Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Islesboro Municipal Broadband (IMB) is about to celebrate its second birthday. Instead of two candles on a cake, the community has around 630 lit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) subscriptions to mark the occasion. With more than 90 percent of the premises on the island connected to the network, the community can revel in its accomplishment as it considers the future.
Super Affordable, Super Satisfied
Residents pay only $360 per year to connect to the gigabit service, which has become part of the "fabric of the island" says Roger Heinen, Selectman who's part of the Islesboro Broadband Committee. Property owners also pay a modest increase in property taxes to satisfy the municipal bond the community issued to pay for deployment. In total, most property owners pay less than $85 per month for gigabit connectivity and the optional voice service from GWI. In addition to bringing fast and affordable high-quality Internet access to the community, Roger says that its reliability is so consistent that he thinks people have forgotten what the situation was like before the community network served the island community.
Subscribers report high satisfaction with IMB on biannual surveys. While there are still a few people in the community that have not connected to the IMB, he speculates that those people aren't interested in connecting in any way.
Every connection in Islesboro provides gigabit Internet access and, according to Roger, the decision to limit offerings to one tier was a way for the community to reduce costs. There's no need for complicated inventories of different types of gear, they know that every premise has the same gear and level of service, making billing easier and more streamlined, and they received a substantial discount because they bought so many of the same type of electronics. They knew that standardization would simplify and reduce costs and wanted gigabit service because it accommodates future innovation that demands more capacity.
Anacortes, Washington, is ready to serve fast, reliable, and affordable fiber Internet access to its residents. The city is rolling out fiber to three pilot areas by the third quarter of 2020 and hopes to have citywide fiber coverage by 2023. Anacortes Fiber Internet began taking subscription sign-ups in October. The move is a major milestone in a plan that started more than three years ago, as the community looked for ways to improve communications between utility facilities, later expanding to establish this large pilot project.
Rapid Progress Expected
Residents and businesses living in the first pilot area, Central Business District, can expect so obtain fiber Internet access before the end of the year. Old Town is scheduled to finish within the first quarter of 2020 and M Avenue is set for the third quarter of 2020. Emily Schuh, Anacortes Administrative Service Director, hopes to have fiber Internet access available citywide by 2023.
For a one-time $100 installment fee, residents can expect to pay $39 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or $69 per month for 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access. Businesses can subscribe to $89 per month for 100 Mbps or $149 a month for 1 Gbps. All speeds are symmetrical.
The city used the unconventional method of putting fiber optics in conduit within existing water pipe infrastructure. Using this strategy, the city will not have to concern themselves with road closures or storm damage. Since the fiber optics aren’t in contact with water, it has no impact on the water quality and has been greenlit by Department of Health. "Why didn't we think of this? You're just putting a water pipe inside a water pipe and then putting fiber optics in there,” said Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer.
Read more about the project on the business plan fact sheet [PDF].
Gigabit connectivity from service providers operating via the city’s dark fiber infrastructure are charging around $79 per month, allowing more interest in downtown locations and better economics for local entrepreneurs.
This makes it a game-changer for software firms, graphic art firms, medical- just about anyone that handles large amounts of data.
“Before we had EUGNet, we just couldn't do this product, it would be impossible,” said Pipeworks Studio Technical Director, Daniel White.
Since using the network, Pipeworks has grown tremendously. A faster network means more work and that increase in productivity has allowed them to hire 50 new employees.
“The door was always there, we just couldn't open it...but now you can. Yes, It allows us to do projects we couldn't have done before, it's very reasonably priced... it's super reliable,” said White.
Vacancy in the downtown district has dropped from ten percent to seven percent since 2017.
“The economic impacts from this project are everything we thought they would be and I think even more.,” said City of Eugene Economics Strategies Manager, Anne Fifield, “We have seen the cost of Internet service really come down and service levels go up.”
Watch local reporting on the results of Eugene's fiber optic network investment:
Community members in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, are now receiving fast affordable, reliable connectivity in their homes and businesses delivered via their publicly owned broadband infrastructure.
It's Happening and People Are Loving It
In late August, officials from Shutesbury announced that they expected testing and verification to be completed in early September. The company hired for installation had scheduled more than 200 premises for September and was making plans to hire additional installers to speed up the process. Shutesbury expects to have most of the town connected to the network by the end of 2019.
In May, 87 percent of the town had already signed up and subscribers have continued to trickle in. Folks in Shutesbury are now beginning to obtain the Internet access they’ve been chasing for more than five years.
No, Charter, Not You
In 2017, the town rejected a proposal from Charter Spectrum that would have connected 96 percent of the community of around 1,700 people. The offer from the cable comany had come about when the state agency tasked with distributed state funding suddenly had a change of heart. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) decided that the big corporate ISPs, which had refused to upgrade services in the area in the past, should have another opportunity to use state funding to build high-quality Internet access infrastructure. Read more about decisions from MBI that delayed connectivity to many rural towns and strengthened monopoly power for companies that had refused to connect the region.
Hillsboro, Oregon, has decided that fast, reliable, and affordable Internet access is a top priority. As they continue to fine-tune their fiber optic network plans, community leaders recently announced pricing and speed tiers for HiLight, expected to launch in 2020.
This summer, the Hillsboro City Council confirmed proposed pricing to reflect the community's commitment to bringing high-quality Internet access to each premise; HiLight will offer symmetrical gigabit Internet access for $55 per month to residents. According to the Oregonian, the rate is about half what Comcast charges. HiLight will also provide a 4 gigabit option for $300 per month, which is comparable to Comcast’s price for 2 gigabit service.
Subscribers will also have the option to sign-up for VoIP services for $20 per month, but the utility will not offer video.
Low-income households will be able to subscribe to gigabit service for $10 per month, but the community is still working out details for eligibility. Comcast’s plan for similarly situated folks allows Internet access at 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) download while providing slower upload speeds.
Like many other publicly owned networks, Hillsboro plans to offer symmetrical service to allow subscribers to take full advantage of fiber optic connections. With the ability to send as well as receive data-intensive files, subscribers are more likely to work from home, complete distance learning educational programs, engage in telehealth apps, and partake in innovative technologies.
The city plans to take an incremental approach and dedicate about 10 years toward completion of citywide deployment while avoiding debt. Hillsboro has decided to allocate around $4 million each year for the next 7 years toward the build. City financial experts estimate the network will begin generating revenue in 11 years and will pay for itself in 17 years.
Spring Hill, Kansas, recently released a Request for Proposal (RFP) as they search for a partner to help them develop gigabit connectivity throughout the community. Deadline for responses is September 30, 2019.
Gigabit Fiber the Best Bet
The city received the results of a feasibility study in early 2018 and consultants recommended some policy changes to encourage a broadband friendly environment. CTC Energy and Technology also noted that a fixed wireless system was not a cost-effective way to provide ubiquitous connectivity to the community. The firm suggested that Spring Hill consider dark fiber infrastructure and a public-private partnership.
In 2017, Spring Hill also distributed an informal survey to residents and businesses. The results revealed that, even though the community is considered part of the Kansas City metropolitan area, there are pockets where people have no Internet access. Other issues include problem neighborhoods where speeds are slow and businesses have no access to fiber. In these areas, local establishments are paying high rates for unreliable, marginally faster speeds.
Community leaders in Spring Hill consider broadband an essential utility that should connect every premise. As part of their vision, they “intend to empower our residents and local businesses to be network economy producers— not just consumers of network information and data services.”
What Spring Hill Seeks
The partner the city chooses should be prepared for a long term relationship and should be ready to help Spring Hill achieve three goals of the project:
About four years ago, city commissioners in the community of Chanute, Kansas, stepped back from plans to finance a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. At the time, newly elected city leaders decided not to pursue the project, but Chanute once again has fiber on their list of priorities. Late in June, the current city commission voted 3 - 1 to deploy FTTH in two neighborhoods.
Requested by Residents
Residents from the Hillside/Sunset subdivisions and the neighborhood between 7th and 14th streets approached the city and asked to be connected. The pilot areas will include approximately 344 premises; city staff estimate connecting them will cost approximately $550,000. The vote in June authorized the city to spend idle funds from the electric utility with an expected payback within three year years.
Subscribers will pay $75 per month for gigabit connectivity, authorized by vote at the same meeting. The city will offer month-to-month service and will charge $135 to reconnect if a subscriber cancels but wants to sign up again later.
AT&T offers DSL in most of the city and CableOne has offered cable Internet access in Chanute for years, but residents are increasingly looking for the speed and reliability of fiber connectivity.
Fiber in Chanute
We wrote about Chanute’s investment in fiber connectivity and complementary fixed wireless for local businesses, schools, and municipal facilities back in 2013 in our report, "Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage." The community was able to develop their gigabit network, which began with as a way to improve utility operations, with no bonding or borrowing.
This week, we’re bringing another podcast interview that Christopher conducted while at Mountain Connect in Colorado. David Young, former Fiber Infrastructure and Right-of-Way Manager for the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, sat down to reminisce about the city’s network that began as conduit and has evolved into citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).
David has moved on to Kansas City in Kansas, but he was deeply involved in the advancement of Lincoln’s network that has done so much for competition and better connectivity in Lincoln. In addition to all the direct benefits that the city is enjoying from a gigabit fiber network, there’s a long list of indirect benefits that David and Christopher discuss that affect sectors such as education, economic development, and public safety.
Along with sharing the many ways the fiber infrastructure has helped the city and it’s people, David shares words of wisdom for other communities who may be considering similar investments. He offers some technical advice on deployment, important factors for communities working in a state with restrictions, and thoughts on their decision to choose a public-private partnership model.
We’ve documented Lincoln’s story, so check out more of their history here.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
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 Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
The lakes and forests of Aitkin County in northern Minnesota make it an ideal location for a vacation home, but poor connectivity has historically limited days spent at the cabin to weekends and holidays. However, a new partnership between Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) and Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) is making it possible for families to extend their trips up north by connecting lakeside cabins with high-speed Internet access.
The two co-ops are working together to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, XStream Fiber, that will bring fast, reliable broadband access to homes and businesses in MLEC's service territory. MLEC hopes that the improved connectivity will benefit the local economy by encouraging seasonal residents, who make up more than 40 percent of the cooperative's membership, to stay in the region for longer.
Partnership Lands State Grant
According to Stacy Cluff, Technology and Energy Services Manager at MLEC, the electric cooperative had been exploring its options for offering high-speed broadband access for a decade. But it wasn’t until 2016 when MLEC began working with CTC, which had previously partnered with Arrowhead Electric Cooperative on a broadband project, that the XStream Fiber network became a reality.
CTC’s role in the partnership is to provide network connectivity, Internet backhaul, and backend support while MLEC manages billing, marketing, and other subscriber services. The cooperatives coordinate technical support calls, with MLEC handling basic issues itself and pushing higher level problems to CTC. The electric co-op owns all of the fiber infrastructure within its service territory.
Decades after bringing electricity and telephone services to America’s rural households, cooperatives are tackling a new challenge: the rural digital divide. New updates to our report Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, originally published in 2017, illustrate the remarkable progress co-ops have made in deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country.
All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.
The report features new maps showing overall growth in areas served by co-ops, as well as expanded information about state legislation that supports co-op investment in broadband networks. A few important takeaways:
More than 140 co-ops across the country now offer residential gigabit Internet access to their members, reaching more than 300 communities.
Co-ops connect 70.8 percent of North Dakota and 47.7 percent of South Dakota landmass to fiber, and residents enjoy some of the fastest Internet access speeds in the nation.
Georgia and Mississippi have overturned state laws banning co-ops from offering Internet access, and other states, including Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas, have implemented legislation that will further ease the way.
Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them.