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Doing a Thoreau Job on Broadband - Concord, MA
Concord, Massachusetts, has a strong literary history with famous authors like Thoreau, Emerson, and the Alcott sisters, but all puns aside, the town also has a long-standing community broadband network, Concord Light Broadband.
Years ago, the community voted to build its own network from their electric utility, and they have just now transitioned to high-speed fiber optics.
From Electric to Broadband
Concord is one of only forty Massachusetts municipalities with an electric utility and in the early 2000s, their electric thermal storage system needed an overhaul. The technology, based on the phone system’s network, was becoming obsolete. The electric utility chose to overbuild the existing system with fiber optics in order to create a smart-grid to automatically read electric meters. Concord recognized the opportunity presented by a fiber network backbone spread throughout town.
It only made sense to look at broadband options; the only thing left to do was to build out the last-mile, the section of network that connects to the home or business. They estimated the cost for the smart-grid and last-mile to be $4 million and would finance it through municipal bonds.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy of Big Incumbent Cable Companies
Large incumbent cable companies had not served the community well and the people wanted better connectivity. Massachusetts’ state law requires a town to vote at two consecutive town meetings to establish the authority to build a broadband network through the electric utility, commonly referred to as Municipal Light Plant or MLP. The MLP is the town department responsible for the transmission and supply of electricity to the residents and businesses in the town. As communities have started to develop their own municipal Internet networks, the MLPs have also taken on a similar role with regard to connectivity. After establishment of an MLP is approved, then the community votes again on funding for the initiative.
In 2003, the people of Concord began considering what they could accomplish with a municipal network, and they held the first vote at the Annual Town Meeting. The resolution passed by a 2/3rds majority vote. The second Annual Town Meeting was scheduled for April 2004.
Lake Oswego Seeks Out Expert Advice: Video
Lake Oswego, Oregon, was pegged as a potential target for Google Fiber in 2014 but this town of 35,000 may not wait for the tech giant to bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. They may just do it themselves.
In order to get more information about municipal fiber networks, our Chris Mitchell visited during an October City Council meeting at the request of community leaders. The Lake Oswego Review covered the meeting.
According to the Review, the northwest community issued an RFP in June and received two responses. City leaders are still pondering the responses and feelings are mixed over whether or not to make the investment.
City Manager Scott Lazenby told the Council:
Just getting this network would put Lake Oswego on the map…I think increasing that level of service, especially for the demographics we have here — highly educated, many tech-oriented folks in our community — that would be a real service to make available.
Chris pointed out that the area is ripe with a number of high-tech companies and other entities that will find a fiber network attractive. “Not everyone has that regional connectivity that you have here,” he told the Council.
He also asked them to consider all the long term possibilities if Google does eventually enter into the market in Lake Oswego:
“When I think about relying on Google, if Google decides to get out of this business, the community has no say about who takes it over,” he said.
After discussion, the Council voted to negotiate an agreement with one of the RFP respondents for further review, contingent on a market study.
To view Chris's entire presentation to the Lake Oswego City Council, watch the video below:
Ting! Holly Springs, NC to Get a Gig
While Google Fiber and AT&T focus on the large cities of the Research Triangle of North Carolina, the small town of Holly Springs is pursuing a third option.
Holly Springs will be the third town to see Ting’s “crazy fast fiber Internet.” After a successful foray into the U.S. mobile service market, the Toronto-based company Ting has started to provide Internet service by partnering with local governments. Ting will offer 1 Gbps in Holly Springs by building on the town’s $1.5 million municipal fiber network.
Muni network restricted by state law
Holly Springs, with a population of almost 30,000, has worked hard to improve its connectivity. In mid-2014, they completed a 13-mile fiber Institutional network (often called an “I-Net”) to connect the municipal buildings and other public institutions, such as schools and hospitals.
Unfortunately, when business and residents wanted to connect to the network, a North Carolina state law prevented the town from providing Internet services directly. As it became obvious that Google Fiber would not pass through the town, leaders worked with a consulting company to try to draw in a private Internet service provider (ISP).
Ting! Innovative Partnerships
The locked-up potential of that fiber helped attract Ting. The municipal network's unused fiber will function as a backbone for Ting to deploy its own last-mile infrastructure, which will provide connectivity directly to homes and businesses.
Grand Junction Asks "Fiber? Where?"
While other communities in Colorado are just starting to reclaim local control over their broadband futures, the city of Grand Junction has moved forward. In April, the people overwhelmingly overturned SB 152 – the state law that prohibited them from pursuing the best broadband solution for their community. Now Grand Junction is investigating its options.
The city council and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) are in the process of hiring a consulting firm to develop a broadband strategic plan for the city of 60,000 and seat of Mesa County. One of the main tasks is to determine where to locate the fiber backbone of the proposed municipal network.
Where Will the Fiber Go?
In September, months after the vote, the city agreed to enter into a contract with the consulting firm. The city will pay for the majority of the cost – up to $83,000. According to DDA meeting minutes from September, the Authority will pitch in up to $16,000 [pdf].
The study will take two or three months and will look specifically at the pros and cons of a fiber backbone deployment through downtown Grand Junction. The downtown area houses many banks and businesses, as well as both city and county government buildings. Fiber would provide much needed high-speed connectivity for those facilities, reports the Daily Sentinel. Available office space, ideal real estate for tech firms, is also plentiful in downtown Grand Junction.
After the consultants complete the study, the city may choose to issue bids for Requests For Proposals (RFPs) from contractors interested in constructing the network. The DDA has a $1 million line of credit backed by the city and will take responsibility for the cost of installing fiber in the downtown area.
SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown, USA
Many of the most beautiful communities in the United States are in remote areas where incumbent cable and telephone companies have decided not to offer modern, high-quality Internet connectivity. Sandy, Oregon, is one of them. Some 10,000 people live there among the lush green forests and beautiful vistas of the “Gateway to Mount Hood,” 25 miles east of Portland. But Sandy decided to build its own gigabit fiber optic system and now has one of the most advanced, affordable networks in the nation.
A new report by The Institute for Local Self-Reliance details the rise of SandyNet, Sandy's publicly owned high-speed Internet service. "SandyNet Goes Gig: A Model for Anytown USA" charts the growth of this community network.
Sandy, Oregon joined nearly 100 other local governments that have municipal fiber-to-the-home networks to give residents and businesses access to world-class Internet connections. However, the overwhelming majority of municipal fiber networks were built by local governments that already owned their local electrical grids. As Sandy does not have a municipal electric utility, it pioneered a low-risk incremental strategy to build its telecommunications utility, SandyNet.
Maine Model for Muni Fiber - Dark and Open - Community Broadband Bits Episode 176
An interesting confluence in events in Maine have resulted in what some are calling the "Maine model" of fiber optic networks that are available to multiple Internet Service Providers to encourage competition and high quality services. The CEO of GWI, Fletcher Kittredge, joins us this week to explain this model and where it is currently being implemented. GWI is a local firm, rooted in Maine and focused on delivering high quality services with great customer support.
It is working with Rockport (which we wrote about here and podcasted on here) and Islesboro (podcast here) as well as others. Fletcher starts by telling us more about Maine's Three Ring Binder network and then goes on describe the dark fiber model, benefits of that approach, and how he thinks about public vs private ownership of the open access physical assets.
Note: This podcast was posted a day late due to the very poor Internet connectivity at a retreat center in Minnesota. Thanks CenturyLink for a reminder why communities cannot rely on the national carriers to invest in modern infrastructure.
This show is 22 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 Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."
Baltimore City Council Ponders Options for Moving Muni Fiber Forward
Baltimore's City Council has decided it's time to move forward with a plan for city-owned fiber and they are putting pen to paper to get the ball rolling.
Since 2010, we have covered Baltimore's efforts to improve connectivity for businesses and residents. For a time, they expected FiOs from Verizon but when the provider announced it would not be expanding its network, Baltimore began to explore a Plan B.
Plan B included a publicly owned option, possibly making use of fiber assets already had in place. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has supported taking steps to improve connectivity for Baltimore's economy, education, and general livability. A crowd funding initiative from the Baltimore Broadband Coalition has raised over $20,000 and the community has commissioned several studies. Baltimore even has a city broadband czar.
City Leaders Push On
Members of the City Council have recently renewed the call to action. Council Member Mary Pat Clarke introduced a resolution in September calling on the city to quickly develop a broadband plan. The resolution calls for fiber to all homes, businesses, and institutions in Baltimore in order to bring better connectivity to low-income households, improve economic development, and improve options for anchor institutions.
The resolution has been referred to the Departments of Planning, Transportation, Public Works, Finance, City Public School System, and is now in the Mayor's Office of Information Technology.
Westminster Inspires Immediate Action
In New England, Greenfield Votes For a Municipal Network Too
It wasn’t just Colorado cities and counties along with Iowa communities voting this week. Back east, Greenfield, Massachusetts also rushed to the polls to support local Internet choice.
Greenfield is planning to use a combination of fiber and Wi-Fi to deliver services - an approach that has had limited success in the past due to the technical limitations of Wi-Fi.
At Tuesday’s Annual Meeting, residents voted on the future of high-speed Internet access in the town. The referendum, the first step in creating a municipal broadband network, saw a landslide victory.
The people gave a resounding message that they wanted to pursue a network: 3,287 people voted in favor; only 696 were opposed. According to the local paper the Recorder, this nonbinding ballot referendum allows the town to create a nonprofit to run the municipal broadband network.
Currently there is a pilot program on two streets – giving residents a taste of community-owned high-speed Internet. This pilot program started in mid-October and provides free Wi-Fi on Main and High Streets. If voters had rejected the ballot referendum, the town would have ended the pilot program and only created an institutional network for the municipal and school buildings. Now, with the referendum passed, they can implement the plan for high-speed Internet access.
The Plan for Broadband
Decorah and Vinton Voters Choose Munis for Better Connectivity in the Corn Belt
Colorado may have been the epicenter of local authority disruption this election cycle but two Iowa elections were also worth exploring.
Decorah Chooses Muni Authority
In Decorah, the community of 8,000 received awards for its innovative use of the city's dark fiber network, MetroNet. A community led effort, Decorah FastFiber, convinced community leaders to ask voters if they want to expand the use of that fiber. Voters decided 1,289 to 95 to give the city the authority to establish a municipal telecommunications network.
Decorah's ballot question specifically asked if that authority should extend to video, voice, telephone, data, and all other forms of telecommunications and cable communications, reports the News. A second ballot question, which passed with similar results, asked voters to authorize the city to establish a Board of Trustees for the utility.
Vinton Trusts Its Electric Utility
Vinton, home to approximately 5,200 people, voted overwhelmingly to form a telecommunication utility. The community, located northwest of Cedar Rapids, voted 792 to 104 to put the community's municipal electric utility in charge of the initiative. This matter had been voted on twice previously - in both cases the community had voted against the proposition.
A comparatively large number of communities in Iowa have invested in their own Internet networks but Mediacom and other providers like CenturyLink have fought hard to prevent municipalities from passing the necessary referendum to build a network. This year, we had no reports of opposition from incumbent operators, a remarkable change that frankly leaves us puzzled but hopeful nonetheless.
Congrats to both Decorah and Vinton for reclaiming digital self-determiniation. We don't know if either one has immediate plans to build a network or what model they may use but now they have full authority to explore all options.
Chattanooga Crushes It - Marketing, Technology, and Nearby Communities - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 175
Chattanooga returns to the Community Broadband Bits podcast this week in episode 175 to talk about their 10 Gbps upgrade, the fibervention campaign, TN4Fiber, and having surpassed 75,000 subscribers. For so much content, we have three guests joining us from Chattanooga's Electric Power Board (the EPB in EPB Fiber): Danna Bailey is the VP of Corporate Communications, Beth Johnson is the Marketing Manager, and Colman Keane is the Director of Fiber Technology.
Danna gives some background on what they are doing in Chattanooga and how excited people in nearby communities are for Chattanooga to bring local Internet choice to SE Tennessee if the state would stop protecting the AT&T, Comcast, and Charter monopolies from competition. Beth tells us about the Fibervention campaign and how excited people are once they experience the full fiber optic experience powered by a locally-based provider. And finally, Colman talks tech with us regarding the 10 Gbps platform, branded NextNet. We tried to get a bit more technical for the folks that are very curious about these cutting edge technologies on a passive optical network.
Read the transcript from episode 175 here. We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. This show is 25 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. You can can downlhttp://muninetworks.org/sites/www.muninetworks.org/files/audio/comm-bb-bits-podcast175-danna-bailey-colman-keane-beth-johnson-epb.mp3oad this Mp3 file directly from here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."