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Erwin Fiber is growing in stages and now that the utility in Erwin, Tennessee, has completed phase three of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment, about half of its electricity customers have access to high-quality Internet access. That’s not all - phase four this spring will bring gigabit connectivity to more rural customers in two nearby mountain communities.
Reaching Out In Steps
All told, Erwin Fiber more than tripled its service area in 2016. A December grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will allow the utility to complete the spring build out, which will serve an additional 680 homes and 30 businesses. The Temple Hill and Bumpass Cove areas located in the mountains outside of downtown Erwin will have access to Erwin Fiber's symmetrical Internet access. Due to the remote character of these neighborhoods, people here had little prospect of obtaining high-quality Internet access from other providers. The 35-mile expansion will cost approximately $400,000.
November’s expansion added 2,200 homes and businesses, while a similar effort last March included 1,300 homes and businesses. Both expansions came after the community successfully experimented with a 2015 pilot project in which the city’s electric utility connected an initial 1,200 customers. The utility needed the infrastructure for the electric system other utilities; it was the right to to invest in the equipment for high-speed connectivity and phone service
Not An Impluse
The municipality of about 6,000 people had considered the investment some 15 years prior but couldn’t afford the investment until recent years when the cost of deployment decreased. In January, Christopher interviewed Lee Brown and John Williams from Erwin Utilities who discussed the community’s project and explained how the fiber infrastructure is benefitting all the utility customers, even those who don’t subscribe to FTTH services.
Last April, the small town of Waverly in central Iowa connected its first customers to test the new, citywide, Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) network. After years of sub-par service from incumbent providers, the residents wanted something better. After securing funding, the municipal Waverly Utilities set to work on the Connect Waverly network. Services officially became available for everyone in July 2016.
Today, Connect Waverly stretches to all 10,000 homes and businesses in the town and provides high-speed Internet service of up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) symmetrical to more than 1,200 residential and commercial customers. The Courier's Cedar Valley Business Monthly reports that Waverly's high take rate is double their six-month goal.
Jennifer Bloker, Waverly Utilities’ Director of Marketing and Public Information, told the Courier’s Cedar Valley Business Monthly, “We’re investing back into our community. We care about Waverly as a whole.”
Collaboration with Cedar Falls
Waverly Utilities had support from another utility, the long-running municipal network in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The two towns are collaborating and will share ownership of new equipment, such as an IPTV head-end system, to serve the customers on both networks.
Waverly Utilities’ Director of Telecom Service, Jeff Magsamen, appreciates the support. Magsamen told the Courier:
“We have a good partnership with them. They’re always there to answer questions, they’ve helped us out a lot. Drawing on CFU’s [Cedar Falls Utilities] decades of experience has benefited us greatly.”
Learn More About Waverly And Beyond
Morristown Utilities Commission (MUC) and Newport Utilities (NU) in Tennessee have taken the first monumental step in partnering to bring high-quality connectivity to NU customers. Both entities passed resolutions for an interlocal government agreement that will bring MUC’s FiberNET to Newport.
“This is hopefully going to be a win-win for both Newport and MUC, that we would provide services for them to put a three-way package into at least part of their service area,” MUC Chairman George McGuffin said. ‘‘This is essentially the first step, as far as agreements.”
The plan will allow MUC to expand its “light services,” which includes FiberNET, to NU’s service area in several phases. The first phase will allow more than 8,000 potential subscribers, or 47 percent of Cocke County households, to obtain FiberNET services. Phase One is scheduled to be completed in 2017; the partners also expect to begin Phase Two construction during the second quarter.
Morristown and its gigabit network FiberNET have been on our radar for a long time. We’ve written about how this community, a relatively early adopter of the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, has saved the community in several ways. By lowering electric costs with a smart meter program and by generally lower Internet access costs for government, businesses, and residents, FiberNET is saving Morristown in the tens of millions. The network is also attracting new jobs and contributing to city coffers through payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT).
Listen to General Manager and CEO Jody Wigington talk to Christopher about Morristown’s decision to invest in Internet infrastructure. He visited us for episode 35 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast in 2013.
Friends For Light
The city of West Plains, Missouri, is now offering high-quality fiber connectivity up to 1 Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second to local businesses. The community is also exploring the possibility of a pilot project to a limited area of households as the city considers whether or not to also offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).
No Time To Dawdle
According to City Administrator Tom Stehn, the decision to move forward was prompted by the state legislature: first last year's HB 2078 and now by SB 186, which will be heard in committee tomorrow, Feb. 14th. City leaders decided to preserve their local authority by establishing a broadband utility and expanding a plan to improve local connectivity. Since they are up and operating now, they expect to be grandfathered in under the language of the statute.
Open For Business
The network is now serving the West Plains Senior Center and the Ozarks Small Business Incubator. Ozarks Medical Center may soon be on the network and, according to Stehn, the city is still deploying the network but wants to let local businesses know that it is up and running. Access from incumbent providers is available in West Plains, but prices are high and some local businesses report rates up to three times those paid for similar needs in urban areas. City leaders see the network as an economic development tool that will attract new businesses and will help control prices for existing businesses and keep rates in check for residents.
West Plains is home to approximately 12,000 people and the county seat in Howell County. The town is in the center of the county, which is located on the southern border. Missouri State University has a campus at West Plains with a number of Associate degree programs and the community has an airport, the Heart of the Ozarks Fairgrounds, and several private schools in addition to the public school system.
Not long ago, FairlawnGig in Ohio began serving businesses with symmetrical connectivity, offering speeds up to 1 Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second. The incremental build is progressing and now the city is offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to residents in Fairlawn.
They Want It
According to a recent Akron Beacon Journal article, demand for residential services is already strong with more than 1,400 subscribers in line for installation; one-third of the installation is now complete. If 4,100 households and businesses in Fairlawn sign up, the city estimates it will break even. In the neighborhood where the first series of installations are taking place, 80 percent of households have signed up.
Fairlawn's goal is not to make profits from its investment; city leaders consider the network an essential piece of infrastructure like roads or sewers. They’ve chosen to fund the investment with municipal bonds, an atypical funding mechanism for Internet infrastructure. Their decision, however, underscores their commitment and belief that better connectivity is an essential service that will keep the community competitive.
“It’s going to make [Fairlawn] much more attractive,” [said local business development manager Mike Perkins]. “Fairlawn is at the forefront and everyone else is going to be playing catch-up.”
Nuts And Bolts Of FairlawnGig
When we interviewed Deputy Director of Public Service Ernie Staten about the project last spring, he described the city’s partnership with Extra Mile Fiber, an Ohio company that collaborates with Fairlawn to provide Internet access services. The city and Extra Mile will share revenue from the service, FairlawnGig.
Glenwood Springs recently released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) as it looks for firms to help them develop broadband planning. The Colorado community’s residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot program obtained a 25 percent take rate just by word of mouth and according to the RFQ, community leaders in Glenwood Springs are ready to expand that success. Proposals are due February 28th.
Beyond The Pilot
We told you about the community’s early deployment of fiber for businesses, community anchor institutions (CAIs), and municipal facilities, and how the city offered wireless service to residents. The pilot program offers the opportunity for 36 homes to connect to the fiber network; speeds range from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) at $40 - $70 per month, respectively. The program obtained a positive cash flow in its third month and broke even at 58 months, according to the RFQ.
The RFQ states:
The City is seeking qualified firms to assist the City with the development of (1) a financially sustainable broadband internet business model (“Model”) and (2) a detailed implementation plan. The Model will consist of a comprehensive business plan, detailed financial model, and recommended financing options. Upon successful delivery and adoption of the comprehensive business model (Phase 1), an implementation plan consisting of network design, construction documents, sample RFP documents, and a marketing strategy will be developed (Phase 2).
Glenwood Springs already owns significant fiber resources, its own Broadband Department within the municipal electric utility, and has been operating the network since 2002. The community opted out of restrictive state law SB 152 in 2008.
Last spring we reported that Spencer Municipal Utilities (SMU) was marching steadily on with its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project that it started in 2015. Within a few months, SMU is set to begin the fourth and final phase; the entire community will soon will have access to fiber connectivity.
Last And Final Phase
As part of the last phase, the utility will place a new substation in the northeast section of town. According to SMU General Manager and CEO Steve Pick, the utility has purchased a prefabricated structure built especially for this purpose. The structure will be delivered and installed by the sellers and the utility will pay approximately $40,000 for the building.
Spencer, Iowa, population 11,200, is one of the many rural towns that chose to invest in the necessary infrastructure to improve connectivity for local businesses and residents, rather than gamble on whether or not national companies would ever deliver. They began serving customers in 2000 with a cable network and, after they realized customers’ bandwidth demands would continue to rise, decided to upgrade to fiber. The network has been good for the quality of life and economic development in Spencer.
Prepping For The Future
Amanda Gloyd, SMU marketing and community relations manager, told the Daily Reporter:
“Our customers continue to use more bandwidth and we only see that continuing to increase in the future. In the areas of Spencer where the conversion is already complete, we are able to offer 50 [Mbps] all the way to 1 [Gbps] of service, which is exciting to be able to offer in addition to the increased reliability, decreased maintenance and paving the way for how our communication services will be delivered in the future.”
The mythical Paul Bunyan was enormous. Paul Bunyan Communications’ GigaZone appears to be following his example as it continues to expand throughout northern rural Minnesota. The cooperative recently announced that they are expanding the upgrade once again, bringing Gigabit per second (Gbps) capacity to their members via the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. This time, members in the communities of Kelliher and Northome will have access to the upgrade.
The Big Gig
The expansion brings gigabit network to more than 1,700 additional locations; this will bring Paul Bunyan’s GigaZone footprint to more than 29,400 locations. The network covers more than 5,000 square miles in Beltrami County and also reaches areas of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.
In November 2016, the cooperative began offering service on the Red Lake Nation, which makes it one of only a few tribal communities with high-quality Internet access. Paul Bunyan provides gigabit connectivity to local schools for affordable rates and has been awarded the Leading Lights National Award for most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service.
A Long Time Coming
Paul Bunyan Telephone began in 1950 when the residents in very rural northern Minnesota either had no telephone service, or received it from their townships, which meant they had to share lines with up to nine other customers. As a prerequisite to obtaining a loan from the Rural Telephone Administration (RTA) through the Rural Electric Administration (REA), the Co-op Board had to purchase and operate an existing system. They started with the privately owned Kelliher Telephone Company along with the Hendrickson Township Telephone system. In addition funds they had obtained by selling memberships in the cooperative, the board directors agreed to mortgage their own property as collateral so another local cooperative and a local bank would loan Paul Bunyan Telephone enough to purchase both telephone systems. It was a risk, but it paid off.
It’s no small feat to plan, deploy, and operate a municipal citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, but communities are doing it. We’ve put together a Citywide Municipal FTTH Networks list and a map, with quick facts at your fingertips. If your community is considering such an investment, this list can offer a starting point on discovering similarly situated locations to study.
The list is divided by state and each state heading offers a description of any barriers that exist and a link to the statute in question. Under each community, we also included relevant links such as to the provider’s website, coverage on MuniNetworks.org, and reports or resources about the network.
We used four basic criteria to put a community on our list and map:
- The network must cover at least 80% of a city.
- A local government (city, town, or county) owns the infrastructure.
- It is a Fiber-to-the-Home network.
- It is in the United States.
Share the list far and wide and if you know of a community network that meets our criteria that we missed, please let us know. Contact H. Trostle at email@example.com to suggest additions.
In a opinion piece in the Salisbury Post, resident Rex Boner encourages his fellow local citizens to “make 2017 the year of Fibrant.” As a relatively new transplant to Salisbury, Rex describes how he and his wife came to the city from Atlanta to be closer to his family and was pleasantly surprised by the community’s municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.
"It Seems Like A No-Brainer"
He’s amazed that more people are not subscribers because he and his wife find the service reliable, fast, and more affordable than the Internet access they had in Atlanta. Rex writes:
Fibrant is something that we should be very proud of, and I believe that it will prove to be a helpful component of our city’s economic development efforts.
Why we would collectively choose out-of-town internet and television providers who do not invest in our community and who provide more expensive and inferior service is beyond me. Throw in the fact that low Fibrant subscription rates ultimately leads to higher city costs since we own this system no matter what, and the decision to utilize it and benefit from it seems like a “no-brainer."
Ups And Downs In Salisbury
Fibrant began offering services to homes and businesses in Salisbury in 2010 and in 2015 upgraded to offering 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) symmetrical services. The network had already been offering 1 Gbps symmetrical service for around $100 per month. Throughout the years, the community and Fibrant have had to contend with a number of difficulties. The Great Recession and stiff competitive pricing from incumbents Time Warner Cable and Comcast took their toll on the ability to quickly attract subscribers and the community’s bond rating took a hit, but has since been elevated.