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Citizens Take Charge: Concord, Massachusetts, Builds a Fiber Network
A new case study recently released by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University describes how the community of Concord, Massachusetts deployed its extensive municipal fiber-optic network and smart grid. In Citizens Take Charge: Concord, Massachusetts, Builds a Fiber Network, the authors offer history, and describe the benefits to the community from better connectivity and enhanced electric efficiencies.
Key Findings from the report:
Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 244
This is the transcript for Episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher Mitchell speaks with Tom Stehn of West Plains, Missouri, on how the community is encouraging economic development. Listen to this episode here.
Tom Stehn: Businesses look to expand, move to other locations. There's usually five questions they ask, and one of them is always what kind of broadband do you have?
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. West Plains, Missouri, located in the south central part of the state, is situated in the Ozarks, and known for its beautiful terrain, forests, and vistas. Despite attracting outdoor enthusiasts, the community has suffered some economic losses in recent years and is taking steps to boost economic development. Recently the city began offering high quality connectivity to local businesses. Tom Stehn, City Administrator, talks to Christopher this week about the city's foray into municipal Internet infrastructure. Tom describes how the city's plan to update municipal services led them to discover that local businesses also wanted better connectivity. He describes the city's project, their plan, and how they're starting out slowly to address any challenges they encounter along the way.
Christopher Mitchell: Hey everyone. I just wanted to thank you for listening and helping out to create a stronger Internet ecosystem, making sure everyone has high quality access. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested, about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes, please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all of the comments, and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.
Lisa Gonzalez: Now here's Tom Stehn, City Administrator, of West Plains, Missouri, talking with Christopher about the community's municipal fiber project.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm talking with Tom Stehn, the City Administrator of West Plains in Missouri. Welcome to the show.
Businesses Selected For Ellensburg Pilot
Out of 58 business applications, the city of Ellensburg, Washington, recently selected 30 local businesses to participate in their fiber-optic pilot project. Nineteen participants are business owners, 11 are business tenants; 22 are located at commercial locations and six are home-based businesses along with two telecommuters, reports the Daily Record.
The participants will obtain a credit of $5,000 to connect to the network from the city’s telecommunications utility. Any connection fees over and above the credit will be the responsibility of the pilot project participants.
Businesses will be able to purchase Internet access from the city at either 300 Megabits per second (Mbps) capacity or gigabit (1,000 Mbps) capacity. Service is symmetrical, which is critical for business, so speeds are just as fast on the upload as on the download. Month service fees will be $39.95 and $59.95 per month respectively. The city expects to begin connecting businesses in August.
West Plains Builds Network to Preserve Jobs - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 244
West Plains is one of the many population centers of rural regions that have been left behind by big cable and telephone companies. Located in the scenic Ozarks of southern Missouri, they are taking their digital future into their own hands with a modest fiber-optic investment.
City Administrator Tom Stehn strolls by our podcast this week to discuss what they are doing and why with a municipal fiber network that will connect anchor institutions and local businesses with high-quality Internet access.
We discuss the need, how they are financing it, and why the state legislature should not enact new barriers to local solutions. The community has already been placing conduit as part of a larger undergrounding effort, which will help them to expand the network over time.
This show is 17 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 Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Erwin Expanding Again, Moving Into The Mountains
Erwin Fiber is growing in stages and now that the utility in Erwin, Tennessee, has completed phase three of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment, about half of its electricity customers have access to high-quality Internet access. That’s not all - phase four this spring will bring gigabit connectivity to more rural customers in two nearby mountain communities.
Reaching Out In Steps
All told, Erwin Fiber more than tripled its service area in 2016. A December grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will allow the utility to complete the spring build out, which will serve an additional 680 homes and 30 businesses. The Temple Hill and Bumpass Cove areas located in the mountains outside of downtown Erwin will have access to Erwin Fiber's symmetrical Internet access. Due to the remote character of these neighborhoods, people here had little prospect of obtaining high-quality Internet access from other providers. The 35-mile expansion will cost approximately $400,000.
November’s expansion added 2,200 homes and businesses, while a similar effort last March included 1,300 homes and businesses. Both expansions came after the community successfully experimented with a 2015 pilot project in which the city’s electric utility connected an initial 1,200 customers. The utility needed the infrastructure for the electric system other utilities; it was the right to to invest in the equipment for high-speed connectivity and phone service
Not An Impluse
The municipality of about 6,000 people had considered the investment some 15 years prior but couldn’t afford the investment until recent years when the cost of deployment decreased. In January, Christopher interviewed Lee Brown and John Williams from Erwin Utilities who discussed the community’s project and explained how the fiber infrastructure is benefitting all the utility customers, even those who don’t subscribe to FTTH services.
Whipping Up Better Internet In Western MA
Whip City Fiber has big plans to serve more residents in its hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts, and is already helping some of its neighbors as they seek better connectivity.
Expanding At Home
In February, Westfield City Council unanimously approved the municipal utility’s request for a $15 million bond to fund expansion to more areas of the city. Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity is currently available to approximately 15 percent of the city. The additional funds will allow Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) to expand the network to about 70 percent of the community, or about 10,000 additional households. WG+E is planning the expansion on a two-year timeline.
As in the past, WG+E will use the “fiberhood” approach, giving priority to neighborhoods with the highest interest. They will also consider seasonal practicalities and the locations of existing infrastructure. According to their announcement, they will be installing overhead services this month and will begin underground installation when the ground thaws.
As Westfield’s FTTH has grown piece by piece, they’ve had opportunities to work out the rough patches and determine what challenges communities in western Massachusetts may face when they build out Internet networks. Now, WG+E is reaching out to other communities who are looking for guidance.
State Finally Releases Funding
A change in recent policy from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) has enabled Westfield and it's neighbors to have a little more control over their telecommunications future.
Since 2014, MBI has grappled with how it intends to distribute $50 million worth of state funding designated for communities in need of better connectivity. After several changes in policy, the agency required rural towns to get approval from MBI for business plans and to work with the organization before they could receive funding. The agency and the state have been widely criticized for its heavy-handed, yet slow-footed approach.
Muni, Co-op, And Tech Company Make A Broadband Bingo In Nevada
Residents and businesses in rural regions between Reno and Las Vegas recently learned that their odds at obtaining high-quality Internet access just went through the roof. A collaboration between county owned Churchill County Communications (CC Communications), the Valley Communications Association of Pahrump (VCA), and Switch technology company to deploy a middle mile fiber-optic backbone will open up a range of possibilities for rural communities along the U.S. Highway 95. The route runs north and south along Nevada's far west, passing through a number of small towns that are welcoming the new alliance.
A Backbone Running North And South
For the past 11 months, CC Communications and the VCA have been working to deploy more than 450 miles of fiber from north to south. Switch provided funding for the deployment to link its data centers in Las Vegas and the Tahoe-Reno area and will also provide funding for expansion to some rural communities. VCA will service the network in the south and Churchill will care for the north section.
Along the backbone, CC Communications and VCA will connect local communities. Beatty, in southern Nevada, plans to be the first use the new infrastructure and to deploy fiber in the community. The unincorporated community is home to about 1,000 people and is about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. According to Valley Electric Association, the rural electric cooperative that owns and operates VCA, they have plans to expand fiber throughout the Beatty community.
“With that backbone, you can link up any town anywhere near it,” said Michael Hengel, spokesman for the Valley Electric Association. “The first all-fiber community in Nevada will be Beatty.”
TN Sen. Bolling Explains Her Proposal: Share This Video
Tennessee State Senator Janice Bowling, a Republican from Tullahoma, has once again introduced legislation that would help bring high-quality connectivity to rural residents and businesses. The bill is not complicated and would allow municipal electric utilities that offer broadband connectivity to expand beyond their electric service area. In a video from 2015 Senator Bowling takes a few minutes to explain her proposal - to eliminate the restriction and allow places like Tullahoma, Chattanooga, and Clarksville to serve neighboring communities.
This year, the bill that eliminates the restriction is SB 1058 and its House companion is HB 0970 from Representative Dan Howell. For now, her bill is in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee waiting to be heard. Sen. Bolling has also introduced similar bill that allows municipal electric utilities to offer telecommunications service with no geographical limitations.
Senator Bolling gets it. She understands that the people of her district and the rest of rural Tennessee need high-quality connectivity to keep pace with areas that already have such access. We’d like to see more legislators like her who put the needs of their constituents before the interests of the big cable and telephone companies.
In the video Senator Bolling describes why the bill, which she has introduced several times, has not passed. She explains what the bill does legally and practically, and she gives a frank assessment of what the situation is now in many rural areas of her state. Even though the video is from 2015, her comments are still relevant.
The video is short and to the point - only 4:20 - check it out and share.
Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 242
This is the transcript for episode 242 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Our Christopher Mitchell invites Professor Susan Crawford to reflect on her recent travels through North Carolina and Tennessee. Both states have restricted communities from building new municipal networks. Listen to this episode here.
Susan Crawford: It's much more about a very bipartisan, quite progressive group of people thinking about how to make life better in their communities, and that's terrific. That's truly American.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 242 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. We're pleased to have Susan Crawford back on the show this week. She's a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, but she's also served as Special Assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation policy. Susan's CV is too long for us to go through point by point. She's authored several publications, including The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance, and The Telecom Industry and Monopoly power in the New Gilded Age. She's been on the show before to talk with Christopher about access to high-quality connectivity, and it's always a pleasure to have her back. As it turns out, Susan has been on a walkabout of sorts, visiting local communities as she works on her current book, and in this discussion she shares her impressions with Christopher. She's got some ideas on how she feels are the most effective ways to bring better connectivity to the most people, especially in rural areas, and she and Christopher hash through her findings.
Quick Reflections on Google
I have been a Google Fiber supporter, believing that Google's investments and policy goals would move the United States forward, away from the monopolies of entrenched incumbents. When others claimed that Google was abandoning fiber, I argued that Google had not yet decided... it was arguing internally about the right path.
But now I think it is pretty clear that Google is done with significant fiber investment, particularly for single family residential homes. I have strong doubts that Google will continue with the Huntsville-type approaches of leasing dark fiber, but I hope that will continue.
Google's decision to pursue other, likely more lucrative investments like AI and autonomous driving may be more profitable, but it is certainly disappointing for those of us working to ensure everyone has high quality Internet access.
It is important to note that companies like US Internet, Ting, and Sonic, among others have establishing strong businesses competing against the biggest telephone and cable companies. Google's exit is not evidence that ISPs cannot do well. It is evidence that Google has other opportunities and that its large scale focus on building its own fiber had too slow of a return for its Silicon Valley expectations.
This brings me to something I wrote 5 years ago, not actually expecting that Google would give up after only 5 years.
If I were moving south of Minnesota in the near future, it would be to Chattanooga or Lafayette, not Kansas City. Who knows what Google will be doing in 5 years? We know exactly what EPB and LUS will be doing.
Wow. I think Kansas City is definitely better off for having worked with Google to enable that network. But there is no doubt in my mind that local investments are a better bet than hoping some distant company will save your community. I think this article understates Google's impact in KC significantly, but we are once again reminded that there is much more to benefiting from a network than simply laying fiber.