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Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Next Town to Consider Fiber Network

Tahlequah, Oklahoma, far on the eastern side of the state, recently decided to investigate the possibility of building a new network. On June 15th, the Tahlequah Public Works Authority Board approved the financing of a feasibility study on the options. According to Rob W. Anderson's Tahlequah Daily Press article:

“We budgeted $40,000 for this, and I really think it’ll probably take every bit of that, I’m guessing,” [TPWA General Manager Mark Chesney] said. “What we’re suggesting is that we go to some expert to get a proposal to tell us what a return on investment would look like, what our start-up cost would look like, how much of the market we could capture and a pretty good forecast of how long it would take to pay out on those kinds of things. That’s what a study would do.”

Chesney stated that the city wanted to know more about offering services with a fiber network, including Internet, cable, and voice. Chesney alluded to local dissatisfaction of services and the town's desire to expand economic development. The town is home to approximately 15,750 people.

We have reported on other Oklahoma communities, including Sallisaw and Ponca City, that now have publicly owned networks and provide a variety of services. Oklahoma, one of the states with a more friendly attitude toward community networks, does not have barriers in place to curtail development.

Sallisaw's DiamondNet offers triple play packages, like those mentioned in the Tahlequah meeting, for $105.95, $116.95, and 126.95. Things have worked out will in Sallisaw. Keith Skelton, assistant city director of Sallisaw, stated publicly in March that he expects the City to make a profit from the network by the end of 2012.

A Closer Look at FiberNet Monticello

Monticello has been all over the muni broadband news lately, in the wake of a letter it sent to bondholders [pdf] alerting them that the City would no longer make up the difference between the revenues produced by the system and the debt payments. This came shortly after the company managing the network decided to step down. Over the next year, the reserve fund will make up the difference while the City and bondholders come to some sort of an agreement. The Star Tribune today published a good synopsis of the situation:
City administrator Jeff O'Neill said that the city has no intention of abandoning FiberNet's 1,700 customers, including about 130 businesses. "This system isn't going anywhere," he said. "We're not going out of business." Despite the problems, he said the city has one of the fastest Internet systems in the country that has driven down prices and improved services by providing competition.
The article also notes that prior to the City-owned network, the telephone company (TDS) provided very poor DSL service that was harming area businesses with slow and very unreliabile phone and broadband services. Without FiberNet Monticello, we don't know how many businesses would have been forced to relocate to be competitive in the digital economy. We decided to dig a little deeper to get a sense of what Monticello has received for its investment and difficulty. We previously examined the prices charged by Charter cable in town and found that households taking that deal were saving $1000/year. monticello-goodbadugly_0.jpg We also noted that Charter was almost certainly engaging in predatory pricing. After talking with other networks, we would guess that Charter is losing between $30 and $50 (conservatively) per subscriber per month.

Leverett, Massachusetts Approves Broadband Funding

We brought you news of Leverett, Massachusetts and their decision this spring to pursue a municipal fiber optic network. In April, voters approved a measure to develop the initiative, and this past weekend took the last step toward building the network. The town of 1,851, voted to raise their taxes to pay for a fiber-to-the-home network. The result was a resounding 462 for and 90 against.

The GazetteNET.com covered the story:

"We're expecting everyone in Leverett to have access to this network by 2014," said Peter d'Errico, a member of the town's Select Board and a leading supporter of the municipal fiber-optic system."

"This was clearly a mandate to proceed," said d'Errico. "There was vigorous discussion at every stage of the process and it's a sign that community is ready to take charge of its own services."

The Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion override ended in an 83.5% vote to support the project. The result satisfies the 2/3 majority requirement for a planned tax increase, as required by state law.

A little more than 39% of the town's eligible voters cast ballots. According to the assistant town clerk, D'Ann Kelty who monitors voter activity, the turn out was large for a single issue election.

The funding strategy is a 20-year bond measure and is expected to increase property taxes by 6%. Supporters note that a 6% hike in property taxes is less than what households will save in telephone and internet bills. They will be paying less for something far better than they now receive. According to residents, telephone service has been spotty for years, due to old copper wires that have not been replaced by providers. In a recent GazetteNET article before the vote:

HBC Steps Down from Managing FiberNet Monticello

In a surprise move, HBC has announced it will end management of FiberNet Monticello, though the actual time frame has not been announced. FiberNet Monticello is a FTTH network approximately 45 miles northwest of Minneapolis. HBC has been operating the publicly owned network, offering triple play services, since inception. FiberNet Monticello has had a particularly rough road since citizens overwhelmingly voted to build it to create a locally owned alternative to cableco Charter and incumbent telco TDS. TDS landed the first blow against the network with a frivolous lawsuit. Though the courts tossed it out, the proceedings took a year and slightly added to the interest rate Monticello had to pay on its debt. Since then, TDS invested in its own FTTH connections and Charter engaged in a vicious bout of predatory pricing in their attempt to drive competition out of Monticello. Throughout it all, the City and HBC worked together to deliver the best broadband and customer service in the area. However, the network has not met its revenue targets (largely due to time lost from the lawsuit) and that has led to discussions about how to ensure the network would become financially self-sufficient as rapidly as possible. HBC's performance in Monticello has actually been impressive given the anti-competitive tactics of Charter and TDS. If you want to know why we have no cable or broadband competition in America, look no further than the refusal of state and federal agencies to investigate predatory pricing tactics used to deny subscribers to FiberNet Monticello. Regardless, elected officials in Monticello were not happy with the status quo (covering FiberNet shortfalls from the liquor store fund) and new management will offer an opportunity to chart a new course. Though HBC has decided to withdraw, FiberNet Monticello retains most of its staff and may even be better motivated to meet this challenge. From the City's press release (also below in full): The City of Monticello would like to express appreciation to HBC for the key role they played in successfully developing and delivering high quality and reliable video, voice and internet service to the community.

Electric Cooperatives Expand Broadband in Missouri

Rural electric cooperatives were essential to expanding electricity throughout rural America after private sector business models overwhelmingly failed to electrify our farms over many decades. Electric coops embody the spirit of local community and local concerns. Cooperatives often have decades of experience with project planning and implementation. We have seen electric coops use their own existing resources as a starting point to expand broadband access to their community.

At the Calix Community Blog, there are two videos on electric co-ops, both in Missouri, that have taken on the challenge of providing broadband to their customers.

Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Tipton, Missouri, applied twice for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funding and were twice turned down. Members of the coop expressed their need for improved broadband as a way to improve the economic situation in this central Missouri community. The cooperative pressed on without stimulus funding and have extended their community footprint. Learn more from this Calix video, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative Finds Success With Fiber:

In northwest Missouri, United Electric Cooperative (UEC) is using ARRA funds to bring broadband to the community. The co-op, located in Maryville, serves residents in ten surrounding counties. UEC brought electricity to the area 70 years ago and is doing the same for broadband through their fiber optic network. Calix highlights UEC in another customer video, United Electric Cooperative Expands Broadband in Missouri:

"Lighting Up New England" Workshop Set for June 13

We want to let you know about an upcoming one-day workshop that looks to be a good opportunity to learn more about FTTH networks. "Lighting Up New England" will be June 13 in Westford, Massachusetts, at the Westford Regency. The workshop will be hosted by the Fiber-to-the-Home Council and is part of the 2012 NEFC FiberFest.

Here are specifics from the announcement:

Fiber, Fiber Everywhere - a discussion panel covering the latest technologies that require more fiber to operate effectively - including fiber for wind farms, solar energy and for greater wireless reach using fiber to the antennae and to the cell tower.

Monica Webb, Executive Committee Chair, from WiredWest will be speaking about working with state and local organizations in Massachusetts as they build their own fiber optic networks. We have been seeing impressive results from the work of WiredWest and their group of 40 communities. Also speaking will be leaders from the FTTH Council, the American Cable Association, and analysts with expertise in FTTH and the fiber optic broadband industry. From the 2012 NEFC FiberFest website:

There will be a special focus on the trends in FTTH technology and equipment, as well as a focus on what network operators are doing to leverage fiber to the home into their strategies for success in the telecommunications market. This workshop is an outstanding learning opportunity for anyone who is interested in next-generation broadband -telecom service providers, consulting network engineers, manufacturers of optical access equipment, or anyone else who wants to get the inside scoop from the front lines of the all-fiber revolution.

You can register for the workshop here and visiting the exhibit area free.

In Tennessee, Morristown Joins the Gigabit Club

Located in the northeast corner of the state of Tennessee, Morristown Utility Systems offers FiberNET to Morristown's 30,000 residents and businesses. MUSFiberNET is another community that decided to take control of its destiny and invest in a municipal broadband network. And by offering 1 Gbps anywhere in the community, Morristown is in the ultra-elite category of broadband in America.

We featured Morristown in one of the Muni FTTH Snapshots way back in June of 2009. They were doing well at the time but this great news shows how Morristown has brought next-gen, affordable, and reliable capabilities to anyone who wants it.

MUS FiberNET was built in 2006 and maintains a list of reasons why their network is superior to competitors. To advertise their incredible high capacity network, they developed this great billboard: morristown-gig-ad.jpg Morristown's Gig announcement never received the attention given to Chattanooga or Google's roll-out in Kansas City, which is unfortunate. For commercial users, the Gig runs $849.00 per month, a ridiculously inexpensive price point compared to what large carriers commonly charge for the service. Morristown Schools are also taking advantage of the network, including making full use of the gig service. Residential prices vary from 6 Mbps/4 Mbps, download and upload speeds, for $34.95 to 20 Mbps/10 Mbps for $74.95 and MUS FiberNET also offers a variety of triple-play bundles.

Like many other communities in Tennessee, Morristown has few choices for service from private providers. After promising the state legislature major investments in Tennessee in return for favorable legislation, AT&T decided to only served high end, dense neighborhoods, as we have seen just about everywhere else.

Communities that are satisfied with last generation connections and having no control over the networks on which they depend can make do with AT&T and cable companies. But those who want universal access to fast, affordable, and reliable services should consider building a community fiber network.

10,000 Square Miles of Connections in North Dakota

According to the 2010 Census, North Dakota is 48th in population in the country and the 17th most expansive. Such a geography is not appealing to any entity, commercial or otherwise, who might consider building fiber-to-the-home in North Dakota. There are more populated cities, as in all states, but human density in North Dakota is the 4th lowest.

With North Dakota geography and demographics in mind, it is reasonable to expect any North Dakota fiber optic project would to need to be big. North Dakota Cooperatives, Dickey Rural Networks and Dakota Central Telecommunications, can use the word "gigantic" to describe their recently completed ftth project. The network covers 10,000 square miles, about 1/7th of the state, and every business and home - about 18,000 households - are connected to the network.

Federal, state, and local officials got together recently to celebrate the new network with students and staff at Jamestown College. From Mark Potts, at NewsDakota.com:

"You talk about connectivity, we are attached to the entire world here," Gov. Jack Dalrymple said. "If we had talked that way even 10 years ago in North Dakota, a lot of people would have laughed and said you don't know what it's like to be in a rural area."

While internet access was available via DSL prior to the fiber launch, local businesses and residents could see the difference immediately. Bruce Ordahl, manager of a local printing company commented for Republic article by AP Reporter Dave Kolpack:

"We have some big graphic files and have always been looking for more speed," said Bruce Ordahl, who oversees 40 employees at Gwinner-based J&M Printing. "We have really saved a lot of time and money with the fiber."

Ordahl said it would take about five minutes to download a typical file when his company was using a DSL connection. That same file now takes about 10 seconds, he said.

Leverett, Massachusetts, Ponders Community-Owned Network

Leverett, Massachusetts, is one step closer to a community owned FTTH network. The town of 2,000 will have weekly public information meetings until the Annual Town Meeting scheduled for April 28, 2012. If the required $3.6 million funding is approved at the meeting, the city will issue a Request For Proposals to build the network.

The 1 gig network is slated to be an aerial build, except where existing utilities are underground, in which instances, fiber cable will also be placed underground. Leverett plans to use a $40,0000 planning grant, obtained from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, to hire G4S Technology to design the last mile fiber-optic network to connect to MBI's stimulus-funded middle mile. The middle mile project is scheduled to be completed in June, 2013, and Leverett plans to be ready to connect soon after. The goal is to have every home connected with fiber by 2014.

Whereas most communities explicitly choose not to use tax revenue to pay for a community network, Leverett's present plan is for a slight increase in local taxes to assist in the financing. The town will borrow the amount necessary to build the network and pay it back over 20 years using a combination of tax revenue and revenues from the new broadband service. Peter d'Errico, Chair of the MBI Grant Broadband Committee observes that homeowners' net spending figures will decline once the system is in place. From the article:

A town survey concluded a municipal network could offer better Internet and phone service at far cheaper rates than private providers, he said.

"It will be a little more on their tax bill and a lot less on their Internet bill, so overall they will be pay less," d'Errico said.

Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services' Construction Moves Forward

Good news for folks in Jackson, Wilder, and Bingham Lake in Southwest Minnesota! Your local broadband options are about to get much better. Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) just announced that construction is advancing on the new network. The 125-mile fiber ring is expected to be completed by September, 2012. If you live in their service area, give them a call.

Here are contact details from the announcement:

Wilder - A sales event has been held. Please call our Lakefield office at 507-662-7000 if you still need to sign up for services.
 
Bingham Lake - A sales event will be held on April 10th from 12 PM to 8 PM at the town hall/community center. If you are unable to attend, please contact our Lakefield office at 507-662-7000.
 
Jackson - Our first three construction phases have been identified. We intend to have phases 1-3 completed by June, 2012. Our web-site, mysmbs.com will be updated as construction dates are set for phases 4-9. The entire City of Jackson will be completed by fall, 2012.  Southwest Minnesota Broadband informational material will be delivered to homes according to construction phasing in the coming months. 

SMBS is a consortium of 8 communities: Bingham Lake, Brewster, Heron Lake, Jackson, Lakefield, Okabena, Round Lake and Wilder.  Stimulus funding of $12.8 million dollars is allowing the communities to offer ftth service in this rural area, building on the network first established in Windom by the local public power utility.

SMBS recognizes the need for a community owned network in a place where the private sector does not want to invest. On their FAQ page:

What is SMBS? Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services is consortium of cities that realize today’s incumbent service providers will not be able to provide the next-generation of broadband services that will keep this area competitive with the global marketplace. SMBS will own and operate the network, employees will be your friends and neighbors and dollars will stay in your communities.