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California's Watsonville, population 51,200, joins the ranks of municipalities considering the benefits of a publicly owned fiber optic network to connect key facilities. At a September 10 the City Council passed a resolution approving plans and calling for an RFP for a next generation fiber network. Bids will be accepted until October 8, 2013.
Charter Communications currently provides fiber optic I-Net service to Watsonville local government. The network provides data connections, Internet, gate controls, and security systems throughout the City. The fiber I-Net also provides backhaul for wireless systems for the police department and various remote city locations.
As has happened many in states that have revoked local franchise authority, Watsonville's favorable long term cable franchise agreement with Charter is ending. Charter will no longer provide the I-Net services for no cost as part of its agreement to place its equipment in the public rights-of-way. Instead, it has proposed expensive lease options.
Charter has offered two quotes: $43,115 per year for a reduced level of service and $149,153 per year for the same level of service the city now receives. The memorandum goes on to note that a reduced level of service would require reduction of some uses for the current network, such as eliminating a number of security cameras.
City staff estimates that installation of a next generation network would cost approximately $480,000. They would connect the high school, the City Information Technology office, the Veterans Building, the local reservoir, the library, the airport and the fire station. Watsonville has a significant amount of fiber already in place for use in the citywide transportation system which will reduce the cost of installation. The project will be financed primarily with library and water enterprise funds and other city departments that connect will contribute to the project costs.
We last checked in with Opelika, Alabama, as they began testing their FTTH network in a pilot project. The community previously overcame Charter Cable's campaign of lies and passed a referendum. Voters approved the plan for a $41 million fiber optic communications and smart grid network. The community has been constructing the network, expanding testing, and building a network hub facility.
OANow.com reporter Tamiko Lowery reports "lightning in a bottle" will soon be serving the public. Customer service operations at City Hall will end on August 2nd when all Opelika Power Services (OPS) offices move to the new facility. June Owens, manager of marketing and communications spoke with Lowery about the anticipated launch:
“Fiber is going to put Opelika on the map like never before,” Owens said. “Opelika should be very proud. Nobody in the state is doing a project like this. And there is not much outside the state of Alabama like this. This is 100 percent fiber to the home. Fiber to the house doesn’t require the electronics in the field – this eliminates problems in the field that you might have with other types of systems. It is truly state-of-the-art equipment at its best.”
Still in “Testing Mode,” there is not a pin-pointed launch date for the fiber-optic network services.
“But we’re getting close,” Owens said.
She says that once operational, OPS will be able to offer lower rates than surrounding areas to the approximately 12,000 electric customers in Opelika. Once up and running full-speed, OPS will be competing with Charter, Dish and Direct-TV for Opelika customers. In the future, OPS will offer back-up data services to Opelika businesses.
Mayor Gary Fuller spoke with Christopher for Episode #40 of the Broadband Bits podcast. They discussed the community's decision to take connectvity in their own hands after years of dissatisfaction with Charter Cable.
We spoke with Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller in episode 40 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast and learned all about the community's FTTH project. Local residents and businesses decided to go beyond the substandard services they received from Charter Cable and build their own municipal network. At the time of the interview, Opelika Power Services (OPS) was well into construction and is now testing the network, according to an article in the article in the Opelika-Auburn News.
Steve Harmon, director of OPS, said there are between seven to eight test sites in the city that are basic residences receiving these services. Throughout the trial run, OPS will monitor what services are working efficiently and which ones have problems that need to be fixed.
“We’re getting feedback from those people and we are working on fine-tuning the system’s channel configurations,” Harmon said.
As this stage, test sites do not have telephone capability, which will be part of triple-play service from OPS. Harmon noted that service will not be offered until all issues are resolved. That being said, OPS expects launch to be in late spring or early summer.
The community faced one of Charter's misinformation campaigns, but citizens still approved a referendum to bond $41 million for the network and smart grid project. Since then, Opelika has moved forward steadily with network construction and construction of a network hub facility.
From the OPS News website:
As the Georgia legislature considers HB 282, a bill that will restrict local governments from investing in telecommunications networks, we are continuing coverage of the communities that will be harmed by passage of the legislation.
Should the restrictions become law, existing networks will not be able to expand. No expansion means fewer opportunities to reap the benefits that flow naturally from community networks. While this means few residents will receive access in places like Thomasville and Moultrie, it also means fewer businesses will receive access in places where networks exclusively serve commercial customers and government offices.
LaGrange's IT Director, Alan Slaughenhaupt, told us a little about its municipal network that began in 1996. The community decided to build its own network when no private provider would. The first goal was to get the K-12 schools connected. Bonds funded the network build out and were paid off within five years. At the time, the city partnered with ISN (Later Earthlink) to get the schools connected. LaGrange now partners with Charter Communications to bring connectivity to students.
The LaGrange network now connects hospitals, most city, county, and state government facilities, and provides connectivity for businesses. Alan describes how a T1 connection cost local businesses $2,300 per month in 1996. Now, thanks to competition created by the community owned network, local businesses can pay just $100 for a connection with better capacity. The municipal network serves about 400 commercial customers.
Alan explained that the automaker Kia moved a manufacturing facility near LaGrange in 2009 that used Just-In-Time inventory control. It needed a high-speed connection between the main plant and suppliers that LaGrange could deliver.
Investors don’t think too highly of the company either. Charter reported a wider third-quarter loss in November, losing $87 million compared with $85 million lost during the same quarter last year. Executives tell Wall Street the company was in chaos before new management under Tom Rutledge took over operations. Rutledge’s priorities are to invest in new set top boxes, convert more of its systems to digital, raise prices on services, cut back on promotions and retention offers, and centralize customer support operations.Imagine that! When communities have to make investments and suffer losses, they are accused of failing. Charter is losing money (and recently emerged from a bankruptcy proceeding) and trying to make changes to correct its condition. This is what happens to many firms in telecommunications. Only when it happens to those that are owned by communities, they are besieged with claims that such a situation is somehow proof that the public cannot own and operate networks. Note that others, like Comcast, are actually lauded by Wall Street for operating in areas with so little competition that they can increase their rates at will -- hard not to make a profit in that case. Which is precisely why existing cable and DSL companies push laws to restrict local authority to build better networks.
We have followed events in Opelika's network project for almost two years. In addition to creating a smart-grid for its municipal electric utility, the City plans to offer triple-play services. We previously covered Charter Cable's astroturf campaign to oppose the network and how the campaign failed when Opelikans passed the referendum.
This week, the 27,000 residents of Opelika saw their efforts begin to materialize at a ground breaking ceremony at the site of the new Opelika Power Services Facility. Chris Anthony, of the Opelika-Auburn News covered the story:
Site work is well under way on the $3.7 million facility, which leaders say will be an integral part of the fiber-optic network being built throughout the city. In addition to housing the administrative office and warehouse, the facility will also be the home of Opelika Power Services’ fiber hub.
Mayor Gary Fuller notes how the people of Opelika entered the business of municipal utilities over one hundred years ago, when the community purchased the then-private electric utility. He spoke about how the people of Opelika carry on that self-reliant streak with their new fiber network.
According to, Beth Ringley, Interim Director of Opelika Power, 90% of the fiber is installed underground throughout the city and should be nearly completed by the end of the summer. The $41 million project is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2013 and the first customers are expected to connect at that time.
Two videos offer further coverage of this new community network. These videos are no longer available.
“It’s a big, big day for the city of Opelika,” Mayor Gary Fuller said. “It’s important for our future.”