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Skies have been brightening for the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency Network (UTOPIA). The trend is continuing for the network that has seen rough times in the past, testament to their fortitude, creativity, and ability to turn lemons into lemonade.
Most recently, UTOPIA announced that they had reached an agreement with the town of Layton, Utah, to finish deploying fiber infrastructure to residents and businesses. UTOPIA plans to have deployment in Layton, where approximately half of the city currently has access to the infrastructure, completed within 24 months.
According to Jesse Harris at Free UTOPIA!, expert at all things UTOPIA, this build out varies from deployment in the earlier days of construction in a few ways:
For starters, UIA [Utah Infrastructure Authority] can now issue bonds on its own authority. This means cities no longer have to use their bonding capacity to back them. The Layton plan also has the city backing the bonds using city franchise fees. If the subscriber numbers fall below what is required to pay the bond (which, to date, has not happened in a single UIA expansion area), the city pledges to cover the difference. On the flip side, if revenues exceed the bond payments (which has happened in most UIA expansion areas), the city gets to keep a cut of that for whatever they want. This could include paying off the original UTOPIA bonds, funding other city services, or anything else, really. It’s important to note that this revenue split option is only available to cities who assumed the original debt service.
Harris speculates that, due to the housing boom in the region, UTOPIA may face a difficult time recruiting the people they need to build the network. There are also almost two dozen potential UTOPIA communities engaged in feasibility studies. All these factors, in addition to the possibility of access to materials, may impact the ability for the network to expand at the rate they’d consider ideal.
10 Gigs for Residents
In January, we reported that UTOPIA announced a financial milestone — for the first time, revenue covered bond payments and also allowed a 2 percent dividend for most member communities.
When communities deploy Internet access infrastructure, they use their investment to reduce costs for telecommunications, improve local connectivity, and encourage economic development. In Westminster, they’re also using their fiber optic network to boost local high school students’ tech skills in a fun and creative way. The community is using publicly owned fiber optic “magic” to multiply their youth’s opportunities.
Setting the Scene
The world has experienced a devastating disaster. Communications systems are down. Your ragtag band of survivors has been hiding from the zombies for several months now. After finding a generator and some computer parts inside an abandoned building, your group decides to use the pieces to create a working computer and try to establish contact with the other scattered survivors. But will you be able to do it before the zombies reach you …?
Or at least that’s the setting for the first ever Project e-Reboot competition, hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC) and e-End. Teams of students were tasked with rebuilding a functioning computer from old components in a hypothetical post-apocalyptic scenario. The challenge was held at e-End’s electronics recycling facility in Frederick, Maryland, in cooperation with MAGIC, a nonprofit organization based one county over in Westminster.
Partnering for Project e-Reboot
The mayor doesn’t usually show up at your house when you switch to a new Internet service provider, but for Erin and Isaac Herman of Centennial, Colorado, that’s exactly what happened. In early September, they became the first official Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) subscribers in Centennial when Internet service provider (ISP) Ting connected their home with fiber optic lines. An event held at their house brought together community members and local officials to celebrate the “lighting” of the fiber line, a culmination of years of hard work by the city to develop a publicly owned dark fiber network.
To provide Internet access, Ting leases strands of Centennial’s open access fiber network, constructing its own lines to connect homes and businesses to that backbone. The Herman family and other subscribers now have superior connectivity as a result of the investments made by both their local government and the private company.
Plans for households range from 5 Megabits per second for $19 per month to symmetrical gigabit speeds for $89 per month. Centennial residents can pre-order on Ting’s website.
Fifth “Ting Town” on the Map
Ting operates fiber networks in five U.S. cities. In addition to Centennial, Ting delivers fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to subscribers in Charlottesville, Virginia; Holly Springs, North Carolina; Sandpoint, Idaho; and Westminster, Maryland.
Holland, Michigan, has now officially transitioned from construction into operation of their downtown fiber optic network.
After a spring decision to expand the range of the initial pilot project, community leaders began contemplating the possibility of offering Internet access directly to the public. Local residents and businesses had long remained unsatisfied with the options they had from incumbents AT&T and Comcast. Entrepreneurs and business owners took to pressuring elected officials into making more use of the community’s existing fiber to improve connectivity.
Holland Board of Public Works (BPW), which had deployed the fiber in the 1990s, used its fiber infrastructure for electric utility purposes and had already been offering wholesale services to a limited number of local businesses. They’ve taken a slow and steady approach toward their pilot and expansion efforts in order to investigate all the options as they move forward.
As in the case of pilots in Westfield, Massachusetts, or Owensboro, Kentucky, the success of the pilot in Holland will help determine whether or not the BPW will extend the network to more residents and businesses. According to the Holland Sentinel, BPW had connected 96 downtown subscribers to the network as of September 13th. The new connections will generate approximately $135,720 in annual revenue and BPW is still taking subscribers at their website.
Subscribers can sign up for symmetrical gigabit access for $85 per month or enhanced gigabit connections for $220 per month. The latter offers additional features that businesses are most likely to need, such as static IP addresses, service level agreements, and priority restoration.
Helping Out Neighbors, Too
If you’re looking to move to a community with a relaxing, rural lifestyle and quality Internet access, then Lyndon Township in Michigan may have just jumped to the top of your list. Now that the community has chosen an ISP to serve the community via its publicly owned infrastructure and established the cost of service, they're eager to start deployment.
Lyndon Township Board recently approved rates for their forthcoming fiber network, setting the price of symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet speeds at a reasonable $69.95 per month. This is a nice reward for the township’s residents, who last year approved a tax increase to fund the construction of the network. The affordable residential gig brings Lyndon Township into the same price range as communities such as Lafayette, Louisiana; Westfield, Massachusetts; and Longmont, Colorado.
Local Support Founds, and Funds, the Network
Though only a 20-minute drive from the University of Michigan, a world class research institution, Lyndon Township residents are mostly stuck with expensive, slow, and unreliable satellite Internet service. Around 80 percent of the community doesn’t currently have access to broadband, which the FCC defines as a minimum of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed.
When attempts to get existing Internet service providers to expand into the community failed, the township decided to build its own Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. To fund the approximately $7 million network, residents approved a millage increase in 2017, with 66 percent of voters in support. The millage amounts to a property tax increase of $2.91 per $1,000 of taxable property.
What started as a pilot project back in 2014 has consistently expanded to more addresses. Now the “Little Gig City” has put a date on when they expect to complete the final phase of their community-wide fiber network — early 2020. “Right now we feel like we’re kind of in the home stretch,” says Erwin Utilities fiber optic engineer John Williams.
When The Time Was Right
The small town of Erwin, Tennessee first explored the possibility of bringing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to its residents in 1999. At the time, however, the community chose not to pursue a publicly owned network because only 20 percent of homes in the area had a computer and the initial estimated cost of over $20 million was too high for local palates. The market changed over the next few years and in 2012, the town finally felt it was time to invest. They constructed a fiber backbone that connected 45 SCADA locations and six county schools. By 2014, the city announced plans to develop a pilot project for business and residential connectivity in the downtown area.
The pilot project reached approximately 1,000 premises; the utility’s goal was to achieve a 25 percent take rate to ensure the service would be self-sustaining. According to Williams, the utility swiftly surpassed their goal and are now at 36 percent subscribership in the original deployment area. Erwin Utilities has expanded, passing a total of approximately 5,000 premises out of 9,000 total potential premises, which are also electric service customers.
Because Tennessee municipal utilities are subject to state law that limits their Internet service area to their electric service footprint, Erwin can only provide connectivity to a limited number of premises. The law creates a situation that protects incumbent monopolies, but forces rural folks who obtain electric service from a different provider to rely on ISPs that generally offer poor Internet access options via DSL or expensive satellite service.
The Ultimate in Self-Reliance
FiberNET, the municipal fiber network serving Morristown, Tennessee, has been serving the community since 2006 with fast, affordable, reliable Fiber-to-the-Home service. FiberNET is one of those networks that quietly went about its business bringing top notch services for residents, businesses, and institutions without a lot of fanfare. If you don’t live or work in the area or follow developments in broadband policy and implementation, you may not be familiar with Morristown’s FiberNET.
Now is your chance to learn more.
The community has produced a short, high-quality film about the network and the many ways it enhances living in Morristown for residents, businesses, and local entities. Business leaders describe how the network has enhanced and advanced their operations. Jody Wigington, who we’ve hosted on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, describes how the schools and local institutions have access to a network to rival any connections available in urban areas.
What’s the best part, in his opinion?
“We’re not-for-profit and locally owned. So FiberNET was built for the people through the vision of community leaders. And remember, FiberNET provides local jobs for the community and our employees are are part of the fabric of life in the Lakeway Region.”
Check it out:
Great Lakes Energy (GLE), Michigan’s largest electric cooperative and third largest energy utility, is constructing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to bring gigabit connectivity to its 125,000 members. Construction in the project’s pilot area is underway. Eligible members may be able to subscribe to services from the co-op’s subsidiary Truestream as soon as the end of the year.
Truestream Off to A Quick Start
GLE shared on its website that the co-op decided to build the Truestream network because members expressed a need for better connectivity in rural Michigan.
At the end of 2017, the co-op’s Board of Directors approved the planned fiber project. Board approval came after three feasibility studies, commissioned by GLE and its power supplier, Wolverine Power Cooperative, concluded that a broadband network would be a responsible investment for the co-op. Bill Scott, President and CEO of GLE, wrote in Michigan Country Lines that this conclusion was “based in part on GLE’s very positive satisfaction rating… [and] on surveys done by GLE and Wolverine that show a high demand for high-speed, reasonably priced, Internet service.”
GLE began constructing the first portion of the Truestream network earlier this year. For the initial pilot, the co-op is focusing on the Petoskey service district, which includes Emmet County and parts of Charlevoix and Cheboygan Counties. An online FAQ explains this region was selected because it’s representative of the varying terrain, density, level of connectivity, and type of membership found throughout GLE’s service territory. Some homes could be online by the end of 2018.
Ocala, Florida, is one of those communities that doesn’t think twice about offering high-quality Internet access to businesses and residents. They’ve been doing it for decades and, when media coverage around gigabit connectivity began to expand, they were a little surprised because they had been offering similar services since the early 2000s. The benefits were nothing new to Ocala.
A Familiar Story Taken to Its Logical Conclusion
We touched based with Arnie Hersch, Senior Broadband Engineer for the City of Ocala, who shared the story of the network. Arnie has spent more time working on the network than anyone else in Ocala.
As in many other communities, Ocala started deploying fiber between its municipal utility facilities, including electric substations and water and wastewater locations, to improve inter-facility communications. In 1995, copper connected the city’s substations for SCADA operations. The copper was aged and had been struck by lightning, which negatively impacted its ability to perform; decision makers at the utility decided to replace the copper with fiber optic lines. As they finished deploying that year, Arnie joined the city's telecommunications utility; one of his primary objective was making the most out of the new fiber network.
First, Ocala connected all of its 52 municipal facilities in order to improve connectivity and cut costs. At the time, city offices still used dial-up connections for Internet access. Within two years, Arnie had switched the city to an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), which allowed them to use the new infrastructure for computing and voice applications. The change opened new doors for the city.
Recently, PCMag rated North Dakota and South Dakota as two states with some of the fastest connectivity in the U.S. Rural cooperatives have brought high-quality connectivity to this region of the country and, when sifting through our archives, we realized that we haven't given South Dakota cooperatives the coverage they deserve.
Venture Communications Cooperative connects more than 30 communities in central South Dakota with some of the fastest Internet service in the U.S. South Dakota cooperatives have taken advantage of government loans and grants in order to bring much-needed Internet access to their rural members. With federal stimulus money, Venture Communications began building an extensive Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in 2011.
Only 25 percent of the U.S. population has access to FTTH, a leading technology that can provide Internet service faster than 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps). Venture Communications offers a Gigabit to some of the most rural residents in South Dakota. The co-op is only one of two companies in South Dakota to be Gigabit certified by the NTCA Rural Broadband Coalition.
Venture Communications Speed Tiers