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Opportunities and Challenges as Lafayette Considers Muni Fiber Expansion - Community Broadband Bits Episode 144
After we heard that Lafayette's LUS Fiber was considering expanding to some nearby communities, we knew we had to set up an interview with Terry Huval, Director of the Lafayette Utilities System in Louisiana. In our interview this week, Terry and I discuss Lafayette's success, the legacy of the law creating special barriers that only apply to cities building fiber networks, and the challenges of expanding LUS Fiber beyond the boundaries of the city.
We also discuss some plans they are developing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the referendum on July 16, 2005, in which a strong majority of voters authorized the building of what was then the largest municipal FTTH network in the nation. Despite its success, Lafayette has been targeted by cable and telephone shills that are willing to say just about anything to defend the big corporate monopolies. We addressed these attacks in this Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies report.
This show is 28 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 Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."
Bar Harbor, Maine, Studies Muni Fiber to Replace Time Warner Cable Franchise
For the past several months, Maine communities have been a hotbed of broadband activity. Bar Harbor, located midway along the state's Atlantic coast, is another community looking at fiber as a necessary investment.
According to a February article in the Mount Desert Islander, the town of 5,200 has decided to move forward with a feasibility study. The town received Internet access at no additional cost as part of its previous franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable. That agreement expired about a year ago and, as we have seen in other communities, the cable giant now appears to be holding out in order to charge for the same service. From the article:
“The guidance that we’ve received from the lawyers helping us … is that the cable company really doesn’t want to give us anything, and may in fact want to start charging us for the fiber network that we get today as part of that franchise agreement,” said Brian Booher. He is a member of the communications technology task force, which has studied the issue of broadband availability in Bar Harbor.
A similar situation in Martin County, Florida, inspired that community to build its own network. It is now saving millions, with no need to contend with typical Time Warner Cable hassles, price hikes, and poor service. Read more in our case study on Martin County [PDF].
Bar Harbor seems to be adopting the same attitude as the rest of the state. They see that economic development success rests on connectivity and that entities like Time Warner Cable are not in business to boost local economic development. Booher went on:
“If the only way to get there is to do it ourselves, that’s the Maine mentality right there. So, my attitude is, let’s look at this and see what it would take.”
Hudson Developing Plans for Muni Fiber Open Access Network in Ohio
Hudson is moving ahead with plans to develop a publicly owned fiber network, reports the Hub Times. The City Council recently approved a contract with a consultant to develop a conceptual design, implement the plan, and recruit service providers interested in operating over an open access network.
In January, the town of about 23,000 conducted a residential and business survey to determine the overall state of broadband in the community. At a February meeting, the Council reviewed the survey results. Almost 1,000 residents and 133 businesses answered the survey which revealed that Internet services were lacking in coverage, speed, performance, and reliability. From a February Hub Times article:
Hudson's small and medium business community reported many issues with their current broadband services, citing poor reliability and performance as negatively affecting their ability to do business in the city. Many businesses wanted to upgrade to a better service but found that they could not afford to do so.
Consultants recommend building off the community's fiber I-Net to improve connectivity for local businesses. According to the city's Broadband Needs Assessment and Business Plan, Hudson will also consider offering services as a retail provider if no ISPs express interest in using an open access city infrastructure.
If the city decides to pursue the open access model, consultants estimate Hudson will need to spend approximately $4.9 million to four commercial areas of town. With the added expenses and responsibilities as a retail provider, the costs would likely run closer to $6.5 million. The plan suggests deploying to businesses first and later add a residential buildout.
Lafayette Considers Expansion, One Nearby Town Strikes Itself From List
We have long applauded communities that have built their own fiber networks and then elect to expand them to neighboring communities. In Louisiana for example, Lafayette could hoard its network, forcing people that want the best connectivity in the region to move within its borders. But instead, it is preparing to expand the network.
City-Parish President Joey Durel announced that the municipal network would begin expanding beyond Lafayette city limits. An article in The Advocate quoted Durel:
“As I have traveled this parish, one of the most common things I am asked is, ‘When will we get fiber?’ That answer depended in large part on making fiber successful in Lafayette. We’re there,” Durel told the crowd that filled the Cajundome Convention Center.
Durel noted that municipalities that make agreements with Lafayette based on future annexation will be considered if they are willing to pay for the cost of expansion in their communities. Youngsville is reported to be the first town be consider Lafayette's proposal for bringing better local residential and business connectivity.
Any expansion of municipal networks has to answer some of the same important questions of any partnerships - how to allocate risk and benefits. It doesn't seem appropriate for Lafayette to assume the full risk of expanding the network to Youngsville, for example. Those who receive the benefits should assume some risk, and those who assume risk should be compensated in some measure.
One community, Broussard, is balking. Apparently, the town of 6,800 people located just outside Lafayette city limits does not want to contribute to the cost of fiber in their community, reports The Advocate. Understanding these fights from afar is always challenging because neighboring communities have often developed animosity over decades from both real and imagined slights.
Broussard has taken a hard line:
Fiber Forum in Yellow Springs Will Share Info on Munis With Ohio Community
Join Chris and several other experts on municipal networks on April 25th as they address a crowd in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Yellow-Springs.Net, a group of residents who have rallied together to organize a movement to explore broadband as a utility in their community, will host the Fiber Forum. The event is titled "Building a Municipal Fiber Network in Yellow Springs." Chris will be joining via Skype for his presentation.
The forum will provide community members with insights on the advantages of having a municipal broadband network that would translate into high-speed, affordable Internet access in Yellow Springs. Springs-Net posits that, by optimizing Internet access with fiber, the Village would address strategic, economic, communication and municipal service goals.
Yellow Springs, a member of Next Century Cities, has put dig once policies in place and hopes to make use of its electric utility and a local data center to facilitate a fiber network deployment. In addition to bringing fiber to each premise in the village, community leaders hope to use the network for smart grid technology and to bring Wi-Fi to the downtown area.
The Forum is free to the public and speakers will present from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Other speakers include:
- Deb Socia - Next Century Cities
- Dana McDaniel - Dublin, OH (Dubnet)
- Jeremy Pietzold - City of Sandy, Oregon
A roundtable lunch is scheduled for noon. Register online at the Fiber Forum website.
Small Illinois Town Will Vote On Fiber Investment in April
The Village of Gilberts, Illinois, will ask voters in April to authorize up to $5 million in General Obligation bonds to deploy a FTTH network reports the Daily Herald. GO bonds are rarely used for network deployment but often used for public works projects and other publicly owned assets. Due to the funding mechanism in Gilberts, the network would be publicly owned.
"It's something that is not readily available in other communities," Village Administrator Ray Keller said. "It would set us apart and put us on a path to better meet the needs of our residents and businesses as their demands and needs for technology grows."
The community, home to 6,800 people, has experienced rapid population growth since 2000. At that time only 1,200 people lived in this northeast Kane County village.
According to the article and January Board of Trustee minutes [PDF online], the bond issue would increase property taxes 1.8 percent on most tax bills. Properties with a market value of $250,000, which is most common in Gilberts, would pay an additional $150 per year or $12.50 per month to fund the infrastructure deployment. There are approximately 2,400 taxable properties in Gilbert today but as more properties are built, each property owner's share would decrease.
This is the second time the village has planned for a fiber network to improve connectivity throughout the community. In 2013, Gilberts entered into an agreement with i3, a British company that eventually folded, to deploy fiber using sewers as conduit. In that plan, i3 would have owned the fiber network.
Developer Troy Mertz is spearheading the project. His company is investing in a new housing development that will eventually include an additional 985 new homes. As part of that development and independent of the municipal fiber project, Mertz is installing fiber to each structure at his own expense. His company, iFiber Networks will also run fiber to nearby municipal and public safety buildings and the Gilberts Elementary School. According to the Daily Herald, iFiber is not charging the city for bringing fiber to its facilities or the school.
Missouri Anti-Muni Bill Advances Out of Committee
The Missouri Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee voted to pass anti-local choice SB 266 on March 18th. This bill, sponsored by Senator Kurt Schaefer, will increase barriers for municipal networks and damage the possibility of highly-effective partnerships with the private sector. Call your Missouri State Senator and let them know you consider this bill anti-competitive, hostile to local interests, and that you will remember their vote at the next election.
The bill was discussed in the same committee earlier this month when a number of private tech firms, industry associations, and utilities groups wrote to members to express their concern with the bill. A dozen entities, including Google, NATOA, and APPA wrote that the provisions in the bill would prevent public private partnerships that improve connectivity at the local level. [See a PDF of the letter here.]
At the time, the committee chose not to vote. Rather than listen to experts, however, they postponed the decision and voted to pass the bill on Wednesday. The only amendment was a provision excluding Kansas City, Springfield, and St. Louis.
The exceptions will help Google and SpringNet but other communities will be shackled. The legislation states that its goal is to encourage innovation but the result is just the opposite by discouraging investment through intimidation.
Columbia is watching the course of this legislation with particular interest. As we reported last fall, the city is considering expanding use of its current fiber resources to spur economic development. This bill could derail their plans and keep Columbia's population limping along with CenturyLink's dismal DSL. Mid-Missouri Public Radio reported on the bill in February:
Waverly: The Next Gigabit Community in Iowa
Remember Waverly, Iowa? We introduced you to the town of 10,000 back in 2013 when they revived the community choice to develop a telecommunications utility. Recently in February, the Waverly Light and Power Board of Trustees approved a long awaited gigabit project reported American Public Power.
According to a WLP press release, the $12 million project will be financed with revenue bonds which have already been secured. As we note in our Financing Municipal Networks fact sheet [PDF], this is one of the most common ways of funding deployment. Revenue from subscribers pays the private investors that buy the bonds used to finance the deployment.
Construction is scheduled to begin in May and WLP expects to begin serving customers in 2016. WLP serves approximately 4,800 customers in town and in the rural areas around Waverly. Early plans include incentives for early sign-ups such as a free first month of service and a reduced installation fee. The fiber network will also be used for smart metering.
From the WLP press release:
“It may have taken 15 years of planning and hard work to finally come together, but knowing what’s to come, it’s worth the wait,” explains Ael Suhr, Waverly Light and Power Chairman of the Board. “This approval opens the door for new alternatives for high-speed internet, cable and phone services in Waverly for both residents and businesses.”
FCC Opinion and Order Striking Down Local Authority Limits in TN and NC: Highlights
The FCC has found that it has the authority to remove aspects of Tennessee and North Carolina law that limit local authority to build or expand Internet networks. In short, states seem to retain the authority to restrict municipalities from offering service at all. However, if states allow local governments to offer services, then the FCC has the power to determine whether any limitations on how they do it are a barrier to the deployment of advanced telecommunications services per its authority in section 706 of the Telecommunications Act.
The FCC has removed a restriction in Tennessee law that prevented municipalities with fiber networks from expanding to serve their neighbors, per a petition from Chattanooga.
In North Carolina, the FCC has removed multiple aspects of a 2011 law, HB 129, that effectively outlawed municipal networks by presenting local governments with a thicket of red tape, including territorial restrictions on existing networks. The city of Wilson had petitioned the FCC for this intervention.
Listen to our podcast with Jim Baller about this decision.
See the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Press Release on the Opinion and Order for more. If you don't want to read the full order, we pulled out some key paragraphs and sorted them for your benefit!
Key Paragraphs in the FCC Decision
We selected some of the most important passages with references to the original Memorandum Opinion and Order. Look for these passages as you read the original FCC doc [PDF].
Communities Around Chattanooga and Wilson Need Better Connectivity:
43. Numerous commenters favor preemption because they wish to obtain service from EPB or Wilson but are unable to do so, and the maps and data discussed above illustrate that communities surrounding EPB’s and Wilson’s current areas of broadband service have far fewer choices for advanced telecommunications capability than the national average. This suggests that further expansion could generate improved levels of investment and competition in these locations. (pp 23-24)
Mount Vernon Mayor: Local Authority Has Been Good For Our City
As the time approached for FCC Commissioners to choose to allow Wilson and Chattanooga to serve surrounding communities, leaders from municipalities with publicly owned networks shared their experiences. Jill Boudreau, Mayor of Mount Vernon, Washington, published her community's experience with their muni in GoSkagit.com.
As in the recent testimonial from Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller, Mayor Boudreau described how Mount Vernon's network has created a quality of life where high-tech has enhanced local medicine, encouraged new businesses, and created and environment rich with competition.
Mount Vernon's open access network provides infrastructure for nine service providers. Some of these providers offer services only to businesses, while others also serve government, retail providers, and specific industries such as the medical community. Hundreds of public and private customers receive fast, affordable, reliable connectivity through these providers and the city's publicly owned network.
We first introduced you to Mount Vernon in 2013. The community began deployment in 1995 and have added incrementally to the network to serve nearby Burlington and the Port of Skagit. Government facilities, schools, hospitals, and businesses save millions while utilizing top-notch technology. Businesses have relocated to the area to take advantage of the network and enjoy the high quality of life in the relatively affordable area with its abundance of outdoor recreation.
Mayor Boudreau recognizes that Mount Vernon's success may not be easy to come by for every community but believes each should have the ability to decide that for themselves. She writes: