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Sun Prairie Utilities' Pilot Project Shows Way to Better Connectivity
Welcome back to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. This town has brought to light the shocking stories of slack service from incumbent providers, the complicated decisions of community representatives, and the hopeful beginning of a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.
The City Council has just approved $16,000 to hire an engineering consultant for the estimated $27-35 million citywide plan.
In the Pilot Project, So Much Demand!
In July 2015, City Council approved the $624,000 plan for the pilot project, but several factors brought the actual cost up to about $653,000. The pilot project area included the neighborhood Smith's Crossing, the Main Street Corridor, and the TIF District 9 area.
Sun Prairie Utilities first slated the project for completion in early December, but that underwent several delays. For instance, an over-booked contractor started on the project a month later than expected. Meanwhile, rocky soil conditions and high-demand slowed the pace of construction while raising costs. The Sun Prairie Utilities Manager Rick Wicklund will present the final costs for the pilot project this month.
The original budget had assumed a 30 percent take-rate that would see a positive cash flow in three years. In actuality, 54 percent of households in the pilot project area are requesting the services.
Forty-three percent have requested the 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.98 each month while 11 percent want the higher-speed service of 250 Mbps for $69.98 each month. The capital expenditure of these unexpected last mile connections brought the cost up, but the extra revenue from these connections will certainly help offset those costs.
Pilot Project Teaches Lessons
Sweet Sixteen: Waverly Utilities Hooks Up First Fiber Customers
This week in Waverly, Iowa, the local electric utility, Waverly Utilities, hooked up the first customers for its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. It’s been a long time coming for the town of 10,000 people.
16 Years Ago: A Vision
The community first had the idea back in 2000 when they voted to form a municipal telecommunications utility after incumbent providers proved a letdown. Reacting to the vote, those incumbent providers improved their networks a bit, so Waverly Utilities decided to hold off on building a fiber network.
In 2013, residents and businesses found that the incumbent providers were again not providing necessary connectivity. Taking matters into their own hands, they pushed to create a new, publicly owned network. By 2015, the community had secured revenue bonds for the $12 million project.
Today: A Reality
Waverly Utilities already has 1,100 customers signed up to receive the service, and more homes and businesses will be connected over the next three months. By July 1st, Waverly Utilities’ network will be fully operational, delivering the next-generation connectivity that residents have long been waiting for.
For more about Waverly's project, take a few minutes to listen to Chris interview Mike Litterer, who was serving as Interim General Manager of Waverly Light and Power in 2013. He talked with Chris during Episode #53 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
There's "MAGIC" In Westminster
It was just last year when the City Council in Westminster, Maryland voted to begin a partnership with private ISP company Ting Internet. Ting now delivers high quality Internet access via the citywide, publicly owned fiber network.
A new collaborative initiative, facilitated in part by the still expanding Westminster Fiber Network, is bringing new cultural opportunities and economic benefits to city residents. “Tech Incubation” aims to give local students hands-on experience exploring their interests in technology.
Incubating Talent, Innovation
For the first project within the Tech Incubation initiative, 15 students from local high schools spent several weeks learning to create and operate an actual temporary wireless network. The city then used the network for its annual Celtic Canter and Downtown Irish Celebration in March, providing attendees of the celebration with unprecedented levels of bandwidth and broadband speeds.
The Tech Incubation Initiative is the product of a collaboration between the City of Westminster, the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC), Ting Internet, and the Westminster-based company Freedom Broadband. Freedom Broadband supervised the project and provided the wireless equipment necessary to build the network; Ting and the City of Westminster provided the necessary Gigabit backhaul over the Westminster Fiber Network.
More Opportunities Ahead
This project is the first in a series of planned, ongoing projects to teach students technology skills and encourage a culture of innovation. MAGIC is developing the Tech Incubation program in response to requests by students in Westminster for more opportunities to learn about technology.
Westminster’s City Council President Dr. Robert Wack described the value of the Tech Incubation initiative to community:
OECD Study on Munis Digs Deep, Discovers Dividends
A recent large-scale cross-national study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) offers strong evidence that municipal broadband networks provide numerous benefits for communities around the world. Among the study’s major findings include evidence that municipal networks contribute to efforts aimed at improving local economic development, stimulating business productivity and innovation, and enhancing people’s quality of life.
The study's analysis of European nations is of special interest to us as European municipal networks are the only international municipal networks in the study that closely resemble U.S. municipal networks. In particular, the findings from the study’s central econometric analysis of Swedish municipal networks have direct implications for our understanding of the impact of municipal networks in the United States.
Findings from Econometric Analysis of Sweden
As the researchers note, extensive municipal broadband development across Sweden has contributed to a remarkably high level of nationwide fiber penetration, putting the country far ahead of the US in global rankings. The researchers report a series of features and benefits of Sweden’s widespread fiber penetration and aggressive municipal broadband efforts, including:
Increased rates of employment (with even greater employment increases in highly urbanized municipalities), increased business creation, and reduced car usage (also greater in the most urban cities) as fiber networks make it easier to telecommute to work and to shop for goods and services online.
Holland, Michigan Pilot Project Could Lead to More
A pilot project in the City of Holland, Michigan is now delivering gigabit speed Internet service via a dark fiber network built by the city more than two decades ago; three commercial buildings are connected. The project, led by the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW), is the first phase in an effort to develop a municipally owned and operated fiber network.
Holland is home to about 33,500 people and situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. The community is known for its roots in Dutch culture and is a popular summer tourist destination. Windmills and tulips dot the landscape.
Daniel Morrison, the president of a software company in Holland and a member of a local public interest group called Holland Fiber, recognizes that businesses need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity:
“Our whole business is online,” he told the Holland Sentinel newspaper. “We’re working with clients all over the world and we want to be able to work as quickly as possible.”
Morrison’s company is a pilot tester. After the testing program began in January, Morrison Tweeted out a screen grab showing his Internet speeds:
Pretty darn fast.
Toward a Municipal Network?
Pilot testing is set to last for three months to allow Holland’s Board of Public Works (BPW) to test out network technologies and solicit feedback from testers. All of the pilot testers are getting free fiber Internet service during the testing period.
Holland's BPW plans to apply their findings from the test toward a business plan for a municipal network for the entire service area. They will also use the business plan to support an application to the State of Michigan to become an authorized Internet Service Provider. BPW officials expect state regulators to respond to their application by the fall of 2016.
History of Holland’s Fiber Network
Santa Monica's Muni To Help Bridge The Digital Divide
Earlier this month, the Santa Monica City Council met to approve rates for the city's Digital Inclusion Pilot Program. The program is already in place, bringing free Gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet access to computers in community rooms in ten affordable housing complexes. The March 1st vote expands the program to offer residents the opportunity to sign up for services in their homes.
According to the Santa Monica Mirror, official monthly rates are set at $69 for 1 Gbps and $360 for 10 Gbps. People receiving Public Assistance will be able to obtain a discount to lower the rates to $48 and $252 per month respectively. An additional FCC Lifeline subsidy for those who qualify will lower the cost further to $38.25 per month for 1 Gbps Internet access. Download and upload speeds are the same.
Staff at the city established the rates for the pilot after studying rates in other markets where Gigabit access is available including Chattanooga, Lafayette, and Google Fiber. In order to support adoption in lower income households, city staff analyzed discounts that typically apply for other utilities and suggested a 30 percent discount for those actively participating in those programs. This approach does not exclude the elderly or households without school age children, one of the criticisms of Comcast's Internet Essentials. The staff report is available at the city website.
The Council approved a resolution, which also included construction funding of $175,000 for the project.
“In a global economy, any competitive edge we can offer our community is a worthy venture,” Gary Carter, Santa Monica City’s Community Broadband Manager told The Mirror.
“Santa Monica is uniquely positioned to collaboratively innovate as a community to fully leverage the technology of a cutting edge fiber optic network.”
Long Time Coming
Chattanooga's EPB Sparks Local Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Chattanooga's EPB Fiber Optics continues to stand out as a model for the municipal broadband movement, demonstrating the extraordinary impact that fast, affordable, reliable Internet access can have on economic development efforts.
Now, a new research report from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation highlights the network’s vital role in kick starting the development of what has become a thriving “entrepreneurial ecosystem” in this city of about 174,000.
Collaboration, Public Private Partnerships
The report, titled "Little Town, Layered Ecosystem: A Case Study of Chattanooga," credits the EPB network as the “spark” for an explosion of economic development since the network's launch in 2010. As the article notes, the EPB estimates that since the launch, Chattanooga has seen an influx of ninety-one new companies with approximately $50 million in venture capital contributions from six firms.
According to the report, the network has also encouraged an entrepreneurial climate in this city that had a “long history of collaboration and public-private partnerships” even prior to the network launch. The report cites examples of the city's collaborative spirit in several non-profit entities, city officials, local anchor companies and universities, and the city’s recently opened Innovation District.
Yasuyuki Motoyama, director of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation and one of the paper's authors, explains the lessons that other cities might take away from Chattanooga’s example:
"Chattanooga organized and mobilized its assets to orient itself to entrepreneurial initiatives. This demonstrates what a small-size city can do when factions from different sectors focus on a common goal and collaborate to achieve that goal. This case of Chattanooga provides lessons for other cities to leverage their own unique assets and to create equally successful ecosystems."
TN and NC vs. FCC: Oral Arguments Scheduled for Thursday, March 17th
This Thursday, March 17th, attorneys for the FCC and the states of Tennessee and North Carolina will present arguments to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on a case that could define parameters for publicly owned Internet networks. The proceedings begin at 9 a.m. eastern. Each side has 15 minutes to present.
As we reported a year ago, the FCC ruled that state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina limiting expansion of publicly own networks are too restrictive and threaten the U.S. goal of expanding ubiquitous access. The FCC overruled the harmful state laws but soon after, both states filed appeals.
The cases were consolidated in the Sixth Circuit and a number of organizations, including ILSR, offered Amicus briefs. We have collected all the briefs and made them available for you here. As most of our readers will recall, the case focused on Chattanooga and Wilson, two communities that know the many benefits of publicly owned networks.
So, when you raise your glass of green beer on Thursday to celebrate St. Paddy's, send some luck to our friends in Wilson, Chattanooga, and the FCC!
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.
The FCC's Pro-Competition Agenda - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 192
This week we welcome Gigi Sohn, Counselor to Chairman Wheeler of the Federal Communications Commission, to Community Broadband Bits for episode 192. Before joining the FCC, Gigi was a founder of Public Knowledge. Gigi discusses the pro-competition agenda that Chairman Wheeler has advanced, including the efforts to ensure communities can decide locally whether to build a municipal network or partner.
We also discuss other elements of FCC action to encourage competition in the Internet access market, even how television set-top boxes fit in. Echoing some of the comments I regularly hear from some thoughtful listeners, I asked if competition was the best approach given the argument that telecom, and particularly fiber, has the characteristics of a natural monopoly.
This show is 15 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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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 Kathleen Martin for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Player vs. Player."