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On the border of Kentucky and Indiana a fight is brewing as AT&T and Google Fiber have both announced plans to bring Gigabit Internet service to Louisville, Kentucky. Home to over half a million, the city could see major economic development with new ultra high-speed Internet access, but there’s a problem: the utility poles.
Utility Poles: Key to Aerial Deployment
Make-ready is the shorthand for making a utility pole ready for new attachments. Although it may seem simple, this process is often expensive and time-consuming. To add a new cable, others may have to be shifted in order to meet safety and industry standards. Under the common procedure, this process can take months as each party has to send out an independent crew to move each section of cabling.
To those of us unfamiliar with the standards of pole attachment it may seem absurd, but this originally made sense. Utility poles have a limited amount of space, and strict codes regulate the placement of each type of cable on the pole. Competitors feel they have to fiercely guard their space on the pole and cannot trust other providers to respect their cables. Make-ready must involve coordination between multiple providers and the utility pole owners. For some firms, like AT&T, this is an opportunity to delay new competition for months.
When we asked Ted Smith, Chief Innovation Officer of Louisville, Kentucky, to join us for episode 193 of the Community Broadband Bits Bits podcast, we expected to talk about the one touch make ready policy they had enacted (and AT&T has since sued to stop). We did, but we ended with a focus on how networking is already improving the city.
We start off by focusing on the problem of adding new fiber networks to existing poles (many of which are owned by telephone company incumbents that are not particularly inclined to make life easy for new competitors). One touch make ready simplifies the process, resulting in many benefits for communities in addition to lowering the cost to build new networks. We explore that topic to start. But at the end of the discussion, Ted and I discuss what Susan Crawford has termed a responsive city approach - Louisville is using all kinds of network attached devices to improve city services in some of the lowest income neighborhoods.
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Thanks to Kathleen Martin for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Player vs. Player."
Last fall, Owensboro, Kentucky, began constructing its pilot program to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to a limited number of residents. Construction is complete and now the municipal utility is serving subscribers, much to the delight of folks in the city's Town & County neighborhood. There are 570 households and approximately 1,500 people living in the pilot area.
As of late January, 80 households had signed up for service with 15 now being served at a rated of about eight installations completed every week. Chris Poynter, superintendent of Owensboro Municipal Utilities (OMU) telecommunications division reported to the Board that feedback has been positive and that customers have been "…very happy with their speeds and the installation process."
All speeds are symmetrical - just as fast on the upload as the download - and there is a $49.99 installation fee. OMU offers three tiers:
- 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.99
- 100 Mbps for $69.99
- 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $99.99
OMU installed fiber thought the city in 1997 and two years later began offering high-speed Internet access and other telecommunications services to local businesses. OMU's goal is to serve a minimum of 20 percent of the households in the pilot area and if all goes well, the community will consider a city-wide project.
Home to about 58,000, Owensboro sits across the river from Ohio. The city is the county seat and center of a metropolitan area of about 116,000 people. OMU also offers electricity and water services.
At a September conference in Lexington, Kentucky, Next Century Cities (NCC) hosted an influential and diverse group of leaders from the municipal broadband arena to share their experiences as leaders in community broadband. Four audio recordings, which you can find on NCC’s website, include panel discussions on a variety of issues surrounding the topic of financing for next generation broadband.
Recording #1: “Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and the Kentucky Wired Story” and Panel Discussion “Federal Support for Broadband Projects”
The first recording begins with Lexington Mayor Gray and the city’s Chief Information Officer as they discuss their ongoing efforts to make Lexington a gigabit city. These efforts are part of a broader initiative also discussed on building a statewide 3,000 mile fiber optic ring. Several Kentucky government leaders make remarks about the project, called Kentucky Wired, including their thoughts about the public-private partnership model that is helping make the project possible.
In the second part of the recording, former Rural Utilities Service Administrator and current Vice Chair of Broadband Communities Hilda Legg, leads a panel of several experts examining funding supports and offering recommendations and next steps for communities.
Recording #2: “Achieving the Last Mile”
Our own Christopher Mitchell, the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at ILSR and the Policy Director for Next Century Cities, moderates this panel that includes officials who have led municipal broadband initiatives in their communities. These officials share some of the challenges they have faced and solutions they discovered in their efforts to finance last mile infrastructure.
Recording #3: “Exploring Options and Approaches for Broadband Financing”
Owensboro Municipal Utilities (OMU) is now expanding its Fibernet services with a pilot FTTH program to connect residents this fall. There are approximately 500 homes in the selected area where OMU will test out the new venture. People living in the project area can sign-up online.
Businesses in Owensboro have had access to OMUFibernet for data transport since 1999 and in 2014 the utility added VoIP to its commercial product line. The pilot will offer gigabit Internet access to residents, but OMUFibernet has only advertised speeds up to 100 Mbps to business customers thus far, according to the OMU website. Businesses are also able to lease dark fiber, which allows them to have more flexibility with data transport speeds.
The city, home to approximately 58,000 people, is the county seat of Daviess County and sits on the south side of the Ohio River. The entire metropolitan population is over 116,000 people. OMU has offered electric and water service since 1900 and describes itself as the largest municipal electric and water system in the state.
OMU plans to offer three tiers for symmetrical Internet access in the city's Town & Country neighborhood. Gigabit service will be priced at $99.99 per month, 100 Mbps at $69.99 per month, and 50 Mbps at $49.99 per month. All subscriptions will require a $49.99 installation fee.
The city of Franklin, KY transferred ownership of its fiber optic network to the Franklin Electric Plant Board (EPB) for $2.5 million. The Franklin City Commission unanimously approved a resolution for the transfer of ownership at the June 8th meeting. The network, although no longer maintained by the city, is still under local control. The EPB is an extension of city government, but has its own board of directors. Pleased with the city’s decision, Mayor Ronnie Clark stated:
"Broadband is now the new utility, and who better to deliver those services than the local infrastructure experts, EPB. They have the manpower and the equipment, as well as the community's confidence in providing reliable utility service and exceptional local customer support."
The city developed the 32-mile fiber optic network to encourage economic development by providing broadband to local businesses. The network attracted to new businesses including a distribution center from Tractor Supply Company. Currently, the network supports Internet connectivity to more than 40 business and industry customers in Franklin. The EPB hopes to continue to expand the services:
"This network will be an excellent fit for us operationally, and will enable us to expand our role in serving our customers with the most robust broadband services available. We have big plans to add new services and grow our broadband customer base," said General Manager of EPB Bill Borders.
As the feds continue to evaluate the wisdom of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger, local communities in several states are attempting to throw a wrench in the federal approval machine.
In Worcester, Massachusetts, the City Council recently refused to approve the transfer of the city's cable television license to Comcast. In order to sweet-talk the federal agencies concerned the merger may create too much market concentration, Comcast has worked out a deal with Charter Communications to transfer customers in certain geographic areas. Charter is the current incumbent in Worcester.
According to a Telegam & Gazette article, the City Council does not need to approve the transfer for it to take affect. Nevertheless, the City Council voted 8-3 on October 14 to urge City Manager, Edward M. Augustus Jr., not to approve the transfer of the license. If Augustus makes no determination, the transfer will automatically be approved.
The city can only examine the transfer based on four criteria including company management, technical experience, legal experience, and financial capabilities. Management and poor customer service are the sticking points for Worcester:
District 5 Councilor Gary Rosen said the City Council should not welcome Comcast to Worcester because of its "deplorable and substandard" customer service across the country.
"It's a terrible company," he said. "In my opinion, they should not be welcome in this city. Comcast is a wolf in wolf's clothing; it's that bad. They are awful, no doubt about it. Maybe we can't stop it, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't speak out."
A similar scenario is playing out in Lexington, Kentucky. The community is the second largest city served by Time Warner Cable in the state. They are concerned existing customer service problems will worsen if Comcast becomes their provider.
The Urban City Council drafted two resolutions denying the transfer. The resolutions had first reading on October 9. Customer service is, again, a point of contention.
Lexington, Kentucky, the second biggest city in the state with the second slowest broadband speeds in the nation, has announced plans to issue a request for information for a gigabit network within the next six months. The idea is to gauge interest from private providers in forming a public private partnership and get at least a rough estimate of the costs and benefits of a city-wide fiber optic network.
The Lexington area currently has average download speeds of 16.2 Mbps, which puts it 38th among cities in Kentucky alone. While many in Lexington have been unhappy with slow speeds, poor reliability, and high prices provided by the incumbent Time Warner for years, the local government appeared divided last spring over the potential Comcast-Time Warner merger. Some felt, inexplicably, that service would improve after the second most hated company in America was acquired by the most hated. But others realized the need for competition, and during the course of renegotiating Time Warner’s expiring cable franchise over the last year, city staff have been meeting with private providers to determine how to improve access.
Mayor Jim Gray said he would like Lexington to become a gigabit city, though he stopped short of endorsing a fully public network along the lines of EPB in Chattanooga:
"We're going to be looking for partners who can create competition and who are willing to serve neighborhoods throughout Lexington," Gray said. "Increasing our Internet speed is crucial, but so is tackling the digital divide."
ILSR is excited to announce a new short video examining an impressive municipal broadband network, Glasgow Kentucky. Glasgow was the first municipal broadband network and indeed, seems to have been the first citywide broadband system in the United States.
We partnered with the Media Working Group to produce this short documentary and we have the material to do much more, thanks to the hard work of Fred Johnson at MWG and the cooperation of many in Glasgow, particularly Billy Ray.
People who only recently became aware of the idea of community owned networks may not be familiar with Billy Ray, but it was he and Jim Baller throughout the 90's and early 2000's that paved the way for all the investment and excitement we see today.
I'm excited to be helping to tell part of this story and look forward to being able to tell more of it.
In the most recent podcast from Community Matters, Fran Stoddard interviews Chris Mitchell and Billy Ray, from the Glasgow Electric Plant Board. The interview touches on the benefits of community networks, their critical role in the health of local communities, and provides info on getting a local initiative started.
Glasgow, the first municipal network in the country, pioneered the idea of the publicly owned broadband network. Billy Ray, Superintendent of Glasgow's Electric Plant Board shared a detailed account of the community's strategy in episode 74 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He also helped us to develop a video on the network (soon to be released!).
Community Matters also provides notes from the show, detailing questions and answers. The show runs just under an hour.