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It is no secret to our readers that communities throughout the country have transitioned from leasing services from big corporations to building their own fiber networks to save public dollars. Some create collaborations between various entities to reduce costs. Jacksonville is the latest to dabble in collaboration and has found a way to save $200,000 on connectivity costs each year.
In a recent Government Technology article, Chad Vander Veen describes how the city found a way to eliminate leased lines and switch to a faster 1 gigabit connection via fiber (the article incorrectly says "gigabyte" in multiple places where it mights gigabit) . The City's Information Technology Division (ITD) began developing relationships and bringing various agencies together to explore its options. They held monthly meetings that included the mayor's office, public safety agencies, and libraries. Through these meetings they learned the city was eligible to participate in the Florida Lambda Rail program.
Lambda Rail is a nonprofit independent research and education network that connects universities, schools, libraries, and research facilities across the state. The network has an extensive network of fiber across the state. Because the City of Jacksonville is responsible for its libraries, it qualifies for service from Lambda Rail. Within 45 days, Lambda Rail served city facilities.
“This is a great opportunity for all the partner agencies to work together to provide superior service and save money at a time we need to make every dollar count,” said Mayor Brown in a statement. “With a growing number of websites and applications helping to expand the reach of city government, we owe it to taxpayers to invest wisely in the most effective and efficient systems to keep everyone connected.”
Saving public dollars by elimintating leased lines and collaborating is certainly a positive outcome. Unfortunately, this solution may limit the community in the longer term. Working with entities that only serve nonprofit or specific entities means that others who need connections in the communities - including both residents and local businesses - will not directly benefit from this investment.
“With agriculture being the number one industry in the state, we are looking to inspire students to learn globally and live and produce locally. Agriculture and STEM education are a natural fit. With GPS-guided equipment and variable-rate irrigation and fertilizer applicators to better manage natural resources, education is key." These are the words of Beau Sherman, Regional Distant Learning and Video Coordinator for Education serving schools connected by Community Network Services (CNS) in Georgia.
Near the center of Florida sits Lakeland, the largest city between Orlando and Tampa with 98,000 residents. The area boasts 38 lakes, citrus crops, and a growing healthcare industry. Lakeland also owns a fiber optic network serving education, business, and government. To learn more, we spoke with Paul Meyer, Lakeland Electric City of Lakeland Fiber Optics Supervisor.
The city's municipal electric company, Lakeland Electric, began generating and providing electricity to customers in its service territory in 1904. In the mid 1990s, the utility began replacing older copper connections between substations with fiber-optic cable. Soon after, the Polk County School District asked Lakeland Electric to connect school facilities via the fiber network for video transmissions. By 1997, almost 50 school facilities were connected to each other via using dark fiber provided by Lakeland Electric. In 1994, the District paid $219,582 $84,737 to the utility to design, construct, and install equipment for video connections in four schools. The school received an indefeasible right of use for two fibers for twenty years. over which Verizon delivers data and voice services to the School District on its own lines.
Meyer noted that the fiber project likely cost more than the school paid but the installation gave them the opportunity to expand the network. Further expansion connected the police department, libraries, and water facilities. Over time, the electric utility has incrementally expanded to every building engaged in city business. The network is aerial, using the utility's own poles to mount the fiber.
A part of the Cincinnati metro region, Hamilton sits in the extreme southwest corner of Ohio. The community of 63,000 will soon expand its fiber resources to spur economic development and improve education opportunities. Eric Schwartzberg from the Journal News reports that the City Council recently voted to support the city-owned electric utility's proposal to create a broadband utility and build a data center. Hamilton is a full service community, also offering sewer, water, and gas.
Hamilton's municipal facilities have used the city's fiber I-Net for over nine years, reports Schwartzberg, and they believe it now makes sense to connect schools and local businesses while opening the network to independent service providers.
[Mark] Murray [a project manager for the city’s underground utilities] said the opportunity to offer broadband to businesses and schools is similar to what Hamilton does with the electricity it generates.
“If we were putting up poles and stringing wires and only providing that to city institutions or city buildings … why wouldn’t we offer electric to businesses?” he said. “Well, that’s the same question that’s being asked of our fiber optic network. We’ve made great use of it here within the city, but why not take this asset and offer it as a service to the businesses?”
“When you start to see this type of facility go in, it’s not unusual for regional or national start ups to want to take advantage of the opportunity to tap into our fiber network,” [Murray] said.
In January of 2012, the City's We Connect People Sub-Committee began investigating how best to use the City's fiber. They hired Magellan Advisors who estimates the project costs at $4.3 million to expand the fiber network, purchase equipment and build the data center, and to use for future capital improvements and maintenance. Murray said positive operating revenue would be expected in 2017 and 2018 would very likely show net income.
The University of Wisconsin recently withdrew from its contract with WiscNet, threatening the future of the network. Stop the Cap! reports the University bowed under pressure from Republican lawmakers and threats of litigation from the likes of AT&T, CenturyLink, and the Wisconsin State Telecom Association (WSTA). Costly litigation could interrupt UW's research and educational work and UW must consider its relationship with the legislature and the future of state funding.
Once again Republican legislators chose the powerful telecom lobby over taxpayers. WiscNet is a buyer coop that allows schools and libraries to keep their telecom costs lower by working together. Weakening WiscNet means the schools and libraries may have to pay higher fees just to maintain the same level of service.
The telecom industry makes generous contributions to most Wisconsin lawmakers, but Republicans in particular have been enthusiastic about knee-capping any perceived threat to AT&T's monopoly in much of the state. With WiscNet in the cross hairs, ALEC legislators in Wisconsin can expect renewed campaign support. Senator Paul Farrow and Representative Dean Knudson, spearheading efforts to dismantle WiscNet, receive sizeable donations from WSTA, CenturyLink and TDS Telecom.
If WiscNet cannot recover from the loss of UW, local taxpayers will be the ultimate losers as they have to pay more to keep essential institutions connected. WiscNet provides economical broadband service to members all across the state and ample evidence suggest higher rates accompany private service. From the Stop the Cap! article:
Winchester, Massachusetts, recently offered voters the chance to create a special fund earmarked for school and government technology infrastructure. The question came during the special election to fill an empty Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry. The technology fund proposal, to be funded by taxpayers, did not pass but offers an interesting approach for communities seeking to ensure community anchor institutions have the connections they need.
Wicked Local Winchester reported on the "technology stabilization fund:"
Under the proposal, the fund would receive $350,000 from taxpayers in fiscal year 2014. That figure would increase by 2.5 percent each year. Each Winchester household would pay approximately $50 in taxes into the fund in the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to the proposal.
The fund cannot be used for any end-user devices, including computers, laptops or classroom technology like smartboards. Instead, the fund will cover upgrading and maintaining the town and school computer network.
Opposed community members criticized a lack of detailed plans for the fund and challenged whether it would save public dollars. In the days before the vote, some council members publicly questioned the need for technology improvements.
The proposal failed 54 percent to 46 percent on June 25th. Wicked Local Winchester noted that several voters they met at the polls did not know about the proposal before the election. Support seemed strong from those voting yes:
“I think if we’re going to have an excellent school system, we need the technology to support it,” resident Anne Poskitt said after voting at the Jenks Center.
Resident Patricia Shea expressed similar sentiments after voting at the Lynch School, saying that she feels strongly about the importance of technology because she has three children who attended Winchester schools.
“If this is what we have to do to [improve technology], I support it,” she said.
Also from Wicked Local:
In 2010, Silverton, Colorado, decided to build a fiber-optic loop for savings and better connectivity in rural San Juan County. At the time, Qwest (now CenturyLink) provided a microwave connection to the town of around 630 residents. After taking state money to connect all the county seats, Qwest decided to take fiber to everyone except Silverton, much to the frustration of local residents. We wanted to catch up with happenings in this former silver mining camp.
We spoke with Jason Wells, Silverton Town Administrator, who told us that Silverton's loop is part of a regional effort, the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN). Silverton's loop broke ground in April and it will cost $164,000. Silverton and San Juan County contributed $41,000 and the remainder comes from a Southwest Colorado Access Grant. Wells says public institutions will be hooked up first, then downtown businesses. Connecting the schools will come later.
The community is limited by its remote geography. At 9,300 feet above sea level, the town is one of the highest towns in the U.S. and still served by microwave technology. Wells hopes future expansion will include wiring Silverton to Durango, the closest SCAN community. Durango connects municipal and La Plata County facilities with its municipal fiber and leases dark fiber to local businesses, private providers, and community anchor institutions.
Wells connected us to Dr. Rick K. Smith, Mayor of participating Bayfield and General Manager of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG). Dr. Smith shared some history on the SCAN project.
The Waverly City Council in Iowa recently voted 5-2 to establish a communications utility and to move ahead with a feasibility study. We spoke with Diane Johnston, Waverly Light and Power (WLP) General Manager, who told us the decision to get this far started over a decade ago.
In 2000, the community passed two ballot measures that sat dormant until this year. At the time, incumbents Mediacom and Qwest (now CenturyLink) did not meet the needs of residents, who were increasingly frustrated with poor service and shoddy customer relations. Incumbents cherry-picked the local commercial segment, ignoring smaller businesses and establishments more challenging to serve. When asking for better connectivity, Johnston says local businesses "hit the wall." Incumbents flatly refused to invest in Waverly.
The 2000 ballot measures, establishing the municipal telecommunications utility per Iowa law (requiring a majority vote) and having the entity governed by WLP's board of trustees passed with 86 percent and 80 percent of the votes. Clearly the public wanted more choices but Johnston told us the time was just not right. A feasibility study, focused on phone and video service, prompted Mediacom and Qwest to make some improvements and improve customer service. As far as WLP was concerned, the problem was solved and Ordinance 970 went on the shelf.
Since 2000, businesses and residents have approached WLP about establishing the utility but the proposal did not gain traction until six months ago. When reviewing the strategic plan for the electric utility, WLP's Board of Trustees concluded that Waverly and WLP needs a telecommunications utility to stay vital.
CapeNet is officially open throughout Cape Cod. Cape Cod Today reports Governor Deval Patrick, President of Massachusetts' Senate Therese Murray, and State Senator Dan Wolf spoke on June 14th at an official event titled "This Changes Everything."
Planning for the new fiber network began seven years ago as a joint idea between Cape Cod Community College and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In addition to $8 million in state, county, and CapeNet contributions, the project received a $32 million stimulus award. The network spans 37 towns along its 350 mile trail. According to the CapeNet website, community anchor institutions will include 30 libraries, five colleges, and six research facilities. Approximately 62,000 businesses will have the ability to connect.