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Pulaski, Tennessee: "A Community Investing In Itself" With Better Connectivity
Pulaski, located in the area Tennesseans describe as the southern middle region of the state, has a fiber network other communities covet. When we contacted Wes Kelley, one of the people instrumental in establishing the network, he told us that the community always wanted to be more than "just Mayberry." Rather than settle for the sleepy, quaint, character of the fictional TV town, local leaders in Pulaski chose to invest in fiber infrastructure for businesses and residents.
A Legacy That Lives On
The county seat of Giles County, Pulaski has a long history of municipal utility service. The electric system was founded in 1891, and is the oldest in the state. The city also provides municipal water, sewer, and natural gas service. The electric utility, Pulaski Electric System (PES), serves most of Giles County, which amounts to approximately 15,000 customers. PES receives power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and then distributes it throughout the county.
Pulaski is now known for its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, PES Energize, but the city's first adventure in providing municipal Internet access began in 1993. The city developed dial-up service and within five years, 1,500 homes were using the service. The city abandoned the dial-up service to offer Wi-Fi but then sold that system to a private company.
Leaders in Pulaski had their sights on connectivity beyond the limits of Wi-Fi. In 2002, Mayor Dan Speer and Dan Holcomb, the New CEO of PES, began exploring a publicly owned fiber network. Holcomb had previously lead a Michigan utility that offered cable TV and so used his experience to help establish the PES Energize network. AT&T (BellSouth at the time) provided DSL service and Charter offered cable Internet access but neither company performed to the satisfaction of the community. In fact, Pulaski had always suffered through poor quality service from its incumbents.
Exploring the Huntsville Fiber Model - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 191
Ammon, Idaho Preparing for FTTH Expansion
Officials in the City of Ammon, Idaho, are moving closer to expanding their municipal network to residents with a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The FTTH expansion is the latest phase in their incremental approach in this community of 14,500 people in the southeast corner of Idaho.
Ammon’s Director of IT, Bruce Patterson, told us the history of the network’s development in a 2014 Community Broadband Bits Podcast. After starting the network several years ago with just a single link between two municipal buildings, the network gradually expanded the network to community anchor institutions. They also decided to serve businesses on a case-by-case basis. Since the beginning, the city kept its eye on its goal: to offer fiber access to every home in Ammon.
Ammon's FTTH Expansion Process
Ammon officials are acting prudently to gauge customer demand and wait for the necessary funding mechanisms to fall into place prior to additional construction. As we reported in August 2015, officials are asking residents to submit an online form to express their intent to sign up for service. City officials also held meetings with residents in September and October to explain the proposed expansion plans and give residents a chance to test out the gigabit speed service.
The city plans to extend residential service one large neighborhood at a time, letting customer demand dictate the direction of the expansion. The city will pay for the expansion entirely through service commitments from residents who choose to have a fiber connection extended to their home. This method will allow the city to expand without contributions from non-subscribers.
Patterson told us that the city is currently in the process of getting legal approval to bond on the FTTH expansion phase. He said he is confident the city will soon be approved for the bonding and anticipates that they will be able to put a shovel in the ground by May or June of this year.
Muni Network in Huntsville Draws Google Fiber
Huntsville Utilities and Google Fiber announced today that the utility will construct a dark fiber network and that Google Fiber will offer services to the community via the city's new fiber infrastructure investment.
We applaud Huntsville and Google for helping develop an innovative model that will create more choices for local businesses and residents. We believe this is an important step that can lead to a true market for Internet access, allowing people a real choice in providers while ensuring the network is accountable to local needs.
Next Century Cities (NCC) describes the arrangement as a "promising new model for ensuring greater access to high-quality broadband Internet." We see this as a significant step forward in creating competition and bringing high quality Internet access to every one. For many years, we have seen communities desire to invest in infrastructure but not have to engage in service competition with powerful rivals like Comcast or AT&T.
Huntsville Is Different
Google Fiber is already known for bringing affordable gigabit service to subscribers in Kansas City and Provo, Utah and they have plans to expand in a number of other communities. Huntsville will be more than "just another" Google Fiber community because the infrastructure will belong to the community.
Other providers will be able to offer services via the network as well, ensuring more competition and providing choice for residents and businesses. Smaller providers will have an easier time establishing themselves in Huntsville with infrastructure in place on which to offer services. If subscribers are not happy with one provider, there is a good chance that there will be other options.
Muni Fiber Tennessee Twofer: Columbia and Pulaski - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 189
Newark, Delaware, City Council Votes For Feasibility Study
Newark, Delaware, prides itself on its small-city status: a bike-friendly place with a great main street and home to 30,000 residents. Some, however, consider poor Internet access Newark's biggest small-city problem.
In December, the City Council decided to move forward with a feasibility study for a municipal broadband network. In a 4-3 vote, the city council hired a consulting firm to investigate the city’s options for connectivity. For $69,000, the firm will answer Newark's questions, and the city will attempt to make an informed decision on the possibility of a municipal network.
Process for a Feasibility Study
As we reported in September, residents have driven the push toward a publicly owned network; the city council took notice and began considering the possibility. In October 2015, They hosted a public meeting to bring together community stakeholders and interested residents. At that point, community leaders heard from a consulting company about what a feasibility study would entail.
Originally priced at $10,000 for a basic analysis, the cost of the feasibility study increased to $69,000 over the next several months because the city council chose to expand the depth of the study. They wanted an extensive analysis of all the options, especially connecting to the local University of Delaware to any proposed municipal network. At the city council meeting in December, members decided to greenlight the feasibility study. The funding will come out of the budget for the Legislative Department’s legal and consulting services.
Why A Municipal Network?
In 2014, the city installed smart electric and water meters which run on a Wi-Fi mesh network. Having greater connectivity could encourage expansion for other uses. High-quality Internet access for businesses and residents, high-speed data transport for local healthcare clinics, parking meters, surveillance, public safety, and cloud computing are only few potential uses for a municipal fiber network.
Owensboro Residents Flying High On Fiber Pilot
Last fall, Owensboro, Kentucky, began constructing its pilot program to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to a limited number of residents. Construction is complete and now the municipal utility is serving subscribers, much to the delight of folks in the city's Town & County neighborhood. There are 570 households and approximately 1,500 people living in the pilot area.
As of late January, 80 households had signed up for service with 15 now being served at a rated of about eight installations completed every week. Chris Poynter, superintendent of Owensboro Municipal Utilities (OMU) telecommunications division reported to the Board that feedback has been positive and that customers have been "…very happy with their speeds and the installation process."
All speeds are symmetrical - just as fast on the upload as the download - and there is a $49.99 installation fee. OMU offers three tiers:
- 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.99
- 100 Mbps for $69.99
- 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) for $99.99
OMU installed fiber thought the city in 1997 and two years later began offering high-speed Internet access and other telecommunications services to local businesses. OMU's goal is to serve a minimum of 20 percent of the households in the pilot area and if all goes well, the community will consider a city-wide project.
Home to about 58,000, Owensboro sits across the river from Ohio. The city is the county seat and center of a metropolitan area of about 116,000 people. OMU also offers electricity and water services.
Fiber-to-the-Home May Be the Cherry on Top in Traverse City
In Traverse City, Michigan, big plans are underway. The local electric utility is considering constructing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for next-generation high-speed Internet access.
About 10,000 people call the "Cherry Capital of the World" home. The area primarily relies on tourism and high-speed Internet access can help diversify the local economy. At the moment, Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) is holding planning meetings with community stakeholders to discuss how to build a network to meet the needs of the community.
An Opportunity for Connectivity
The city has been mulling over the possibility of general connectivity for a while - especially citywide Wi-Fi. In 2007, TCLP had just finished installing fiber optic cables to connect electrical substations. They leased some lines to large nonprofit institutions, such as school systems and health facilities, but they still had spare capacity. TCLP realized that they had the potential to expand to residents.
They partnered with the Downtown Development Authority to create a downtown Wi-Fi zone in 2014. The zone automated parking meters and connected tourists, but the Wi-Fi's technological limitations, such as signal strength, soon became apparent. TCLP concluded that citywide Wi-Fi would not be the best option for Traverse City.
Now community leaders are considering using existing fiber, which is already planted throughout the community. TCLP, city and county officials, and other stakeholders have discussed how to develop fiber assets for a FTTH network. The city has several options: a phased approach (connecting the city section by section), a pre-subscriber approach (connecting neighborhoods where people pre-subscribe in great number), an incremental build (slow and steady), or an immediate citywide build (all at once). They also still have to figure out exactly how to cover the costs.
Economic Development and Community Vitality
Grassroots Springing Up In Holyoke, Massachusetts
For years, the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts, has built up a treasure trove of fiber that the municipal buildings [and some businesses] use to connect to the Internet. Now, some residents want to share in the bounty. The newly-formed Holyoke Fiber Optic Group plans to drum up grassroot support for a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project to bring high-speed Internet to the 40,000 residents of Holyoke.
The group recently spoke with members of the city utility and are now on their way to the mayor's office in an effort to bring better connectivity to the city. The meeting with the mayor's office is scheduled for next Tuesday. The Holyoke Fiber Optic Group aims to form an exploratory committee of community stakeholders to dive into the possibility of a FTTH project.
The group formed in November of 2015 and hosted its first meeting in early December. Members highlighted their frustration with the lack of access to high-speed Internet and pointed to the April 1999 Master Plan for the city. It specifically stated the need to capitalize on the fiber available.
Organizers maintain a Facebook group to discuss the issue in Holyoke and the latest developments in high-speed Internet. They call for an open access network to encourage competition and enable residents to pick their own service provider. The group now has over 200 members.
Reedsburg Utility Commission Receives State Grant for Expansion
In April 2015, Wisconsin's Brett Schuppner from the Reedsburg Utility Commission (RUC) had a conversation with Chris about the utility's plan to expand the municipal fiber network. Funding is one of the biggest challenges but in December, the RUC learned that it a state grant will help move those plans forward.
WisNews recently reported that the RUC applied for $110,000 to bring the triple-play fiber network to Buckhorn Lake in Sauk County. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission announced on December 11th that the RUC will instead receive $69,300 which will allow the network to extend to an additional 105 homes and 40 properties. From the article:
Schuppner said an informal survey of members of the Buckhorn Property Owners’ Association suggests the utility commission will likely recover its out-of-pocket costs for the project not covered by the grant of about $40,000 from new users in the first year.
RUC began serving the community in 2003, expanding in 2011, and offering gigabit service in 2014. The community is located about 55 miles northwest of Madison and home to approximately 10,000 people.
Ten other entities across the state also received grants. RUC anticipates construction to begin on this expansion early this year.