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Concord, Massachusetts, has a strong literary history with famous authors like Thoreau, Emerson, and the Alcott sisters, but all puns aside, the town also has a long-standing community broadband network, Concord Light Broadband.
Years ago, the community voted to build its own network from their electric utility, and they have just now transitioned to high-speed fiber optics.
From Electric to Broadband
Concord is one of only forty Massachusetts municipalities with an electric utility and in the early 2000s, their electric thermal storage system needed an overhaul. The technology, based on the phone system’s network, was becoming obsolete. The electric utility chose to overbuild the existing system with fiber optics in order to create a smart-grid to automatically read electric meters. Concord recognized the opportunity presented by a fiber network backbone spread throughout town.
It only made sense to look at broadband options; the only thing left to do was to build out the last-mile, the section of network that connects to the home or business. They estimated the cost for the smart-grid and last-mile to be $4 million and would finance it through municipal bonds.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy of Big Incumbent Cable Companies
Large incumbent cable companies had not served the community well and the people wanted better connectivity. Massachusetts’ state law requires a town to vote at two consecutive town meetings to establish the authority to build a broadband network through the electric utility, commonly referred to as Municipal Light Plant or MLP. The MLP is the town department responsible for the transmission and supply of electricity to the residents and businesses in the town. As communities have started to develop their own municipal Internet networks, the MLPs have also taken on a similar role with regard to connectivity. After establishment of an MLP is approved, then the community votes again on funding for the initiative.
In 2003, the people of Concord began considering what they could accomplish with a municipal network, and they held the first vote at the Annual Town Meeting. The resolution passed by a 2/3rds majority vote. The second Annual Town Meeting was scheduled for April 2004.
Chattanooga's EPB Fiber Optics now offers 10 gigabit Internet service to all households and businesses in its service area. The ultra-fast service is available for $299 per month with free installation, no contracts, and no cancellation fees, announced community leaders at a press conference on October 15th.
In addition to 10 gig service, EPB is also offering "Professional" products available in 3 gig, 5 gig, and 10 gig for large businesses. Smaller businesses have the option of choosing 5 gig or 10 gig Internet products. According to the press release, prices on all the new products vary.
Since the network was launched in 2010, Chattanooga has transformed from one of the "dirtiest cities in America" to a haven for the entrepreneurial culture. Chattanooga experienced explosive economic development leading to thousands of new jobs, substantial public savings due to the network's smart grid capabilities, and new educational opportunities for students and workforce development.
Chattanooga’s fiber optic network has produced tangible results. A study recently released by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Finance professor Bento Lobo shows “the Gig Network” helped the Chattanooga area generate at least 2,800 new jobs and at least $865.3 million in economic and social benefits. The study also found the EPB smart grid, which is the cornerstone application of the utility’s community-wide fiber optic network, has allowed customers to avoid an estimated 124.7 million minutes of electric service interruptions by automatically re-routing power (often in less than a second) to prevent an outage or dramatically reduce outage durations.[read the study here]
Erwin, Tennessee announced last summer that it was planning an FTTH pilot project to connect 1,200 customers. After receiving the necessary approval from the state comptroller this summer, Erwin Utilities began construction in October, reported the Erwin Record.
The pilot project focuses in and around downtown and leadership at Erwin Utilities plan to use the network for the town's electric system, water system, and wastewater system in addition to high-speed connectivity. Lee Brown, General Manager of the municipal utilities, reported that the network will provide services up to a gig.
From an August Johnson City Press article:
“This project will enable Erwin Utilities to provide improved electric, water and wastewater services while enhancing the quality of life and creating economic opportunities for citizens within Erwin Utilities’ service area,” he said. “I expect the benefits of this project to our customers and community to be substantial.”
“It’s our intent to be able to deploy this over our whole customer service area in the future, and of course, the success of the pilot project will somewhat dictate how quickly we’ll be able to do that,” Brown said.
The Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB) began offering gigabit service in 2013 through its municipal FTTH network, LightTUBe. In a recent press release the TUB announced it has lowered the price of residential gig service to $99.95 per month.
In addition to slashing the price for the highest tier, TUB increased all other Internet speeds at no additional cost. This is the sixth time since its 2008 deployment that LightTUBe customers have enjoyed a free speed increase. From the LightTUBe website:
Brian Skelton, TUB General Manager, said in the press release:
“We’ve grown our Internet business in such a way that we can offer Gigabit speeds at a more affordable price.”
Skelton has said in the past that the decision to offer Gigabit Internet was an easy one.
“We want to make Tullahoma a much more desirable location for technology companies to locate, due to our ultra-high speed Internet and our highly skilled workforce,” he explained in spring of 2013. “Tullahoma is light-years ahead of most cities in the United States with the ability to offer these incredibly fast Internet speeds.”
LightTUBe has brought jobs to the community, increased the efficiency of the electric utility through a smart metering program, and implemented a "TV Everywhere" option for customers. Even thought the network is restricted by state law, it has remained financially stable while keeping rates in check.
If you live in Sebewaing, you can now purchase FTTH connectivity from Sebewaing Light and Water (SLW) via their municipal network. Earlier this week, we discussed the network with Sebewaing Light and Water Superindendent Melanie McCoy.
The first village in Michigan to offer gigabit service issued its RFP in summer 2013. Like many other small communities, the 1,700 inhabitants in Sebewaing were limited to dial-up. T1 service (1.5 Mbps) was available to businesses but lines cost from $1,000 - $1,500.
Commercial connectivity via the new infrastructure now begins at $75 for symmetrical 50 Mbps service. SLW also offers symmetrical 100 Mbps for $130 and advertises customized packages if those options are not adequate. SLW will also waive the $125 installation fee if a business signs up before the end of the year.
Residents also receive free standard installation if they sign up before the end of 2014. They can pay as little as $35 per month for symmetrical 30 Mbps service, $55 per month for 50 Mbps symmetrical, or $105 per month for 100 Mbps symmetrical service. 1 Gbps/100 Mbps service costs $160 per month.
SLW has already signed up a commercial gig customer. The Bay Shore Methodist Camp & Family Ministries holds events that often cater to hundreds of children and adults. They need a high capacity connection for Wi-Fi to serve a large number of devices.
Sebewaing's original plan was to build an open access network but after careful consideration and legal analysis, it decided to provide retail services. SLW purchases bandwidth only from Air Advantage, a wireless provider specializing in the "thumb" of Michigan. The utility also offers voice services via the network.
When we last checked in with Vidalia, the Louisiana town of 4,300 had implemented free Wi-Fi in its new municipal complex. In October, the community began constructing the Vidalia Technology Center (VTC), as reported by MyArkLaMiss.com
The VTC will be at the site of former city hall office. The new facility will serve as entrepreneur incubation space in addition to housing infrastructure for the city's future fiber network. With Senator Mary Landrieu's help, Vidalia secured a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to build the VTC. The City is providing 35% matching funds.
The current key to better connectivity in Vidalia is a connection across the Mississippi River. The Natchez Democrat reports that the City obtained a permit to run a fiber backbone across the U.S. 84 Mississippi River bridge. Apparently, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) does not normally allow the installation of utilities on bridges it controls.
The City has been working on obtaining permission for almost two years. Another Natchez Democrat article reports:
According to minutes from the Mississippi Transportation’s Oct. 28 meeting, “the … rules require the city to provide justification of a hardship in writing and explain why alternative routes are not viable, which the City of Vidalia has done."
A connection across the Mississippi has been a significant obstacle for Vidalia as it planned its municipal network. While connecting facilities within the community may not have been a problem, without a connection to the outside world, the municipal network was not nearly as valuable.
EPB estimates local businesses have saved approximately $50 million by reducing lost productivity due to power outages by 60 percent over the past two years. Those figures are impressive but Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will be working with EPB to raise them even higher.
The Times Free Press recently reported that ORNL will send engineers to Chattanooga to optimize the use of data from the EPB smart grid. The goal will be to increase efficiency even further and to use their discoveries to help other U.S. electric utilities.
"We have to have a more reliable electric system," DePriest said after signing an agreement Monday to work with the Oak Ridge lab on electric grid improvements. "Electricity is essential to our modern way of life and we have to figure out ways to use all the data we are gathering in a quicker and more usable manner."
EPB's smart grid now gathers data in 15 minute increments whereas many utilities that have less sophisticated capabilities only collect data once or twice a month. EPB's system quickly discovers problems that can balloon into costly mistakes if not detected early.
As more people use solar, wind, or geothermal power, providing electricity or purchasing electricity from consumers becomes more complicated.
"We need to continue to innovate and get better," said Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for DOE's electricity delivery and energy division. "Chattanooga has been a leader and we hope this will help us find ways to make our electric grid more efficient, more flexible and more reliable."
On this week’s community broadband media roundup, we have more reverberations from Next Century Cities, a forward-thinking coalition of cities that promises real progress in establishing or restoring local authority for broadband networks. For the inside scoop on the launch, we suggest taking a look at Ann L. Kim’s Friday Q&A with Deb Socia, the executive director of the organization.
Here’s an excerpt:
Q: So when you say you work with cities that are either looking to get next generation broadband or already have it, what does that entail?
A: …We are working with elected officials and also employees, like CIOs and city managers and so forth, and the goal is to really help them figure out their pathway. This is pretty hard work and we recognize that there’s always a local context and so we don’t advocate any one way to do this work, but we help cities think about it.
So [are] you gonna work with an incumbent provider, are you gonna build your own, are you gonna work with a private non-profit? How are you gonna make it happen? What are the alternatives for you? And how can we best support you?
Multichannel’s Jeff Baumgartner covered the launch in Santa Monica as well. The bipartisan coalition offers members collaboration opportunities and support for those communities that face incumbent pressure when they announce plans to move forward with publicly-owned broadband programs. According to China Topix’s David Curry, neither Comcast nor Time Warner Cable have made announcements about gig networks, “with Time Warner Cable even go as far as saying "customers don't want 1Gbps Internet speeds", a statement ridiculed on the Web.”
Rest assured, there will be much more coverage on this organization’s work in the weeks to come.
Erwin, population 6,000, is planning a pilot project to bring fiber to downtown homes and businesses, reports local media. The project may be lit by November, serving approximately 1,200 premises.
According to the Johnson City Press, Erwin Utilities has already developed a plan to offer Internet and phone service:
The network would offer customers high-speed broadband Internet and telephone services. [Erwin Utilities General Manager Lee] Brown said the project would offer initial Internet of 100 Mbps with the future potential of providing up to 1 Gbps. Brown said a service such as the one Erwin Utilities intends to offer is typically only available in large metropolitan areas.
“Our beginning package is basically the equivalent of what the fastest speed available is currently,” he said.
Erwin Utilities will use the infrastructure for electric system demand response, meter reading, outage reporting, improved communications and operations of electric, wastewater and water equipment, and future load management. If customers are happy with the service in the pilot project area, Erwin Utilities hopes to deploy the technology throughout its entire service area.
Brown told the Press that the municipal utility began investigating the possibility of municipal broadband about 15 years ago, but until now the community could not afford the investment. Costs have gone down bringing the project to approximately $925,000.
The Erwin Utilities Board approved the plan but the Tennessee Comptroller needs to review it. Next the community will hold a public hearing then on to final approval by the Board of Mayor and Alderman.
Chanute City Commission decided on June 9th to take the next step to bring ftth to the community; Commissioners voted unanimously to pursue and finalize funding to deploy a municipal network.
The City's current fiber network provides connectivity to schools, hospitals, electric utility and municipal facilities, the local college, and several businesses. Chanute has worked since 1984 to incrementally grow its network with no borrowing or bonding. Plans to expand the publicly owned infrastructure to every property on the electric grid began to take shape last year.
At a work session in May, Director of Utilities Larry Gates presented several possible scenarios, associated costs, and a variety of payback periods. The favored scenario includes Internet only from the City, with video and voice to be offered by a third party via the network. Residential symmetrical gigabit service will range from $40 - $50 depending on whether or not the subscriber lives in the city limits. Commercial service will be $75 per month. Advanced metering infrastructure will also be an integral part of the network.
The Commission authorized the pursuit of up to $14 million to get the project rolling.