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Massachusetts Broadband Coalition Is Formed With Focus on Public Private Partnerships
Representing 26 towns across Massachusetts, from Cape Cod to Chelsea, an informal group of mostly town officials have formed the Massachusetts Broadband Coalition in search of a way out of a broken broadband market to ensure everyone in their individual communities has access to high-speed Internet.
The newly-formed coalition has recently started to meet monthly to share information about what kind of alternatives there might be, or could be, to the big cable monopoly provider in their towns.
Questioning Monopoly Rules Without Reinventing the Wheel
The coalition, which held its first meeting in January, was convened by Robert Espindola, Fairhaven Selectmen and the board’s liaison to the town’s broadband study committee. And though the coalition is “in its infant stages,” as Espindola recently shared with ILSR, one common theme has emerged from each participating member.
“No doubt the common theme is: there’s no competition,” he said. “That’s how it started in Fairhaven for us. When we were negotiating our (franchise) agreement with Comcast, people in the community were asking: ‘why can’t we get competition?’”
When we first came together it was really more just to learn from each other, what each community was doing. And we wanted to see if we could find ways to work more efficiently and not reinvent the wheel.
Indeed, communities across the nation have set out to tackle local connectivity challenges head-on with a community broadband approach without having to reinvent the wheel. Some have built, or are building locally-controlled, publicly-owned open-access fiber networks to create the conditions for competition. Other cities and towns are building, maintaining, and operating their own successful municipal broadband networks. While still others have opted to enter into a public-private partnership with an independent ISP to build out a community-wide network.
Public-Private Partnerships Come into Focus
Listen to How One Citizens Group in Falmouth, Mass. is Banding Together for Better Broadband
Local citizens and officials have been moving the needle on the Falmouth Community Network, completing a feasibility with the help of CCG Consulting in December and continuing to pursue public awareness and education efforts in the area. ILSR's Christopher Mitchell joined Cape, Coast, and Islands Radio on Tuesday to talk about the effort and the promises it holds for those who live in the area.
Other guests on the show include:
David Isenberg, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Labs, Senior Advisor to the FCC's National Broadband Plan, and Board Member of FalmouthNet.
Marilois Snowman, CEO of MediaStruction, a media and marketing firm in the Boston area, V.P. of FalmouthNet, Inc.
Sam Patterson, Falmouth Select Board member and Select Board's Representative to the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC).
On Cape Cod, Falmouth Considers Adding Fiber to its Digital Diet
Cape Cod, a peninsula in southeastern Massachusetts that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean like a flexed arm, has long been known as a top summer vacation destination and upscale retirement haven going back to when JFK launched his Presidential campaign from his family’s Hyannisport homestead.
During the height of the summer tourist season the population swells to over a million people as visitors from all over the world come to enjoy its picturesque beaches as well as its trails, shops, and seafood. And while the region’s economy is reliant on tourism, the Cape is home to 250,000 year-round residents spread out across 1,306 square miles in 15 towns, many of whom would like to see the regional economy become more diversified, even if the decades-old vision of transforming it into the “silicon sandbar” remains a pipe dream.
What members of a fledgling citizens group in the town of Falmouth have in mind may not be as grandiose as a “silicon sandbar,” but this week they got evidence that their vision of building a municipal-owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network is no pipe dream.
Falmouth Feasibility Study
In the summer of 2019, David Isenberg – a longtime Falmouth resident, a former Bell Labs scientist, and Senior Advisor to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan – along with a handful of other residents formed the citizens group pushing for a FTTH network in Falmouth. They went before the town’s Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) to lay out their vision. The group noted that Falmouth, the second-largest town on Cape Cod with a population of about 30,000 year-round residents, could do what 16 other Off-Cape Massachusetts towns have done – build a locally-controlled Internet access network. Then and there, Falmouth EDIC approved $50,000 for the study, concluding that “all sectors of Falmouth’s economy require reliable, high-speed Internet service.”
The results of the study conducted by CCG Consultants were released this week. The study found that more than 60% of residents and many businesses would subscribe, and that it would be financially feasible to build and operate the envisioned network.
OpenCape Residential Fiber Pilot a Window to Better Connectivity on Cape Cod
Earlier this month, OpenCape Corporation, a nonprofit fiber provider in southeastern Massachusetts, announced that it will pilot Fiber-to-the-Premises residential service at a new mixed-use development in Hyannis on Cape Cod. For the project, CapeBuilt Development is renovating a historic building to house apartments and businesses. Thanks to OpenCape’s connectivity, they will be first fully fiberized residential units on the Cape.
OpenCape hopes that the pilot project in Hyannis will serve as a model for towns in the region that are looking to invest in municipal broadband networks.
The Covid-19 pandemic emphasizes the importance of investing in quality connectivity for Cape Cod families to enable working and learning from home. “The only way that becomes truly possible is to ensure that they have access to robust, reliable and affordable Internet connectivity in their homes,” said OpenCape CEO Steven Johnston in the press release.
In response to the current public health crisis, OpenCape has also upgraded customers’ bandwidth and taken the Federal Communication Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge to not disconnect customers affected by the pandemic or charge late fees. “It is something we feel fits within our mission, that we are supposed to be serving the communities in southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod,” Johnston told the Falmouth Enterprise.
Survey Supports Network Feasibility in Falmouth
Early survey results confirm the potential for a community broadband network in the coastal town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, reports The Falmouth Enterprise. Responses suggest wide dissatisfaction with service from the town’s current providers. Out of 378 respondents, 70 percent want better Internet access in the Cape Cod community; 92 percent want more competition.
Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) commissioned the survey as part of a feasibility study examining the potential for municipal broadband in the town of 32,000 people. With the initial results in hand, EDIC decided to continue with the second portion of the feasibility study to be completed later this year, moving Falmouth closer toward its own community network.
Community Support Grows
Municipal buildings and community anchor institutions in Falmouth already have Internet access through a local open access network operated by nonprofit OpenCape, resulting in significant cost savings. However, residents also want better connectivity for the rest of the community. Support for a municipal network grew throughout 2018 and 2019, culminating in EDIC issuing an RFP for a community network feasibility study in July.
Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell travelled to Falmouth in the Fall of 2019 to discuss the community’s efforts on local television. During the program, he spoke with community leaders about the benefits of locally owned connectivity, the examples set by other municipal networks, and the unique opportunities that Falmouth has.
Study and Next Steps
Christopher and Broadband Champions Talk Falmouth Fiber Future on Local TV
This summer, Falmouth, Massachusetts, released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study for a community network. The community, where the year-round population of 32,000 swells to more than 105,000 in the summer, has investigated the possibilities of a publicly owned fiber optic network for the past several years. In early September, Christopher visited the east coast and appeared on FalmouthCommunityTV to share information with the greater Falmouth community.
Courtney Bird, who has lead the effort, provides information about how Falmouth has gotten this far. He describes how surprised he was when, at public meetings to discuss better local connectivity, large numbers of people appeared in support of the idea of a publicly owned network. Bird also goes through the steps they took to establish a committee to examine the problem, seek out solutions, and find funding for the study.
Falmouth has received better than expected responses to the RFP, notes Bird, and while they originally expected to decide on a firm by mid-September, he anticipates the decision may be delayed due to the number of proposals. Bird offers updates for local Falmouth and explains what they should expect from the study and from the process.
Peter Cook, who is also on the Committee for a Falmouth Community Network, is IT Director for the local library and a former computer science professor. Peter describes what the Falmouth hopes to learn from the feasibility study. From funding to potential models to possible services, Peter gets into the details of what the community wants from the study. Peter also moves beyond to describe next steps. Falmouth is thinking ahead in order to be prepared and nimble; they encourage locals to stay involved and stay up-to-date.
Learning from Others
Peter and Courtney and the rest of the Committee understand that taking advantage of lessons learned from other communities will help. Christopher answers questions and offers suggestions based on years of research and documented results.
Falmouth Issues Feasibility Study RFP, Responses Due August 12
The community of Falmouth, Massachusetts, continues to march forward with their plans to find a way to bring better connectivity to the coastal town. Falmouth Economic Development & Industrial Corporation (EDIC) recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study for a community network. Proposals are due August 12, 2019.
The RFP follows a June 4th meeting attended by about 80 people and a vote from the EDIC a week later to commit $50,000 toward the study. The meeting allowed people in the community to obtain information about the pros and cons of municipal networks and explore the possibilities for Falmouth.
Executive Director of the EDIC F. Michael DiGiano provided some important facts about the community and the vision for Falmouth:
Falmouth is a coastal community located on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, with a year population of 32,000 and a summer population of more than 105,000. The Town is home to several world-class scientific research organizations, including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Marine Biological Laboratory, and research centers for NOAA and USGS.
Many businesses and residents experience service problems with the current broadband system especially in summer months when the population triples. The purpose of the feasibility study is determine the viability of a locally owned broadband network that would offer reliable service for the needs of both residential and commercial customers throughout the year.
Comcast offers cable Internet access and DSL is available from Verizon in many areas of town, but neither coverage is ubiquitous. OpenCape maintains a presence in Falmouth, offering services to institutions, including schools and libraries, and to larger businesses. In a few areas of town, OpenCape has started offering residential and small business connectivity in mixed-use buildings. Falmouth hopes the presence of OpenCape fiber in the city will help implement a more cost effective and efficient deployment.
Falmouth Needs Answers
The community is looking for a firm that will:
Support Growing for Muni Initiative in Falmouth
People in Falmouth, Massachusetts, met on June 4th to discuss the possibilities of developing a municipal network in their city. About 80 people attended the meeting, which they held at the local library. By the end of the evening, attendees had discovered more about the process to build a community network, how their city may move forward, and determined that a key element will be building local support from residents and businesses.
An Advantage on the Cape
Even though Falmouth doesn’t have its own electric utility, as do many towns that ultimately develop municipal broadband networks, the city already has an edge — fiber from nonprofit OpenCape already connects approximately 40 municipal facilities and other community anchor institutions (CAIs). David Isenberg, a resident and former FCC senior advisor, helped organize the meeting and noted that the OpenCape infrastructure will provide an option for better connectivity in the community:
“There is a lot of OpenCape infrastructure in Falmouth that is already here for us to use,” Mr. Isenberg said.
OpenCape could hypothetically manage the community-based fiber-optic network, he said. Other options include the Town of Falmouth, a utility district, the Economic Development and Industrial Corporation or a public/private partnership. A feasibility study would determine the viability of those options.
David Talbot from CTC Technology and Energy was on hand to discuss what sorts of issues a feasibility study would address. A study would help the community determine what assets they have that can facilitate a community network, identify where the existing infrastructure’s gaps are, create a basic network design, and offer a strategy and cost estimates.
Louisville's Opportunity: I-Net Savings Now And Later
In order to save public dollars, improve municipal connectivity, and enhance the city’s ability to take advantage of various “Smart City” technologies, Louisville is planning to grow its existing fiber infrastructure. Their plan will take advantage of aspects of the KentuckyWired project to reduce costs. An increasing number of local governments have taken a similar common sense approach and deployed fiber optic Institutional Networks (I-Nets). In addition to cutting telecommunications costs, the infrastructure gives communities the freedom to predict future expenditures and find innovative ways to use publicly owned fiber.
Grow What You Have, Smartly
Louisville already owns a little more than 21 miles of fiber within the downtown business district. Under the Mayor’s proposed budget, $5.4 million would be allocated to add another 97 miles to the network. The estimated cost of the project deployment is low for an urban project because there are locations along the proposed route that overlap with the KentuckyWired project. In those areas, the company that is working with the state, Macquarie Capital, will install the fiber optic cables for Louisville alongside the KentuckyWired infrastructure. Macquarie will deploy both underground and on utility poles. This arrangement greatly reduces the cost for Louisville because they only pay for the materials.
According to the city’s chief of civic innovation, without the contribution of KentuckyWired, the project would have cost more than $15 million.
The network is only meant to serve community anchor institutions, along with municipal and Jefferson County facilities; there are no plans to connect homes or businesses. Louisville could lease excess capacity to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the future, which would generate revenue for the community.
Falmouth Saves With Cape Cod I-Net
Out on Cape Cod, municipal networks are taking hold. Public buildings throughout the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, experience great connectivity and the town saves $160,000 each year with its own Institutional network (I-Net).
The Falmouth Area Network, maintained by CapeNet, connects 17 buildings throughout the town for a total of $3,000 each month ($2,500 from the school; $500 from the town). Were the town to go through a private provider, it would cost $1,000 for each building every month or $17,000 per month. By saving $14,000 each month, Falmouth's annual savings add up to approximately $160,000 a year. That’s a lot of money to be reinvested in the community of 31,000.
Falmouth Area Network intends to reach even more institutional buildings in the next few years. The 17 that are connected now are the libraries, the schools, the town hall, the police stations, the fire stations, the harbormaster’s office, and a senior center. Soon the Gus Canty Community Center will also gain a connection. At the Annual Town Meeting last week, the town approved the Capital Improvement Plan which included $80,000 to upgrade the network, including hooking up the community center. There are also plans to add a new wastewater treatment plan to the network in 2017.
The Role of OpenCape