Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Fiber to the Home
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, digital equity advocates and city leaders have been debating the idea of building a citywide municipal fiber network for years now, mostly over whether the estimated $150 to $200 million it would cost to build the network would be worth it.
In a tech-savvy city, home to Harvard and MIT, the former city manager was resistant to a serious inquiry into municipal broadband. He retired last summer. But before he left, he relented on the broadband question – under pressure from city councilors and a local citizen group advocating for municipal broadband, Upgrade Cambridge.
With many residents weary of being held hostage to the whims and high cost of service from the monopoly provider in town (Comcast), which currently controls 80 percent of the city’s market, in 2021 the city hired the well-regarded Maryland-based consulting firm CTC Technology & Energy to conduct a thorough feasibility study. Now, with a new supportive city manager in office, city leaders have agreed to continue to investigate the options laid out in the recently published study.
‘Significant Public Support’ Even If It Requires Tax Money
After decades of frustration, Block Island residents are finally getting access to affordable, next-generation broadband. The Island’s freshly-launched BroadbandBI fiber network is not only utterly transformative for island residents, it’s the first municipal owned and operated broadband network in Rhode Island history.
The first wave of island residents were able to sign up for service in April; the beginning of a staggered deployment rollout island leaders say is very much on schedule. It’s a monumental occasion for the 1,410 island residents spread across nearly ten square miles, who’ll be holding a June 5 event at the island’s Southeast Lighthouse to celebrate the long-awaited launch.
For years, island residents have had to make due with an underwhelming combination of spotty and aging Verizon DSL, or costly and heavily capped satellite broadband—assuming they could get broadband service at all. Private providers generally didn’t see investing in the island community as something worth their time or money.
Running 'A Bit Ahead'
Enter the Town of New Shoreham’s municipal broadband effort: an organic response to market failure, built on the backs of decades of frustration. A network that’s both on budget and on schedule, New Shoreham Land and Finance Director Amy Lewis told ILSR.
“We are running a bit ahead on FSA (fiber service area) openings at the moment and expect to have all subscribers installed and operational in the fall of 2023,” Lewis said.
The Port Of Whitman County is one of several rural Washington communities set to nab another major infusion of broadband grants courtesy of federal Covid disaster relief. A fresh infusion of $1.1 million announced last week will help the County expand a five city (Palouse, Garfield, Oakesdale, Tekoa and Rosalia) fiber expansion project to 104 unserved homes.
In partnership with Ziply Fiber, the Port will bring fiber connectivity to those homes that were not included in the first phase of the project. According to city officials, construction will begin in the fall 2023 and be complete by spring 2024.
It’s part of a broader $121 million in new broadband grant awards doled out by the Washington State Broadband Office to expand access to affordable broadband service across traditionally underserved portions of the state. All told, the new awards will be used to fund more than 19 different projects, bringing improved broadband access to nearly 15,000 state residents.
“These grants will provide initial service availability to 14,794 end users located across the state, in communities as diverse as the San Juan Islands, Kittitas County and the Spokane reservation,” Washington Broadband Office Director Mark Vasconi said of the latest round of funding.
Quincy, Massachusetts is moving full speed ahead on a long-percolating plan to bring faster and more reliable broadband to a community long neglected by regional telecom monopolies.
If successful, the resulting open access fiber network should dramatically boost competitive options in the city, driving down costs for what many view as an essential utility.
After five years of debate and planning, Quincy officials say they’re getting closer to launching a city owned open access fiber network that will provide a backbone for city services, as well as a major infusion of long overdue broadband competition citywide.
Quincy Ward 3 Councilor Ian Cain told ISLR that the city is planning to launch trial deployments in Merrymount and Quincy Point during the next few months. The city has long worked with Entrypoint networks as a technical consultant and project financial planner, and city officials are expecting an engineering and feasibility study from Tilson within a matter of weeks.
RFP Coming Soon
“We're intending to bring the request for financing before the council before the end of session, which is at the end of June,” Cain said.
"We'll be putting out an RFP for the open access component of the project soon as well. We hope to fund the project through the city council before the summer, and then ideally we would start construction in the fall."
The initial pilot project will be funded by a general obligation bond. City leaders stated Merrymount and Quincy Point were selected both with an eye on socioeconomic diversity, and because the city was certain they’d see a relatively high adoption rate.
"Quincy Point in particular has a lot of economic and cultural diversity, and I think that's really important to emphasize as we move forward," Ward 2 City Councilor Anthony Andronico said of the city’s effort. "Quincy Point and Merrymount will have an opportunity to see what works with this program, what we can improve upon and help expand it to the whole city.”
The Cleveland, Tennessee city council has approved the creation of the Cleveland Utilities Authority, the first step in allowing the city-owned utility to get into the broadband business. The goal: improve utilities services and provide city residents with faster, cheaper, and more reliable fiber access after years of neglect by often-apathetic regional telecom monopolies.
The plan, approved by the city council with a 7-2 vote (see full video here), paves the way for Cleveland’s city-owned utility, Cleveland Utilities, to begin deployment of a $72 million fiber network. The city’s plan, documented in detail here, is heavily inspired by the successes seen by Chattanooga, Tennessee’s publicly-owned utility, EPB.
Of the initial $72 million investment, $64 million will be funded by public-issued debt, and go towards construction of the network, which Cleveland Utilities states should begin in March of 2024 and be completed in “roughly two to three years” barring complications.
An additional interdivisional loan of $8 Million will fund three years of operation for the new division. The utility’s plan is based on a 30 percent take rate, and aims to become cash flow positive between years 2-3, with all debt paid between years 10 and 12.
Once complete, the network will dramatically upgrade the utility’s energy monitoring and maintenance capabilities and deliver symmetrical fiber at speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) to local residents, and 10 Gbps to local area businesses.
Sean Gonsalves speaks with Dwight Thomas, who build the first citywide municipal fiber network in Texas in Mont Belvieu. They talk about Mont Belvieu as well as the importance of engaging the community and how to make sure people can use the network once it is built. Dwight also discusses his passion for discipleship and sharing his knowledge.
This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with 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 see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Joseph McDade for the music. The song is On the Verge and is used per his Free-Use terms.
With the construction of its 65-mile dark fiber backbone nearly complete, city officials in Boulder, Colorado are now ready to move into the next phase of their plan: test the waters for a partnership with private or nonprofit Internet service providers (ISPs) to build out a citywide fiber network to deliver last mile service to the city’s 104,000 residents and businesses.
Last week, the city issued a Request for Information (RFI) “to gauge the interest of for-profit and nonprofit entities in forming a public–private partnership (PPP) with the city to make Gigabit per second-class bandwidth available to all Boulder homes and businesses.”
“As we prepare for further City Council discussion on a future community broadband operating model, it is imperative that we understand the market potential for a PPP (public-private partnership) to meet the city’s goals related to connectivity. We look forward to responses that consider a variety of business models to share technological and operational responsibilities and financial risk with the city in innovative ways,” Innovation and Technology Deputy Director Mike Giansanti said in a press statement when the RFI was issued.
The city is looking for a partner or partners that will come to table with new ideas, create competition, and either fully fund or share costs.
Having prioritized a city-wide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) build, city officials have identified two main goals: serve the growing demand for “affordable, reliable, and sophisticated broadband technology; and support a thriving business environment.”
Responses to the RFI are due by May 19 at 4 pm MDT.
City officials say they will consider a range of construction and operation designs as well as a variety of ownership models as the City Council will likely vote on the path forward and the execution of a contract sometime this year.
Creative efforts are underway in Marin County, California to bring fiber connectivity to underserved pockets of the community and eventually the whole area. Digital Marin, currently housed within the county’s Information Services and Technology Department, is coordinating the project, and is leaning towards a municipally-owned, open-access solution modeled after Ammon’s standout network in Idaho.
Just across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco, Marin County is home to about 265,000 residents, as well as the Muir Woods National Monument, a County Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and nearly 73 miles of coastal trail. Despite largely being considered an urban county, Marin also includes suburban and rural areas with 40 percent of the county classified as protected park land.
When it comes to Internet connectivity, the area is peppered with what Marin County resident and Digital Marin Executive Steering Committee member, Bruce Vogen, calls “donut holes of high-quality Internet access.” An unknown provider built a DSL network in the region many years ago and then Comcast later bought and inherited the antiquated infrastructure. Soon after, AT&T entered the market but selected only the most profitable neighborhoods to serve. All 90,000 of the county’s urban households can access the Internet through Comcast, but just 20,000 of these homes have access to the archipelago of AT&T’s fiber network. In any case, Marin’s urban areas are either subject to monopoly or duopoly market control. It has long been apparent there is a digital divide in Marin County, but it wasn’t until the 2022 FCC maps were released that the contours of this divide came into focus.
Earlier this month, a new Colorado bill was introduced that, if passed, would rid the state of a law designed to protect monopoly Internet service providers (ISPs) from competition.
SB-183, titled “Local Government Provision Of Communications Services,” seeks to gut a law Big Telecom pushed state lawmakers to pass in 2005. That law, known as SB-152, prevented any of Colorado’s 272 municipalities from building and operating their own telecommunication infrastructure unless local voters first passed a referendum to “opt out.”
End of ‘the Qwest Law’?
Known also as “the Qwest law,” Qwest (now Lumen but more recently CenturyLink), with the help of Comcast, leaned on legislative allies to pass SB-152 to protect their monopoly profits. On our Community Broadband Bits podcast, Ken Fellman and Jeff Wilson, prominent telecom attorneys, recount how lobbyists for the monopoly ISPs were instrumental in pushing two false, but effective, narratives we’ve seen many times before: that SB-152 only sought to “level the playing field” so that private companies could compete with municipally run networks, and that SB-152 “protected” Coloradoans from irresponsible local governments, as if there were no such things as local elections.
But, if passed, the new proposed legislation (SB-183) – co-sponsored by a bipartisan-ish group of state legislators (10 Democrats and 2 Republicans) – would neuter SB-152 and allow local communities to decide for themselves if they wanted to pursue municipal broadband without needing special permission from the state.
Lewis County, Washington and the Lewis County Public Utility District (PUD) are making progress with their plan to deploy an open access fiber network that should dramatically boost broadband competition—and lower prices—county wide by 2026.
In November 2019, Lewis County PUD received a $50,000 grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) to study the county’s broadband shortcomings and determine whether taking direct action to address them made sense. In early 2020, the PUD formed the Lewis County Broadband Action Team (BAT) to further study community needs.
Those inquiries found what most U.S. communities know too well: concentrated monopolization had left county residents overpaying for substandard, expensive, and spotty broadband access unsuitable for modern living.
In response, the Lewis County PUD announced in 2021 it would be building an 134-mile-long fiber backbone and open access fiber network for around $104 million. Around $23.5 million of that total will be paid for by a recently awarded grant by the Washington State Department of Commerce, itself made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).