Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Over the past 12 months:
- Membership has grown from 32 communities to 121
- Population represented by Next Century Cities has climbed from 6.5 million to 23.9 million
- Member states have increased from 19 to 33
The organization has been recognized by the White House, testified before Congress, and has been instrumental in launching a number of awards. The organization has developed resources and organized events to assemble members who want to share innovative ideas. Learn more about their accomplishments at the blog.
We look forward to another year of working with Next Century Cities toward the goal of fast, affordable, reliable Internet access for all.
Communities along Mississippi's Gulf coast have recently suffered through disasters both natural and not, from Hurricane Katrina to BP's Deepwater Horizon blowout and aftermath. But they are investing some of the relief funds into infrastructure of the future to help recover.
Biloxi and Gulfport city officials recently passed resolutions approving an intergovernmental agreement to bring better connectivity to Mississippi Coastal communities. The vote was the next step in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Fiber Ring initiative announced this summer by Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich to encourage municipal networks in the region.
The agreement will establish the Gulf Coast Broadband Commission, a public utility charged with deploying, operating, and maintaining a fiber optic network in and between the two cities. The agreement also specifically grants the Commission the ability to seek out financing to perform its function. Other municipalities and counties can join the agreement as members after the Commission is established.
If other local governments want to participate, they must agree to minimum standards for expansion. Members must promise to offer symmetrical gigabit connectivity, commit to serve every residence and business within a community within 7 years of joining, agree to offer free public Wi-Fi, and require ISPs using the infrastructure to have a local customer service presence. The agreement requires state approval before it is finalized.
In July, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant pledged $15 million to the project from the fund created by the Restore Act. The Act establishes how the state will disburse $2.2 billion paid by British Petroleum as fines for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Biloxi settled with BP in a separate suit, accepting approximately $5 million and is considering directing at least some of those funds toward municipal fiber deployment.
Plans for a fiber network collaboration between the city, school district, and county will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in Stormlake, Iowa. The school district recently voted to take advantage of significant savings for connectivity by switching to the publicly owned infrastrucutre as soon as the network is ready.
The Storm Lake Pilot recently reported that under the current contract with Vast Broadband, the district pays $7,500 per month to lease two strands of fiber. The new arrangement will allow the district to lease 12 fibers from the city-owned network for $14,000 per year or $1,167 per month - a reduction of approximately 85 percent. The city and the school district will enter into a 10-year agreement to ultimately save the district a total of $760,000 or approximately $6,333 per month during the term of the lease.
The school will still need to pay for Internet access and as part of the agreement will be responsible for purchasing its own equipment. The School Board voted unanimously to approve the agreement.
As we reported in July, the Stormlake project began as a way to better communication between water and wastewater utility facilities but then evolved into a public safety and cost saving initiative. All three entities - Storm Lake Community School District, the City of Storm Lake, and Buena Vista County - anticipate considerable savings and heightened reliability. We expect to report on more public savings as the community uses this valuable fiber asset.
Project costs for the system of conduit and fiber, which does not include hardware, are estimated at approximately $1,374,000 to be shared by all three entities. This first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by December.
The Port of Lewiston, the most inland seaport of the West Coast, will soon be deploying a dark fiber network, according to a July city media release. The network will serve several of the community's largest businesses, the medical center, the state college, and the airport. Although the plan calls for $950,000 to construct the network, port officials intend to have it operational by year’s end.
“This is what ports do, we develop infrastructure to support, attract and grow businesses in order to build a stronger economy,” said Port Manager David Doeringsfeld. “In today’s world, businesses must have adequate bandwidth and redundancy to remain competitive.”
The project has been highly supported by the nearby Port of Whitman County which already has maintained their own open access fiber network for over 10 years. Connecting a fiber line through the Port of Lewiston would create a loop, improving redundancy on the Port of Whitman County’s network. Better redundancy could prevent outages and ensure the ongoing reliability of the network.
The Port of Whitman’s network is fairly successful - just one section of the network near Pullman, Idaho makes $250,000 annually. The Port of Lewiston plans to follow the same open access model in designing and constructing its network which will run throughout the 32,000-person City of Lewiston.
The two ports are already collaborating on a different fiber line through North Lewiston. The Port of Lewiston is paying $30,000 for construction costs, and the Port of Whitman County will build and administer the network. This fiber line will later connect to the planned Port of Lewiston's open access network.
Boise, the Ada County Highway District (ACHD), and Boise State University (BSU) have entered into an agreement to deploy fiber along a busy downtown Boise corridor. The high-speed lines will supply connectivity to a new building BSU intends to lease as a facility for Computer Science Department students. The fiber will also connect the BSU Bookstore.
The city will use the fiber to connect its City Hall and a Police Department substation located on the BSU campus while ACHD will add this fiber line to its current fiber network to control traffic throughout the city.
According to an Idaho Statesman article, the city has been installing conduit on campus, connecting it to ACHD conduit situated in the downtown core during the past year. Conduit installation cost the city approximately $47,000; BSU will now install fiber in the conduit at a cost of approximately $75,000. ACHD will contribute a section of its own conduit to complete the connection and will provide the permits to install the fiber.
When deliberating the joint venture, Boise leaders considered the economics and the future possibilities of the presence of the fiber. From the Statesman article:
“Providing the same data connectivity from a telecommunications provider would cost each agency close to $36,000 (per) year,” deputy city attorney Elizabeth Koeckeritz wrote in an Aug. 20 memo to the City Council. “By working together to connect these four locations, the (return on investment) is less than one year.”
At some point, Reno said, the city wants to connect the Boise Depot, the original railroad depot on the Bench south of the BSU Campus that the city owns and rents out as a venue for business meetings, weddings and other events.
This agreement will allow each entity to own one-third (48 strands) of the entire fiber line (144 strands). The city will continue to own the conduit that is in place and will own all newly-installed conduit and vaults located on city property or in the ACHD rights-of-way; any conduit installed on University property will belong to BSU.
Winston-Salem struck up a smart deal with the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2011. Four years later, that agreement allows the city to move forward with its vision for an I-Net.
The Winston-Salem Journal reports that the City Council recently approved $826,522 for networking equipment to light up city owned fiber installed by the NCDOT. The agency has been upgrading area traffic control systems, a project estimated at around $20 million. Winston-Salem took advantage of the opportunity and paid the agency $1.5 million to simultaneously install its own fiber in the state conduit.
“The city was able to have the network built at only the cost of the fiber,” [city information systems department Chief Officer Dennis] Newman said. “They (state traffic contractors) are running fiber optic cable all around the city to where all the traffic lights are at. This will enable us to connect to all facilities all over the city – fire stations, public safety centers, satellite police stations – right now there are about 40 locations that we have targeted to connect to.”
As is typically the case, Winston-Salem currently pays private providers for connections at each facility but when the new I-Net is up and running, they will be able to eliminate that expense. The new voice and high-speed network will outperform current connections, described in the article as "out-of-date." City officials also told the Journal that some municipal offices have no Internet access at all but will be connected to the new I-Net.
A number of other communities have taken advantage of partnerships with state and federal transportation agencies during traffic signal upgrades. Martin County, Florida; Aurora, Illinois; and Arlington, Virginia saved considerably by collaborating during similar projects.
Businesses are now finding affordable connectivity in Eugene, Oregon, through a partnership between the city, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), and the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), reports the Register-Guard. A new pilot project has spurred gigabit Internet access in a small downtown area for as little as $100 per month.
According to the article, the city contributed $100,000, LCOG added $15,000, and EWEB spent $25,000 to fund last mile connections to two commercial locations. LCOG's contribution came from an $8.3 million BTOP grant.
The fiber shares conduit space with EWEB's electrical lines; the dark fiber is leased to private ISPs who provide retail services. XS Media and Hunter Communications are serving customers; other firms have expressed an interest in using the infrastructure.
Moonshadow Mobile, a firm that creates custom maps with massive amounts of data, saves money with the new connection while working more efficiently.
To upload just one of the large files Moonshadow works with daily — the California voter file — used to take more than an hour. Now it can be done in 77 seconds, [CEO Eimer] Boesjes said.
“This completely changes the way our data engineers work,” he said.
“It’s a huge cost savings, and it makes it much easier for us to do our work. We can do our work faster.”
The upgrade also will help spur innovation, he said.
“We can start developing tools that are tuned into fiber speeds that will be ubiquitous five to 10 years down the road, so that gives us a huge advantage,” Boesjes said.
The upgraded fiber also could bring more work and jobs to Eugene, he said.
“In December one of my customers said, ‘You can hire another system administrator in Eugene and we’ll move this work from Seattle to Eugene if you have fiber,’ and [at that time] I didn’t have fiber so that opportunity went away,” Boesjes said.
A few weeks ago, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society released a report that documents the achievements of Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) Telecom, a municipal electric utility that now provides fiber-optic broadband Internet to local businesses in several western Massachusetts towns. The utility’s move into fiber-optics has led to municipal savings for the City of Holyoke, as well as increased high-speed access in neighboring cities, and driven economic development. We interviewed Holyoke's Senior Network Engineer, Tim Haas, in a previous episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
Because the state of Massachusetts has no barriers that prevent the creation of municipal Internet networks, HG&E has been able to compete on a level playing field with incumbent ISPs Comcast and Charter. HG&E is among 12 MLPs (Municipal Light Plants) out of 41 in the state to offer fiber Internet services. Researchers at the Berkman Center believe that MLPs could play a large role in expanding Internet access and business opportunities throughout the state as electricity revenues experience diminishing returns and data needs grow. For example, HG&E’s fiber connection was a factor in the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center’s decision to open a $90 million data center in Holyoke.
HG&E is a somewhat unique municipal network in that it offers services not only in Holyoke, but also in nearby Chicopee. It also assists Leverett and Greenfield with their own networks. In Chicopee, the utility provided fiber access in a collaboration with 35 local businesses. In Leverett, it is managing the municipal network, with services provided by a local private company. As for Greenfield, HG&E now serves as the ISP for City Hall and the city’s police station, both of which will function as Internet access nodes as the town looks to create a fiber and wireless network that extends into homes and businesses.
Community leaders in the city of Biloxi want to expand massive water and sewer infrastructure improvements to include broadband infrastructure. The City Attorney Gerald Blessey recently addressed members from the Leadership Gulf Coast group and during the speech he shared the idea to spread fiber throughout Biloxi.
Mayor FoFo Gilich has already spoken with the Governor who, reports WXXV 25, is interested in the idea. Streets in town are being excavated for the water and sewer project and Gilich wants to use this opportunity to install conduit and fiber.
Biloxi recently settled a lawsuit for just under $5 million with British Petrolium (BP) for economic losses arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Community leaders consider fiber a strong investment to help the area recover.
“And not only is it going to be economic development, but it’s going to be quality of life. Our school system needs this. The medical system needs this. The casino industry needs this,” said [Vincent Creel, city of Biloxi Public Affairs Manager].
The Biloxi plan may be happening in coordination with a larger initiative to bring fiber to the coastal area. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Fiber Ring would link 12 cities along the southern coast; each community would determine their own level of service.
The Sun Herald reports that Governor Phil Bryant has offered an additional $15 million in BP state settlement funds to deploy fiber. While any network is still in the idea stage, the plan will likely involve establishing a nonprofit organization to own and operate the fiber ring.
The Coast counties need the economic development a fiber network could bring. According to the Sun Herald:
Since Hurricane Katrina, the recession and oil spill, the three Coast counties are down 2,700 jobs compared to the pre-recession numbers of 2008, and down 5,600 jobs compared to pre-Hurricane Katrina in 2005, [Blessey] said.
The Northwest Open Access Network in Washington has a long history of expanding high quality Internet access into rural areas and now reaches into every county in the state. NoaNet is a nonprofit organization originally formed by local governments and now operating over 2,000 miles of fiber.
This week we talk with Dave Spencer, NoaNet Chief Operating Officer, about the history of NoaNet, how it has impacted the state, and what the future holds for this organization. We also discuss the NoaNet expansion enabled by the federal broadband stimulus, how their open access fiber network has led to improved wireless connections in many rural areas, and what it takes for a nonprofit organization to thrive in an industry that can be very competitive despite often having very few competitors.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."