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OTO Fiber in Maine Releases RFP; Responses Due March 8th
The neighboring towns of Orono and Old Town in Maine are working with the University of Maine System in an effort to bring better connectivity to their region. The three launched the nonprofit OTO Fiber several years ago in an effort to join forces for better broadband. After battling for funds with the incumbent cable Internet access company, they’re finally in a position to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for fiber optic construction. Responses are due March 8th, 2019.
Open Access for A University Community
OTO Fiber aims to deploy an open access network in order to spur economic development, to encourage innovation and local entrepreneurship, and to improve access to University resources. The project described in the RFP is considered a pilot and will cover a limited area in each of the three communities. OTO Fiber’s intention for the pilot is to determine take rate and the benefits in order to establish whether or not to expand the symmetrical gigabit network to businesses and residents in both towns. Network designers have strategically developed a plan for the six-mile backbone to facilitate later expansion.
Orono is the location of the University of Maine’s flagship campus, where symmetrical gigabit connectivity is a necessity. According to the RFP:
The University of Maine System provides networking to schools and libraries across the State of Maine and provides multiple paths into and out of the State for research and education. Furthermore, the University is the largest concentration of computational resources and data storage in the State. These connections and resources, both computational and human, are expected to help make the proposed project successful.
In 2015, the OTO Fiber partners had been awarded ConnectME funds for the project, but cable ISP incumbent Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) successfully blocked the $125,000 grant. The partners had planned to work with Maine ISP GWI for a stretch of about four miles in which 320 potential subscribers would have access to a larger network.
Cortez, Colorado, Looking for Private Sector Partner
In early December, the city of Cortez, Colorado, released a request for proposals in their search for a private sector partner to help bring last mile fiber connectivity to premises throughout the community. The city is seeking a way to bring high-quality Internet access to the entire community, but will not expand it’s municipal fiber infrastructure. They're looking for ways to overcome some of the same challenges other small communities face as they attempt to improve local connectivity to every premise.
At A Crossroads
Smith told us that the city is at a crossroads and community leaders think that a public-private partnership (P3) might be the quickest way to get the people of Cortez better services they’re looking for at the affordable rates they deserve. The city faces the challenge of funding the expansion. Approximately $1 million from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) funded the Cortez middle mile infrastructure and connections to community anchor institutions (CAIs), including schools, healthcare facilities, and municipal facilities. Cortez is not able to obtain more grant funding from DOLA for last mile expansion.
Egremont is Mad as Hell and They're Not Going to Take It Anymore
The people of Egremont have had it with Charter Spectrum and their shenanigans. After the latest issue pushed them too far, the town’s Select Board voted to give the company the boot.
Charter Spectrum had proposed connecting 96 percent of Egremont’s households for approximately $1.185 million, the lion’s share to be funded by a Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) last mile grant. The company, however, had not calculated make-ready costs correctly until after making their proposal. After examining the situation in Egremont, Charter Spectrum has almost doubled the estimate for the project to $2.285 million.
The difference Charter Spectrum says, is due to the need to replace 150 poles, which they say are not tall enough to accommodate their infrastructure. Charter Spectrum puts the blame on local company Fiber Connect, which has been deploying fiber in Egremont and other Berkshire towns. The national company says that Fiber Connect’s fiber optic cable has filled any room on the poles for Charter Spectrum cables.
MBI isn’t willing to fill the $1.1 million gap created by Charter Spectrum and neither is the company. Peter Larkin from MBI attended the October 15th meeting and presented an MBI proposal, in which the town would pay for half of the gap and MBI would cover the remaining $600,000. Locals at the meeting were less than thrilled.
With a population of only around 1,200 people, the news from MBI topped off an already long and frustrating process to bring high-quality Internet access to the rural town. Egremont had planned to joined Wired West, the broadband cooperative of western Massachusetts towns, but later opted to work with the national cable provider. Ever since the decision, they’ve experienced delays in negotiations, often because Charter Spectrum has remained elusive about where exactly they plan to deploy and which premises would be left out.
Cumberland County, Maine, RFP for Regional Broadband Utility Plan
Local governments in Maine have been going all out in the past few years to address the problem of lack of high-quality Internet access in rural areas. Now, Cumberland County is using Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to help develop a resource they hope will assist local communities interested in publicly owned Internet access infrastructure. They’ve released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to Develop Regional Broadband Planning and Management; proposals are due October 31, 2018.
Elected officials in Cumberland County report that local community leaders from different towns throughout the county have expressed an interest in a regional initiative for better connectivity. At least four towns and the Greater Portland area have been working to develop broadband plans with an eye toward regional possibilities. This RFP is an effort to bring all those separate plans together and examine the possibility of a regional utility.
The county has determined that the playbook should provide information in three main areas: resource mapping, financing, and utility development.
Information to be included in the document will provide estimated costs and challenges of building fiber networks to each municipality in Cumberland County. This mapping portion of the playbook should compare last mile connectivity costs to middle mile network costs, consider specific plans for some of the county’s hard-to-reach areas, and examine working with privately owned fiber that is currently in place.
County officials want respondents to investigate and propose ways to finance a regional utility. They also want to know more about models that include both publicly owned and privately owned infrastructure. As part of the playbook, county officials expect a survey of residents in Cumberland County.
Texas Regional Council of Governments Releases RFP; Proposals Due September 25th
In a state as large as Texas, it makes sense to divide the eastern half into defined regions. Likewise, when counties, towns, and other entities in one of those areas realize they need better connectivity, it makes sense to work together on a regional project. The Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) and Economic Development District recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Fiber Optic Broadband Market Analysis and Cost Study. Proposals are due September 25th, 2018.
Deep East Texas
The region is also known as the Texas Forest County, with four national forests, lakes, and primarily a rural landscape. Twelve counties constitute the Deep East region that borders Oklahoma on the north and the Gulf of Mexico on the south. About 385,000 people live in the region, which covers more than 10,380 square miles.
DETCOG is an organization that has been around since the mid-1960s and includes counties, cities, school districts, and other entities in the region interested in participating in local economic development efforts. According to the RFP, the DETCOG Board of Directors has decided to re-allocate some of the remaining relief funds from Hurricane Ike to boost the region’s options for high-quality Internet access. Estimated funds remain at around $513,000.
Within the region, 50 public school districts serve residents in 43 communities. There are two colleges, eleven hospitals, and more than 30 additional healthcare facilities. Ten cooperatives, including telephone, gas, and electric, operate in the region.
Much of the region obtains Internet access via DSL, with cable connections available in a few of the more densely populated areas, such as the county seats. There are also a few fixed wireless providers and at least one area where fiber is available on a limited basis. Some of the most rural areas depend on satellite. There’s very little consistency in the Deep East Texas Region and rates appear to run high for the level of service.
What They Want
Solon Set to Issue RFP for Feasibility Study
The city of Solon, Ohio, has their eyes on Hudson, their neighbor about 10 miles to the south. Both communities have a population of around 23,000 but Hudson businesses have access to the publicly owned fiber network and community leaders are considering expanding the service to residents. In order to explore the idea further, Solon city leaders have decided to fund a feasibility study.
Steady Stream of Complaints
At a recent meeting of the Solon City Council Finance Committee, the city’s Director of Information Technology Jim Gibbs presented his memo outlining why he believes now is the time to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study.
People and businesses in Solon are not happy about their current choices, and they let Gibbs know about it:
I receive a steady stream of complaints and requests for help from Residents and Businesses to get access to better Internet Service Providers, and what I believe is the most telling of the need for this project is, most people are not complaining about cost. Most are complaining about the very poor level of service they are being forced to endure by the largest players in this space, AT&T and Spectrum.
While many subscribers focus their complaints on rates, hidden fees, and baffling billing, it's no surprise that Soloners don't like the options they have to choose from or find issues with reliability. Residents and businesses located in places where a publicly owned network is an option, often cite better customer service as the catalyst for switching from incumbent ISPs. Municipal network subscribers have the luxury of obtaining service from a provider centered in their community, rather than from a company with headquarters located several states away. Paying the bill or addessing concerns can be done in an effective, face-to-face manner.
Looking for Options and Possibilities
New Braunfels, Texas, Issues RFQ; Responses Due August 24th
More than two years ago, community leaders in New Braunfels, Texas, decided to move forward with funding for a feasibility study to examine options for publicly owned Internet infrastructure. In mid-July, the city released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) in search for a partner to assist them on their New Braunfels Broadband Project. Responses are due August 24th, 2018.
Back in 2016, businesses completed a survey as part of a feasibility study and 81 percent expressed dissatisfaction with their Internet access. Speed, reliability, and affordability were all important factors. Community leaders, with an eye toward economic development, have been pondering ways to overcome the problem and have decided to aim for a public-private partnership. Specifically, they want to focus their efforts on fiber optic connectivity in their commercial and industrial business corridors.
New Braunfels has about 55 miles of existing fiber that the city and New Braunfels Utilities (NBU) will make available for the project. They also have conduit that they will open up for the future network design. NBU offers municipal electric, water, and wastewater services, which indicates that they would likely have the knowledge base and the personnel to operate a fiber optice network, but the RFQ states that they're looking for a turnkey arrangement.
The state of Texas also limits what local governments are able to offer to the general public. Municipalities are not allowed to offer voice services, but are able to provide Internet access.
Looking for A Partner
Town of Mountain Village, Colorado, Issues RFP; Responses Due August 18
Another small rural community in Colorado has recently taken an important step toward better connectivity for the community. The Town of Mountain Village issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) late in June to find a firm to conduct a Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study. Responses are due August 10, 2018.
Assess and Propose
The Town of Mountain Village (TMV) has an existing municipal cable network that offers Internet access, voice, and video. Community leaders want to engage a firm to assess the current infrastructure, consider improvements over the next few years, and make recommendations for improvements.
In addition to searching for ways to improve service and pinpoint any potential adoption and service gaps, the consultants will also be expected to devise a broadband strategy. TMV community leaders understand that the future will require better infrastructure than they now possess. The city wants to learn about the possible outlook for Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), potential partnerships, smart policies, and potential funding sources.
Town of Mountain Village
With only approximately 1,300 full-time residents and an additional non-resident property owner population, Mountain Village has similar qualities to some of the other rural communities we’ve covered. Penobscot, Maine, where seasonal visitors swell the population and the need for better connectivity, recently issued an RFI in their search for firms to help improve local Internet access. In addition to offering services to the general public, TMV's existing network connects municipal facilities, including water and wastewater, public transportation, public safety, parks and recreation, municipal offices, the housing authority properties.
RFP For Network Construction In Sanford, Maine: Responses Due May 2nd
When the announcement came out in 2015 that Sanford, Maine, would invest in the state’s largest municipal fiber optic network, media outlets were abuzz with the news. The situation has quieted down as the community has been working to plan for the project. Earlier this month, Sanford released its second Request for Proposals (RFP) for Fiber Optic Construction for the network; responses are due May 2nd.
Back when the city began the process of investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, they conducted an original RFP process and selected a construction firm. Before the project began, however, Sanford won a significant award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and, according to the EDA, the city’s RFP process did not conform to EDA bid process requirements. In order to accept the award, the city needs to re-run to RFP process.
The project will cost approximately $1.5 million and, with the federal grant slated to pay for around half at $769,000, Sanford officials see the benefit of taking the time to release a second RFP. The city will use proceeds from the sale of a former school property to fund the remaining. They anticipate construction to begin in July and estimate the project will be completed and the network will be ready to operate by November.
As the RFP states, the project will connect approximately 85 community anchor institutions (CAIs) to a network of about 40 miles of fiber and to the state’s middle mile Three Ring Binder. In addition to City Hall, they intend to connect schools, healthcare facilities, libraries, and public works buildings. There are also a significant number of business locations on the list of addresses that Sanford officials want connected to the network. The community has already chosen Maine’s GWI to operate the open access network.
You can listen to our conversation with CEO Fletcher Kittredge in episode 176 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He and Christopher discuss Sanford and other projects in Maine.
Sanford And The Region
Gainesville, Florida, Releases Invitation To Negotiate; Responses Due April 23rd
About a year ago, the folks in Gainesville, Florida, decided to commission a feasibility study to explore the pros and cons of various municipal network models. Residents had had enough with the high rates from incumbent Cox Communications. City leaders and leadership at Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRUCom) recently released an invitation for qualified businesses to negotiate (ITN) an agreement for services in their search for fast, affordable, reliable broadband throughout the community. Responses are due April 23rd.
They Got GATORNET
Apartments and businesses in areas near the University of Florida have access to GATORNET, a fiber network that was established in the 90's. GRUCom had deployed fiber throughout Gainesville and had been offering services to government facilities and some businesses prior to the Gig.U project. In addition to some 600 miles of fiber and a data center in Alachua County, GRUCom provides wireless services.
With all these assets, local community members who were paying high rates for Internet access from incumbent Cox felt that the community should be considering using the fiber to provide competition — and encouraging better rates. Last year the grassroots group, Connected Gainesville, made a potential municipal fiber network an important election issue by pressing candidates for their positions on publicly owned Internet infrastructure investment.
From the press release:
“Through the robust fiber-optic network currently in place, the addition of increased internet speeds and lower costs, will keep Gainesville in a unique position to reduce disparities in our community when it comes to being connected,” said City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, Chair of the Broadband Connectivity Subcommittee. “The process will also allow us to explore new ways to further develop plans for smart city applications, infrastructure and communications systems in collaboration with private firms.”
Interested firms are encouraged to contact Clint Lockhart, Senior Buyer at LockhartCM(at)GRU.com or (352) 393-1250.
Responses are due April 23rd, 2018.