Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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In November 2015, the voters in Vinton, Iowa, gave the approval for a telecommunications utility. The city and the municipal electric utility are taking the next step with a feasibility study to determine potential deployment costs and in the spring will present their findings to the community.
Vinton is home to about 5,200 people in Benton County, Iowa; it’s the county seat. The town’s area is 4.74 square miles, and there are approximately 2,000 homes and 250 businesses in Vinton. It’s located about 32 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids.
Like many rural towns, Vinton struggles with slow, outdated DSL connections; cable is available in some areas of town. According to one local business owner, slow connectivity is negatively impacting economic development:
Kurt Karr, owner of Monkeytown an online business supplies store, is one of the community business leaders lobbying hard for an increase in high-speed broadband service.
Karr says slow Internet speeds available now can be frustrating. One part of his business is video design work for companies. He says a video file that takes workers an hour to upload now to clients from their computers might take only a couple of minutes in a larger urban area with much faster internet connections.
Mayor John Watson told local channel KCRG-TV9, that incumbents “simply aren’t interested” in making investment in Vinton to provide better connectivity for businesses or residents, so the city is exploring doing it for themselves.
When Vinton Municipal Electric Utility has completed the feasibility study and have estimates for deployment costs they can present to the community, they’ll determine the next step:
Tom Richtsmeier, manager at Vinton Municipal Electric Utility, says some estimates are it would cost $3,000 to $4,000 per home to install fiber optic cable.
“Once we get the pricing back we’ll see if they’re still interested in having that brought into their home,” Richtsmeier said.
Local coverage from KCRG-TV9:
Xmas and New Year's Eve are traditionally a time to get sentimental. We started getting sentimental about last year's poetic holiday masterpiece by Tom Ernste and Hannah Trostle and decided to share it again this year.
From all of us at the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we wish you a happy holiday season and a 2017 filled with great moments!
About 15 years ago, two small cities in western Oregon faced an all too common predicament for rural areas. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) told they would not see high-speed Internet access until 2020. Taking matters into their own hands, the cities of Independence and Monmouth decided to collaborate on a project to bring the latest technology to their communities.
Together they built a jointly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, known as MINET (Monmouth Independence Network). Today, the network supports economic development and agricultural innovations. This piece focuses on only one of the cities, Independence, in order to provide an in-depth look at the community impact of the network.
Affordable & Reliable Internet Service
At the time, FTTH was almost unheard of. Even today, the technology is available to only a quarter of the entire U.S. population. MINET offers affordable, reliable connectivity for the 18,000 residents of both communities. The network has a low-cost option available to everyone of 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $10 per month. Other Internet access speeds available are:
Download speed / upload speed
50 Mbps / 25 Mbps for $50
75 Mbps / 40 Mbps for $65
100 Mbps/ 50 Mbps for $80
Residents can also subscribe to triple-play bundles of Internet, voice, and video services.
Took Time to Develop
MINET has faced a difficult financial situation even though the network has brought many benefits and opportunities to the community.
The League of Oregon cities provided a quick case study of the network in 2011. In the late 1990’s, the two cities developed a feasibility study only looking to connect the governmental buildings and the businesses. After studying the potential for offering services to residents, the cities decided to divide the project into two phases. Phase I: build fiber loops. Phase II: build the last-mile to homes and business and offer retail services.
About a year ago, we reported that Rock Falls, Illinois, had decided to develop a fiber network to offer connectivity to local businesses. Now, the town of less than 10,000 is closer to expanding that network to offer Gigabit Internet access and voice to residents.
Considering Expanding Services
In September, community leaders began considering the expansion after consultants suggested investing in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) as the best way to make use of the city’s resources. They offered a “fiberhood” option so Rock Falls Electric Department could connect new subscribers incrementally; they suggest starting with business corridors where many commerical entities are already taking service. The fiberhood approach requires people in specific areas of the city to sign up first, then after a certain percentage of the households committ, construction begins.
Rock Falls began planting fiber and conduit in the 1990s and have connected the municipal electric utility substations, schools, and other municipal facilities. They have also leased out excess capacity to private providers who want to offer connectivity to commercial customers in prior years.
Funding - It's Complicated
The fiber backbone is already in place but a complete citywide FTTH system will cost approximately $13 million, estimate consultants. After consulting bonding professionals, city leaders discovered that they needed to consider a few issues before deciding how to proceed. SaukValley.com reported on the financing discussion:
“We need either a feasibility study or our most recent audit that includes revenues from the broadband business to show we can make our bond payments,” [City Administrator Robin] Blackert said. “But a new feasibility study would cost us between $60,000 and $80,000, and we have no past revenue history with the new utility.”
Super-fast, reliable, and affordable Internet access is coming to residents living in public housing in Wilson, North Carolina. Greenlight, Wilson’s municipal network, recently began providing 40 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $10 per month to public housing residents -- about a quarter of the service’s original cost. All services from Greenlight are symmetrical, so upload speeds are just as fast as download speeds.
“Because of this partnership, more students will be able to be online in their homes and more adults will be able to take advantage of online job training and application tools…In addition, the partnership connects more customers to the community network, thereby increasing the return on the community’s investment,” said Greenlight general manager Will Aycock.
Partners For Progress
A new partnership between the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Wilson’s Public Housing Authority enables residents to receive discounted Greenlight services. HUD Secretary Julian Castro visited Wilson in October to discuss the importance of Internet access, indicating it is becoming a higher priority for the Department:
"We know these days that the Internet is not a luxury; access to it is really a necessity in this 21st-century global economy. And we want to make sure every single child in our nation has access to it… Our goal is that every single public housing resident have access to the Internet."
Residents receive a router at no cost from the Housing Authority, which oversees public housing in Wilson. Greenlight, the community's municipal fiber network offers speeds from 40-100 Megabits per second (Mbps). As a service of the City of Wilson, Greenlight emphasizes its commitment to fair pricing and providing a quality product.
“One of Greenlight’s core principles is to enhance the quality of life for all residents, making high-speed internet available for everyone… It’s an important step in bridging the digital divide,” stated City Manager Grant Goings during the initial announcement event.
Low Income Programs Not Always This Good
This is the transcript for episode 232 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, General Manager Josh Byrnes of Osage Municipal Utilities joins the show to share how fiber connectivity has benefited the Iowa community. Listen to this episode here.
Josh Byrnes: Everything is live about it, you can lock in your commodity prices, all your inputs and all those things can be done. We've got to have connectivity, in rural Iowa.
Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 232 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute For Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In Osage, Iowa, the community's electric utility has served the town and some of the rural areas around it for about 125 years. Osage Municipal Utilities also offers natural gas services and invested in its own communication system in the early 2000s. They offer telephone, cable TV and Internet connectivity via their cable network. Clearly Osage is one of those rural communities that think about the future. In this interview Christopher speaks with Josh Byrnes, the general manager of Osage municipal utilities, who discusses their long term plans to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to the community. Josh who is also a former state representative spends some time discussing Iowa's approach to rural connectivity and its investment in the Iowa communications network. Now here's Chris talking with Josh Byrnes, general manager of the Osage municipal utilities and a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives.
Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell and today I'm speaking with Josh Byrnes, the general manager of Osage Municipal Utilities in Iowa. Welcome to the show.
Josh Byrnes: Thanks for having me Chris.
Chris Mitchell: I'm excited to talk to you, as I was saying in our pre-interview I actually have this memory and I'm excited to be reminded of the story that you'll be telling us in a few minutes about these cattle prices and an app, around how it's important to have Internet access out on farms near your community. Let's start with a little bit of background for people who aren't familiar with Osage. Where are you in Iowa? What's the community like?
Located in northwest Iowa, Osage has been an innovative utility leader with forward-looking investments in both telecommunications and clean energy with wind and solar. Osage Municipal Utilites General Manager Josh Byrnes joins us for Community Broadband Bits podcast 232. He is also in the midst of retiring after 3 terms in the Iowa Legislature.
Osage built a hybrid fiber coaxial cable network many years ago that they are considering upgrading to being fully fiber-optic following a lot of community support for next-generation connectivity and most importantly, greater reliability.
Josh and I also talk generally about the importance of connectivity in rural areas and how the state of Iowa has dealt with the need to improve access. We both agree that Iowa's approach thus far leaves much to be desired and we discuss the challenges that legislatures face in making these decisions.
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 Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.
Seattle hasn’t given up the possibility of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity for all.
The city has long struggled with how to improve Internet access for residents and businesses. They commissioned a feasibility study in 2015 to learn more about the cost and potential for a citywide broadband utility, but the hefty estimated cost - $480 million to $665 million - subdued the conversation. The City Council, however, is taking steps to ensure the city doesn’t lose site of the idea of Internet access as a utility.
Keeping The Dream Alive
Council Member Rob Johnson introduced an amendment to the Mayor’s Comprehensive Master Plan to keep the concept of ubiquitous high-quality connectivity in the city’s future. Johnson’s amendment, which passed at a September City Council meeting, added Municipal Broadband to the list of potential future discretionary projects in the Mayor’s Comprehensive Master Plan. The plan addresses the city’s long-term growth vision.
The fiscal analysis, or Green Sheet, puts the price tag at $303,000 in 2017 and $137,000 in 2018. The funding would cover the cost of a full-time staff person in the city’s IT department and the cost to develop a business plan for a city-owned municipal broadband utility. The funding did not make it into the final budget, but with municipal broadband in the Master Plan, a future budget may see the addition.
Sometimes speed is not the answer. Chattanooga boasts EPB Fiber, a municipal network that can handle speeds of up to 10 Gigabits (that’s 10,000 Megabits) per second. That, however, is not what won it recognition this week.
PC Mag named Chattanooga as the Best Gaming Internet Service Provider (ISP) of 2017 because of its quick, reliable performance. The network beat out both Verizon FiOs (#2) and Google Fiber (#3).
Latency and Jitter
To determine which ISP was best for gaming, PC Mag looked specifically at two technical measurements: latency and jitter. Latency is how long it takes for a packet to travel from the user to the server and back. Jitter measures how consistent the latency is in a connection. High latency makes games lag -- the last thing you want for an online multiplayer.
It’s unsurprising that the top ISPs on the list have Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks. Fiber has the best performance in latency and jitter compared to cable and DSL connections. Chattanooga’s network has the least latency and jitter.
More MuniNetworks on the List?
Several cities have built FTTH networks. Why weren’t more municipal networks on the list? PC Mag Senior editor Eric Griffith explained in the article:
For an ISP to be included, it had to have a minimum of 100 tests with that tool in that time frame.
So yes, it is possible your own personal super-amazing Gigabit-capable uber-ISP didn't make the cut here—it's because we don't have enough tests from them to include and maintain any statistical validity. That said, share in the comments if you've got an ISP with not just great speeds but what you have determined to be killer quality when it comes to online gaming.”
If you want your network to be included on the list next year, encourage people in your community to take PC Mag's Speed Test. Until then, Chattanooga is the reigning champion.
On November 27th, the Chattanooga area was pelted with rough storms. According to the city's Electric Power Board (EPB) spokesman John Pless, the utility smart-grid kept the lights on for 90 percent of the city’s electricity users who would have otherwise experienced an outage. A smart-grid detects where damage occurs and allows the network to self-heal when possible, often in seconds and undetected by electricity users.
"Smart grid automation either prevented or automatically restored more than 23,000 customer outages, with almost 2,100 customers experiencing outages of greater than five minutes," Pless said.
In addition to the security of maintaining electric service during severe weather, businesses lose productivity when the power goes out. By 2014, EPB officials estimated the technology had saved local businesses approximately $50 million in two years; it had reduced outages by 60 percent. Since then, they have worked with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to get maximum efficiency from the EPB smart-grid.
Harold DePriest, retired President and CEO of EPB, spoke with Christopher recently in episode #230 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. During the conversation, Harold talked about how the smart-grid has positively impacted the community: