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The City of Ammon's municipal fiber network recently stepped in to provide primary broadband access for School District 93 as the state's educational network went dark reports Local News 8. Watch the video of local coverage below.
When a judge ruled last year that the Idaho Education Network (IEN) contract between the state Department of Administration was void, an education broadband crisis loomed across the state. As the drama played out, however, local networks such as Ammon's muni, have come to the rescue to keep students connected.
Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham described an attitude characteristic of municipal networks:
"I think it's just something we do in the spirit of collaboration, and I think that's always important because when we talk about the school district and the city it's all the same people, and so anytime we can keep costs down it benefits everyone involved," Kirkham said.
CenturyLink and Education Networks of America (ENA) were providers under the contract voided last year. As CenturyLink and ENA cut off service to schools, forcing them to negotiate their own contracts, they have discovered better, more affordable broadband from local providers like Ammon. A recent Idaho State Journal reported on several school districts:
The state, under the now-void IEN contract, had been paying Education Networks of America more than $6,000 a month for a 20 Mbps Internet service to Rockland School District. The school district will pay less than a third of that cost for a new 100 Mbps service next year.
The State Journal also discovered that numerous school districts had used fiber optic service from local providers but were forced to switch to slower service in order to obtain the IEN reimbursement. In order to get the reimbursement, West Side School District had to switch from fiber from Direct Communications, a local company, to a slow copper T1 connection from CenturyLink:
Ideally, working from home allows one to choose the environment where he or she can be most productive. In the case of Seth that was Kitsap County in Washington State. Unfortunately, incompetence on the part of Comcast, CenturyLink, and official broadband maps led Seth down a road of frustration that will ultimately require him to sell his house in order to work from home.
The Consumerist recently reported on Seth's story, the details of which ring true to many readers who have ever dealt with the cable behemoth. This incident is another example of how the cable giant has managed to retain its spotless record as one of the most hated companies in America.
Seth, a software developer, provides a detailed timeline of his experience on his blog. In his intro:
Late last year we bought a house in Kitsap County, Washington — the first house I’ve ever owned, actually. I work remotely full time as a software developer, so my core concern was having good, solid, fast broadband available. In Kitsap County, that’s pretty much limited to Comcast, so finding a place with Comcast already installed was number one on our priority list.
We found just such a place. It met all of our criteria, and more. It had a lovely secluded view of trees, a nice kitchen, and a great home office with a separate entrance. After we called (twice!) to verify that Comcast was available, we made an offer.
The Consumerist correctly describes the next three months as "Kafkaesque." Comcast Technicians appear with no notice, do not appear for scheduled appointments, and file mysteriously misplaced "tickets" and "requests." When technicians did appear as scheduled, they are always surprised by what they saw: no connection to the house, no Comcast box on the dwelling, a home too far away from Comcast infrastructure to be hooked up. Every technician sent to work on the problem appeared with no notes or no prior knowledge of the situation.
Bozeman elected officials voted unanimously on January 26th to approve a recently completed master plan and take the next step to deploying publicly owned open access infrastructure. We discussed the Bozeman approach in a recent podcast with city staff and a local business.
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that local business leaders attended the City Commission meeting to speak in favor of the initiative, including the local Chamber of Commerce president, representatives from local tech companies, and the director of the Downtown Bozeman business coalition.
Commissioners heard comments from supporters, CenturyLink, and local provider Montana Opticom. Even though Jim Dolan from Montana Optimcom expressed some concerns about some engineering issues, the local ISP rep still said, "It’s a great initiative and it really will help the valley.” The Chronicle reports commissioners questioned supporters for about an hour before voting to move forward.
The project plan will use tax increment funding (TIF) in the Downtown and North 7th Avenue designated TIF Districts to facilitate funding for the first phase of the project. Phases two and three will bring fiber to the public schools and close up the proposed fiber rings by expanding to more business districts. You can reivew the Bozeman Fiber Master Plan and Feasibility Study and a summary of the project in the Commission Memorandum online.
The vote echoed a recent editorial in the Chronicle promoting the project and describing the decision to move forward as a "no-brainer":
As the Senate version of Missouri's latest anti-muni bill, SB 266 [PDF], moved forward recently, a group of private sector companies and interested organizations appealed to state lawmakers [PDF] urging them to stop it in its tracks.
In January we reported on HB 437, introduced by House Member Rocky Miller. Its Senate companion, which establishes an identical slash and burn strategy to discourage municipal broadband investment, appears to be gathering interest.
The Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee heard the bill on February 18th but chose not to vote on it, reports the Columbia Tribune. Members of the committee received a copy of the correspondence.
Readers will recall that Columbia is one of the many communities that have been actively investigating the possibility of municipal open access network investment. Last fall, Columbia received the results of a feasibility study that recommended the town make better use of its existing fiber assets for economic development purposes.
The letter, sent to Senator Eric Schmitt, Chairman of the Missouri Senate Committee on Jobs, Economic Development, and Local Government, stressed the importance of public private partnerships in the modern economy. SB 266 and HB 437, with their onerous barriers, would certainly discourage private investment in Missouri. From the letter:
After several years of considering options for a municipal network, the community of Grover Beach, California, is improving local connectivity options through a collaboration with private partner Digital West.
According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, the City struck a deal last fall with the local firm that will provide gigabit connectivity to local business customers. A city staff report states that Grover Beach will install and own a series of conduit that will house fiber owned by Digital West.
The company, a data storage and web hosting firm located in nearby San Luis Obispo, will manage the fiber network. Digital West will lease conduit space from the city for 5.1% of its gross revenue from its operation of the private portion of the system. The initial lease is for a 10-year term. The company will also transfer ownership of some of the fiber to the city for public purposes. San Luis Obispo (SLO) County also wants to connect its facilities in the area and will contribute to the cost of the project. It appears as though SLO County will use the fiber provided to Grover Beach.
Grover Beach will contribute $500,000; SLO County will contribute $268,000; Digital West will contribute $159,000 to the total cost of $927,000 of the project. The parties agree that the city's contribution will be capped at $500,000. The staff report recommends an interdepartmental loan to finance the city's portion of the conduit installation.
Digital West has been an instrumental player in the city's quest for improved connectivity for several years. The company provides Internet service in SLO County and manages a private network offering connectivity, colocation, and cloud services to commercial clients.
Grover Beach is also the location of the Pacific Crossing trans-Pacific fiber cable, connecting to Shima, Japan. In 2009, Digital West began working with Grover Beach to find ways to take advantage of the pipe. The city and Digital West have sence developed a Technology Master Plan and an Implementation Plan.
Republican State Representative Rocky Miller began the new legislative session with a bill designed to yank authority from local communities that need better connectivity. Even though the state already preempts local authority to sell telecommunications services and requires a referendum for cable, there is a current exemption for "Internet-type services." HB 437 [PDF] removes that exemption and would make it all but impossible for a local community to ensure they had access to the same types of services now available in Kansas City.
The bill prohibits communities from offering services if there are any private providers with no regard to the type or quality of those services. There can be no mistake that bills such as these are aimed directly at communities contemplating building their own gigabit networks because the existing service providers have refused to invest in the needed infrastructure.
Cities like Columbia, Nixa, and Carl Junction have taken proactive steps to encourage investment economic development growth that this bill would prevent. In Springfield, the city would have more than 1,000 fewer jobs without the city-owned SpringNet, which we have covered multiple times.
The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) released this statement about the bill:
A consultant report recommends the City of Columbia tap into its existing fiber resources to develop an open access municipal telecommunications network. The City recently issued a request for proposals for a business plan to press forward with the recommendation, reports the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Last year the City, Boone County, and the University of Missouri jointly hired a firm to conduct a survey and analyze existing connectivity. An August Tribune article by Andrew Denney reported that the the community was found lacking in reliable connectivity. The survey indicated that 84% of businesses reported "moderate, severe, or total disruption of their business from Internet problems related to reliability or speed." The survey also revealed 84% of businesses contend with Internet speeds "insufficient for their business needs due to reliability and speed issues." The reasonable conclusion is that commercial Internet access in Columbia is too expensive, too slow, and too unreliable for local businesses.
The Columbia Water and Light Department (W & L) now leases its dark fiber to approximately 30 entities, reports the Tribune. The leases bring in approximately $876,000 per year. The consultant recommends expanding existing resources in order to entice more providers who want to serve last-mile customers.
The report also examined continuing the W & L dark fiber leasing program without significant changes and expanding the dark fiber leasing program by adding last-mile deployment. Maintaining the current dark fiber program will not require capital but won't stimulate the area's economic development possibilities either.
Expanding the dark fiber program would improve the broadband infrastructure situation because providers would be able to offer leases to customer premises rather than only within the middle-mile network. This type of change would not improve affordability because it would not increase competition.
The August Tribune article reported:
Update: Read an updated version of this report, published in July 2021, here, titled Minnesota Broadband: Land of 10,000 Connectivity Solutions [pdf]. It revisits all of the below communities to see how they fared over the intervening years, while adding new counties, communities, and, for the first time, two local Internet Service Providers.
In our latest report, All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access, we analyze how local governments in 12 Minnesota communities are expanding 21st century Internet access to their citizens.
In 2010, the Minnesota legislature set a goal for 2015 - universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state. Even though we have the technology to make that vision a reality, large swaths of the state will not meet that goal. Nevertheless, local folks who have chosen to take control of their connectivity are finding a way to exceed expectations, surpassing the choices in many metropolitan regions.
Some of the communities we cover include:
- Windom, which is one of the most advanced networks in the state, built their own network after their telephone company refused to invest in their community.
- Dakota County showed how a coordinated excavation policy can reduce by more than 90 percent the cost of installing fiber.
- Lac qui Parle County partnered with a telephone cooperative to bring high speed broadband to its most sparsely population communities.
We delved into networks in Anoka, Carver, Cook, Lake, and Scott Counties. The report also shares developments in the municipalities of Chaska, Buffalo, and Monticello. We tell the story of RS Fiber, located in Sibley and part of Renville County. These communities provide examples of municipal networks, a variety of public private partnerships, and "dig once" policies.
So I was reading Bill Schrier's article about CenturyLink's announcement about supposedly investing in a gigabit for some people in some cities. He includes a link where people can sign up for new announcements as they come. I already checked my address in Saint Paul but it isn't available. But I figured, sure, I'd like to know when it will be available.
CenturyLink's website apparently didn't get the memo about the press release...
And as usual, I have to give a hat tip to Karl Bode, who regularly notes these "fiber to the press release" announcements. If CenturyLink were really going to invest in something, it would have to disclose the new plan to investors. But it hasn't.
Davenport recently issued an RFP, hoping to hire a vendor to complete a feasibility study. The community wants to learn more about connectivity options that build on its current fiber assets.
According to a May 2014 Government Technology article by Colin Wood, the city has installed fiber throughout the community over the past decade. CIO Rob Henry told Wood:
“For years, residents and businesses have been asking us to do this,” Henry said. “We always knew we were going to get to this point.”
Henry goes on to note that current services from incumbents in Davenport are not sufficient for economic development. The first step will be to connect businesses then follow with fiber to each premise.
Davenport's population is approximately 103,000. During the 70s and 80s, manufacturing was the predominent industry but today tech firms are moving into the area. It is considered part of the Quad Cities region, midway between Chicago and Des Moines from east to west and the Twin Cities and St. Louis from north to south.
According to the article, government facilities began using fiber first, with schools, hospitals, and parks following. The network saves Davenport $400,000 per year because the city serves its own telecommunications needs rather than buying service from a provider.
Wood reported that the city has spoken to CenturyLink and Mediacom; Chris told GovTech:
It’s good that Davenport is trying to cooperate with local Internet service providers (ISP), Mitchell said, but it’s unlikely to produce much substance because, in some cases, ISPs will attempt to starve the municipality for customers. “Every local government at first tries to work with incumbent providers,” said Mitchell, adding that, “my thinking is the city is not going to get a whole lot out of trying to work with them.”
The feasibility study will include several components, including a business case needs analysis, an evaluation of Davenport's current fiber optic capabilities, and recommendations. Bids are due in mid-July; the RFP is available online [PDF].