Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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The City of Oxnard, California recently selected a private broadband consulting agency to assist in creating a Fiber Master Plan for developing a citywide high-speed fiber optic network. The city announced a request for proposal for a Fiber Master Plan in 2017 after leadership realized that access to affordable and reliable citywide high-speed fiber-optic broadband would be crucial to economic development. The new plan will bring gigabit-speed internet to the city of 208,000 and help achieve the city’s goal of becoming a “Tech” city.
Situated along the coast of southern California, about an hour northwest of Los Angles, Oxnard is the largest city in Ventura County. They're about 35 miles south of Santa Barbara and home to a thriving international port, the Port of Hueneme, which travels between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other Pacific Rim communities. The community is known as the largest strawberry producer and as a center for manufacturing.
The existing 35-mile fiber-optic network in Oxnard is primarily used to connect traffic signals and city facilities and presents only limited opportunities for other community purposes. The new plan will inventory the city’s current assets and create a roadmap for building a broadband network that will fill in the gaps.
One of the main goals of the plan is to turn Oxnard into a “tech city.” A city’s ability to compete increasingly depends on the technologies it offers. The latest technology developments, including Smart City initiatives, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things, demand high-powered connections from both home and office. Citywide fiber-optic will enable Oxnard to deploy these new apps, such as public Wi-Fi, and compete with neighboring communities.
A Lasting Impact
Besides economic growth, the city hopes that the the new fiber-optic network will also produce educational and other social benefits. Additionally, the network is expected to generate a return on investment and eventually contribute to the city’s general fund.
The results of a broadband feasibility study are in for two northern Colorado towns weighing whether to establish municipally run high-speed Internet service. Though the overall recommendations are exploratory, they include hooking up the city’s main resources to fiber and adopting broadband friendly policies, with the possibility of expansion to Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) services down the line.
Weighing the Options
Consultants offered a series of recommendations, all of which involve setting up legislation that incentivizes investment and reduces installation costs, such as a dig once policy, and connecting city infrastructure to fiber. The study suggested three types of actions with varying degrees of involvement from the local government:
1. The city could attempt to persuade incumbent providers to invest in faster, more reliable Internet services.
2. Enter into some sort of public-private partnership in which the cities and the private ISP partner/s co-invest in creating a fiber gig service.
3. Build a municipally run FTTP network.
With any of the options, NEO reps stressed the goal of getting everyone in the town to a gig, what NEO CEO Diane Kruse described as the “gold standard” of capacity.
The consultants affirmed that an FTTP setup would be financially feasible under the right circumstances (found on page 68 of the report) that include a threshold 30 percent take rate for Greeley and 35 percent for Windsor within three years, and at least $5 per customer utility fees. The utility fee model of funding deployment entails customers paying a monthly surcharge to go towards maintenance and construction of the network. With this model, when a higher number of subscribers connect, the fee usually decreases.
Hillsboro, Oregon, has studied the possibility of investing in high-quality fiber connectivity for residents and businesses since 2014. After considering the pros and cons, this northwest city of 105,000 has decided to move ahead, with spring 2019 as a target launch date of its own Internet access service.
Communications Utility and Beyond
In January, the City Council approved establishing a communications utility, creating a communications fund, and taking the necessary steps to develop a dig once policy in the city’s code. Elected officials had not yet decided if the community would pursue a city-wide network, but wanted to create an environment that would offer future options and encourage private sector partners to invest in Hillsboro.
The city already owns fiber optic resources that it uses for municipal facilities, schools, traffic signals, and other purposes. They plan to use that network as a foundation to expand in order to bring better connectivity throughout the community. With a wider network, Hillsboro hopes to adopt public Wi-Fi, better public safety notifications, and applications for smart-meters for utility services as well as real-time parking and traffic updates.
Keeping it Affordable for All Segments
Hillsboro plans to offer gigabit connectivity at around $50 per month but hopes to provide the same symmetrical service to lower-income households at a lower rate. In addition to equitable access for all income levels in Hillsboro, the city wants to ensure that students have the ability to compete.
“For our students, for our businesses, and for our entire community, we are moving forward now to expand the City’s fiber network to include Internet service,” said Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway. “We want to ensure affordable, equitable high-speed access to keep Hillsboro competitive with cities around the world."
The city wants to ensure that network neutrality protections remain in effect in the community for individuals and businesses. Encouraging entrepreneurs and making high-quality access with good customer service affordable for all subscribers are more goals they intend to pursue.
One several occasions, local leaders in communities with municipal networks have told us that one of the lessons they’ve learned is that marketing is important. While municipal networks can be considered utilities by community leaders who manage and operate them, they still need to be mindful of business in order to enhance subscriber numbers, compete with other ISPs, and establish a brand. This month, the Reedsburg Utility Commission (RUC) in Wisconsin launched a new brand for its triple-play network.
We’ve written about RUC’s network in the past, including their efforts to expand to rural areas and the decision in 2014 to offer gigabit connectivity. We even interviewed RUC General Manager Brett Schuppner in 2015, who shared the history of the network back to 2003, which means it’s one of the oldest Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks in the U.S.
According to the RUC press release, the new brand and logo — LightSpeed — “has roots back to the initial launch of RUC’s telecom services.”
Now, subscribers can obtain gigabit connectivity for $44.95 per month when they purchase bundled services. In addition to gigabit Internet access, residents can subscribe to a 100 Megabits per second tier. The service is symmetrical, so upload speeds are as fast as download. Symmetrical connections allow subscribers the ability to send large data files as well as receive them, which creates a better environment for entrepreneurs, teleworkers, and students who need robust connections for homework.
On April 14th, folks in Alford, Massachusetts, gathered at their fire house to attend a presentation about the bright future of their connectivity. After a long journey to find better connectivity in the small western Massachusetts town, residents and businesses are now subscribing to Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) Internet access from AlfordLink, their own municipal network.
Years Of Work
With only around 500 residents in Alford, it’s no surprise that big incumbents decided the lack of population density didn’t justify investment in 21st century connectivity. By 2012 and 2013, the community had had enough; they decided to pursue their own solution with a municipal network. Alford voted to form a Municipal Light Plant (MLP), the entity that that manages publicly owned networks in Massachusetts.
In addition to the $1.6 million the town decided to borrow to spend on fiber optic infrastructure, the town will also receive around $480,000 in state grant funds. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) is handling distribution of funds to Alford and other towns that have decided to use the funding to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure.
Alford, Blandford, and Shutesbury, are a few of the hilltowns contracting with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) in Westfield. WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber began by serving only Westfield, but now contracts with other small towns to either assist them as they establish their own telecommunications utilities or to provide Internet access and operate a publicly owned network. In very small communities like Alford, they may not feel they have the resources or expertise to manage a gigabit network, but don’t want to relinquish control of their connectivity to an untrustworthy corporate incumbent.
For the past seven months, SEMO Electric Cooperative has been working on phase one of construction of a new fiber optic network in southeast Missouri. They recently announced that subscribers are hooked up and taking advantage of Fiber-to-the-Home in rural Scott County and in the towns of Miner, Advance, and Bloomfield.
A Necessity In Society
This is the first of five phases of a $40 million project that the cooperative decided to pursue in 2017. The co-op board saw that providing high-quality Internet access to was filling a demand that incumbents are not meeting, locals want, and assists the community. Homeowners, schools, and local businesses need broadband. Loyd Rice, the administrator of engineering services for SEMO Electric:
“Now we get to build out something that has become a necessity in society. The ability to have a broadband service that is effective now changes the whole quality of life for those folks. It’s definitely a necessity at schools. You can work from home.”
Like other electric cooperatives that have found value in offering broadband service, SEMO has certain advantages in both deployment and operations. Rice noted that they're finding that cost to construct are lower than expected because they’re able to build along existing infrastructure. “And so six seven months into now, we’re probably half to three-fourths the way through our first phase of the actual build,” he told CBS 12 KFVS.
Keeping Locals Updated
As they deploy GoSEMO Fiber, the cooperative provides video updates on its YouTube Channel, the GoSEMO website, and on FaceBook and Twitter. In addition to messages that provide updates on the progress of deployment, staff provides information on equipment. The videos are short and to the point. Here’s the latest, posted on March 11th, 2018:
Businesses in Taunton, Massachusetts, already have access to fiber optic connectivity offered by Taunton Municipal Light Plant (TMLP). In an effort to bring better connectivity to the rest of the community, TMLP is now connecting residents through a “fiberhood” approach.
TMLP’s customer base already consists of about 20 percent residential customers; they now serve about 450 premises. When the community decided to invest in the infrastructure in1997, the focus was on bringing high-quality connectivity to local businesses. Now, TMLP hopes to expand its network to nearby communities’ residents with $69.95 per month symmetrical gigabit FTTH service. TMLP will also offer Internet access at $34.95 per month for symmetrical 50 Megabit per second (Mbps) service and voice services for $19.95 per month. They will not offer video service.
In order to determine which areas will receive service next, TMLP is asking potential subscribers to sign up at their website to express interest. Once a designated area achieves a 25 percent level of interest, residents can submit applications for installation at their homes. When applications have been approved, TMLP begins deployment in their neighborhood.
Time To Branch Out
Currently, TMLP offers FTTH to one apartment complex and a neighborhood near the high school. The city’s school system obtains connectivity from TMLP, as does a local hospital and its clinics. TMLP wants to expand to neighborhoods in Raynham, Berkley, North Dighton, and Lakeville.
Officials expect brisk demand and comments from local residents confirm that expectation:
“Wish they’d come to the Whittenton area...(TMLP Online is) much more affordable, especially for those who don’t wish to have television and only want WiFi or for those who live alone and need a very basic, simple package deal,” said Michelle Gaoulette, a Taunton resident.
The small number of residential subscribers who live in the areas where FTTH is available seem to appreciate it:
We are checking back in with Ernie Staten, Deputy Director of Public Service in Fairlawn, Ohio now that their muncipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network - FairlawnGig - is built out and they are still building the citywide Wi-Fi network that will accompany it. We previously talked with Ernie when the network was being built two years ago in episode 201.
Fairlawn is located near Akron and a city without a municpal electric utility. Though they started expecting to work with a local partner ISP, they quickly decided it would be better to both own and operate the network.
Though the network is quite young, it has already helped to boost property values and has attracted new businesses. FairlawnGig was also the primary reason one local business expanded in Fairlawn rather than moving to another location. In short, the network has provided a strong, positive impact almost immediately.
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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.
Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) has created a five-year plan to deploy a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to premises within its distribution area. CVEC will begin with a one-year pilot program within a limited region in order to test and prepare for the wider initiative.
More Than Internet Access
CVEC’s plan for the new fiber infrastructure will include more efficient electrical operations across its entire distribution system. CVEC plans to install approximately 4,600 miles of distribution lines and offer services to all of its 36,000 members through a subsidiary. Because so many of its members live in rural areas, they don’t have access to high-quality Internet services. CVEC serves Albermarle County and portions of 13 other surrounding counties.
"CVEC believes that access to reliable, high-speed Internet today is becoming as important as access to electricity in 1937," said CEO Gary Wood. "Give the great need for connectivity, CVEC will leverage its fiber network to provide a broadband Internet solution that will serve the community now and for the future."
One look at the comments on the CVEC Facebook page reinforces the claim that CVEC’s members lack access to high-quality Internet service:
“You’re lucky to have DSL.”
“No Internet or cell service just two miles from the interstate has gotten old old old fast fast fast.”
“With an Internet bill over several hundred dollars a month for relatively crappy service, I will happily spend my money with someone who actually cares!”
“Shut up and take my money.”
Another Go At Access
Other plans to bring Internet access to members have fallen through. At a recent meeting that included the Albermarle County Broadband Authority and the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee, Wood described two other failed attempts by CVEC that depended on partnerships with other entities. One involved delivering broadband over power lines and the other ended in an inability for the cooperative and its partner ISP to reach an agreement.
Now that they have removed the weight of Colorado’s restrictive SB 152, Greeley is looking forward to future solutions to poor Internet access. In a recent letter to the local Tribune, resident Richard Reilly offered three reasons why Greeley should develop a plan to move toward municipal broadband.
Reilly’s points are:
First and foremost, net neutrality must be at the heart of a municipal broadband. As the big Internet Service Providers start to throttle specific websites that compete or offer tiered packages, Greeley must commit itself to net neutrality. One price for full Internet access. Period.
Secondly, speed needs to be a priority. Comcast and the other ISPs have received billions of dollars to build the infrastructure for gigabit speeds. If Greeley can commit to the infrastructure to offer gigabit speeds, other ISPs will struggle to survive in our city — and good riddance.
Thirdly, customer service is key.
Already On Track
Reilly’s suggestion follows the community’s decision last summer to fund a feasibility study. At the time, they expressed a hope that the study might encourage incumbents to offer better rates and services. In addition to better connectivity for the general public, Greeley’s Family and Recreation Center’s poor Internet access interfered with bookings. When the City Council decided to fund the study, they cited economic development as a key factor in finding ways to improve local connectivity.
Since the City Council’s decision to fund the feasibility study, the FCC has repealed network neutrality protections and is considering lowering the speed definitions of broadband. Reilly writes that Greeley needs to engage in local action:
Greeley is in a unique position to protect its residents from a rogue administration. Despite the fact that a vast majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents support net neutrality rules, the FCC rolled back the regulations meant to protect the freedom to information in this country.