Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Senator Bernie Sanders led off his “broadband town meeting” Saturday morning at Vermont Technical College with a ringing affirmation of the need for better broadband coverage in Vermont and the nation. However, nobody in the crowd of nearly 300 people needed to be convinced of that. What they wanted to know was whether a huge new federal grant to a private company was the right way to do it.VTel, a small private telephone company, received a $116 million grant to build a FTTH network to serve their existing 18,000 footprint as well as a wireless network that is intended to serve the entire state. In contrast, the East Central Vermont Fiber Network (which we have covered previously), applied for a loan to build a FTTH network to everyone in the 24 communities that have joined together to form the network. The ECFiber network would be run by a nonprofit and would repay the loan from revenue generated by selling triple-play services on the network.
RUC first entered the telecommunications business in 1998, when it constructed a ring to tie its wells, its five electrical substations together and to provide Internet access for its high school, middle school and its school administration building. In planning the ring, the city asked Verizon and Charter if they would build it, but they were not responsive. RUS built a partly aerial, partly buried 7-mile ring of 96-strand fiber at a cost of about $850,000. Internet access was provided by Genuine Telephone, a tiny subsidiary of LaValle Telephone Cooperative which ran a fiber from LaValle, about 8 miles NW of Reedsburg.As they were building the ring, local businesses asked to be connected as well. Reedsburg took the path that so many communities have followed, start by building for yourself and expand opportunistically. Of course, this requires that you originally engineer the network so it can be later expanded, which is good practice regardless of your future plans. Reedsburg used bond anticipation notes, a financial mechanism that few others have used in building similar networks.
A local bank loaned the initial $5 million in bond anticipation notes for planning and construction.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve the $7.3 million in funding with Regions Bank in Orlando. City Manager Lisa Algiere told the council members the city would be doing most of its business with the local Regions Bank. The funding will come in the form of three bonds: a series 2010A Bond, which is good for 20 years and has an interest rate of 3.61 percent; the second bond is a Series 2010B Bond and is for five years with an annual interest rate of 3.20 percent; while the third bond is a Series 2010C Bond and is good for one year. The funding secured by the city is a drawdown loan, meaning it will only take what it needs and only repay that portion.The network has been branded Greenlight (though the website is not yet fully functional). Greenlight is also the name used by the Community Fiber Network in Wilson, North Carolina. Light Reading interviewed a network employee, shedding more details than have been released elsewhere. He says they are passing 7,000 premises, but Wikipedia only notes a population of 2,000 in 2004, so there is more than meets the eye at first glance. They financed the network without using general obligation bonds, working with a nearby bank (Regions is a big bank, headquartered out of state). Local competitors are AT&T and Comcast, though both offer extremely slow services; the fastest downstream speed available from Comcast is 6Mbps. The new network, as do nearly all recent community fiber networks, will offer much faster connections, the slowest being 10Mbps.
The number of customers is expected to reach 5,300 by the end of the fiscal year if the current trend continues, according to Dathan Shows, assistant city manager for Broadband and Technical Services. The city's current business plan calls for Greenlight to reach 5,000 customers by the end of the third full year of operation, which will be June 2011.This is not the first time the network has exceeded projections; the network was built faster than expected and quickly jumped out ahead of take rate expectations. One of the reasons Greenlight may be growing is its attention to local needs, as illustrated by the network finding a way to televise local football matches that otherwise would not have been available. However, the Wilson Times story goes into much greater detail regarding the competition from Time Warner Cable. As we regularly see, Time Warner Cable is engaging in what appears to be predatory pricing to retain customers and starve Greenlight of new subscribers. A lesson to other community networks, Wilson is documenting the deals TWC uses to keep subscribers. All communities should keep these records.
"Time Warner Cable's market tactics include anti-competitive pricing that interferes with Wilson's ability to secure customers through normal marketing," the application [for broadband stimulus] states.
The application included a proposed expansion of the network to provide reduced-cost or no-cost broadband lines to homes of Wilson County school children, a health network, increased lines for police and other improvements that would enhance the network in the city, Goings said.When the North Carolina Telecommunications Association (with prominent member Time Warner Cable - incumbent cable provider competing with Wilson's Greenlight) asked to see the full application, the City refused to turn it over -- even after a court ruled against the City. The City argued the application contained key information regarding the policy and utilities that should not be made public for security reasons. When the Department of Homeland Security ignored the City's requests to intervene, the City was compelled to release the documents. This is a particularly interesting juxtaposition as privately owned telcos and cablecos regularly argue against having to disclose any information about about their networks as a security concern.
"We always work with customers to meet their needs and budget."The cable company, right? Well, that is Time Warner Cable's claim in the above Salisbury Post article. Later in the article, a local business owner expressed a different sentiment: "Time Warner has the worst customer service I have ever dealt with." The business owner goes on:
“Fibrant may have these same kind of issues, however I can actually go to the source to deal personally with someone who is vested in the community, not spend two hours on the phone and never solve the problem as I do with TWC,” he said. “Even if pricing is higher, I would make the change.
Danville Utilities would run the broadband services to the homes, to a box mounted on the house, and the user would pay a monthly service fee of $8.80 on their utility bill for the box. Gamewood would bill customers for the actual services provided, and pay the city 20 percent of those charges as an access fee for the cable.Gamewood, a company that would have provided IPTV services on the network, had attempted to measure subscriber interest by mailing a postcard to 1000 local residents. The response failed to persuade at least one city council member, who demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the situation.
Luther bluntly said he had “no faith” in the numbers, and said he is convinced “nDanville is not going to fly.” “If they want to build it, let Gamewood built it,” Luther said.Of course, a private company is not interested in an investment that takes 5 years to break even. Even if it were, it would have little incentive to open the network to competition as nDanville does. Ultimately, the City Council neglected to fund the project - perhaps an unsurprising decision in a time of economic woe. However, for a community like Danville, one wonders how it will recover without access to better broadband than last-generation cable and DSL services that are commonly available throughout the region. The local paper editorialized in favor of the decision, but noted that the public power utility should continue expanding the network for commercial subscribers.
The $26 million “Last Mile, Fiber-To-The-Home” network will be capable of providing service to 18 communities, nearly 12,000 households and 700 businesses within 625 square miles of mostly rural and underserved areas of the county. The project, funded by an $18 million grant and $8 million in loans, also will connect schools to students and hospitals to patients.Like the Cook County, MN, project, Cass County is working with Pulse Broadband to build an open access network.