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Jefferson County PUD Using More Than $20 Million in Grants To Expand Fiber in Washington State
Jefferson County, Washington’s Public Utility District (PUD) is just the latest to take advantage of a flood of new grants — and recently-eliminated restrictions on community broadband — to expand access to affordable fiber across the state.
Over the last few months, the PUD - situated northwest of Seattle, just across the Puget Sound - has been awarded more than $11 million in grants, including $1 million from the Washington State Public Works board, and another $9.7 million in Broadband Infrastructure Acceleration grants doled out by the Washington State Department of Commerce. The funds will help the PUD connect 2,600 homes in Gardiner, Quilcene, Cape George, Discovery Bay, and Marrowstone Island over the next two years.
Locally Operated Infrastructure, Affordable Prices, Fast Speeds
Construction is expected to start later in 2022, with the first subscribers to come online sometime in the first half of 2023. A project breakdown says they hope to provide basic speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $65 a month, and speeds of 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $90 a month. The network will be open access, which means that additional ISPs (including, presumably, those currently offering service on the existing network) will be able to continue into the expanded areas.The PUD plans to offer a low-income tier for $45/month ($15 after the Affordable Connectivity Program subsidy), which is welcome to see.
Washington Legislature Sending Governor Competing Bills to Remove Muni Network Barriers
Though voting was highly conflicted and debates lasted late into Sunday night, H.B. 1336, an act granting public entities unrestricted authority to provide telecommunications and Internet services to end-users, scraped through the Washington State Senate by a vote of 27-22 on April 11.
If State Governor Jay Islee signs H.B. 1336, Washington will have removed its barriers to municipal networks, leaving just 17 states with deliberate barriers to local Internet choice. “We’re fired up around here,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Drew Hansen, D-23, in an interview. “What a huge deal this is. It undoes 20 years of bad state policies which restricted local governments from offering broadband.”
Washington’s charter counties, first-class cities, and cities operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code already have the power to construct telecommunications networks and offer Internet access services to their residents without third-party business overseeing network management operations.
Hansen’s bill would give this authority to the public entities currently restricted by statute from offering retail services. This includes Public Utility Districts (PUDs) and district ports, as well as, towns, second-class cities (defined as those with populations of 1500 or more which have not adopted a city charter) and counties currently not operating under Washington’s Optional Municipal Code.
Hansen said this about the development:
BREAKING: Wash. Senate just passed my Public Broadband Act (HB1336). Thanks to the parents, teachers, students, public utility districts, tribes, activists, 1000+ people signing in support (!) and more. WE did this; amazing team effort. Public Broadband Now!!!
Dallas Morning News Covers Mont Belvieu’s Trailblazing MB Link Network
We last wrote about MB Link, the municipal fiber network in Mont Belvieu, Texas, in October 2018. Since then, the city near Houston has connected about half of its 7,500 residents to the network and is talking about expanding into the surrounding county, reported the Dallas Morning News.
The in-depth article from late last month discussed many aspects of the groundbreaking network, including why the city decided to take charge, the legal and logistical challenges it faced, and how local service is benefiting the community.
MB Link Emerges
As in other communities, poor service quality from existing providers drove Mont Belvieu to deploy a city owned broadband network, the article explained:
For years, residents of this fast-growing town on the outer ring of Houston complained to local leaders about slow and spotty Internet. They put satellite dishes on their rooftops. They endured intermittent service and frequent outages.
. . .
So Mont Belvieu took matters into its own hands: It decided to build and operate its own high-speed Internet service.
Now, MB Link offers residents across the city speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second for only $75 a month. Approximately half of all Mont Belvieu households get Internet access from the municipal network, which has recently begun providing service to businesses as well.
Community Networks Create Competition
Mont Belvieu isn’t the only city that has built a broadband network to create options for residents and businesses, the article noted:
Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s community broadband network initiative, said cities began building broadband networks in the 1990s when they had no Internet. Now, he said, they’re motivated because they feel stuck with Internet that’s inferior or overpriced.
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Estes Park Trustees Vote Yes on Muni
Last week, Trustees in Estes Park, Colorado, unanimously voted to change the community’s municipal code in order to bring constituents what they want — a publicly owned broadband network.
It’s been four years since 92 percent of voters in Estes Park chose to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. By reclaiming local telecommunications authority through the opt out referendum in 2015, the mountain town of approximately 6,300 residents was able to explore possibilities for better connectivity.
After several days-long outages caused by lack of redundant infrastructure in the area, local business leaders and town officials knew it was time to take control of the situation. Surveys in the community revealed that approximately two-thirds of respondents want better connectivity in the community and of those respondents, 40 percent consider it the most important service the town can offer.
Recently, local editors from the Trail Gazette echoed the sentiments of the community and urged community leaders to end discussion and take action:
…Estes Park needs more action and less discussion for greater access to information and global connectivity. No longer is accessible, fast and reliable broadband Internet a luxury; it is a necessity in our digital world.
Prior to the March 12th vote, the Broad of Trustees opened up the meeting to allow comments from the public. In addition to Trustees’ questions about economic development, reliability, and potential capacity of the proposed infrastructure, residents stepped forward to voice their opinions.
Not one citizen spoke out against the project.
Town resident Michael Bertrand, who works as an asset manager for a real estate investment firm and works remotely, opened up public comment with a statement in favor of the project. "I need reliable internet," Bertrand said. "I've had fiber in other locations in the past and it's incredible. The speeds you get are just fantastic."
Anacortes, Washington, Solidifies Plans for Better Connectivity With Muni Network
Last spring, we reported on Anacortes, Washington’s efforts to evaluate private sector partners to deliver high-quality connectivity via their publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure. After examining their financial position, the desires of the community, and considering the pros and cons, the community has decided to offer services directly to the public. The island community will start deployment in 2019 and plans to have the network completed within four years.
Director of Anacortes Administrative Services Emily Schuh reached out to us to let us know that the city will be expanding from their fiber back bone to serve businesses and households in the community and to update us on the project. She also wanted to let us know that Anacortes is actively recruiting for a Municipal Broadband Business Manager.
Anacortes (pop. approx. 17,000) lies off the coast of Washington on Fidalgo Island, connected to the mainland via two bridges and ferry. Regular readers of MuniNetworks.org will recognize Mount Vernon on the map, located east and operating a municipal open access network for decades. Comcast offers Internet access throughout Anacortes and DSL service is available from Frontier, but businesses and residents want access to more reliable connections and faster upload speeds, which are not forthcoming with the incumbent ISPs.
Cortez Community Network Pilot; Ready To Connect Residents
Cortez is ready to use its publicly owned infrastructure to begin a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project. At the March 27th City Council meeting, members unanimously approved fees and rates for the Cortez Community Network Pilot, which marks a shift as the city moves to offer retail Internet access to residents and businesses.
Time To Serve Residents
Earlier this month, General Services Director Rick Smith presented information to the City Council about the pilot at a workshop so they could ask in-depth questions. At the workshop, City Manager Shane Hale described the challenges of finding ISPs willing to offer residential Internet access via Cortez’s fiber infrastructure. “We found that there were very few providers that actually wanted to go Fiber-to-the-Home,” he said. “Homeowners are a lot of work.”
The city’s network has provided open access fiber connectivity to municipal and county facilities, schools, community anchor institutions (CAIs), and downtown businesses for years. They officially launched the network in 2011 after serving public facilities and a few businesses on an as-needed basis. A 2015 expansion brought the network allowed Cortez to offer fiber connectivity to more premises. There are at least seven private sector ISPs using the infrastructure to offer services to local businesses.
The open access model will remain for commercial connections in Cortez, but for now the city plans to operate as a retail ISP for residents who sign up on the pilot program. At the March 27th meeting, the City Council established rates for subscribers, who will pay $150 for installation and $60 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for upload and download speeds. Subscribers will also need to rent a GigaCenter Wi-Fi router for $10 per month.
Waiting On The Wings Of The Pilot Program
Loveland Leaps Forward At Last; Moving Sans Vote
In a series of decisions, Loveland, Colorado’s City Council voted earlier this week to take the next step toward developing a municipal broadband network. In addition to allocating funds to develop a business plan, city leadership established an advisory board, accepted task force recommendations, and voted to amended current code to allow the electric utility to handle communications activities.
No Public Vote
The council addressed whether or not to ask voters to approve efforts to establish a municipal broadband network, even though the issue was not part of the agenda. City staff drafted an amendment during the meeting to require a vote, but after prolonged discussion City Council members voted 5-4 against including it.
Last fall, the city of Fort Collins needed to bring the issue before voters in order to amend their charter so community leaders could move forward with a municipal network. After spending more than $900,000 through a bogus citizens group to try to stop the measure, Comcast was unable to persuade Fort Collins to defeat it. Nevertheless, most of Loveland’s council members don’t want a repeat of the expensive hassle in Fort Collins.
Councilman John Fogle said that, prior to the Fort Collins election, he supported the idea of a vote on the issue, but he feels different now. "It's not an even playing field when incumbent industries will spend $900,000 at the drop of the hat to perpetuate ... a monopoly," he said at the February 6th Council meeting.
Retail Muni Fiber Networks Charge Less - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 289
Do municipal fiber networks offer lower prices than the their competitors? Yes, almost always, according to a study from Harvard's Berkman Klein Center called Community-Owned Fiber Networks: Value Leaders in America.
David Talbot, a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, joins us for episode 289 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to discuss the study, conclusions, and challenges. He was last on episode 162 to talk about a report they did on muni fiber in Massachusetts.
We talk about the challenges of doing an analysis like this, the range of results, and how pricing from munis tends to not only be lower but also more transparent.
This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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 Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
A Thanksgiving Feast Of Muni Fiber Models
Like some of the foods on a traditional Thanksgiving Day table, different publicly owned network models uniquely suit the needs of their communities. We all have our favorite dish from a holiday dinner, which made us reflect on some of the characteristics of five of the most well known models and their benefits. We found fun comparisons to share with readers who understand the way publicly owned fiber optic networks nourish the communities they serve.
The Turkey = Full Retail Service
The most common for citywide networks, just as turkey is often the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving Day dinner. The retail model offers services directly to the public the same way a private cable company do, only usually with better customer service and better quality. Telephone, Internet access, and video are the services many offer to subscribers. Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics is the most famous example. Others include Lafayette, Louisiana, where take rates have recently topped 45 percent. Another example is Sandy, Oregon, where subscribers can get symmetrical gigabit connectivity for around $60 per month.
Stuffing = Dark Fiber and Conduit
It does its most important job out of sight. In a turkey, it adds flavor to the bird. In a network, it provides a low cost, cow risk option that can attract competition for the community. In states where municipalities are not allowed to use their own infrastructure to serve the public, dark fiber and conduit can serve as the foundation for partnerships that fill in gaps left by incumbents. Lincoln, Nebraska’s extensive conduit network eventually led to a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) venture with a private sector ISP. Rockport, Maine, has deployed dark fiber and has the first municipal network in the state; they work with a local ISP to serve businesses and other local institutions.
Anacortes, Washington, Will Survey Community About FTTH
Bit by bit, Anacortes has been taking steps to cultivate better connectivity in their community of approximately 16,000. Earlier this week, city leaders decided to move forward with a survey to determine if residents and businesses are interested in service from a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.
Considering The Next Steps
At the August 21st City Council meeting, staff provided an update of the project that the city is working on with Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) to improve city water utility efficiencies. Anacortes needed better communications between more than 30 pump stations, reservoirs, and water treatment plants and, working with NoaNet, determined that they could use abandoned water lines for fiber conduit. They’re nearing the end of what they describe as Phase I of the project.
Phase II involves determining whether or not the city wants to harness extra dark fiber capacity in the backbone for a municipal FTTH network throughout the community. Before they decide to move forward with a trial system, Anacortes and NoaNet will reach out to the community for their input starting with a survey. At the meeting the City Council approved $10,000 to fund the survey, which will also help determine which areas have the greatest demand.
If the community decides it wants a municipal network, Phase III would depend on the success of the “trial phase” and would require installation of fiber within the community. While Anacortes is still developing solid details for this phase of the plan, early discussions indicate they will take an incremental or fiberhood approach based on demand in particular areas of town.
So Many Choices
City leaders anticipate an open access model, but they are considering also taking on an additional role as a retail Internet Service Provider. In order to examine all the options, city staff are examining several possible models. One of their primary goals is to increase competition.