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OnLight Aurora Partners with the City for Better Connectivity in Illinois
Nine years ago, Aurora officials decided it was time to reduce telecommunications costs and upgrade to a faster, more reliable network. The local government built a fiber network to service municipal government, but developed long-term ideas for the network to benefit the entire community.
Nonprofit OnLight Aurora now uses the City's fiber optic network to provide high-speed connectivity to educational institutions, businesses, healthcare facilities, social service entities, and major non-profits. The organization leases fibers from the City's fiber optic network and provides Internet access at affordable rates.
Aurora is the second most populous city in Illinois. The municipal government spans 52 buildings over 46 square miles. Before the city's fiber network, connections were a patchwork of varying speeds and capabilities. Employees in a building with a slow connection would need to travel to City Hall to access a high-speed connections to use the city's bandwidth intensive applications. The network was old, unreliable, and expensive. The Director of Onlight Aurora recently spoke with Drew Clark from Broadband Breakfast :
"In 2005-2006, we came to the conclusion that we were paying $500,000 a year [to telecommunications providers] for leased line expenses,” said Peter Lynch, Director and President of Onlight Aurora.
The 60-mile network, constructed from 2008 - 2011, cost approximately $7 million to deploy. At the beginning of the process, payback was estimated at 10 years. While the short-term goal was to cut municipal connectivity costs, community leaders intended to expand its use in other ways. The City now saves approximately $485,000 each year from having eliminated leased lines. From a Cisco case study on Aurora [PDF]:
Merit Collaborates With OARnet and Local Community in Hillsdale, Michigan
A recent press release from the Merit educational and research network in Michigan announces a new connection to its Ohio sister, OARnet. Member entities and local communities now enjoy better redundancy, expanded reach, and better services. Local communities continue to benefit from the presence of the middle mile infrastructure.
The network helps local Hillsdale College to cut connectivity costs; the Merit announcement quotes Hillsdale College leadership:
"Hillsdale College has been a Merit member since 1992," stated David Zenz, executive director of information technology services for Hillsdale College, "and it was always a dream to figure out some way to eliminate expensive data circuit costs to free up funds to purchase more bandwidth. In 2008 The City of Hillsdale, the Hillsdale Intermediate School District, Hillsdale College, and Merit figured out how to do just that."
Through a long term collaborative effort, Merit, the City of Hillsdale, Hillsdale Board of Public Utilities (BPU), Hillsdale College, and Hillsdale County Intermediate School District (ISD) came together to establish the Hillsdale Community Network. Each entity now benefits from lowered connectivity costs, better infrastructure, and improved opportunities.
A 2009 story from Merit, describes the situation at ISD:
Ohio Community Wants to Expand Use of Existing Fiber
In Springfield, Ohio, community leaders are looking for ways to use their share of a commercially owned fiber optic loop on the eastern side of town. The community hopes to secure a $50,000 Local Innovation Fund grant from the state to finance a feasibility study reports the News-Sun.
Approximately 60,000 people live in Springfield, located 45 miles west of Columbus. Advanced Virtual Engine Test Cell, Inc. (AVETEC) owns and operates a 19-mile fiber optic ring connecting downtown to its facility. The fiber route passes the Clark State Community College and at least one public school. Springfield owns 24 unused strands of the AVETEC network and wants to build off that asset to save public dollars, improve school connectivity, and encourage economic development.
From the News-Sun article:
“From an economic development standpoint, it’s definitely capitalizing on an amenity that’s already in the ground that we can use then to leverage as an additional incentive or perk to doing business in Springfield, especially business that’s proximal to that fiber in the near-term,” said Josh Rauch, the city’s deputy economic development administrator. “Then as it builds out, you get more and more connectivity throughout the city.”
“The goal is to take the fiber build-out we’ve got and look at other places you could build fiber,” Rauch said.
The Miami Valley Educational Computer Association (MVECA) is a regional nonprofit consortium of twenty-five local K-12 school districts. MVECA leases and maintains a fiber network for the Springfield City School District and other Clark County school districts. The Executive Director of MVECA, anticipating the need for 10 gigabit connections, hopes to see a collaboration with the City to bring the fiber to Springfield and area schools. He believes working together will reduce costs for local school districts and MVECA.
Palm Coast's FiberNET Produces Dramatic Savings Locally
We last took a look at Palm Coast’s FiberNET over two years ago when Broadband Communities featured the open access fiber network along Florida’s upper east coast. Due to its initial focus on community anchor institutions and incremental build out, FiberNET serves as an outstanding example of how to justify a network investment with cost savings. We recently spoke with Courtney Violette who created the initial business plan for FiberNET under his previous role as Palm Coast’s CIO; he is now a Managing Partner with Magellan Advisors, an international broadband planning firm.
A presentation on the Palm Coast government website shows how FiberNET generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual cost savings for the City of Palm Coast, Flagler County School District and Florida Hospital. The data is impressive. The City of Palm Coast alone saves around $160,000 per year by switching to FiberNET for its networking needs.
Flagler County School District is likely the biggest beneficiary of cost savings in the community. Before FiberNET came onto the scene, the District paid Bright House Networks more than $500,000 per year for network services over a hybrid fiber-cable network. Now Flagler County School District pays around $300,000 for faster, more reliable services over FiberNET’s all-fiber network. These savings paid for the schools’ initial cost of connection after just one year.
Florida Hospital and its affiliates are also saving big. Affiliated doctors’ offices and clinics are required to maintain a 10-Mbps (minimum) connection with the hospital. Before FiberNET, these connections cost around $900 per month from the local incumbent. FiberNET now offers them for $250 per month. Similarly, the Hospital itself saves tens of thousands on its annual networking costs by switching to FiberNET.
Charter Prices Inspire Washington City to Consider its Own Network
Ellensburg, located in central Washington, is considering the pros and cons of a municipal fiber network. A big pro for the community of 18,000 is the ability to predict costs rather than depend on Charter Communications. Charter wants to begin charging $10,300 per month for municipal connectivity it previously supplied at no cost in return for access to the public rights-of-way.
The Ellensburg Daily Record recently reported that the City Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that will allow the city to establish a telecommunications utility. The city began using Charter's fiber optic network in 1997 as part of the city's franchise agreement. Educational institutions, public safety, and the county public utilities district also use the network. Ellensburg owns and operates its own electric and natural gas utilities. Energy Services Director Larry Dunbar was quoted:
“It’s clearly in the city’s best interest to just build it on its own and own it, compared to leasing it,” he said.
The community needs approximately 15 miles of fiber optic network to replace Charter's institutional network. The two parties are still negotiating and may still reach an agreement for a new contract although the article reports:
In June, Council directed the city to solicit vendor proposals for building a city network, and Dunbar said the city is close to granting the contract.
He declined to share a total cost because contract negotiations are ongoing, but said it makes more sense for the city to build the network now rather than pay in perpetuity, he said.
“A telecommunications network is like a 35-year endeavor,” he said. “If we would have done a lease, we could have bought two or three networks over 35 years.”
Local median KIMA TV recently covered the story:
Cedar Falls Schools Get 1 Gig from Cedar Falls Utilities
As of December 2, students and staff in Cedar Falls schools have access to 1 gig Internet service from Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU). The WCF Courier reports that the Board of Education recently decided to switch from the Iowa Communications Network (ICN):
Doug Nefzger, the district's financial officer, said though Des Moines-based ICN has been a great partner for a number of years, it's always best to go with a local group.
"We may be paying a little bit more money but what this provides for our kids far outweighs the added expense associated with that," Nefzger said.
The District will pay CFU approximately $11,400 per year for gigabit Internet access to be shared between nine schools and three other District facilities. ICN provided 130 Mbps Internet service for $8,200 per year. The District will now have the capacity to provide a tablet or laptop to each student by 2015. The 1:1 goal is part of the District's five-year technology plan.
According to Rob Houlihan, Network Service Manager at CFU, each building is already connected via CFU fiber. As a result, District buildings will also enjoy a 1 gig WAN. Robust Internet access is important, but a high capacity WAN improves communication between facilities with no need to send data to the Internet. CFU provides fiber connections at no charge to the District, saving significant public dollars. Shane Paige, Supervisor of Technology Services at the Cedar Falls Schools noted via email:
That could easily cost us $5,000-$10,000 per month after discounts if we were leasing lines. We have been extremely fortunate in the fact that we have never been put in that position of having to deal with the extra costs of point to point connections for our buildings.
CFU also provides free cable television service to twelve District facilities, saving approximately $600 per month.
Oklahoma Free Wi-fi: Can Muskogee Follow Ponca City's Lead?
Muskogee, located in east central Oklahoma, is considering free Wi-Fi across the community to boost economic development. As a model, community leaders are looking at Ponca City. A recent Muskogee Phoenix article quoted the Interim City Manager:
“Our hope is that the public Wi-Fi initiative will distinguish us from other cities when it comes to attracting economic development, all the way from retail to industrial,” Interim City Manager Roy Tucker said. It “will most certainly increase the quality of life and educational opportunities of our citizens.”
Local citizens developed the Action in Muskogee (AIM) initiative to improve the community; the idea to provide free Wi-Fi grew out of the initiative. Muskogee hopes a Wi-Fi network will also improve public safety, government efficiency, and Internet access for citizens.
AIM participants hope to emulate Ponca City and its award-winning mesh network. City officials installed the wireless network in 2008. Residents of Ponca City save an estimated $3.9 million a year in avoided ISP costs. In other words, the network helps keep $3.9 million in the Ponca City economy.
Ponca City began its network in 1997 with a few miles of fiber to improve communications between municipal facilities. Each year the network grew and Ponca City now has over 350 miles of fiber. Municipal facilities, schools, hospitals, healthcare clinics, businesses, and even casinos use the fiber network. According to the article, Ponca City sells Internet access via the fiber to local business customers to fund the mesh network and free Wi-Fi for the community.
Muskogee has no plans to install a publicly owned fiber network like Ponca City's. Another Phoenix article suggested Muskogee leaders may pursue a public-private arrangement:
NoaNet and Benton PUD Finish Expansion in Washington, Celebrate Completion of Fiber Network
South central Washington's Benton PUD and the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) recently finished a 50-mile fiber-optic expansion [PDF of the press release]. The new construction brings high-speed Internet service to the Paterson School District. The District serves 110 kids in grades K-8.
A $1.8 million Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program (BTOP) award paid in part for the expansion of the 100% underground network. The network includes 230 miles of middle-mile connectivity across rural Benton County.
The recently completed NoaNet project totaled $140 million for 1,831 fiber miles over three years. The open access network hosts 61 last mile providers and ten Washington State Public Utility Districts (PUDs) belong to the nonprofit.
In a Yakima Herald article on the network completion, Governor Jay Inslee noted:
“It is underground, but its results are above ground,” he said. “In every place, it reaches about 500 communities from Asotin to Zillah and places between.”
Small Illinois City Plans to Light Fiber Network By 2014
Monticello anticipates firing up its own fiber network by the start of 2014. The News-Gazette reports the town of 5,300 plans to use the network to serve government offices.
The City, Piatt County, Monticello Community Unit School District #25, and the Allerton Public Library District collaborated to share costs for the installation. The four entities will split the $160,000 deployment costs for the underground network. The News-Gazette reports conduit is now in the ground and ready for fiber optic cable; construction began in the spring. The four entities are looking for a company to manage the system and exploring options for Internet access:
[Piatt County Board Member Randy] Keith said they also need to purchase high-speed Internet access, with one possibility being the Illinois Century Network. The state has installed about 1,000 miles of fiber along interstates in Illinois, including a swath that runs by Monticello.
Hopes are that the project will put the city on the technological cutting edge. For the school system, it will speed up a district goal to allow every student in the district to be on a computer or handheld device at the same time.
Platt County Courthouse used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Dual Freq.
GRUCom Gives Gainesville Gigabit Broadband
Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) has been deploying fiber in the north-central Florida home to the University of Florida (UF) since the late 1990s. We briefly mentioned them last year when Gig.U teamed up with GRUCom, GRU’s telecom division, to connect neighborhoods and businesses surrounding the University with fiber broadband. We’ve since taken a deeper look at GRUCom’s work and like what we see.
GRUCom was born after the FCC reclaimed the spectrum GRU used for microwave control of its SCADA systems. GRU naturally switched to fiber, and in the process of running lines for its utilities, it ran into crews doing the same for Shands Hospital, part of the University. Realizing the substantial demand for fiber broadband across the county, GRU created GRUCom to serve that demand more efficiently.
GRUCom Director, Ted Kellerman, points out that, as an enterprise division of GRU, GRUCom has a mandate to generate profit. This essentially means that the network only expands on a business case basis, so prices can vary across customers depending on connection costs. Despite this constraint, GRUCom manages to provide reliable high-speed data services at reasonable prices.
GRUCom connects 100 public facilities including government, fire department, utilities and Alachua County Schools and Libraries. All facilities are on redundant fiber rings with route diversity and 10-Gbps capacity. Seven locations receive 1 Gbps service while the rest take either 10 or 100 Mbps. The average cost for 10 Mbps connections is $400 and $900 for the 100-Mbps links.