Content tagged with "utopia"

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Dubuque Considers Its Telecom Options

I caught an interesting article asking whether Dubuque, Iowa, should build a publicly owned broadband network. Iowa already has a number of publicly owned networks, mostly cable HFC networks, that serve communities. The article starts with some history, noting that the small community of Hawarden, Iowa, was the first to build a public cable system in the state and had to defend its rights to do so in court.
The northwest Iowa community of about 2,500 people more than a decade ago built a $4 million cable system, only to be temporarily shut down by an Iowa Supreme Court injunction. Hawarden survived the court's order prohibiting municipalities from being in the telecommunications business, and in many respects blazed the trail for publicly run cable, Internet and phone service in Iowa.
More communities may be considering building their own networks (though they will build now with fiber rather than HFC) following Iowa's statewide franchising rules that preempt local authority, giving greater power to private cable companies. The way it was written, existing franchise agreements may be nullified if a competitor announces plans to serve the community. Fortunately, many Iowa communities voted to formed telecommunications utilities back in 2005, though few have yet exercised that authority. Unfortunately, the article's author was clearly misled by either Qwest or Mediacom's public relations flacks because he wrote about UTOPIA, as though the problems of a purely open access model under a different regulatory environment poses important lessons for communities in Iowa that may build their own networks. The successes and failures of UTOPIA teach us very little about how Iowa communities should move forward. Smaller Iowa communities do have a serious disadvantage - building modern networks is very difficult the smaller they get. Below 5,000 subscribers, it can be difficult to make the network pay for itself (though exceptions exist) - suggesting to me that joint efforts combining communities could be a good option. Unfortunately, though the technology has no problems crossing political boundaries, the politics are much more difficult.

Free UTOPIA Podcast

Listen to this 1 hour podcast from Free UTOPIA that discusses recent progress in Brigham City, notes that Orem City is saving some $50,000/month from telecom expenses thanks to UTOPIA, and recaps some of the early history of the UTOPIA project. Most of the discussion is an interview with triple-play UTOPIA provider Prime Time Communications.

UTOPIA's Roller Coaster Ride Continues

Anyone who tells you that UTOPIA is a "success" or that it is a "failure" is probably minimizing important problems or victories for the network. The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, like so many other things in life, is a mixed bag. For those new to UTOPIA, it is a large multi-community full fiber network that operates by only selling wholesale access to service providers. Due to a law designed to protect incumbent service providers under the guise of protecting taxpayers, UTOPIA cannot offer any services itself and is strictly open access. For a variety of reasons - that have not and likely will not be repeated by other communities - the network has not yet met expectations. The costs have been greater than expected and the network does not yet cover its entire intended territory (some 16 communities and 140,000 people). However, where it does operate, it is blazing fast. The service providers offer the fastest speeds at the lowest prices (see a service comparison). It has offered a tremendous competitive advantage to the businesses and communities in which it operates. Last year, Lawrence Kingsley wrote "The Rebirth of UTOPIA" that explored where the network went wrong and how it has also succeeded. Perhaps most notably, he notes that the churn rate (people switching to other networks) is ridiculously low at .5% - a common trait to community owned networks. Last month, Geoff Daily reported on how UTOPIA is "Transforming Failure Into Success." They have greatly improved their marketing practices - which has historically been a large barrier to success. This is an important lesson for all - even though there are very few competitors in the broadband market, they do fight fiercely for subscribers. Broadband is competitive like boxing, not like a marathon. But the news coming out of Utah is not all cheery. Jesse, the resident UTOPIA expert, has recently explained some of the current financial problems and their origin. Perhaps the most important lesson to take away from UTOPIA is that plans always go awry. I have yet to find a community that did not have unexpected problems along the way to building their networks.

Community Broadband - High Capacity, Low Cost

To celebrate the launching of MuniNetworks.org, we wanted to highlight some of the best broadband available in the United States. If you were looking for the best citywide broadband networks available in the United States, you would almost definitely find publicly owned networks. We just collected some data on top-performing networks in the U.S. Though Comcast and Verizon have received a lot of attention for their investments in higher capacity networks, they still do not compare to some of the best community full fiber-to-the-home networks. In comparing some of the fastest publicly owned broadband networks to some of the fastest national private sector networks, we found that the publicly owned networks offer more value per dollar. Update: A few weeks after this was published, Verizon upped its speeds and prices for several of the tiers. download.png upload.png Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the data are the baseline speeds available in Wilson North Carolina and Lafayette Louisiana. Lafayette offers a symmetrical 10Mbps connection for $28.95/month whereas Wilson charges $34.95. I can only imagine how these networks have made their businesses more competitive while cutting telecom budgets for the schools and cities. Imagine being a business in Lafayette with a 50Mbps symmetrical connection when your competition is renting a T-1 at 1.5Mbps for $500/month. 30x the speed at 1/10th the cost. That is a competitive advantage. In Utah, if Comcast has upgraded to DOCSIS 3 in that area, they'll be charging $140/month for a 50/10 connection when those in the UTOPIA footprint have access to a 100/100 connection for $147. At least some communities across the U.S. are still competitive with the rest of the world when it comes to Mbps at affordable prices. There is still hope.

Services Comparison

Community broadband networks offer some the highest capacity connections at the lowest costs. Many of these communities, before building their networks, were dependent on 1.5 Mbps connections that cost hundreds of dollars, or less reliable DSL and cable networks. The community broadband networks below are full FTTH networks, so the advertised speeds are the experienced speeds -- unlike typical cable advertised speeds, which users pay for but rarely experience due to congestion on the shared connection. In comparing some of the fastest publicly owned broadband networks to some of the fastest national private sector networks, we found that the publicly owned networks offer more value per dollar. Update: A few weeks after this was published, Verizon upped its speeds and prices for several of the tiers. 


  The data we used is below. We thought about comparing also Qwest's "Fiber-Optic Fast" speeds, but their fastest upload speeds are below 1 Mbps, which makes them too pokey for the above networks.  

Community Broadband Networks: The Best of the Best

Note: Speeds are expressed as Mbps Down/Up. Each network has distinct offering for each tier.

  Tier 1Tier 2Tier 3Tier 4 
LafayetteLouisiana10/10$28.9530/30$44.9550/50$57.95--All connections come with 100Mbps connections to others on the local network.
WilsonNorth Carolina10/10$34.9520/20$54.9540/40$99.9560/60$199.95There is also a 100/100 tier for $299.95. These prices come from the bundled options. There is one unbundled option - 20/20 for $59.95
UTOPIAUtah15/15$39.9530/30$49.9550/50$59.95100/100$147This is an open access network, 100/100 is not offered by all service providers
TullahomaTennessee10/1$37.955/3$49.9520/5$59.9550/15$149.95There is also a 100/30 tier for $299.95
Loma LindaCalifornia5/5$29.9510/10$49.9515/15$99.95-- 
Compare to the best from the private sector:
ComcastDOCSIS 3 in MN1/.384$39.9512/2$59.9516/2$69.9522/579.95A higher tier of 50/10 is available for $139.95/month. These are unbundled prices, bundling generally saves $15/month. Speeds are "up to" depending on neighborhood congestion. Comcast marketing makes it difficult to understand what speeds you are paying for.
VerizonFiOS10/2$49.9920/5$59.9520/20$69.9550/20$144.95These are unbundled prices - bundling with phone reduces monthly price by $5. FiOS is not available throughout Verizon footprint.

The table reflects real rates, not short-term introductory rates. Do not be fooled into thinking that community broadband networks are able to offer the best deal because they are use taxpayer dollars. Very few community networks have ever used taxpayer money. Most networks are built using revenue bonds - which means that private investors fund the network, and are typically repaid over a period of twenty years using revenues generated by the services. Some cities choose to "back" the bonds with taxes -- which means that if the network does not generate sufficient revenue, the city will make up the difference with public money. Other cities choose not to back the bonds; this is a choice made by each community and impacts the interest rate on the bonds. In most cases, community networks have been safe investments that have not missed debt payments because the communities had an urgent need for broadband. In many cases, they have so many people wanting to take service, they have long lists for the installers. The idea that these networks frequently fail is an utter myth. However, not all community broadband networks offer the blazing speeds at great prices displayed above -- some were built five years ago, when those speeds were sufficient. Others do not feel the need to push the envelope, the community is content with what they have. However, they are able to meet higher demands if a citizen requires it. So even if a community network advertises its highest tier as being an 8/1, it is likely able to offer an even faster connection to those who need it. This is one of the many benefits of community broadband - the network is accountable to the community. The community broadband networks being built today almost always offer the fastest speeds currently available - as seen above with two ongoing builds, Lafayette and Wilson.