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Knoxville Utilities Board Set To Build Largest Municipal Fiber Network In The Nation
For the past several years the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) has been considering whether to add high-speed Internet service to its portfolio of offerings after nearly a decade of the region’s residents and businesses being plagued with the poor connectivity served up by incumbent providers.
Now, with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the state Comptroller’s office having earlier this spring approved the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) business plan [pdf] to build a fiber network, the city-owned utility recently cleared the final hurdle needed to move forward with the massive project.
Unanimous Approval from Knoxville City Council
Two weeks ago, the Knoxville City Council unanimously approved the KUB Board of Commissioners proposal to build a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in one of the Volunteer State’s largest metro areas. Network construction is expected to cost $702 million and take seven to 10 years to build out, reaching 210,000 households across KUB’s 688-square-mile service area spanning Knox, Grainger, Union, and Sevier counties.
Once the network is complete, it will not only be the largest community-owned network in Tennessee – surpassing the size of EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, which served as inspiration for KUB officials – it will also be the largest municipal network in the nation.
“Now that the approval process is complete, our focus has shifted to deploying the infrastructure and implementing the processes and systems that allow us to deliver quality services to our customers. We will be providing regular updates to our customers as we make progress,” KUB officials wrote in a prepared statement to Knox News.
Survey Supports Network Feasibility in Falmouth
Early survey results confirm the potential for a community broadband network in the coastal town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, reports The Falmouth Enterprise. Responses suggest wide dissatisfaction with service from the town’s current providers. Out of 378 respondents, 70 percent want better Internet access in the Cape Cod community; 92 percent want more competition.
Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) commissioned the survey as part of a feasibility study examining the potential for municipal broadband in the town of 32,000 people. With the initial results in hand, EDIC decided to continue with the second portion of the feasibility study to be completed later this year, moving Falmouth closer toward its own community network.
Community Support Grows
Municipal buildings and community anchor institutions in Falmouth already have Internet access through a local open access network operated by nonprofit OpenCape, resulting in significant cost savings. However, residents also want better connectivity for the rest of the community. Support for a municipal network grew throughout 2018 and 2019, culminating in EDIC issuing an RFP for a community network feasibility study in July.
Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell travelled to Falmouth in the Fall of 2019 to discuss the community’s efforts on local television. During the program, he spoke with community leaders about the benefits of locally owned connectivity, the examples set by other municipal networks, and the unique opportunities that Falmouth has.
Study and Next Steps
Traverse City Handling Business of Broadband Branding
As the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project moves along in Traverse City, Michigan, utility board members are establishing the elements to set the service apart from other Internet access options in the community. The Record-Eagle reports that the board will decide in March on rates and that they've already chosen a name and logo.
The new service will be TCLP fiber and their tagline will be "Your Community Network." Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P) are banking on the connection to their municipal electric utility. TCL&P will receive help marketing the service from Fujitsu, the company hired by Traverse City to design and operate the network.
Fujitsu Network Communications Marketing Lead Lori Butler said the name draws on the brand recognition the utility already has, while differentiating the new enterprise. The tagline “Your Community Network” emphasizes the public utility’s mission and the fact that it’s a community-owned network, she said.
Butler said the proposed logo also draws on the familiar, adding the word “fiber” and the tagline to the existing network, plus a strand of fiber optic cable. She showed the board a few proposed color combinations, and they ultimately gravitated toward a blue and yellow design similar to the existing logo, with a darker blue added as an accent.
Fujitsu also recommended rates, which will be approved by the utility board in March:
Fujitsu...suggested [basic] rates from $59.99 per month for residential customers to $149.99 a month for commercial customers. Those rates would buy download and upload speeds of 200 megabits per second residential; one gigabit per second commercial.
Scott Menhart, TCL&P chief information technology officer, said 200 megabits per second is twice as fast as what most area commercial providers offer in their base package, and they typically offer upload speeds of just 10 megabits per second.
In Florida, This Jackson County Business Owner So Over Crappy Internet Access
From the "Not Just Tired, but SICK and Tired Files" comes a letter to the editor of the Jackson County Floridian. Cynthia Cuenin, who has lived in the area for almost 30 years, says she's ready to call it quits and find a new community. Why? Because she can't get the Internet access she needs for her business.
Not only are the service options unacceptable, but the prices are too high. Cynthia also expresses exasperation at the negative impact on her children's education:
I also have two school-aged children who can’t even get online to do their dual enrollment at Chipola with enough confidence to take a test online! We live in unincorporated Jackson County, outside of Grand Ridge, very near I-10, which has high speed fiber optic cables running down it!
She notes that she pays around $250 per month for 25 Mbps, which rarely reaches the advertised speeds. "Right now I am at 1.97 Mbps for download speed!" she writes (exclamation points hers).
Jackson County has contemplated their connectivity problems in the past. Most recently in the spring of 2019, county leaders discussed potential public-private partnerships. In 2018, areas in rural Jackson County were targeted for Connect America Fund Phase 2.
Florida is one of 19 states that restrict local telecommunications authority. If Cynthia's local community were encouraged rather than discouraged from investing in high-quality Internet access infrastructure, she would have more options and the providers offering service would be compelled to do a better job at more reasonable prices. She writes:
The internet is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity, like electricity. One cannot function in today’s society without it!
Eugene Businesses Enjoying Affordable Gigabit Downtown via EUGNet
Eugene, Oregon’s publicly owned EUGNet is helping create jobs and fill empty office buildings in downtown Eugene, reports KMTR Channel 16.
Gigabit connectivity from service providers operating via the city’s dark fiber infrastructure are charging around $79 per month, allowing more interest in downtown locations and better economics for local entrepreneurs.
This makes it a game-changer for software firms, graphic art firms, medical- just about anyone that handles large amounts of data.
“Before we had EUGNet, we just couldn't do this product, it would be impossible,” said Pipeworks Studio Technical Director, Daniel White.
Since using the network, Pipeworks has grown tremendously. A faster network means more work and that increase in productivity has allowed them to hire 50 new employees.
“The door was always there, we just couldn't open it...but now you can. Yes, It allows us to do projects we couldn't have done before, it's very reasonably priced... it's super reliable,” said White.
Vacancy in the downtown district has dropped from ten percent to seven percent since 2017.
“The economic impacts from this project are everything we thought they would be and I think even more.,” said City of Eugene Economics Strategies Manager, Anne Fifield, “We have seen the cost of Internet service really come down and service levels go up.”
Watch local reporting on the results of Eugene's fiber optic network investment:
Fort Collins Celebrates Launch of Connexion, Establishes Rates
On August 29th, people in Fort Collins, Colorado, gathered together at the city’s Lincoln Center to celebrate the launch of Connexion, their municipal fiber optic network.
Prior to the get together, the utility announced pricing and services for residential subscribers. Symmetrical gigabit Internet access will be available for $59.95 per month; residents will also have the option to sign-up for 10 gigabit speeds for $299.95 per month.
Business rates are still in the works.
Connexion is also offering bundles that include voice and video. While they’re still developing details on video service, subscribers can choose a voice and Internet access package at this early stage. The utility will not impose data caps and, as expected, there are no contracts.
Connexion has expressed their commitment to network neutrality, a policy that helped drive the local comunity to develop the municipal network.
The event was especially glorious to folks involved in the 2017 vote to change the city’s charter. At the time, big corporate ISPs dedicated close to a million dollars toward influencing the vote to prevent the amendment. Measure 2B was on the ballot to update the city’s authority to invest in a publicly owned network. With a de facto duopoly on Internet access in Fort Collins, incumbents wanted to halt any change, but the measure succeeded and the initiative moved forward.
Learn more about how a group of grassroots organizers was able to defeat Comcast and friends in episode 282 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We spoke with Glen Akins and Colin Garfield, two residents that worked tirelessly to lead the initiative.
Study: Apartment Renters Consider High-Speed Internet Access a Must-Have; Nearly Half Would Pay More for Fiber
When a renter looks for their next apartment, each weighs various amenities according to their own needs. In a recent study released by BroadbandNow, for almost 39 percent of survey respondents high-speed Internet access came in as a “must-have” feature.
Cleaning and Connecting Most Important
The survey sought opinions from almost 5,800 apartment dwellers, who ranked high-speed Internet access on par with a dishwasher, but below an in-unit laundry. Covered parking, a fitness center, and access to a pool came in well below convenient laundry and fast connectivity.
Renters who already have access to fiber connections were more likely to choose high-quality Internet access as a “must have” according to the survey. Only about 7.5 percent of those who responded to the survey connect with fiber and most rely on fixed wireless, about 35 percent. Current fiber subscribers are also the most likely to feel that their Internet access speeds are “good” or “very good” — a whopping 75 percent.
Approximately half of respondents said they would pay more for a place where they can access fiber. When considering rent, those who already have fiber, 35 present that said that they would be willing to pay an additional $50 per month in order to continue to use fiber for Internet access. About 17 percent of those who do not use a fiber connection, about 17 percent, said they would be willing to pay the extra $50 per month.
Landlords Take Note
Real estate experts have documented the benefits of fiber optic Internet access on both single-family homes and multi-dwelling units (MDUs). At the end of 2016, the FTTH Council (now the Fiber Broadband Association), created an infographic to help visualize the opportunity fiber creates for MDU landlords and building owners.
Based on research from RVA, LLC, American and Canadian renters are willing to pay $80 per month more on a $1,000 per month unit that has FTTH. Like the BroadbandNow research, RVA surveyed renters for their opinions.
Ammon Continues to Expand Open Access Network, Super-Affordable Rates Attract Attention
Ammon, Idaho’s open access software defined network has earned accolades from industry experts and been hailed as a model approach for other communities. It has been praised for serving the community, providing reliability, and offering affordable options. Amid news of expansion, the positive effects of competition via the publicly owned network have recently flashed across news and social media. People who don’t live in the Idaho city are shocked to learn how affordable high-quality Internet access can be.
Growing a Good Thing
In March, City of Ammon Fiber Optics began to deploy in the city’s Bridgewater neighborhood, where they expected to connect around 300 of the potential 500 subscriber households with this particular expansion. Three more neighborhoods are lined up for expansion this summer and into the fall.
The city provides several options for residents in Ammon, including the Local Improvement District (LID) approach, to finance expansions of the infrastructure. Their method allows the community to continue to build the network without borrowing or bonding. Community members within the boundaries of the project area can sign up at the beginning of the process to pay for connecting over a 20-year period. If they decide to pass initially and connect later, they must pay the connection fee out of pocket. In 2018, the city of Ammon developed this explainer video:
If people want to pay the full connection fee all at once, they have the option to do so, but many people choose to pay through the LID. Connecting to the networks usually costs between $3,000 - $3,500. Groups of neighbors come together to create the LIDs because deploying in an area where there are multiple homes interested in connecting to the network is less expensive than a single home connection. The more property owners who opt in to connect to City of Ammon Fiber Optics, the lower the cost is to every one who wants to connect.
Keeping it Clear
More Than Half of Longmonters Choose NextLight Fiber. Because NextLight Fiber.
We knew that Longmonters loved their publicly owned network, but recent numbers show how many of them have shunned incumbents to switch. More than half of the market in Longmont has now signed up with NextLight. While NextLight subscribers enjoy fast, affordable, reliable connectivity from their network, benefits from competition are also creating a better environment for Longmonters who have stayed with the incumbents.
When Longmont Power and Communications (LPC) set out to serve the community in 2014, their goal was to reach approximately 37 percent of the market within five years. According to LPC’s Scott Rochat, they’ve blown away that goal and have already reached 54 percent.
No Tricks, Just Gigabits
While large national providers focus their efforts to capture customers with gimmicks such as reduced introductory rates that later increase, LPC has appealed to subscribers with a series of intelligent moves that show their commitment to the community.
At the start of 2018, LPC dropped the cost of their symmetrical gigabit Internet access from $99.95 per month to $69.95 per month. If subscribers have been connected for 12 continuous months, they’re eligible for a loyalty discount which brings the price down another $10 per month. During deployment, LPC created a special program in which folks who signed up for service within three months that service was available in their areas were able to cut yet another $10 per month off their gigabit rate for as long as they stayed connected. These Charter Members are able to take that $49.95 per month rate with them when they move to a different Longmont address where NextLight is available and the rate stays at the premise that they sell.
Approximately 93 percent of NextLight residential subscribers are Charter Members, Rochat told the Times Call. The network currently serves 17,400 premises.
Subscribers who referred friends were also able to get a free month of service for each referral and they had extended the promotion to digital voice service.
Competition=Better Rates, Better Services
These Minnesotans Are Fed Up With Frontier
People in Wyoming, Minnesota, gathered together on September 12th to bend the ear of officials from the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Ann Treacy from the Blandin Foundation attended the meeting and recorded most of the conversation from the 100 or so frustrated and fed-up folks. The meeting was one of five organized by the PUC after a record number of complaints by incumbent telephone and Internet access provider Frontier.
A Shared Reality
It’s safe to say that “frustration” was the star of the night, as everyone who spoke mentioned how it had consumed their experience with Internet access from Frontier. People who spoke at the meeting included those who worked from home, business owners, parents with families whose kids needed Internet access for homework, and retired folks who just wanted to enjoy a quiet evening streaming a movie.
Most of the people who spoke at the meeting said that they needed to run mobile hotspots or had given up on Frontier’s DSL service and now rely solely on hot spots to avoid the frustration of dealing with terrible service. Several people at the meeting don’t have the option of mobile hotspots because there’s no cell coverage where they live.
In addition to horribly unreliable connectivity, where the only consistency is dropped service, people expressed anger about overpaying for Internet access that was down far too often — even for weeks at a time. When they were able to get online, many people who spoke at the meeting reports horrifically slow speeds and feel they are being “ripped off” because they never reach the “up to” speed that they pay for each month. Once woman has documented her line’s performance and the fastest download speed she has reached is .96 Megabits per second (Mbps); the slowest is .05 Mbps. This same person has had limited success in cajoling Frontier to temporarily lower her bill since 2012.