Optic Task Force, charged with making and presenting recommendations to the City Council. The Task Force is leaning toward suggesting the community invest in an I-Net rather than a larger project to serve businesses or residents at this time. An I-Net is estimated to take two years and cost $4 million. In contrast, connecting municipal facilities, businesses, and residents would cost up to $28 million.
Serving The City Saves Public Dollars
Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) is now rolling out gigabit connectivity to local communities. Local leaders and network officials anticipate the upgrade will attract more jobs and more people to this rural area of the state:
"Jackson is very fortunate. This is something that a lot of people probably take for granted and don't realize how lucky we are in greater Minnesota to have high capacity access," said Jackson City Administrator Jennifer Bromeland.
"It's just been so vitally important, and to be able to offer that in the communities of our size is just something else. It's absolutely fabulous," SMBS General Manager Travis Thies said.
SMBS received $12.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to add to their own contributions, for the 181-mile fiber project in 2012. The publicly owned regional network serves the communities of Jackson, Bingham Lake, Heron Lake, Lakefield, Brewster, Wilder, Okabena, and Round Lake. Several of the communities in the consortium had been told by incumbent CenturyTel (now CenturyLink) they would never get upgrades faster than dial-up because the towns were just too small to justify investment from a national provider. Now all the communities collectively own the high-speed fiber-optic network.
Local businesses strongly supported the project and helped secure the ARRA funding with letters to the federal government expressing the need for better connectivity in the region. Municipal facilities were connected to the Internet via 1.5 Mbps connections that drained bandwidth for the rest of the community. Local healthcare facilities and nonprofits also stepped up to submit appeals to the federal government. Clearly, the entire region - and all sectors in it - needed better connectivity.
Things have changed since the communities took matters into their own hands.
"We have the fiber set up to many of our businesses and residents right now, so we have had this for a while and it's helping or businesses to meet their goals and just helping us to keep people in Jackson and attract people to want to move to Jackson," said Bromeland.
Better Broadband On The Prairie
If you’re going to talk about gigabit Internet access, Chattanooga is going to be part of the conversation. Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB) is the go-to example for citywide, symmetrical, high-quality, gigabit connectivity, and it has been since 2010.
But some one forgot to tell Comcast.
On March 20th, the ISP posted a new Xfinity video to “introduce” Chattanooga to gigabit speeds. Many, many snarky comments followed, from critique about the poor Internet access to complaints about slipshod customer service. The Times Free Press picked out some of the more memorable responses:
* Jason Schmurr: "Nope, Comcast is definitely not introducing gig-speed Internet to Chattanooga. In fact, the only thing they have introduced was a lawsuit attempting to ban gig-speed Internet from Chattanooga."
* Matthew Borden: "If I had the choice.... I'd still choose EPB. Unfortunately I am stuck with Comcast because they are the only provider in my area with broadband Internet access."
* Alixanderia Echbright: "I'd rather birth a cactus than deal with Comcast ever again. Gig speeds have been here for years, buck up."
* Scott Vandergriff: "The difference is EPB has no traffic throttling, no data cap and no "introductory" pricing. $69/month for straight unimpeded, symmetric gigabit fiber and it's been that way for years."
* Vince Cantrell: "Not sure why anybody would pay for Comcast over EPB. EPB has direct fiber to every house in Chattanooga, and has had gigabit for 7+ years already."
* Brent Tapio: "LOL, 'Introducing'? You guys have heard the term 'Gig City' used before right?"
* Patrick Alan Jaworski: "You guys realize that was already a thing ....right?"
* Steve Allen: "I'm glad I'm not the Comcast person that has to respond to all these comments."
Comcast told the Times Free Press that the strong negative response to the marketing campaign came from a "misunderstanding" in what the national provider meant to convey. Guess they should have said what they meant and meant what they said.
LanCity Connect Partnership Brings Gig to Southeast Pennsylvania - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 248
Located in southeast Pennsylvania, Lancaster will soon have some of the fastest Internet access in the entire state due to its partnership with a local telecommunications firm, MAW Communications. We reported on many details about this approach here, but Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 248 offers an in-depth look.
Lancaster Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins and MAW Communications Operations Director Brian Kelly joined me to talk about the history of their partnership and the next big step: a citywide gigabit fiber-optic network.
We also talk about the risks to the public sector from trusting a private company with essential infrastructure and the potential challenges for a private sector company to work with a local government. Both sides are going into this arrangement with their eyes wide open and offer tips for what others should consider before they try to replicate the model.
If you missed it, last year we released a major paper about considerations in public-private partnerships. We did not discuss LanCity Connect, but many of themes apply.
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Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Pennsylvania’s state barriers won’t stop this community from improving Internet service for its municipal facilities, residents, and businesses. The City of Lancaster is collaborating with private provider MAW Communications to ensure the community has next-generation technology. Their public-private partnership, LanCity Connect, will offer affordable 1 gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) service over a new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.
Shared Risk, Public Financing
The Lancaster Online has closely followed the development of the partnership from a 2015 Wi-Fi project between the partners to the current citywide fiber plan. Here's a quick summary of the basic framework of the partnership:
MAW Communications originally built a $1.7 million fiber backbone starting in 2015 with financing from the city's water fund bond. The city had refinanced its water utility debt, saving some $7.8 million and they worked out an agreement with MAW where the private partner would deploy and own a backbone fiber network. Over the 20 year term of the deal, the city has the right to half the network for city services, including automatic meter reading (AMR) and a traffic control system, with the city being able to renew the deal for four additional terms. Officials have said this arrangement will not impact water rates.
MAW Communications will extend the network to premises, aided by a $1.5 million loan with a 7 percent interest rate from the city's general fund reserves. The provider will repay the loan over a 13 year period. As long as MAW Communications has an outstanding loan to the city, the provider cannot sell the network without the city's written approval. Though the loan will help MAW to begin building the network, the costs of connecting homes and businesses would still be prohibitive at $1,000 each if not for another element of the plan.
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.