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RFP in Erie County Means Big Broadband Plans in Upstate New York
In October 2015, government officials in Erie County, New York announced the release of a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking an organization to study the feasibility of building a county-wide broadband network. Located in upstate New York and home to over 900,000 people, Erie County stretches over 1,200 square feet; the county seat is Buffalo.
Legislator Patrick Burke notes that community broadband projects have become a rare kind of government-led initiative that appeals to people across all political divides:
“It covers all grounds and sort of goes beyond political ideology. It’s a quality service. It could provide revenues that the county desperately needs, it could attract business, it could spark economic development and it could create jobs. So, there’s a little [no-glossary]bit[/no-glossary] in this for everybody,” said Burke.
Pursuing Governor Cuomo's "Broadband for All" Mission
The effort to pursue the option to build the network in Erie County comes after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released his “Broadband for All” plan earlier this year. The plan offers matching state funds up to $500 million to private companies that agree to help build broadband networks in underserved areas of the state. The governor’s initiative led the Erie County broadband committee and a group of industry experts to write an exploratory white paper considering ideas for expanding broadband in the region.
According to an article in The Public, Burke credits the white paper as the tool that convinced county leaders to issue the RFP to be ready when private partners come calling:
“Whichever municipalities or governments, or even private entities, are prepared and are in line to be competitive with this, they’re the ones who are likely to see the funds that are available,” Burke said.
Exploring Early Stages of Building Municipal Fiber - Community Broadband Bits Episode 174
Albany, NY Proposes Feasibility Study for Municipal Broadband Service
In July, the city of Albany, NY released a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking qualified consulting firms to conduct a feasibility study for a municipal broadband service. As the RFP states, the study will look to develop strategies, find gaps in service and adoption, and develop a business plan to explore partnerships between the city and private ISPs.
According to Broadband Communities magazine, a working group comprised of several important community organizations and business groups in Albany will help to steer plans for the possible municipal broadband initiative. Jeff Mirel, a technology professional in Albany and a member of the working group, explains the group’s goals for the feasibility study:
“The first step is asking the right questions, which is what we want this study to do. What are the real broadband needs and issues that both businesses and residents experience here? Is it infrastructure, technology, education, affordability? How do we address the gaps to not only keep and attract companies, but bring these employers and a connected local workforce together? By taking a deep, comprehensive look at broadband access and usability, along with best practices, we can move towards meaningful, actionable strategies.”
This news out of Albany, a city of about 100,000 people, comes as major gaps persist in high speed broadband access in many parts of the state. FreeNet, Albany’s free wireless network, received a $625K state grant in 2009 earmarked to expand its service. But neither FreeNet nor Time Warner Cable and Verizon, the two biggest providers of broadband service in Albany, provides the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity a municipal fiber-based network could provide.
Bald Head Island Reopens RFP to Find The Right Partner
After searching for a suitable partner, the Village of Bald Head Island in North Carolina has reopened its RFP for a gigabit fiber network. Apparently, the community received four responses but no proposal provided the level of detail they require.
In order to give respondents another opportunity and to offer new candidates a chance, Bald Head Island leaders chose to release the RFP a second time with additional questions and a responsibility matrix. No response will be considered without answers to these new appendices. All three documents are available on the Village website.
The Village of Bald Head Island is home to approximately 160 year-round residents, but numbers swell to 7,000 during the busy tourist season. Vacation homes and part-time residents bring the potential fiber service area up to 2,500 but incumbents AT&T and Tele-Media don't see the value of bringing fiber to such an environment. The StarNews Online described community leadership's frustration and decision to move forward:
"Broadband is not available on Bald Head Island," said Calvin Peck, the village's manager. "It just isn't, and none of the current providers have plans to invest the money to make it available, so the village council feels it's an important enough issue to spend village resources to make it happen."
While Bald Head Island looks for a partner it also plans to ask voters if they agree to pursue better broadband. Voters will decide on November 3rd if they support a $10 million bond issue. Community leaders will focus on revenue bonds, one of the most common ways to finance municipal network deployment. This mechanism shifts repayment to those who use the network, reducing financial risk to the community at large.
Clearly community leaders understand that the time to act is now:
Boulder Releases RFP For Broadband Feasibility Study
In June, Boulder released a Request for Proposals (RFP) as it seeks a consultant to conduct a broadband feasibility study. A PDF of the RFP is available online.
The city currently has 179 miles of fiber in place serving 60 city facilities; there is an additional 36 miles of empty conduit. This network interfaces with the Boulder Valley School District's network within the city and in other areas of Boulder County. It also connects to Longmont's network and to a colocation facility in Denver.
The city is also home to BRAN - the Boulder Research and Administration Network. The city, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Department of Commerce Laboratories share ownership of the BRAN fiber network which interconnects their facilities.
Last fall, Boulder joined a number of other Colorado communities whose voters chose to reclaim local telecommunications authority, revoked in 2005 under Colorado State Bill 152.
The city established a Broadband Working Group earlier this year to investigate ways to bring better connectivity to Boulder. They created a draft vision, included in the RFP:
Draft Vision: Gigabit Broadband to Boulder Homes and Businesses
(May 21, 2015)
Our vision is to provide a world-class community telecommunications infrastructure to Boulder for the 21st century and beyond, facilitated by new access to the public’s local telecommunications assets. We acknowledge that broadband is a critical service for quality of life, as is the case with roads, water, sewer, and electricity. Every home, business, non-profit organization, government entity, and place of education should have the opportunity to connect affordably, easily, and securely. Boulder’s broadband services will be shaped by the values of the community.
In NC, Bald Head Island Releases RFP for Gigabit Network
The Village of Bald Head Island, North Carolina, recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP), in its search for an FTTP network. The Village, home to about 160 year-round residents, is accessible only by ferry. Transportation on the island is limited to feet, bikes, and electric golf carts. While they may choose slower transportation methods, the people of the island want speed when it comes to Internet access.
Members of the community began working on the idea in the summer of 2013 as part of an initiative that involved several challenges facing this quiet community. They determined that the economic health of local businesses and quality of life depended on improving access, traditionally provided by AT&T and Tele-Media.
Real estate professionals on the island noted that lack of broadband interfered with the housing market. According to the RFP:
Adequate broadband service is at such a premium that current real estate transactions require conveyance of current Internet service. Otherwise, new installations can take a very long time. Inadequate broadband is a known and aggravating hindrance to daily operations of local businesses. There is very strong demand from prospective real estate buyers for high-speed broadband. Current services are of inadequate quality, and worsen in bad weather and during peak usage.
After reaching out to incumbents and potential new providers, Bald Head Island's Village Council chose to open up the possibilities and issue an RFP.
While the number of year round residents is small, part-time housing, vacation rentals, and local businesses catering to tourists are plentiful. As a result, a fiber network could reach approximately 2,500 premises. The population of the island varies based on holidays, with the number of people as high as 7,000. Community leaders expect it to increase significantly when fiber comes to the island.
We reached out to Calvin Peck, Village Manager:
"We are looking for a partner. We think fiber to the home is the way to do it. At this point there is no broadband on the island that fits the FCC's definition."
Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Issues RFP
The Roanoke Valley in Virginia has taken a deliberate pace on the road to improving local connectivity. On December 10th, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) released an RFP for proposals for an open access fiber optic network.
The RVBA is seeking a partner to build the network that will remain a publicly owned asset but will be managed by a private partner. According to the RFP, the City of Salem Electric Department has fiber in place that will be integrated into the the network. The RVBA has already invested in design, engineering, and permitting of 42 miles of a fiber network to jumpstart the process. Construction should begin this year.
In November, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:
The valley is often described as being caught in a “doughnut hole” for broadband service because it’s not a large enough area for the marketplace to drive creation of a truly high-speed network, but it’s too large to qualify for grants available to more rural locales.
The Times-Dispatch reports the estimated cost for the project is $4 million.
CTgig Effort in Connecticut Now Backed By 46 Communities
Last fall, three Connecticut communities banded together to form what has now become a statewide effort to improve connectivity across the state. The CTgig Project has since blossomed to include 46 municipalities, or 50% of the state's population according to a recent press release.
The initiative began when Stamford, New Haven, and West Hartford issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) [PDF] to open up dialogue with potential private sector partners. The goal was described as an open access gigabit fiber network for residents, businesses, and community anchor institutions.
State officials traveled to various communities to share information on the project in a series of community meetings. We interviewed Connecticut Consumer Counsel Elin Katz and Broadband Policy Coordinator Bill Vallee about the project in Episode 118 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
As an increasing number of Connecticut communities joined the initiative, others followed suit. In part because they recognized the need for better connectivity to improve the quality of life, but also because they recognized their perilous economic position if they chose to remain behind.
Southington's Town Council, debated whether or not to join the collaboration in early December. From a recent MyRecordJournal.com article:
“The way industry and business is moving these days, they all require a high level of Internet speed and access," [Rod] Philips [Southington’s director of planning and community development] said. “If we don’t do something, we’re going to be at a disadvantage.”
Southington voted to participate in the RFQ.
In the press release, Bill Vallee provided more details about what state leaders hoped to see from RFQ responses:
Columbia Takes Next Step Toward Municipal Network Infrastructure
A consultant report recommends the City of Columbia tap into its existing fiber resources to develop an open access municipal telecommunications network. The City recently issued a request for proposals for a business plan to press forward with the recommendation, reports the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Last year the City, Boone County, and the University of Missouri jointly hired a firm to conduct a survey and analyze existing connectivity. An August Tribune article by Andrew Denney reported that the the community was found lacking in reliable connectivity. The survey indicated that 84% of businesses reported "moderate, severe, or total disruption of their business from Internet problems related to reliability or speed." The survey also revealed 84% of businesses contend with Internet speeds "insufficient for their business needs due to reliability and speed issues." The reasonable conclusion is that commercial Internet access in Columbia is too expensive, too slow, and too unreliable for local businesses.
The Columbia Water and Light Department (W & L) now leases its dark fiber to approximately 30 entities, reports the Tribune. The leases bring in approximately $876,000 per year. The consultant recommends expanding existing resources in order to entice more providers who want to serve last-mile customers.
The report also examined continuing the W & L dark fiber leasing program without significant changes and expanding the dark fiber leasing program by adding last-mile deployment. Maintaining the current dark fiber program will not require capital but won't stimulate the area's economic development possibilities either.
Expanding the dark fiber program would improve the broadband infrastructure situation because providers would be able to offer leases to customer premises rather than only within the middle-mile network. This type of change would not improve affordability because it would not increase competition.
The August Tribune article reported: