Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
“The meetings are designed to answer any questions the Tullahoma community has about the AMI technology”, said Ernie Hobbs, Communications and Marketing Specialist for TUB. “We want to assure the community that automated meter reading is the next step in providing exceptional customer service. AMI is a step forward for Tullahoma, and it will provide additional opportunities for our customers by allowing them to monitor their own usage of utilities.” The AMI installation is a replacement of current water and electric meters. The new meters can transmit usage data through TUB’s secure fiber network. The infrastructure upgrade has been in the planning stage for several years. However, with Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) moving to Time Of Use (TOU) rates, TUB decided it was time to begin the AMI project to align with the TVA rate change.A recent newsletter from the utility explains further, noting that the Tennessee Valley Authority (a federal agency that produces the power used by Tullahoma and many other public utilities) is going to start charging time-of-use rates starting in fall of 2013. This is because electricity is more expensive to produce and distribute based on the amount being used - time of use pricing will encourage people to use more power when it is cheaper to produce and less when it is expensive. This time-of-use pricing is one component of a "smart-grid." Unfortunately, some investor-owned utilities have used time-of-use pricing to increase their revenues without substantially benefiting ratepayers -- which is one reason many are suspicious of the entire concept. Hence the public meetings. Because Tullahoma has its publicly owned network already connecting much of the community, it is better positioned to deal with TVA's changing rates than other communities.
According to a feasibility study by the utility, the third-party vendor approach would give the JCPB the best return on investment, balancing low risk with possible profits. The Power Board would provide the “backbone,” while the vendor, working under JCPB’s brand, would provide the “last mile” services and equipment to the commercial customers. The utility’s telecommunications division would be self-sustaining, and have absolutely no effect on electric rates.This seems similar to the approach of Lafayette, Louisiana almost 10 years ago. Lafayette eventually decided to build out the network to residents and all businesses when the ISPs using its network were not able to use the backbone to expand to serve everyone (the economics of building last mile fiber-to-the-home connections rarely coincide with private sector goals of maximizing short term returns). Judging from their projections, Johnson City does not need to hit particularly ambitious targets:
To reach its revenue and return on investment projections, the JCPB would need to capture about 20 percent of the area’s total market for data services, about 15 percent of the market in phone services, and about 5 percent of private data services over five years, based on a market of 3,000 commercial users.However, even those modest goals will be difficult unless they find a good, trusted partner. Most public power utilities have the trust of residents or businesses -- that trust may not extend to whoever they work with.
There’s even a near-perfect model of how Connecticut Light and Power could have done the job better. Norwich, Conn., a city of 40,000, has owned its own electric utility, as well as those for sewage, gas and water, for 107 years. Norwich Public Utilities’ customers pay, on average, a bit less than Connecticut Light and Power’s. Yet after this past weekend’s snow dump, power was out for only about 450 of its 22,000 customers — and for no more than an hour. As of Thursday morning, nearly half a million Connecticut Light and Power customers were still waiting for the lights to go on. That’s not luck, either. After Irene hit, just 13 percent of the city’s customers lost their power for more than a day. Within three days, the whole of Norwich had been restored. It took more than a week for Connecticut Light and Power to fully restore power.To reiterate, the publicly owned system is cheaper, more reliable, and responds more quickly in emergencies.
The decision on the third-party vendor approach stems from a feasibility study by Kersey Consulting, a firm that offers broadband consulting to municipalities and public utilities. The study began in July, and examined three models the JCPB could use to offer the services: having the JCPB be the retailer; leasing the extra fiber capacity to another company; or bringing in a third-party operator to provide the network access electronics, customer support, billing services, etc. Working with a third-party vendor gives the JCPB the best return on its investment, balancing low risk with possible profits, said JCPB spokesman Robert White. The Power Board would provide the “backbone,” while the vendor, working under JCPB’s brand, would provide the “last mile” services and equipment to the commercial customers.This approach could be somewhat similiar to the Opelika, Alabama, partnership with Knology, except Knology is clearly going after both residential and commercial customers right away. The article uses these numbers, but they don't seem to make a lot of sense to me on first glance:
Initially, according to the feasibility study, the Power Board would most likely make a capital investment of $1.5 million over five years, which could include installing more of a fiber backbone to reach businesses if needed.
Without increasing taxes, shall the citizens of the City of Longmont, Colorado, re-establish their City's right to provide all services restricted since 2005 by Title 29, article 27 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, described as "advanced services," "telecommunications services" and "cable television services," including any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, utilizing community owned infrastructure including but not limited to the existing fiber optic network, either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, to potential subscribers that may include telecommunications service providers, residential or commercial users within the City and the service area of the City's electric utility enterprise?The results were 60.8% Yes, 39.2% No. 13,238 voted yes whereas 8,529 voted against.
Without that vote, the city can't let homes or businesses use that fiber without a vote, thanks to a 2005 state law. It's a fight the city's lost once before in 2009, when opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to urge the measure's defeat. This time out, there's a different tack. The city has been underlining in discussions that the measure would "restore its rights" to provide telecommunications service.
“We are at the very beginning. We want to see if municipal control is even possible,’’ said Norwell Town Administrator James Boudreau. “We want a faster response. This was a tropical storm. What if it was a category 2 hurricane? What if it was the winter?’’ he said, noting the efficient restoration of power in towns with electric utilities under municipal control, such as Hingham, Hull, and Braintree.Braintree's municiple utility also runs a broadband network for the community. If these communities are looking at am uni utility, they should ceratinly consider improving their broadband access at the same time. As we have covered previously, Wired West (on the other side of the state) is a collection of many communities that recently formed municipal "light plants" (in the parlance of Massachuesetts) as a legal structure for building a community fiber network. As we have observed time and time again, local control tends to improve the quality and response time of customer service. And in those cases where it doesn't, at least they have no one to blame but themselves. It is well within their power to fix it. Curiously, National Grid was formed by combining privatized former muni electric utilities -- a warning to communities that may look to privatize their community broadband networks over time due to the mistaken notion that community ownership was only necessary to establish the network rather than ensure it continues operating for the benefit of the community. Community broadband is about far more than technology, it is about ownership by an entity with the right incentives to operate essential infrastructure. The company's response to this movement is fascinating:
National Grid offers a different opinion. Communities are “best served by a company with established practices, resources, and programs that can serve them in an evolving, challenging energy environment,’’ said Deborah Drew, a spokeswoman for the utility.Say what?
That brought to mind my recent conversation with Larry Owens, manager of customer services at Silicon Valley Power. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based municipal electric utility built fiber between its subsystems to increase the organization’s reliability. But Silicon Valley Power overbuilt that network, which enables it to lease dark fiber to the school district and service providers via its SVP Fiber entity. The electric company also purchased MetroFi, a free Wi-Fi services company that fell on hard times, to connect new smart energy meters to its offices. Those Wi-Fi assets also are being leveraged to deliver free outdoor Wi-Fi access to anyone within Santa Clara.I remember reading about this network earlier this year in a Public Power Daily release:
The technology and added bandwidth capacity allow teachers to hold virtual field trips and will eventually allow students who are unable to attend school the opportunity to join their classrooms via a home computer, Silicon Valley Power said. Download speeds have made classrooms more efficient, the utility said. "Before the fiber network, the download process was very slow and sometimes wouldn't work at all when my class tried to use streaming video to add to our lessons," said Jennifer Rodriguez, who teaches a fourth- and fifth- grade combo class at Katherine Hughes Elementary School. "Now I can utilize instructional videos off the web and stream them quickly, making the lesson more interesting and the learning more fun for my students."
Wright said J2, which specializes in providing high-tech software to law enforcement agencies to handle dispatching, records management and other related functions, needed to have the highest speed, most dependable Internet service available. He said TUB, through its LightTUBe broadband communications service, provides exactly what his company needs to thrive and expand. "What LightTUBe has is top of the line," Wright said, adding that normal cable TV service and higher speed digital subscriber line, commonly referred to as DSL, were not adequate to meet the company’s volume and demand.Sounds like confirmation of the story we we just wrote about AT&T's CEO admitting DSL is obsolete. Congratulations to Tullahoma for making smart investments in its own future.