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Broadband Comes Ashore on Block Island
The streaks of paint and tiny white flags popping up across Block Island are not signs of surrender. They are signs of progress. The popular summer tourist destination, nine miles off the coast of Rhode Island, is on the verge of building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, bringing gig-speed Internet connectivity to the more than 1,000 residents who call the community home.
The markers on residents’ property are plot points along the construction route as network planners prepare to start building the last-mile portion at the end of March.
On Feb. 4, BroadbandBI launched its website, announcing that the construction materials had finally arrived on the Island and signaling the start of construction would soon be underway.
Sertex, the company partnering with the town to build the network, is anticipating deploying more than 60 miles of fiber to deliver high-speed Internet service directly to homes and businesses in New Shoreham, the only town on Block Island.
Pop the Champagne
Residents there unanimously voted in July 2020 to pay for the construction of the island-wide network with $8 million in bonds. Approval for the project was so overwhelming that when the vote took place the Block Island School gymnasium erupted with cheers and applause.
Currently, there are still only three options for Internet service on the Island: Verizon DSL, satellite, and mobile services with the fastest speed advertised at 35 Megabits per second (Mbps). And for a period of time, it seemed as if residents were doomed to those tortoise-like speeds forever.
In 2014, the Block Island Times captured experiences from its readers after an especially frustrating summer of spotty service. One reader, Jessica Fischburg wrote, “We have Verizon and live down in Franklin Swamp. No cell service. Our Internet is painfully slow unless you wake up super early. We have no choice but to disconnect when we come out to the island!”
The Answer Was Blowing in the Wind
South Hadley FTTH Deployment Progressing in Massachusetts
By this July, the South Hadley Electric Light Department (SHELD) expects to begin serving the the first subscribers to Fibersonic, the town’s municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. Construction, which began in January, is rolling along and SHELD anticipates the citywide project will be completed within four years.
Showing Their Interest
SHELD is signing up subscribers now on the Fibersonic website. Residents who express the desire for the service will also help SHELD see which of the town’s 32 fiberhoods are more likely to gather more subscribers at a rapid rate and can help determine which areas are connected first. The first two areas where construction crews are working are the Ridge Road and Old Lyman Road areas. Each fiberhood will serve approximately 250 to 300 subscribers.
Check out the Fibersonic map, which SHELD will keep updated for the community, to see where construction occurs.
Sean Fitzgerald, who came to SHELD from Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E), says that the intense interest from the South Hadley public reflects the lack of competition in town. Comcast offers Internet access in South Hadley, along with cable TV and voice services.
“There’s a tremendous amount of interest. Customers are giving us a lot of positive feedback. There’re very hungry to have competition, to have options,” Fitzgerald said, “a chance to pick from different vendors versus having to choose one.”
SHELD offers one level of service: symmetrical gigabit connectivity for $74.95 per month. If subscribers enroll in autopay, the monthly rate drops to $70 per month. There’s no installation fee and the municipal utility offers a seasonal discount for subscribers who will be away from their homes for three to six months.
Phase Two for Rock Falls
After finishing its first phase of broadband build out covering businesses and industrial parks, Rock Falls, Illinois, will begin focusing on residential customers in early 2019. While residents living close to business areas will have early access to the gigabit fiber network, the city of 9,000 will use the fiberhood approach to reach its remaining residential areas.
Growing a Gigabit City
The plan to invest in citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) began taking shape when Rock Falls residents became increasingly frustrated with the incumbent cable provider Comcast. Mayor Bill Wescott called for support for the project during his 2017 State of the City address, saying “The time is now to advance Internet in Rock Falls.” Later in April, the City Council approved the use of a $5.3 million general obligation bond issuance to fund the first phase of the build out, and an overall cap of $13 million for the duration of the project. The estimated cost of the project ended up being significantly reduced because the Rock Falls Electric Department (RFED) had already installed extra fiber-optic cable to connect substations as early as 2004.
By using GO bonds to finance their infrastructure deployment, Rock Falls departs from the typical funding approach. Most municipalities issue revenue bonds or employ interdepartmental loans and money they've saved from avoided costs when ending expensive leased lines to telecommunications companies. In recent years, other methods of funding fiber optic build outs have become increasingly popular as broadband infrastructure has obtained utility status in local communities.
Rock Island Communications Connects This Island Community in Washington
When you’re an island, literally, and want better options for your Internet access, you have to get creative. In the case of Rock Island Communications on the San Juan Islands, the choice was clear: establish your own ISP.
The San Juan Islands cluster in the most northwest tip of Washington state, off the coast of the cities of Bellingham and Anacortes, and just spitting distance from the Canadian border. Hitching a ride on a ferry boat is the only way to access this remote but beautiful chain. A little more than a third of the residents of the 20 islands are seasonal, and the islands’ median age is 55 years old, according to Rock Island Communications. Visitors and residents alike experience the rough weather, thick Douglas fir overgrowth, and rocky terrain one would expect from the Pacific Northwest coast. These environs make for beautiful vistas - the islands are considered a vacation destination - but less than ideal conditions for high speed Internet access.
“After the Cable Broke”
Rock Island Communications is a wholly owned subsidiary of the San Juan County-based electric co-op Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO). Rock Island Communications started as Rock Island, a local ISP with around 12 percent of the market share. OPALCO bought the small ISP in 2015, and the private venture has just entered its third year of expanding construction and operating both Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and Fixed LTE Wireless services. The wireless service, for more remote subscribers, is run in a partnership with T-Mobile and involves sharing infrastructure and splitting costs. By the company’s own estimates, Rock Island now retains nearly 40 percent of the market share, with a 2:1 ratio of wireless to FTTH subscribers. The ISP expects to have a positive cash-flow by the end of this year.
Taunton Pushes For More Residential Subscribers
Businesses in Taunton, Massachusetts, already have access to fiber optic connectivity offered by Taunton Municipal Light Plant (TMLP). In an effort to bring better connectivity to the rest of the community, TMLP is now connecting residents through a “fiberhood” approach.
TMLP’s customer base already consists of about 20 percent residential customers; they now serve about 450 premises. When the community decided to invest in the infrastructure in1997, the focus was on bringing high-quality connectivity to local businesses. Now, TMLP hopes to expand its network to nearby communities’ residents with $69.95 per month symmetrical gigabit FTTH service. TMLP will also offer Internet access at $34.95 per month for symmetrical 50 Megabit per second (Mbps) service and voice services for $19.95 per month. They will not offer video service.
In order to determine which areas will receive service next, TMLP is asking potential subscribers to sign up at their website to express interest. Once a designated area achieves a 25 percent level of interest, residents can submit applications for installation at their homes. When applications have been approved, TMLP begins deployment in their neighborhood.
Time To Branch Out
Currently, TMLP offers FTTH to one apartment complex and a neighborhood near the high school. The city’s school system obtains connectivity from TMLP, as does a local hospital and its clinics. TMLP wants to expand to neighborhoods in Raynham, Berkley, North Dighton, and Lakeville.
Officials expect brisk demand and comments from local residents confirm that expectation:
“Wish they’d come to the Whittenton area...(TMLP Online is) much more affordable, especially for those who don’t wish to have television and only want WiFi or for those who live alone and need a very basic, simple package deal,” said Michelle Gaoulette, a Taunton resident.
The small number of residential subscribers who live in the areas where FTTH is available seem to appreciate it:
Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 274
This is the transcript for episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer join the show from Mason County, Washington, to discuss how a publicly-owned network delivers high-speed Internet service throughout the county. Listen to this episode here.
Justin Holzgrove: They didn't bring pitchforks, but they brought their pens and they were ready to sign up with their checkbooks. And they said, "Bring it on. We want this now."
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Public Utility District 3 in Mason County, Washington, delivers symmetrical gigabit connectivity to every customer in its service area. They have no speed, capacity or data thresholds. You have access to a gigabit regardless of whether you are in a rural area or within city limits and whether or not you're a household, business, or one of the ISPs that work with PUD 3. This week Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer from PUD 3 in Mason County spent some time talking with Christopher about how the Public Utility District is working to bring high quality connectivity to each customer. In addition to describing their plan to build out and manage their network, Justin and Joel share the story of how connectivity has come to be offered from PUDs in Washington. Now here's Christopher with Justin Holzgrove and Joel Myer talking about Public Utility District 3 in Mason County, Washington.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I am Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis. Today I'm speaking with Justin Holzgrove the Telecommunications and Community Relations Manager up at Mason County's Public Utility District number 3. Welcome to the show.
Justin Holzgrove: Hey how's it going?
Christopher Mitchell: It's going well. I'm excited to learn more about what you're doing. But first I have to introduce our other guest. Joel Myer the Public Information and Government Relations Manager at PUD number 3. Welcome to the show.
Joel Myer: Thank you it's a beautiful day in the Fiberhood.
Mason PUD 3 Responds to Muni Fiber Demand with Fiberhoods - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 274
Mason County Public Utility District 3 covers a large area with a lot of people that have poor Internet access. If "PUD" didn't give it away, it is located in Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula and had already been investing in fiber as an electric utility for monitoring its internal systems.
Mason PUD 3 Telecommunications & Community Relations Manager Justin Holzgrove and Public Information & Government Relations Manager Joel Myer join us for episode 274 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss how they are expanding their open access fiber optic network to the public after seeing tremendous support not just for Internet access but specifically for the PUD to build the infrastructure.
We talk about how they are financing it and picking areas to build in as well as the role of the Northwest Open Access Network, which we have discussed on previous shows and written about as well. We cover a lot of ground in this interview, a good place to start for those interested in open access and user-financed investment.
This show is 38 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Image of the Mason PUD 3 Fiberhood courtesy of COS Systems.
Anacortes, Washington, Will Survey Community About FTTH
Bit by bit, Anacortes has been taking steps to cultivate better connectivity in their community of approximately 16,000. Earlier this week, city leaders decided to move forward with a survey to determine if residents and businesses are interested in service from a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.
Considering The Next Steps
At the August 21st City Council meeting, staff provided an update of the project that the city is working on with Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) to improve city water utility efficiencies. Anacortes needed better communications between more than 30 pump stations, reservoirs, and water treatment plants and, working with NoaNet, determined that they could use abandoned water lines for fiber conduit. They’re nearing the end of what they describe as Phase I of the project.
Phase II involves determining whether or not the city wants to harness extra dark fiber capacity in the backbone for a municipal FTTH network throughout the community. Before they decide to move forward with a trial system, Anacortes and NoaNet will reach out to the community for their input starting with a survey. At the meeting the City Council approved $10,000 to fund the survey, which will also help determine which areas have the greatest demand.
If the community decides it wants a municipal network, Phase III would depend on the success of the “trial phase” and would require installation of fiber within the community. While Anacortes is still developing solid details for this phase of the plan, early discussions indicate they will take an incremental or fiberhood approach based on demand in particular areas of town.
So Many Choices
City leaders anticipate an open access model, but they are considering also taking on an additional role as a retail Internet Service Provider. In order to examine all the options, city staff are examining several possible models. One of their primary goals is to increase competition.
Rock Falls: The Future Is In Fiber
The community of Rock Falls, Illinois, is well on its way to developing a gigabit municipal network to offer better connectivity to residents, businesses, and public facilities. Last week, the City Council adopted an ordinance that allows the city to issue general obligation bonds to fund citywide fiber-optic Internet infrastructure.
The city’s plan will expand first in business corridors and then use the fiberhood approach in residential areas, building only after a certain percentage of households preregister. The plan divides the city into 14 fiberhoods with each area’s build out cost estimated to be approximately $250,000. Residential fiberhoods will require 45 percent participation prior to construction. Consultants estimate citywide buildout costs will be $13 million; the City Council authorized bonding for that amount. The first bond issue will be $4.1 million likely to happen in early May if approval proceeds as planned.
The City Council authorized the first phase of the project to begin - network design and project administration - which will cost approximately $207,000. The process to issue GO bonds will start in March and city leaders hope to have the backbone completed by the end of June.
Most publicly owned Internet infrastructure is funded by revenue bonds, avoided costs, or interdepartmental loans rather than GO bonds. When funded by general obligation bonds, a project is backed by the credit and taxing power of the issuing jurisdiction and the resource is always publicly owned. Clearly, the community of Rock Falls recognizes how critical the investment is to the community's future.
From The Mayor
In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Bill Wescott focused on three factors that drove the initiative: growth, the city’s strong finances, and local control.
While it’s common knowledge that economic development needs better connectivity than what is now available in Rock Falls, Wescott noted that residents stuck with 10 - 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) download Internet access need and deserve higher capacity connectivity to participate in the modern economy. He defined “growth” broadly, encompassing jobs, education, innovation, public safety, and government.