Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Kids in the Monticello Community Unified School District #25 (CUSD #25) are now enjoying a new publicly owned fiber optic network. The School District is one of four public partners that collaborated to install the network and share the $306,000 in deployment costs. The City of Monticello, Piatt County, and the Allerton Public Library began the project a year ago with the School District to execute a plan to improve local connectivity.
Approximately 5,000 people live in Monticello, the Piatt County Seat, located in the center of Illinois. The City operates water and wastewater services but not an electric utility. CUSD #25 includes approximately 1,600 students.
According to a Piatt County Journal article, the partners will equally share the annual $12,000 maintenance costs. They will also divide fees for managing the system, estimated at $5,000 - $10,000 per year; the partners will hire a third party to handle network operations. In the future, the School District may manage the network themselves to eliminate that expense.
We connected with Vic Zimmerman, Superintendent for CUSD #25 to find out more.
Until now, the District depended on a patchwork of T1 lines and DSL to connect their five facilities. The schools used four lines to obtain 170 Mbps bandwidth for which they paid $3,500 per month. According to Zimmerman, CUSD #25 rarely received speeds faster than 50 Mbps.
The school has added wireless access points to its five schools to enable Wi-Fi, but lacked the necessary bandwidth to run the system efficiently. Student smartphones on the guest network exacerbated the problem. Zimmerman and CUSD knew they needed more bandwidth to handle future technology demands; they needed fiber.
Piatt County, the City of Monticello, and the Library suffered similar problems. When they approached incumbent providers Verizon and Frontier, they were told fiber would be brought into the area but neither knew when.
On May 13, Princeton voters decided to continue their municipal network planning. At the annual town meeting, 91.4% of voters passed Article 4 [PDF], authorizing a new Municipal Light Plant. A year ago, voters approved a measure to proceed with planning.
Princeton, a community of 3,300 residents and 1,270 households, has DSL access available to approximately 49% of residents. Satellite, dial-up, and wireless are the other options.
Entrepreneurs rent office space in nearby communities with better connectivity. Real estate professionals bemoan bad Internet because it lowers property values. A 2013 survey revealed an overwhelming desire to take action. Residents and businesses want an FTTH option.
The Worcester Telegram reported that the community also voted to appropriate $17,000 to make-ready costs, possible legal fees, construction costs for telecommunications huts, and other possible network costs.
"Passing Article 4 will allow us to start negotiations with the vendor," said John Kowaleski of the Broadband Committee. "Without passing this article we will have to wait two years to approach this subject again."
According to Selectman Stan Moss, the community continues to explore a variety of options. Community leaders have met with several providers to discuss public/private partnerships. Large corporate players, including Charter and Comcast, are not interested in working with Princeton.
The City of Champaign is now celebrating the transition to the UC2B fiber network. With underground fiber lines, the City will no longer be plagued by weather related interruptions. Champaign is also counting on significant savings on a network that is more than 1000 times faster than the old connections. From the City of Champaign website:
UC2B fiber and Internet access also means real cost savings to the City. The City will now save $30,240 annually by dropping all of our T1 data lines, and $31,200 annually by using UC2B as our Internet provider. While a significant portion of this savings is offset by annual maintenance fees for the fiber rings the City uses, we still save over $13,000 net annually and have a much faster, much more reliable system that will allow our digital data transfers and Internet use to expand for years to come!
For more on the UC2B network, listen to episode #42 of the Broadband Bits podcast. We spoke with Carol Ammons and Brandon Bowersox-Johnson, both involved in Champaign's efforts to use the UC2B network to its full potential.
In the 1990s, the community of Shafter, California, began developing its strategic plan; the move would eventually lead them to build a municipal broadband network. The town of 17,000 still depended primarily on agriculture but manufacturers were relocating to the community, drawn by its proximity to the railroad and its open space. Potential employers increasingly focused on broadband access as a priority and Shafter realized broadband would be critical to continued growth.
Shafter’s Assistant City Manager Scott Hurlbert recently explained to us how the community built its own fiber network to serve commercial clients, local government, and schools. This incremental approach is not unique but Shafter has no municipal electric nor gas utility, which does puts it in the company of Santa Monica, Mount Vernon, and a few other communities that have built networks without having a municipal power company.
Shafter’s City Council examined its strengths and its weaknesses and found a way to build a network with no borrowing or bonding. The community continues to expand its fiber network, attracting businesses and improving quality of life in this central California town.
In the 1990s AT&T was the main business services provider and it would only improve business telecommunications on an order-by-order basis. Companies that wanted to build beyond the developed town had to pay for the installation themselves, often waiting months to get connected. Prices were "obscene" and the delays almost killed several commercial deals. Even today AT&T takes the same approach in Shafter.
When he joined the City in 2005 as the IT Director, Hurlbert and his staff researched wireless technologies but determined that fiber-optic deployment would be the best option. At that time, the bandwidth demand was already intense and a wireless network would need fiber for backhaul. Hurlbert and staff also investigated other communities, including Chelan, Washington, to look for workable models.
The community of Sebewaing, located in the "thumb" of Michigan is moving closer to its own FTTH network, which will be the first new municipal FTTH project in the state.
Because of a state law impinging on local authority in Michigan, local governments must first issue an RFP and can build a telecommunications network themselves if they receive fewer than three qualified bids. If the community builds the network themselves, it probably must adhere to the RFP as if it were a private entity. This approach ignores the fact that a community operates a network with different incentives than a private company, so the two are not interchangeable.
We wanted to know more about this effort, so we contacted Melanie McCoy, Superintendent of the municipal utility Sebewaing Light and Water. We discovered that the town of 1,700 residents, known for its beet farming, has several factors going for it.
Communities with their own utilities already in place have personnel, equipment, and expertise which saves money and time. And because they already own the utility poles, they are often able to get started quickly rather than waiting for other firms to do "make-ready," which can take months as wires are shifted on poles. Sebewaing has a municipal fiber loop currently in place - another plus. McCoy tells us the fiber was installed in 2001 and 2002 at a cost of about $50,000.
Private Internet choices were limited to dial-up for about $20 per month or a T1 connection for around $1,000 to $1,500 per month. At the time, Sebewaing Light and Water shared a T1 connection with local businesses.
Residents, business and government needed better connectivity and community leaders also realized the need to boost economic development. Sebewaing Light and Water leadership also wanted to increase efficiency with a SCADA system and considered a telecommunications utility a good investment. And looking toward the future, they knew installation of the fiber would position them favorabley for future investment.
Ottawa, located in east central Kansas, recently launched its own municipal fiber network. The community of 13,000 in Franklin County watched nearby Chanute build and establish its own broadband utility. Ottawa plans a similar incremental strategy. Both communities boast strong farming traditions and host industrial employers that could not get what they needed from the existing providers.
I spoke with Chuck Bigham, IT Director for the City of Ottawa, who gave me some nuts and bolts on the network. I also touched base with City Manager Richard U. Nienstedt, both are heavily involved in the establishment of the network.
Like in Chanute, local leaders have long nourished a vision for better connectivity. In recent years, they realized the vision was not only attainable, but necessary for the community to thrive.
Approximately seventeen miles of fiber, installed by USD 290 and Franklin County in the 1990s, was already in the ground when the project began. Students and staff connected to the Internet and linked the 8-10 school district facilities via its fiber network. These pre-existing resources became the backbone of Ottawa's new utility. Cooperation between the City Municipal Utility, USD 290, and Franklin County facilitated the configuration of the new network. Ottawa now provides business Internet access, expanded educational opportunities, and a higher level of service than was previously available.
Two years ago, the City and its Chamber of Commerce reached out to major businesses to determine the need for broadband. They found businesses in Ottawa were connected through existing providers, but were unhappy with price and level of service. The community's industrial park seemed especially disadvantaged. Businesses needed better upload speeds than the existing T1s, which ran up to $600 per month. While DS3 connections were available, they were unaffordable and there was no level of service between the two options. Businesses could not convince AT&T to offer something they could afford and, as Bigham noted, the telecom giant appeared to be "milking the cow."
Carroll County is a bedroom community, with a variety of economies all around it. Washington, D.C., Camp David, Baltimore, Harrisburg, Fort Detrick, and the Aberdeen Proving Ground are a few of the places surrounding Carroll County. There is very little major transportation infrastructure and no major waterways. Many of the county's 167,000 people commute daily to jobs outside of the bullseye.
Gary Davis, Chief Information Officer at the Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS) and Chairman of the Carroll County Public Network (CCPN) started at the school district in 2002 and immediately recognized that the telecommunications arrangement was insufficient.
Schools and other facilities were connected to the hub via 1.5 Mbps T1 connections and the whole wide-area-network was connected to the Internet via an expensive Frame Relay DS3 connection. The total cost ran as high as $600,000 per year.
When CCPS approached Verizon about increasing bandwidth, Verizon’s proposal was extremely cost-prohibitive. Verizon wanted a long-term commitment that resulted in more than 10 times their current costs. Basically, Verizon would own the network but capital costs would be funded by CCPS and maintained with ridiculously high recurring fees. The return on investment for Verizon was just too low owing the community demographics.
At that time, Davis met Robert Wack of the Westminster City Council and the two compared notes. Davis' vision for Carroll County Public Schools and Wack's ideas for Westminster and Carroll County were very similar. Both involved a high-speed network and Westminster is currently involved in its own municipal network project (to be covered in an upcoming post).
We recently reached out to Princeton, Massachusetts, after reading several local news articles about the city's ambition to improve broadband in the community. Phyllis Booth of the Landmark has been covering the story. Community leaders recently mailed survey cards to every residence in town and put the survey online to provide ample opportunity for feedback.
With survey results complied, the answer from respondents was an overwhelming, "Yes! We want better Internet!" The Princeton Broadband Committee has since made the results available in a series of visuals that express the community's experiences with speed, customer satisfaction, desirable applications, and other respondent concerns. Detailed survey results are available for review [PDF].
The results come as no surprise to Stan Moss, Board of Selectmen Member who is also on the Broadband Committee. "Everybody has tried everything," says Stan when he describes the survey outcome. The community of 3,300 has access to DSL in about 49% of households and other choices are satellite, dial-up, and wireless. According to Moss, Princeton DSL customers averaged a D+. From the Landmark article:
“Once we invest in the fiber it’s pretty good. It’s not costly to upgrade in the future, it’s reliable once it’s in place,” said [Broadband Committee Member John] Kowaleski. “If the town doesn’t do this, no one will,” he added. The town has contacted Verizon and Charter and “we’re not even on their plan,’’ said Kowaleski. “Princeton has insurmountable challenges. It isn’t profitable for Verizon or any other company to provide the infrastructure to give us the service,” said Kowaleski.
Moss says he receives calls on a regular basis from residents who want to know when the city is going to provide FTTH. Most of those calls come from people who work from home or have school age children.
As the Georgia legislature considers HB 282, a bill that will restrict local governments from investing in telecommunications networks, we are continuing coverage of the communities that will be harmed by passage of the legislation.
Should the restrictions become law, existing networks will not be able to expand. No expansion means fewer opportunities to reap the benefits that flow naturally from community networks. While this means few residents will receive access in places like Thomasville and Moultrie, it also means fewer businesses will receive access in places where networks exclusively serve commercial customers and government offices.
LaGrange's IT Director, Alan Slaughenhaupt, told us a little about its municipal network that began in 1996. The community decided to build its own network when no private provider would. The first goal was to get the K-12 schools connected. Bonds funded the network build out and were paid off within five years. At the time, the city partnered with ISN (Later Earthlink) to get the schools connected. LaGrange now partners with Charter Communications to bring connectivity to students.
The LaGrange network now connects hospitals, most city, county, and state government facilities, and provides connectivity for businesses. Alan describes how a T1 connection cost local businesses $2,300 per month in 1996. Now, thanks to competition created by the community owned network, local businesses can pay just $100 for a connection with better capacity. The municipal network serves about 400 commercial customers.
Alan explained that the automaker Kia moved a manufacturing facility near LaGrange in 2009 that used Just-In-Time inventory control. It needed a high-speed connection between the main plant and suppliers that LaGrange could deliver.