Feed aggregator

Chattanooga Subs Continue to Increase as Smart Grid Saves

muninetworks.org - July 20, 2018

In May of 2017 we congratulated Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber for exceeding 90,000 subscribers and contributing to lower power rates for all (Electric Power Board) EPB customers. Now less than a year later, there is more to celebrate as EPB expects to reach 100,000 subscribers by Fall 2018 and is still lowering electricity costs for all customers. 

The city-owned electric utility launched its citywide fiber optic network in 2009 and never looked back. The original plan issued nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in debt for the utility and had an estimated forecast for only 35,000 subscribers. The city is now reaping the rewards from its investment; the utility paid off the last of its debt earlier this year, and now projected revenues for the fiscal year 2018-2019 from the telecom division sit at $169.1 million.

For a detailed, interesting history on EPB Fiber Optics, take some time to listen to Harold DePriest talk with Christopher in episode 230 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Before retiring, Harold was the tip of the spear in bringing the network to Chattanooga.

Major Savings

While EPB has long been recognized for its lightning fast Internet speeds and has repeatedly been ranked among the fastest in the U.S. (including this year’s fourth fastest ISP in the United States), the utility’s fiber optic lines also help lower power rates for all customers by eight percent. Whether Chattanoogans subscribe to EPB Fiber for Internet access or not, they still benefit from the infrastructure.

The fiber optic network that EPB installed nearly a decade ago not only allow the ISP to provide gigabit connectivity, it was also strategically built on top of the preexisting power grid, creating its “smart grid.” This allows the utility to monitor its electrical system in real time and to read all meters every 15 minutes, saving the cost of sending technicians into the field. Additionally, the smart grid is able to instantly reroute power in the case of an outage, saving the city $50 million annually and dramatically reducing power outages. These savings mean lower electricity costs for all of EPB’s customers, not just those subscribing to Internet.

A February 2017 the Berkman Klein Center studied benefits from Chattanooga's smart grid and estimated it offered $23.6 million in direct annual paybacks and revenue along with significant indirect benefits. Read more about the report and the methodology.

In its most recently proposed budget plan, EPB projects a return of $45 million in payments from the telecom network to the electric system and $24.3 million in earnings from its telecom division will help lower power rates by eight percent. 

Smart Grid Revolution

Smart grid technology is allowing others to cut costs for customers. Ouachita Electric Cooperative, located in south-central Arkansas, reduces costs for members by utilizing their fiber optic network to track electricity use. Similarly, Tullahoma, Tennessee, uses Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) to automatically read electric and water meters and significantly reduce costs. Fiber optic networks not only bring fast, affordable, reliable Internet access, they also allow for smarter and more efficient utilities, cutting costs for both cities and subscribers. 

Tags: chattanoogaEPBtennesseesmart-gridmunielectricharold depriest

More Arkansas Residents Soon to Have Access to Gig Speeds, Thanks to Their Local Co-op

muninetworks.org - July 19, 2018

Residents of northern Arkansas will soon be able to obtain high-speed Internet access through their local electric cooperative. North Arkansas Electric Cooperative (NAEC) recently received approval from its Board of Directors to expand its residential broadband pilot program, NEXT, Powered by NAEC. This expansion will bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity and one gigabit speeds to the co-op’s entire service area. 

Origin of NEXT, Powered by NAEC

We first covered NEXT last year on Community Broadband Bits episode 243, when we talked to Mel Coleman, the CEO of NAEC.

While on the podcast, Coleman discussed how rural electric co-ops brought “the next greatest thing,” electricity, to their members. He views the provision of Internet services as following in the same historical tradition: “What we like to think is, ‘This is the next “next greatest thing,”’ and that is broadband in your home, true broadband.”

To bring broadband to their members, NAEC created the subsidiary NEXT to develop the fiber network and connect residences.

Developing a Successful Pilot

In 2016, the NEXT pilot program was launched in three locations in Baxter and Fulton counties. The pilot area included both urban and rural communities as well as portions of the small town of Salem, where NAEC is headquartered. Internet, voice, and video services were offered to approximately 1,500 co-op members within the pilot program’s targeted areas, according to the press release carried by Areawide News.

Since NAEC already owned a fiber backbone to manage its electrical system, the co-op simply had to build out from the existing infrastructure to connect residences. Eligible members could subscribe to symmetrical gigabit services for only $79.95 per month.

“We exceeded our goal of [pilot program] subscribers,” said Coleman, as quoted on the NAEC site, “and many have shared with us the benefits true broadband internet has brought to their families and businesses.”

What’s Next for NEXT?

Following the success of the pilot and the recent approval from the Board of Directors, NAEC plans to expand its current FTTH network in multiple phases over the next few years to provide high-quality Internet access throughout its service area. “We are excited to be our members’ local source for reliable, affordable broadband Internet moving forward,” shared Coleman on the NAEC website.

At a National Rural Electric Cooperative Association e-Connectivity forum in April, Coleman reported that 650 co-op members had signed up for broadband services through NEXT. At the same event, Coleman approximated the cost of building out the entire network at $140 million.

Residential subscribers have three options and all plans are symmetrical:

  • 10 Mbps for $39.95 per month
  • 100 Mbps for $49.95 per month
  • 1000 Mbps (1 gigabit) for $79.95 per month

Businesses can choose from:

  • 10 Mbps for $59.95 per month
  • 100 Mbps for $79.95 per month
  • 1000 Mbps (1 gigabit) for $499.95 per month

Telephone and video services are also available and discounts are available for subscribers who sign up for all three services.

Broadband: A Cooperative Trend

NAEC is not the first rural electric cooperative in the state, much less the country, that has opted to provide high-speed Internet access to members to improve their quality of life. Within Arkansas, Ouachita Electric Cooperative and Ozarks Electric Cooperative also offer FTTH Internet services and one gigabit speeds. Nationally, the list of electric co-ops that provide broadband services, including gigabit FTTH, constinues to grow. 

And that number will likely rise. With 900 electric cooperatives across the nation and 39 percent of rural households lacking high-speed connectivity, more and more co-ops will be looking for ways to bring this increasingly critical infrastructure to their communities.

Learn more about how cooperatives are building top-of-the-line fiber networks in their service territories, check out our policy brief Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era.

Tags: north arkansas electric cooperativeArkansasFTTHrural electric coopcooperativeexpansionpilot projectpilot

FairlawnGig and Medina County Fiber Network Collaborating to Expand Connectivity

muninetworks.org - July 18, 2018

In June, the city of Fairlawn and the Medina County Fiber Network in Ohio recently announced that they would soon begin working together, which expand FairlawnGig, the city's municipal network. The collaboration will boost connectivity in the region for residents and provide more options for businesses in Akron and surrounding communities.

Fairlawn Full of Fiber

Deputy Director of Public Service Ernie Staten told us that when city leaders commenced the FairlawnGig project, they promised the community that they would first build out the the entire community of 7,500 residents. They achieved their goal in May and now have a 47 percent take rate in the city. The strong numbers indicate Fairlawn’s intense need for better services than incumbents were providing. 

Staten told us that, in completing the deployment in Fairlawn, the city’s infrastructure now has a solid north-south presence. By leasing capacity on the Medina County Fiber Network (MCFN), FairlawnGig can expand in an east-west direction.

Potential commercial subscribers in Akron, east of Fairlawn, have already reached out to FairlawnGig offices, seeking more information. Staten notes that, while businesses in Akron have had access to connectivity from incumbents Spectrum and AT&T, prices are high and services are limited. FairlawnGig via the MCFN will be able to offer more options. Businesses will have access to services such as dark fiber connections, cloud services, data transport, and connections of up to 100 gigabits per second. Staten also believes that local businesses want the personal service and accountability that comes with a local provider.

Staten says that residents who live in the more rural areas wast of town have also contacted FairlawnGig to find out more. FairlawnGig Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) gigabit service costs $75 per month or residents can opt for a 300 Megabits per second (Mbps) connection at $55 per month. Ten gigabit service for residential premises is also available and all connections are symmetrical. Voice services are also available; residents can sign up for $25 per month and receive two lines. FairlawnGig doesn’t offer video service, but makes resources available to help subscribers learn how to cut the cord to access video content.

Staten told Lightwave:

"Every day we're approached by organizations as well as households in the region asking to bring our world-class service to their communities. Until now we've been focused on Fairlawn but are pleased that just eighteen months after we started serving Fairlawn in the winter of 2017, we're able to expand to surrounding communities."

This is Fairlawn

We first reported on Fairlawn in 2015 when they had planned on pursuing a public-private partnership. By 2016, however, they had decided to approach the project as they would any other necessary infrastructure project and go with a publicly owned and operated model. When we talked to Staten for episode 201 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, he described how they would use revenue bonds to fund the fiber optic and Wi-Fi network. By late 2016, they were already connecting businesses in Fairlawn and residents had access just a few months later. Earlier this year, Staten came back on the podcast to update us and reported that the network was attracting new businesses and boosting property values. 

Staten feels that the agreement between both publicly owned networks is a way for both to further their credibility while promoting better connectivity in the region. For FairlawnGig, the collaboration allows them to transition from municipal to regional ISP. MCFN will have more of a presence in the residential market once FairlawnGig is serving households along its path.

David Corrado, CEO of MCFN, told us:

“It’s great to witness two municipalities sharing resources to better the quality of life for residents located in these counties.  By working together, Medina County and FairlawnGig are leveraging existing telecommunications platforms to enhance service offering in these geographies.”  

MCFN

MCFN has been serving the region for about six years. The dark fiber was a project of the Medina County Port Authority and first connected Highland Schools in 2012. The school district's contract with Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) was about to expire and, rather than enter into another overpriced agreement that didn’t provide the kind of connectivity they needed, the MCFN revised their construction schedule so the schools could connect sooner. As a result, the school system has saved about $90,000 per year.

Since then, the network has boosted local economic development, reduced the cost of connectivity for public facilities, and provided infrastructure on which numerous ISPs have chosen to offer services. Corrado told us that FairlawnGig is the thirteenth carrier to connect to Medina County’s open access network.

Image of downtown Akron by Sleepydre [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: fairlawn ohohiomedina countyFTTHexpansiondark fibereconomic developmentcompetition

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 314

muninetworks.org - July 17, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 314 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. John Gavan and Brad Harding from Colorado join the show to discuss economic development, electric cooperatives, and broadband service. Listen to this episode here.

 

Brad Harding: It really came from a concern for the community. At that time, we had just lost a 300 - 325 member coal mine. So we sat around the table for probably the better part of the year and said what can we do to change this, and at the same time we were also dreaming big.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 314 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Colorado communities have been busy over the past few years, and that includes the folks in Delta and Montrose counties. Back in June, while Christopher was at the Mountain Connect event, he sat down with John Gavan from Delta County Economic Development and Brad Harding of First Colorado National Bank. Both are on the board of the local electric cooperative, the Delta Montrose Electric Association or DMEA. DMEA is involved in developing its infrastructure to bring high-quality connectivity to members. They're also exploring new uses for their infrastructure that involve innovations in the electrical generation and storage field. In this interview, Christopher, John and Brad talk about the impetus behind the infrastructure project, funding and how the co-op member helped drive the project by showing up and expressing their need for broadband. Learn more about the Elevate project at DMEA.com. Now, here's Christopher with John Gavan and Brad Harding from the Delta Montrose Electric Association.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self Reliance and I'm still in Vail, Colorado, not as you're listening to this, but as I'm recording it at the Mountain Connect event, one of my favorite broadband conferences in the nation. Today I'm sitting here talking to two folks from the Delta, Montrose counties of Colorado. Let me introduce you to John Gavan, president of Delta County Economic Development. Welcome to the show.

John Gavan: Thanks very much, Chris. It's good to be here. We'll be talking, I guess today about some fairly interesting local efforts that Delta Montrose Electric has made in the broadband space and also in the, uh, renewable energy distributed generation space. Very interesting and fast moving sectors that we really have committed to play a role in.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, and I've been wanting to interview you. You are indeed doing some very interesting things and one of those, Brad Harding here, president of First Colorado National Bank in Paonia [Colorado] is gonna give us some of the background on some of that. Welcome to the show, Brad.

Brad Harding: Well thanks for having John and I, we really appreciate it.

Christopher Mitchell: Brad, let me ask you to just start by describing as a, as a fifth generation Paonian, as I understand it, uh, what is the Delta Montrose area of Colorado like?

Brad Harding: Number one, the area is beautiful. It's remote. We're a long way away from interstates, probably 70 miles roughly. But also

geographically diverse: semi-arid to almost mountainous. They're rural in nature for sure. For instance, you know Paonia is a town of around 1,500, the county, around 30,000. Montrose County is a little bit larger, but you're talking about a population in the two county area around 75,000. In general, the population is a little bit older than state averages, roughly 10 years older. We're about 12,000 per median household income lower than the state's average, and we're about 50 percent less educated when it comes to postsecondary education. Agricultural-based, government jobs, education and health care. Um, it used what dominated next category was coal mining jobs, um, which we've lost a lot. We've lost about six to 700, um, during the last number of years

Christopher Mitchell: For people who are longtime listeners, we've interviewed Virgil Turner, I want to say at least once, maybe twice about what, what was happening in Montrose City and that's a partly to say they've been very involved in this, in this project. Um, and, and maybe I can turn it back to you, John, if you want to describe briefly, and we'll go back into how we got here, but what is DMEA doing right now? And for people who aren't familiar, DMEA is Delta Montrose Electric Association. It really rolls off the tongue and so people can sometimes not realized it's even an acronym. But DMEA, uh, what are they doing now?

John Gavan: Well, first of all, DMEA is a rural electric co-op, so it's member owned, so we have traditionally had a very close relationship with our customers, who are also our members. So, we have spent a lot of time listening to what people are asking for and one of the main issues that came up in the last few years is better high-speed broadband. So being an electric utility, DMEA had a lot of capabilities in terms of people, poles, infrastructure, trucks. So we, we looked hard at the possibility of entering the fiber broadband space and solving this lagging problem that head really been dogging us for years because none of the large investor-owned telecom companies would find it profitable enough to come and build in this sparsely-populated rural area. Just to give you an idea, you know, Delta County alone is the size of Rhode Island with a population density of about 22 people per square mile.

Christopher Mitchell: It's quite low and it's a reminder of how big these western counties are and also quite an inaccessible as I understand it. I haven't, I haven't been out there quite yet, but one of the things that's remarkable about its beauty as I understand, is mountain ranges that are difficult to build utility poles on.

John Gavan: Yes, that's very correct. You know, luckily we had a lot of infrastructure already in place serving our members with electricity, so we've capitalized on using that infrastructure - the poles and the conduit - to advance our broadband program by stringing our fiber on that existing infrastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: And, Brad, before we get into some of the history of this, I want to just ask you one more general question, which is, as a president of a bank, we've had a few presidents of banks on before, but remind us why a bank cares about broadband and things like that.

Brad Harding: Oh, just raising the standard of life and the quality of life in a community like that. And then also we're a commercial bank. We're a business bank, and broadband through the years has become just integral, instrumental part of the daily life of really every business. Um, so it's absolutely important that our core areas of our communities, every downtown, every core has viable service. So those folks can reach out beyond the area and actually generate revenue and bring it back to the community. One of the things that rural America has really struggled with through the years is we're really good at giving to corporations, you know, the talents that we have, whether it's our, our kids that leave, um, or our resources like natural resources, maybe it's even fruit. They're extracted and they leave the area, and too often that not the profit from that doesn't come back. So having companies that actually can call that area home that are headquartered there, that employ, you know, inordinate amount of people compared to other companies is exactly what we need. And if you don't have high speed Internet, if you don't have broadband capabilities to do that, those businesses can't survive or thrive in those communities.

Christopher Mitchell: And you are both now members of the board of DMEA.

Brad Harding: Yes, correct.

Christopher Mitchell: I have a picture in my head of how something happened and I want you to fill in the reality, but I'll just paint the picture that I had, which is I'm sure over simplified. And um, I learned about this several years ago from Diane Cruise, a consultant with NEO Connect who I believe it was working with you and um, my take on it is that the community was looking for large investment in high quality Internet access, fiber based. They went to DMEA. DMEA said, we don't really think that sort of thing...we're not gonna, we're not gonna get involved in that. And then there was a big meeting and DMEA changed his mind. Is that, is that an accurate thumbnail sketch? And maybe you can fill in some details, Brad.

Brad Harding: Yeah, I think it is accurate and I'll do my best to fill in details. Really, the genesis of this effort came from from many people, and you mentioned one of them - Virgil Turner who, who's been on the show many times, it sounds like - that's a pioneer of broadband. And he really brought a lot of vision about what was possible to this area. But I'll go back to kind of Delta County Economic Development. And John and I were both parts or members of that team at the time. It really came from a concern for the community. At that time we had just lost a 300, 325 member, or employed coal mine. Oxbow shut down, and those are high paying jobs, Chris. So they're, they're good jobs. They have benefits and to lose 300 plus from that one closure was tough on the area and there was threats that Bowie Resources, another coal mine, would be doing the same thing.

Christopher Mitchell: As a banker. I'm sure you can tell me more about this, but it's not just 300 jobs, right? Because that reverberates through the local economy.

Brad Harding: Chris, you're exactly right. Those are direct jobs. We haven't even talked about the indirect jobs or a multiplier effect that would be attributed to that type of a business, but it's a major business. Um, and you're exactly right when one day you have a 60, 70, 80, $90,000 a year job plus benefits. We're talking six figures and you

lose that: obviously defaults on personal residences, um, you know, consumer loans, businesses, the entire community suffers and all the way through, it trickles through the entire community. The county suffers for decrease in revenues, the local municipalities, it can really be felt. It really impacts the school district as well as you start to lose students. And, unfortunately the state, uh, how funding works at the district level is you get paid per pupil that sits in one of those chairs. So the entire county was kind of reeling and there was nervousness. So around the DCED table, we'd really focused the previous years on putting the right people at

the table: elected officials, influential folks, people that really had a lot of care for the community.

Christopher Mitchell: And you just said DCED, which is?

Brad Harding: Delta County Economic Development.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, thanks.

Brad Harding: So we sat around the table for probably the better part of a year and said, what can we do to change this? And in some ways felt a little bit helpless. Um, at the same time, we were also dreaming big. We had a big vision for the area. We want, we knew that Delta County, what it really benefited from, and Montrose County is much the same way, is a wonderful local food movement, healthy water, beautiful area with wonderful views of the West Elk mountains, the young compadres. In Delta County, we'd also talked about how can we become, you know, completely self reliant when it comes to local energy generation? Andthe last one was how can we bring in world-class broadband. So that's really where it started is how can we fix these things? Well, a few of them we thought were

in place: the food, the water, the views, um, but the one that we didn't know how to tackle right away was the broadband and also the local energy generation. So we took on broadband first and it didn't take us long to figure out what John already said earlier, is that the large incumbents weren't going to meet this, uh, this need. And even the local telecom company, we had conversations with them and they weren't willing to do that. There assets are really largely fixed, fixed assets in a copper-based system that they weren't going to improve upon. So then we reached out to some of the other community assets and one of them is Delta Montrose Electric Association, DMEA and uh, had initial conversations. We have, first of all, took on an approach o kind of just to visit with certain board members and staff to see if there was an interest. And uh, at that time there really wasn't, um, there was a lot of nervousness. There was a new CEO at the time that hadn't had a great experience with a broadband effort from a previous location.

Christopher Mitchell: This is maybe 2013-ish, I'm thinking?

Brad Harding: Probably the visioning may have been 2014 from DCED, but the effort to really talk to the Delta, Montrose Electric Association leadership and board, that really started in early 2015.

Christopher Mitchell: So maybe there's 12 or 15 rural electric co-ops doing it then. There really weren't that many at that time. It's picked up since then.

Brad Harding: Right. You're exactly right. So, so what happened, Chris, and I think you're mostly correct in this, we reached out to the local folks and saw that we weren't getting anywhere there, and then we really said that, uh, it's time for us to be maybe a little bit louder voice and one of the nice things about the rural electric co-op is during every board meeting, the public can reach out and attend. So we reached out and said that we were, a small group of people were going to come originally. The idea was 10 to 15 kind of influential, mostly elected people in the two counties would attend. And during that time of reaching out to those 10, 15 people, the list kept growing.

Christopher Mitchell: You built a mob.

Brad Harding: We really did it. It wasn't proactive at that time. It just really took off from there. We talked to you a city official, a county official, um, maybe someone at the sheriff's department and we found out that they were like, absolutely, we'll be there and may I bring someone else, or have you talked to this person? So fast forward over maybe just a few-week period, uh, carrying a targeted list of 10 to 15 people, grew to 72 who actually attended that November 2015 meeting.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is something I really want to just note because the number of people that I've talked to who are served by electric co-ops, who have told me, "I talked to my co op and they said that we couldn't do it." Um, and, and then felt that that was the end. You're the ones that have, have had the most inspirational story in terms of taking that as a starting point and not an ending point. And so I just want to, I just want to highlight that for people as you're talking about this, like you organize people just to come out respectfully to explain how important it was and this is something that I really hope we see repeated. But, but you can definitely tell us what's coming next.

Brad Harding: Yeah. So, uh, again, just to finish the thoughts on that, that meeting when we arrived, uh, I think, uh, the DMEA staff, leadership, and the board will probably a little surprised who was there.

Christopher Mitchell: Sorry, I'm just going to keep jumping and interrupting you, I guess. That's what I do. So my understanding is I, I'm more of a city boy, but at these meetings, they're often if you're 70 years old, you might be on the younger end, like the, the, as I understand it, among rural electric coops, it's just younger folks tend not to attend these meetings or be as interested

Brad Harding: Yeah, that, that is correct. And uh, maybe you asked that question because I'm on, I'm on the younger side and uh, at that time probably was close to 40 years, 40 years old, which is only young and Delta County, but uh, it is. But you're exactly right. But this group of citizens that showed, showed up were, were very, very involved in the community and have passion for the community and it didn't take long. I emceed that event, but really if there's a who's who in Delta and Montrose County, which is kind of funny to say that, who's who was there and uh, all the right people spoke articulately, intelligently, with passion and that meeting probably lasted an hour, an hour and a half. And afterward, you know, the, the, the DMEA officials, staff, board, um, it sent a very, very clear and strong message and it really became an agent of change from that point on.

Christopher Mitchell: Brad, as you were saying earlier though, this isn't just about Internet access, there's also an additional component in terms of local energy production. So turning over to John now, um, what happened in terms of getting that moving forward?

John Gavan: Well, interestingly, DMEA has long had an interest in developing local generation, so we've developed three small in-stream hydro facilities that provide, you know, six to eight megawatts of local power. Um, but we bounced up against a contractual limitation with our wholesale power provider where we had a contract that said we could only develop five percent of our load locally. So we essentially got to that point, and this is important because, you know, we're looking at local generation, not only in terms of, you know, it's now cheaper in many cases, but you know, every year we send $42 million dollars across to Denver, Colorado to pay for our wholesale power. If we could source more of that power locally, you know, we keep that money in the economy, we provide jobs in construction and operations.

Christopher Mitchell: I would think that also, just right now in Colorado, you cannot ignore the fact that there are dangerous fires and so you would also have more, more of a sense of reliability in the event that the worst thing could happen between you and where the energy is produced.

John Gavan: Exactly. And very importantly, Delta and Montrose counties are very unique. They have wonderful natural resources in terms of local energy. Um, we've got quite a few hydro, small hydro opportunities. We have the largest flat top mesa the world right smack in the middle of Delta County and millions of acred feet of waterfall off that mesa all year long capturing some of that potential energy and just turning it into electricity would make nothing but sense

Christopher Mitchell: 300 days of sun.

John Gavan: And that, I was just going to get to that. When you look at the irradiance factor for Delta County, it is almost equivalent to Phoenix, Arizona because we are higher, we're cooler, so solar, utility scale solar projects perform better in this environment than they do in the hot southwest. And we've got so much open public land and land available for, uh, things like, uh, you know, utility scale solar that it just makes sense. And it's also important to keep, when you develop that power locally, you have less demands on your infrastructure. You don't have large transmission networks that cost many millions of dollars to maintain and construct. It's right what the mission of your

organization is: local self reliance, taking it to the nth degree when you have both broadband and your power source more locally based.

Speaker 3`: One of the challenges that a lot of rural electrics are facing is declining demand. And I'm curious, given the, the, I know that you've had challenges in a variety of ways, but it's still such a desirable place to live. Colorado's population is booming. What kind of, what kind of demand is your co-op facing?

John Gavan: Yeah, we are not unlike many other utilities our demand has declined. With the loss of two underground coal mines, we lost 20 megawatts of load. So right now we're about 100 megawatt peak load, um, that is staying relatively stable because very importantly, since we deployed the Elevate Fiber product, we're starting to see it's stimulating the economy. We have a number, you know, I've met many location neutral employees who have left jobs on the front range of Colorado because their employer said, if you can prove that you have 25 megabit service, you can work from home anywhere. And so they've moved out to this beautiful part of the country, you know, to have their little piece of paradise.

Brad Harding: Unlike the hideous front range. Hah, sorry. Um, the, uh, I think it's just, it's important for people who are listening to this show to have a sense. I mean, declining demand is, is a real big stressor. And so if Elevate, the name of the fiber product that you're delivering Internet access over as a co-op, if that's increasing demand, and that's just huge, I have to think, for the co-op's future prospects.

John Gavan: Absolutely. We're a very progressive co-op. So we're also looking carefully at things like electric vehicle charging and we are going to be doing some trials of charging technology. Um, we're also interested in the issue of energy storage to couple with solar and hydro and we're looking at a small storage project, so we're really trying to stay on the cutting edge and watch where the energy market is going. And very importantly, the, wholesale energy market has really changed. Wholesale energy prices, you can buy, you know, 30 megawatt power on a 20 year power purchase agreement now, which is considerably lower than what we're paying our wholesale electric service provider, which is on the order of $78 a megawatt hour. So there's this big arbitrage opportunity that has happened where local generation with the falling cost of renewables, it's becoming much, much more attractive as an option to look at for part of your power portfolio.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, listeners of this show are more familiar, when we talk about federal agencies, the Federal Communications Commission, uh, but you've been working with the federal energy regulatory of federal electricity, regulatory...?

John Gavan: Energy Regulatory Commission.

Christopher Mitchell: Energy Regulatory Commission. My colleague John is probably laughing right now because he, he knows all this stuff down cold, but FERC, which really is important for interstate moving of power. Um, what's happening with you and FERC.

John Gavan: Well, two, almost three years ago, we capitalized on this old regulation called PURPA, the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act of 1978.

Brad Harding: Yes. Yes. And I just, I just wanted to throw out there, I mean, for people who aren't familiar, this is where we get net metering from. This has been, this has led the charge in many ways for alternative energies over the years.

John Gavan: Right. It, it initially was a rather arcane piece of legislation that many people had forgotten about, but we dusted it off and, uh, filed a petition with FERC asking the question, does the PURPA regulation, which specifies that you can develop local renewable generation projects of up to 80 megawatts, um, as what are called qualifying facilities. And we asked the question, would a qualifying facility, um, take precedence over our wholesale electric service contract? And FERC came back and said yes. So this decision opened up an opportunity to develop local renewable generation outside of wholesale power contracts and it was kind of an earthshaking ruling that was noted nationally. Our wholesale power provider then immediately filed a protest, um, it was initially turned down and they filed another request to apply a cost recovery charge on any qualifying facilities that we would develop. That too was turned down and a request for re-hearing was then filed, which has been sitting at FERC for two years now and we're waiting for the final ruling on that request for re-hearing.

Christopher Mitchell: But this is a big deal, just to simplify it, because basically previously you would have had to create a lot more demand to justify the creation of more local resources. Now you're able to build those local resources and then you'll, you'll end up getting a little less power from your wholesale provider.

John Gavan: Correct. We also, almost are looking to strategy where we'd use the wholesale electric provider as the battery. So we would develop local generation projects, um, and ramp them up. But again, you know, you have seasonality, day-night, issues like that. So having the ability to source power in the wholesale market is also very important to build a very reliable and redundant portfolio.

Christopher Mitchell: That's great. So, um, I feel like while we're on this role of, of all the ways in which you're really making these great decisions that are benefiting the community and being forward-looking, one of the things that comes up around the country, um, with the issue of coal mining jobs disappearing from everywhere or other manufacturing jobs that are disappearing, is this issue of retraining. At Dmea, as I understand it, you've made it a priority to hire people that had been in the, in the mines working.

John Gavan: Yes. We, when we elected to build our fiber network, we subcontracted to some construction companies, local construction companies to install the fiber. And one of these companies was very successful in hiring miners, coal miners who had been laid off and retraining them in fiber splicing and fiber installation. And over time they put over 60 coal miners who had been laid off back to work. And those people were able to stay in town, keep their families in place, and not have to move to Utah or Wyoming or elsewhere for the next coal mining job. So it's been a tremendous, um, tremendously successful initiative and has had tremendous community benefit as well.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, one of the, one of the things that we've seen communities wrestle with in the past is that's been perceived as being more expensive to try to train people locally and um, and to get them, it's cheaper just sort of import workers from Arkansas seems to be a common state where people will, will move to some other part of the country for a few months, build a network and then moved back to Arkansas, get another job, move around. But was there, was there an additional cost to this that you're aware of? Is this just something that a local contractor did on their own volition?

John Gavan: First of all, as a member road co op, there are co op principles, one of which is concern for community. So we made best effort to source the manpower locally wherever we could for this fiber build project. So working with this subcontractor, we definitely encouraged them to use local resources and it just happened that one of the underground coal mines had recently a shut down as Brad indicated, so there were people available and ready for retraining.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a lot about the past and the and the good things that have happened and uh, some of the things that are rolling forward with the renewable local distributed energy. Um, but we haven't really covered exactly what Elevate's plan is. Is it every last person in the, in the territory, more or less, I mean, is that the goal with, with a full fiber network?

Brad Harding: Yeah, that's the ultimate goal. I mean, it seems kind of brash and bold, but, fiber to the home connection for every DMEA member. So we'rw well on that path. Um, launched construction roughly, gosh, is it 18 months ago and to have 3,500 users currently and continuing to build out around 250 installs every month, um, with a race to, uh, to get everyone in the service area needs met.

Christopher Mitchell: So where's the funding for that coming from? How does something like that get financed? Um, I'm sure you know, local banks have some wealth, but you can't just write a check for the amount that must be involved.

John Gavan: Yes. We secured special arrangements with two of the prime lenders in the Co-op space to help finance this project. Um, we also, you know, DMEA, most rural electric cooperatives have a very solid equity position. So we also did a lot of self-funding. Next, there is tremendous grant opportunities, especially in the state of Colorado. We have a high cost telecom fund which is being repurposed now to support broadband construction in unserved and underserved areas. So we were successful in securing a $2.65 million dollar grant this year to offset the construction costs in some of our more remote areas.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, when you say equity, I think it's worth reminding people that a, a cooperative organization such yourself, and I'd love to throw this to you, Brad, it's a money-related question, equity's going to be in it. At the end of the year, the benefits the profits are redistributed to the members. Does that mean that, effectively, members will get smaller checks at the end of the year because more of that money is going into investment for the future.

Brad Harding: You're exactly right, Chris, that cooperatives are member-owned and one of the unique benefits of a cooperative is that when the revenues exceed the expenses, there are margins, and those margins, uh, can be retained to support the cooperative long term or they can be distributed to the members over a period of time. And DMEA likes to do kind of a combination of that. But John was alluding to the fact that because of that strong equity position, um, we haven't had to subsidize the fiber build out from the equity position of DMEA. It's a wonderful part of this story. But what DMEA has done is downstream some of that equity in the form of loans to Elevate, um, to, you know, launch the project and Elevate over time will repay those.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. I don't know how much of, if any of the counties are considered to be economically distressed by federal measures, but, um, I believe banks have opportunities to get Community Revitalization Act credits if you're helping to be part of a project that's a improving the prospects for those areas. Is that something that your bank has looked at?

Brad Harding: No, it's a good, good question. I wish in some ways that we were of the size and scale to participate on those CRA type of programs. Most of those are big-bank related programs, they get a lot of benefit for the award. We're Colorado's, I think fifth smallest, locally-owned community bank and for the most part, that's not a part of our strategy to reach out with, you know, millions of dollars of funding for a project of this size and scale. But there are players in the state of Colorado that would benefit from doing those things just as you suggested.

Christopher Mitchell: That's a lot of great information. As we're winding down the show, what's the last bit of news that we want to share?

John Gavan: Well, as I mentioned, uh, you know, we had our success with the PURPA regulation, but now we're also looking at the possibility of buying out of our wholesale electric service contract. Um, and so that is an effort that's accelerating and, uh, we think offers another opportunity to allow us to source more of our power in the wholesale market and also locally.

Christopher Mitchell: Are other electric co ops following your other, watching you and thinking that they might want to do something. I've just, I've had a sense that a lot of the rural electrics are pretty nervous about doing these sorts of things.

John Gavan: Well, there is a new Mexico, a rural electric co op that has already bought out of its contract and is now implementing megawatts of solar.

Christopher Mitchell: Is that Kit Carson, by any chance?

John Gavan: Kit Carson, exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: We interviewed Luis a few weeks ago.

John Gavan: Great. Yeah. So we are kind of following along somewhat a slightly different path than Luis did, but I think you're going to see the, the wholesale energy markets have become so dynamic. I think this trend will content continue.

Christopher Mitchell: Great, well thank you for being a leader in this space and I, and we're hoping that many, many rural electric cooperatives a follow your lead.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher speaking with John Gavan and Brad Harding from the Delta Montrose Electric Association. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@Muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. You can also follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on apple podcast, stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle," licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 314 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

DMEA Co-op Serving Up Broadband and Innovation in Colorado - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 314

muninetworks.org - July 17, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 314 - John Gavan and Brad Harding from Delta Montrose Electric Association

An increasing number of local communities in Colorado are finding ways to improve rural connectivity. The Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), a cooperative bringing electricity to approximately 28,000 members in southwest Colorado, is in the midst of Elevate, their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network that will connect all co-op members. We’ve brought co-op Board Members John Gavan and Brad Harding on the show this week to talk about the project and DMEA.

This conversation describes how and why the project got started and the plans for the future. Cooperatives are member organizations and this story is an example of a member-driven project that started when the community chose to improve their future. Significant employment losses in the region had the potential for widespread ripple effects and community members saw high-quality connectivity as a must for economic development.

John and Brad also discuss how the project is part of a larger effort to cope with the loss of electricity demand due to local job losses in the coal industry and a desire to stay on the cusp of innovation. With new infrastructure, the cooperative is investigating ways to offer such enhancements as electric vehicle charging and energy storage. They’ve also been taking a second look at local renewable energy generation facilities and wholesale contracts. DMEA and its members are taking new steps in self-reliance.

DMEA has produced a short video on the Elevate project:

Read more about how cooperatives are bringing broadband to rural America in our 2017 policy brief, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era.

This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Image of the Gunnison River running through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Montrose County by Terry Foote, licensed through Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Tags: delta montrose electric associationrural electric coopruralcoloradodelta countymontrose countymontroseFTTHelectricaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 16

muninetworks.org - July 16, 2018

California

Net neutrality makes comeback in California; lawmakers agree to strict rules by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

A California net neutrality bill that could impose the toughest rules in the country is being resurrected.

The bill was approved in its strongest form by the California Senate, but it was then gutted by the State Assembly's Communications Committee, which approved the bill only after eliminating provisions opposed by AT&T and cable lobbyists. Bill author Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has been negotiating with Communications Committee Chairman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) and other lawmakers since then, and he announced the results today.

In America’s tech capital, tens of thousands go without home Internet. Here’s how San Francisco wants to fix it. by Brian Fung, The Washington Post

Should San Francisco’s network move forward, it would become one of only a few in the United States to operate this way, analysts say, making it a bold experiment not just as an infrastructure project but also as a matter of  policy. Today, fewer than 200,000 U.S. households benefit from these types of open-access infrastructure policies, said Christopher Mitchell, a broadband advocate at the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

San Francisco’s proposal faces opposition from incumbents such as AT&T and Comcast. (AT&T declined to comment for this story. Comcast didn’t respond to a request for comment.) Industry officials routinely show up to community meetings on the city project to stay abreast of it, Farrell said, and they’re engaged in heavy marketing of their own services. AT&T has also rapidly increased its own fiber deployment in San Francisco “in part because of the municipal threat,” Mitchell said.

 

Colorado

Louisville, Superior leaders to meet on muni broadband, rec center updates by Anthony Hahn, Boulder Daily Camera

The question of how, and if, the respective governments approach actually implementing such infrastructure has vexed officials for the last two years.

Superior trustees urged a slower approach when presented with two potential ballot options — an increase on annual sales tax or a mill levy both equaling approximately $840,000 to fund network infrastructure — last summer. The town's municipal election is scheduled for November, and leaders are seemingly more preoccupied with whether to put an initiative funding the recreation center construction on the ballot, rather than trying to rush any broadband initiatives.

Public-Private Partnerships, Local Involvement Central to Colorado Broadband Success by Heather Heimbach, Broadband Breakfast

Greeley and Windsor, Colo., Look for Paths to Broadband — Including Building Their Own Networks by Sara Knuth, Greeley Tribune [GovTech]

 

Kentucky

In rural Kentucky, a battle to provide reliable internet by Luke Barnes, ThinkProgress

 

Nebraska

Biz Bits: Allo near top in internet speeds by Matt Olberding, Lincoln Journal Star

 

North Carolina

Energizing Rural North Carolina: The importance of infrastructure by Jason Parker, WRAL TechWire

 

Tennessee

Should TVA get into the broadband business? by Johnson City Press

 

Virginia

Connections up, prices down: Broadband authority delivers by Frank Smith, The Roanoke Times

A worthy project: internet to all of Virginia by The Virginian-Pilot Editorial Board

People who are used to having reliable, high-speed internet service available 24 hours a day on computers or on their phones might have little idea how much lacking it can affect people and communities.

It’s not just the inability to stream movies, play games, connect on social media or shop online.

Areas without good internet are at a disadvantage economically. Businesses and industries are unlikely to expand into an area where there is no broadband internet service. Entrepreneurs wanting to start a business will look elsewhere. Existing businesses might find it hard to compete and even to do routine business if they can’t have a strong online presence. People who telecommute, freelance or otherwise work from home aren’t likely to live there, or they will face difficulties that people in other areas don’t have.

 

General

By Gluing Fiber to the Ground, Startup Thinks It Can Slash Broadband Installation Costs for Local Government by Ben Miller, GovTech

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, said bringing down the installation time and cost of last-mile connections could change several things for local governments looking to build networks. For one thing, it could make it easier to justify building into less densely populated areas.

“If you can really lower the costs of getting the last mile out there, then you don’t need as many customers to break even,” Mitchell said.

Small internet providers face a fight for their lives by Nicole Lee, Engadget

Why Bury Broadband Fiber When You Can Just Glue It to the Road? by Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard Vice

5G Compromise Bill Still a Hit to Local Government by Dave Nyczepir, Route Fifty

Already the proposed legislation has earned the praise of the wireless industry, with trade association CTIA stating S. 3157 “will help America win the global 5G race by accelerating deployment of next-generation wireless infrastructure while preserving local authority.”

But Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said the legislation is wrongheaded. He argued timely rollout of 5G, or fifth-generation wireless, technology will happen regardless of federal action, and carriers should agree to a fair price for using public rights of way.

“If we don’t immediately steamroll localities’ decision making, then we will miss out on new technology? If China deploys 5G more rapidly than us, then we’re going to lose?” Mitchell told Route Fifty. “China has more roads than us. China has more people than us.”

“I don’t see how we lose a single job if China has more 5G than we do,” he continued.

Tags: media roundup

Larimer County Survey Shows Citizens Want Local Government Involved in Broadband

muninetworks.org - July 16, 2018

In the wake of the FCC’s 2017 decision to repeal federal network neutrality protections, more communities than ever are considering their role in local connectivity. As it turns out, their citizens are thinking about it, too. In the case of Larimer County, Colorado, almost half of respondents to their recent survey replied that they want their county government to play a part in rural broadband.

Surprising/Not Surprising Results

We spoke with Drew Davis, Jacob Castillo, and Mark Pfaffinger in June to get an idea of some of the results of the survey and hear more about the county’s plans. You can listen to episode 311 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to hear the conversation. Approximately 32 percent of those who were sent the survey responded, which is a higher than average response rate and shows that people in Larimer County feel strongly about the issue and want their opinions heard.

At a July County Commission meeting, Davis presented detailed survey findings. Results reflected that 49 percent of respondents want the county to play an active part in broadband deployment:

  • 33 percent of respondents want the county to offer services directly to the public; and
  • 16 percent want the county to deploy the infrastructure and lease it to private sector ISPs

Only 11 percent want the county to leave efforts entirely to the private sector, while 18 percent replied that they believe the county should try to encourage private sector providers to build a fiber optic network in Larimer County. Another 20 percent had no opinion.

In addition to using broadband for common applications, including social media, email, and streaming online movies and television, Davis, Castillo, and Pfaffinger were surprised to see the high numbers of people interested in exploring other ways to use high-quality Internet access. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they either work from home or would like to but can't due to the low-quality of their connections. There were also surprisingly high numbers of people who would like to use the Internet for entrepreneurial purposes. They were also surprised by the high number of people who want to use broadband for government purposes: 81 percent.

Trust in Colorado’s Local Governments

Larimer County’s survey results reinforce the changes happening in Colorado in recent years. Communities such as Fort Collins, Cortez, and Longmont are preparing to offer services, or have been providing broadband to residents, businesses, and community anchor institutions. People in other Colorado communities see that municipal networks can jolt economic development, bring competition, and create options.

With a surge in referendums to opt out of the state’s SB 152 — a law restricting local authority — increasingly local voters are deciding to trust in their local government rather than state lawmakers. In 2016, Gallup released the results of a poll on governance that revealed trust in local government highest. Larimer County’s survey supports those results.

Tags: larimer county cocoloradofeasibilitysurvey

ICYMI: NBC News Ponders Rural Connectivity, Economic Development, and Bad Data

muninetworks.org - July 13, 2018

In his recent article written for NBC News, journalist Phil McCausland examines the impacts broadband access can have on rural communities and the challenges that persist in bringing coverage to these isolated areas. Reliable high-speed internet access can spark economic development in some of the United State’s most cash-strapped areas, but a lack of dependable data makes acquiring funding difficult.

McCausland explores how high-speed Internet access is becoming increasingly essential for communities’ economic growth. He spoke with Roberto Gallardo, the assistant director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, who explained how having broadband access today “is analogous to the installation of a railroad 100 years ago or a highway 50 years ago.”

Bringing Broadband to Rural Areas

McCausland investigates the specific case of Lake County, Minnesota, an area home to 10,000 people that spans 3,000 square miles in the far northeast part of the state. Our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Fiber Internet Access, describes how the Minnesota legislature set a goal in 2010 to achieve universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state by 2015, including in Lake County. Many of Minnesota’s local governments stepped up to try to accomplish the goal. Local leaders in Lake County decided that they needed high-speed internet in order to take part in the growing digital economy. McCausland found that after nearly eight years of planning and an investment of over $80 million dollars, the area is seeing the economic benefits of high-speed Internet access. Coverage has boosted tourism and allowed for lifestyles that involve working remotely, as well as becoming essential to the growth of local businesses. 

While conclusive data on the exact economic outcomes are yet to come, McCausland’s interviews in the area reveal that many local residents already feel a direct impact. Local sawmill owner, Greg Hull, has seen an increase in business since receiving broadband coverage. He now has an improved website that “made [his company’s] whole Internet presence a lot more viable, which has in turn opened the exposure.” Hull’s business is not the only one benefiting. A report by the Blandin foundation estimates that the area has the potential to realize a combined household economic benefit of over $13 million and a combined increase in residential real estate value of over $38 million. 

Finding Project Funding

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds from 2010, local investment, and FCC Rural Broadband Experiment awards made the project possible. ARRA provided funding to extend broadband access to rural areas often overlooked by major telecom companies due to high infrastructure costs. Incumbents Mediacom and Frontier significantly delayed the project when they challenged utility pole ownership.  After the pole delay, which caused changes to the original plan that needed RUS approval, Lake County still managed to develop a project to bring broadband to a huge geographic area. 

Battling Bad Data

While there are other funding opportunities that rural areas can take advantage of, another major issue that McCausland’s article draws attention to is the faulty data collection techniques on existing coverage to know where to invest effectively.

The FCC and state commissions now rely on Internet service providers to self-report their coverage areas based on census blocks. McCausland spoke with Johnathan Hladik, the policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs. Hladik explained how these maps are typically riddled with inaccuracies because service providers can mark a census block as “served,” even if only one household within it has broadband access. This is a huge problem for rural communities because state and federal agencies use this inaccurate data to determine where to direct investments.

McCausland describes FCC’s Mississippi map that states that 98 percent of the state has access to 4G LTE wireless Internet connectivity, which according to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is an “absurd” conclusion. The FCC planned on using this map to decide where to place $4.5 billion in rural broadband subsidies, until Wicker led a group of senators in demanding the FCC to reconsider its conclusions. 

While speaking on the floor of the Nebraska legislature, Hladik described ways in which data reporting can become more reliable in order to help bring coverage to areas, like rural Mississippi and Nebraska, that need it most. He said:

“The state should require that data collection and mapping be done at the address level and it should include the speed, type of technology, service area location and any limitations for service... [Internet] Service providers should provide this information to the FCC or state commission and standardize the data.”

McCausland argues that investing in high-speed Internet access is one way that rural communities that are struggling to hold onto residents and businesses can survive, and even thrive. We’ve documented numerous examples of economic development achievements credited to communities gaining access to broadband. However, when rural areas rely on outside funding to get their projects started, data collection can make or break their chances of moving forward. Having reliable and accurate data of existing coverage is one step in ensuring that funding goes to the places that need it most. 

Tags: ruralmediaminnesotalake countyeconomic developmentfccdatafunding

Sanford, Maine, Moves Muni Project With TIF

muninetworks.org - July 12, 2018

The City of Sanford, Maine, is putting the final pieces of funding in place to move forward with its ambitious 45-mile fiber optic build, SandfordNet, the largest fiber infrastructure build proposed in Maine to date. 

Along with two other funding sources, the project will be financed by an existing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in downtown Sanford. According to the Journal Tribune, the project will cost $2.02 million in total to complete; that figure is higher than initially projected, due in part to fees to access utility poles. 

The SanfordNet project involves building what the city describes as a “fourth redundant ring” that will attach to the statewide fiber loop known as the “Three Ring Binder.” Sanford’s building out the 45 miles of fiber and then connecting it to the Binder, which is about nine miles beyond city limits. The fiber will connect nearly 90 Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs), such as libraries and hospitals, to the infrastructure that will offer 10 Gigabit per second symmetrical upload and download capacity. The city is utilizing an open access model, leasing out its fiber to ISPs in a non-discriminatory approach that promotes competition.

GWI of Biddeford, Maine, will operate the network for Sanford and intends to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to residential premises along the fiber route in areas where there's sufficient demand. The open access model will create the opportunity for competition, creating better rates and better services for Mainers in the region. For more on what has become known as the "Maine Model," check out Christopher's conversation with GWI's CEO Fletcher Kittredge, episode 214 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Where the Project Stands

The last time we caught up with this multi-year planning process was early this past spring, when Sanford submitted requests for proposed bids from contractors to handle the fiber build. The city awarded the contract to Eustis Cable Enterprises Ltd. of Brookfield, Vermont to the tune of $1.38 million. Now that funding has been shored up, construction should start before the end of July.

In the past few years, the city secured a little more than $1.6 million in funding for the fiber effort. Around $800,000 of that came from the recent sale of the lot site of a decommissioned schoolhouse to Cumberland Farms, a chain of convenience stores and gas stations operating in the East Coast. A federal grant from the Economic Development Administration covered an additional $770,000. 

TIF to Fill in the Fee Gap

One of the reasons the build is costing the city more than it initially estimated three years ago, is due to the price of “make ready” fees to the local utility company. The term “make ready” describes the process of preparing utility poles for more wiring, in this case the SanfordNet Fiber, to be placed on the poles. The same Journal Tribune article reported that these fees could be as high as $487,000. We’ve explained previously how “make ready” fees can be lofty, and the process complicated, often unnecessarily so due to inefficiencies and incumbent ISPs slowing down the process to stall or prevent competition.

The higher make ready fees, along with equipment and technology price increases, left a gap in funding. That gap led city officials to tap into an established model for funding municipal ventures, but a less traditional model for funding municipal broadband projects: Tax increment financing (TIF). TIF financing utilizes the gains in property tax value to pay back debts from borrowing up front for project costs. The basic premise is that a project involving a certain region or neighborhood within a locality (known commonly as a “TIF district”) will bring value to that region and thus increase each individual premises’ property taxes. 

Other municipalities have started harnessing this funding model to pay for fiber build outs, including another Rockport, Maine, where the state's first municipal network received significant fanfare back in 2014. Wabash County, Indiana, also used TIF, as Indiana seems to be a state where local communities have caught on to TIF for broadband infrastructure. In Wabasha, the county created a new TIF district, though in the case of Sanford it appears the city will draw on an existing downtown TIF district created more than a decade ago.

Photo of Downtown Sanford by Mitch Michaud courtesy Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council.

Tags: sanford memainetax increment financingpole attachmentspolesmake-readyfundingmuniopen accessgwi

Taking A Small Step Toward Better Connectivity in Keene, New Hampshire

muninetworks.org - July 11, 2018

Officials in Keene, New Hampshire, have been discussing ways to improve local connectivity for several years. In early July, they received more food for thought when the consultant they hired presented the results of a broadband study.

Check out the full study.

Assistant city manager and technical director for the city Rebecca Landry noted at a June meeting of the City Council’s planning, licenses, and development committee that companies and residents in surrounding states typically pay less for high-quality connectivity. She stressed that their ability to boost economic development relies in part on fast, affordable, reliable broadband access. She also reminded members that the study was not a proposal or a plan, but a review of options for consideration.

Survey Confirms Better Options Needed

Both business and residential surveys revealed that the community of Keene needs and wants better Internet access. A whopping 90 percent of residential respondents and 77 percent of business respondents chose the “I need better Internet/data service” option as part of the general questions on the survey. Additionally, 98 percent of residents and 100 percent of business owners who responded to the survey stated that they believe Internet access and technology are important to their household and/or the future success of their business.

Comments included a desire for more competition. Within Keene, property owners have access to Spectrum cable Internet access while just beyond town limits, Consolidated Communications (formerly Fairpoint) offers slow DSL or people can subscribe to expensive and unreliable satellite Internet access. Respondents replied with stories about visitors who express shock at the poor state of Internet access in Keene. Folks who work from home complain that, if they want better speeds, their only option is expensive business class connections from Spectrum. 

Business respondents’ comments underscore the town’s need to address the situation. From the survey:

The high cost, limited options and poor quality of Internet connections for my business and my employees at their homes may eventually force me to move my business out of Keene. We are doubling in size every two years and the current options for office space with adequate Internet connection are few and far between in Keene. Combine that with high rents and high property taxes and Keene has a lot going against it for modern companies and growing businesses. 

Keene is located in Cheshire County in the southwest corner of the state. While they provide water and wastewater services to the 23,400 people who live there, the city does not operate a municipal electric utility.

Recommended Models and Strategies

Consultants suggested possible models, but recommended that Keene take some action. The easiest and least expensive way to begin to establish an environment that encourages broadband deployment is by implementing a dig once policy. In addition to the more common dig once procedure that deals only with conduit, consultants also suggested that the city expand on the policy. Consultants recommend regulations requiring homes in new subdivisions to connect to “meet me” boxes/shelters or telecom cabinets and that new commercial construction and renovations should have conduit adjacent to rights-of-way and terminates in handholes. 

In order to track where conduit runs, consultants suggested the city include a “fiber overlay” to their GIS system. They also recommended to city leaders that by adding conduit and handhole funding to their Capital Improvement Plans as a matter of regular practice, they would establish a strong inventory. Whenever sidewalk or street improvements occur, for example, funding would be in place for handhole installment.

Potential Models, Possible Pilots

As is often the case, consultants offered several suggestions for models the city could adopt, if they decided to make some public investment. In addition to a conduit-only option, they recommended a possible dark fiber network. Several council members expressed resistance to any activity, even implementing some of the recommended dig once policies. 

As part of the study, consultants suggested engaging in a pilot project. They presented three areas suitable for pilots, including a downtown project that would serve homes and businesses and a neighborhood that would focus on Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to residents. They also included a wireless complement that would connect a local retirement community.

Consultants stated that, in their opinion, Keene’s best option would not include retail services offered from the city directly to the public. Members of the committee expressed a range of thoughts, from strong support to refusal to consider any public investment.

Landry told the committee that they would move forward in small steps, next considering a dig once policy on conduit installation during road construction. She pointed out that doing nothing was not a wise choice:

“However, it does behoove us to think about what the future looks like for economic-development purposes if we don’t do something,” Landry said. “So building out a multimillion dollar network is not realistic, however taking small steps (is).”

Keene, New Hampshire, Broadband StudyTags: keene nhnew hampshirefeasibilityconsideration

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 313

muninetworks.org - July 11, 2018

This is the transcript for episode 313 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Terry Huval of LUS Fiber reflects on the process of creating a community network. Listen to this episode here.

 

Terry Huval: There never was a level playing field in Louisiana and it still is not. Our competitors have far more resources and play much harder ball politics than anything we could, we could do on our own. We're fortunate we have a community that was brave enough to support our vision to put this system in place.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 313 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. The folks in Lafayette, Louisiana dealt with challenge and adversity as they develop their fiber to the home network LUS Fiber. In addition to warding off both legal and strategic attacks from the big incumbent ISPs, community leaders have had to be mindful of strict state rules that impose added restrictions on their operations. This week, Christopher talks with one of the people instrumental in bringing high quality Internet access to the people of Lafayette. Terry Huval. Terry is retiring soon, and we wanted to hear some of his reflections on what went well, what were some of the community's toughest challenges, and how they've met and exceeded the goals they set. using the fiber network as a critical development tool. There is much to the story of Lafayette, including our 2012 report Broadband at the Speed of Light. For more, check out muninetworks.org. Now, here's Christopher with Terry Huval from Lafayette Utility System.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self Reliance, back in my office in Minneapolis. But today I'm speaking with Terry Huval, the director of Lafayette Utility System in Lafayette, Louisiana. Welcome back to the show.

Terry Huval: Bonjour!

Christopher Mitchell: How are things down there, deep in Cajun country?

Terry Huval: Oh, it's nice and steamy and hot and beautiful.

Christopher Mitchell: Just the way you like it, I am sure.

Terry Huval: Absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: Terry, you've been on before and, and you've, you've been there from the beginning and in fact you were probably the first one to suggest the idea to the mayor, to Mayor Durel at the time. Um, we've, we've covered the backstory of the Lafayette Utility System. Um, but I think there's a couple of points I'd just like to make for people who aren't as familiar. And one is that I think that you are one of the most successful citywide municipal fiber networks. Um, and I say that not just because of you've, you've broken even, you know, you've never had to use a dime of taxpayer dollars, as was your intention. You've created tons of jobs, changed the culture and beneficial ways. I mean, but you did it in the face of more adversity than almost any other network. And so I just wanted to, to sort of lay that out there as a, as a background of what we're talking about in Lafayette. And, and let me just ask you, is that about right in your mind?

Terry Huval: Yeah. Yeah. I think you're right. I don't know, I mean, I'm not sure how much trouble anybody else had in the country and I've monitored some of that, but I do know that we've had more than our share of struggles having to, uh, move forward with at least announcing the project as well as getting it constructed. Uh, our adversaries were very, very strong and pushed really hard and cost us a lot of money and a lot of time. But we made it through it.

Christopher Mitchell: I think it is worth noting, because as I'm sure you know, and as people who listen to know, we were supportive of cities that decide to use taxpayer dollars. But for you it's been a point that you would never use taxpayer dollars and you have not. Is that right?

Terry Huval: That is correct. From the beginning, uh, we, we never did. And the only money that we used to build a system was money that we either borrowed or earned.

Christopher Mitchell: The question that I, that I really want to start off with, sometimes I end with this, but I, I, with you, um, you've announced that you're going to be retiring before too long. Um, and so I think it's really a great time to reflect and ask you, knowing now, I mean, when you get started with this, you are trying to build a utility system that would just meet local needs. You ended up going through lawsuits and multiple battles at the state capital, um, endless freedom of information request used as a weapon against you. Um, reports that even when you were succeeding, claimed that you were failing. Um, you've had the incumbent industries try to harm you in other areas of your utility that aren't even related to broadband. So knowing you, I know that you'll say it was worth it, but, but can you tell me why it was worth it for the amount of sleep that you've lost?

Terry Huval: Hah, well, most definitely our community has benefited from making this happen. Uh, I, in all fairness, I think if someone would've said, okay, Lafayette and Terry, if you, if you decided to take this path, here's what you're going to have to go through, I think be a much more tepid reaction to that locally. I mean, while people might have been excited about it, the idea that we were going to go through all of that challenge at all that cost and all of that risk, uh, would have been, I think it would have cooled some heels, but you, that's not even what happened. What happened is that each event that we had to deal with, each situation that popped up, it was just like one more step we had to go through. So the fact that we've taken it one step at a time made it palatable, uh, and uh, it taught us a lot and actually our competitors kind of did us a favor because it created more attention for what we wanted to do than we could've ever possibly have put out there on our own. Uh, and so in some cases I think ought to send them a thank you for making so much noise about it that, uh, that our early advertising didn't have to say more than, "we're ready to serve you."

Christopher Mitchell: Well and one of the things that you noted when you finally were allowed to start building the network was that your capital cost to build a network declined significantly because of the amount of years that you lost fighting in courts for just the authority to do it.

Terry Huval: Yeah. And not only that, we also ended up getting the benefit of the next generation of infrastructure that was available. Our system was one of the first ones to be put in that would have had the ability to go from not only the hard megabit per second speeds but to Gig. And with minor modifications to 10 gig, which we're offering that now too. So, you know, it actually put, gave us the opportunity to, to build it, use a more advanced typology that allows us to continue to grow our system at a much faster rate than we could have with the previous technology. So we want to thank our competitors for giving us that opportunity.

Christopher Mitchell: The heritage of the cajuns is strong. Um, you know, it's worth noting that every generation thinks the generation after it is weaker and softer, but, but much like your, your ancestors who settled the region that probably should not have been settled given the weather you face on a daily basis, um, you know, you're, you're always up for a challenge, it seems like. Um, let's talk a little bit about what you've experienced and how you got through it because as I noted, you faced a lot of competition and, and I think if you go back to what Mayor Durel's talking points back when the referendum to, to move forward with this project. You know, his critique was often one that the private sector would not do this, that there was not real competition in investment that you needed, and I fully agree that he was right. And yet, over the years, you know, I, I think you would say that you have faced stiff competition. So how do we understand that in that we both are frustrated, a lack of competition. And yet when you get into this, it feels very competitive.

Terry Huval: Oh, there's no doubt that what happens is that the private sector has done a really good job of scaring communities, uh, and, and uh, to keep them from doing this and they've done such a good job with that that there's only a few communities, or a handful that may try to do so. And so when that happens, then those large companies use all their resources and just pour it on those, on those poor communities that are trying to make, make that take place. And that's what we went through here, you know, back when we saw, not long after we got it, got really deep into the construction of it, is that our competitors were lowering their prices in Lafayette, but not lowering their prices in the other communities that were outside of Lafayette, like Baton Rouge was paying more for a cable TV service, uh, and Internet and the people in Lafayette where, whereas prior to that time that they were paying the same. So competition worked very granually, uh, and, and our, and, and in this era. And so that was tough, because that meant we had to keep our prices lower than maybe our price points could have otherwise had been, which made our profitability more difficult, made it more, take more time for us to get to that point. So they certainly did everything they could from a pricing and marketing perspective as well as just from when we were constructing the system, you know, trying to find ways to get in our way. And, uh, as you pointed out, our, our, our culture here is fairly resilient and fairly hardheaded. And, uh, and we kept plowing through and finding ways to get done what needed to be done.

Christopher Mitchell: In eight years or so, I think you've had to raise or I would say adjust your prices. You raise your prices while offering higher capacity connections one time that I'm aware of while always maintaining that low cost affordable option that people can take without signing on to other services. What do you do in this environment? Or I guess there's several different questions around pricing, but the first one I'm curious about is how do you maintain such low pricing or consistent pricing in the face of, of, um, you know, different promotional deals that are rolling through and other challenges.

Terry Huval: You know, we have learned how to play that game. Uh, you know, it, it initially I gotta tell you, being a utility guy, you know, the rates to Customer A are the same rates I charge a Customer B, the same rates I charge Customer C. And I realized not long into this business that I want to go to be able to, we weren't going to be successful had we'd done that because there are always people out there that are looking for deals and if you don't have some kind of package you can put out there, even though it might be two years or whatever, if you don't do that sort of thing, you're going to lose an important segment of the population you tried to serve. So we've had to kind of go with the approaches that attract customers and retain customers. That was a, that was a learning curve for us. And also we had to learn that, you know, you're not gonna make it in this business if you don't increase your rates to cover what your costs are and our big cost increases through the years have been cable television. And while cable television is kind of dropping in popularity, that's still a very important segment of our customer base that wants that service. And if we're going to offer it, we're going to have to increase the prices. And on the Internet side, people want, you know, good high speed Internet and using more and more of it. We had to make adjustments there to keep our rates to where it was. We had to increase them, but we always kept it at a level that was cheaper than our competitors. And uh, and we shaved it really tight. Uh, but it's worked out well for us.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's a good reminder. I'm sure that your, your television prices have gone up more than more than once, just because that's the nature of the business. Um, so I guess I missed a few times, but you did adjust your rates a couple of times where you increase the speeds that were available and bumped up the, uh, the prices on the Internet as, as we all know that the television prices escalate much more rapidly.

Terry Huval: What we tried to do with the Internet is every time we increased the rates, but Internet would give the customers more speed. So they got something in exchange for the increases, and the increases were never very large increase it might be like a couple of bucks I mean, uh, you know, each year. But it's, you know, what happens in the business is that you as see the shift taking place of more and more people cut the cord, you know, that's, that's good that they're buying our Internet services, but if we don't adjust our rates so that we're not so dependent upon the cable TV service especially, then we're going to find ourselves in a financial position that will not be attainable in the longterm. So there has to be some really careful monitoring of what's what's happening with your customer base, how people are responding to it and recognizing that if we can increase speeds and, and increase prices just a little bit, that customers will see that as a big plus for them because they're looking more and more for, for, for faster speeds not necessarily just to play games and so forth. But just for the fact that they're utilizing the Internet in their homes for more things than just streaming.

Christopher Mitchell: Terry, you mentioned the utility mindset that you came into to start this with and I think this is one of the things that often we identify as, as a real challenge for cities that have successful, and not just successful, but I mean very well run municipal electric utilities, figuring out in particular how to deal with advertising. So can you walk us through what you experienced on that end?

Terry Huval: Yeah. On the advertising side, we contract with, with a couple of different advertising firms and Lafayette, went through the process with them as to, you know, what were our strong suits, what were the messages we wanted to get out there, how do we portray ourselves to the public, then deciding what mediums we would use. And, and that's fairly broad. I mean, you know, certain things like billboards, television, you know, all the things that you can have with the, uh, the, the, the various media is out there that can allow you to get seen on the, on the, to the public. But the other thing that we thought was important too is to sponsor major events in our community that our well respected. Lafayette has a culture, just cajuns zydeco music culture. So it's a, it's that there are events that take place here, a couple of pretty big festivals here, Festival International and Festival Acadiens, and we've become the sponsors, the prime sponsors of both of those events. And our logic there was that we felt that our customers or the people of Lafayette who are proud of their heritage and proud to have these kind of events in town would be more enamored with us, would be more likely to if they had to make a choice to buy our services because we're supporting what they think is important, you know? And that's pretty fun, to meddle in all kinds of advertising. But especially from a local perspective, we're able to say some things and do some things that our competitors can't possibly say because they serve other territories. You know, we had that uniqueness that we could work in our favor. The focus was always on keep it local, you know, make it, make it clear that one of the unique things that we have going for us is that we are, we are your system, you own the system and it's providing good things for the community as a whole.

Christopher Mitchell: And you sponsor the Wi-Fi at the airport. I'm curious what kind of, is that a headache? I mean, is that something that is relatively easy to do? Um, I'm sure it gets you a lot of visibility, but I've, I've always been curious what it takes to do something like that at the airport.

Terry Huval: No, it wasn't that complicated. We just, um, we sat, we talked to the folks at airport and said, well, do we had some, some supporters amongst the board of airport to begin with so that always helps. And we set up the system, put a Gig in the airport and so, and people love it. It's free and it's kind of a, we have billboards in the airport that to advertise that. And so it's another one of those things that we think is a good thing, not only for our local customers but also for people that are traveling to see something to something really unique here in Lafayette because a, a fairly small airport that's got gig and you don't see that happening in too many airports in the country.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Although you do get quite a lot of traffic for some of your, your various festivals through, I'm sure.

Terry Huval: Oh yes.

Christopher Mitchell: So is that, are those your employees then that go and tinker with an access point when it goes down or is that something that the airport takes care of?

Terry Huval: No, in this particular case it's a sponsorship that we have. So it's as though we're paying the airport to do something. In essence we are paying them and then they kind of paying us back, but this ain't lot of dollars for us to put up the system at our cost and operate the system. Uh, so it, it, it works well for what they're trying to get done. And from our standpoint, we ensure that the system is working properly going forward.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things that we've been excited to see here was that after a long period of making this network work very well in Lafayette city, that you'll be expanding, and my geography is a little bit limited down there, but I'm guessing you're expanding to other communities that are within the parish that are just very close by.

Terry Huval: That is correct. Yes. So we, we had been getting requests from people outside the city of Lafayette, for some time to get service to them, but uh, after all, this system was voted on by the citizens of the City of Lafayette and we had an obligation to serve them first. And so after we laid out all the fiber to the locations that were initially planning to be served, then we had an opportunity to start looking at serving outside the city. The state law that's in effect that has given us so much challenges in the past does not restrict us from serving, restricts us from serving outside the city. Allows us to serve really anywhere we want to in the state. Uh, we're not looking at going all over the state, but I mean certainly there's a limitation. So we, uh, there's a couple of communities that have a good high growth rates, a little town of Broussard and Youngsville, which is just south of Lafayette, and our infrastructure was not very far from those communities. They're very close to the city of Lafayette. But we've got with the, with the Mayor Robideaux, who's the mayor now, and I discussed it with him and told him, look, here's what I think we should do. We're get requests for this, it's a good way for us to make some, some money, uh, and it'll, it'll help our profitability. But, uh, you know, he and I both agree who weren't going to do this on a speculative basis. We're going to do it based on, you know, on having some pretty good, good sense that we're going to have success. And these first developers that we served had been just that. We've had some wonderful success out of it. People are very excited about it. It's been interesting to see that that long after we began putting fiber in those developments, some of our larger competitors start putting fiber in that area. In fact, the larger competitor there is a guy that fought us all this time and it is just been in the last couple of years, we've seen them starting to put fiber but only in places where they think they can make the highest profitability, uh, but the good users that were there first and so many locations. So we've, we've already got, you know, a good bit of that market on, with people that are very satisfied with our service.

Christopher Mitchell: That actually reminds me that I was curious, what is your take rate within the city of Lafayette now?

Terry Huval: Yeah, it's about 43 percent. We knew if got above 38 percent, we'd be where we needed to be at our, according to our business plan and that we were right there with it.

Christopher Mitchell: So 43 percent gives you enough net income at the end of the year to, to invest that in some nearby communities. And you know, for people who might not be familiar, I'm guessing you probably already run the electricity to those houses, you probably maybe do the water as well. Is that, is that right?

Terry Huval: In the city of Lafayette, yes. We provide electric water and sewer service.

Christopher Mitchell: You don't in the parish.

Terry Huval: Yeah. The parish, we have some areas that were serve, very few. There's other utility companies in those areas that provide service there.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. But the one thing that I'm, unless something's changed, I know that you do do is you generate electricity and you generate more electricity than you use and you export that to, you have agreements with others that buy that as well. Right?

Terry Huval: Yes. We have done that. A lot of the whole electric market has changed. So we're actually taking advantage of lower cost power that we can use in Lafayette from outside. So it's a, it's a buy and sell sort of thing, it's a market-driven type approach to energy in this area now just like it is in many parts of the United States, so that that model has changed a good bit, but our customers are still getting really good, low cost electric service, too.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. I just wanted to sort of throw some of those things. Apparently I had a few misconceptions myself, but, but for a municipal utility, it's not always the case that these things naturally stop at the border's edge. Um, there's a lot of cases in which utilities help each other out. They, they cross over a little ways. So for you to expand Internet access is not something that's outside the norm. I don't think

Terry Huval: No, it's not outside the norm. It's just that when you look at what's happening in some other states like in Tennessee where there's restrictions on where they can extend their system, you know, we're, we're fortunate that our law does not provide that type of a limitation.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, one of the things that I'm, I'm definitely curious about ism there was this idea of a, of a level playing field in Louisiana. Um, do you feel like you're, you have the same advantages and vulnerabilities as your cable and telephone competitors?

Terry Huval: There never was a level playing field in Louisiana and there still is not.

Christopher Mitchell: [laugh]

Terry Huval: Our competitors have far more resources and you know, play much harder ball politics than anything we could, we could do on our own. We're fortunate. We have a community that was brave enough to support our vision to put this system in place, but it's been a struggle. Uh, the, the private companies have just so many advantages over what we have. You know, um, you know, for example, we have to, you know, we go through an audit every year to make sure that we're not selling our services too cheap to local government. Sounds Weird, right? If they want to be sure that we're charging local government the same price that we're charging folks on the outside, you know, it sounds silly because we should be able to put aside that Lafayette government is a large enough entity to where we can sell in bulk or whatever. We ought to be able to charge you a price, but we can't do it. So their purpose in this Fair Competition Act or allegedly Fair Competition Act make it more difficult and more cumbersome for us to be successful and they actually increased cost to our communities that it could say, well, look at that. Their costs are going up because of fiber. So is that that kind of game that gets played and uh, it's unfortunate, but you know, they, these guys have deep pockets and they play the politics very well and they do it 365 days a year in areas that we don't start dealing with people who don't always know.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, the reason I wanted to ask you that right after the expansion is because it's worth remembering that those things have real world consequences. One of them I'm guessing is that, uh, you know, you as a, as a utility would have liked to have expanded this system more rapidly and probably further than you may be able to because you're constantly worrying about these unfair, um, and certainly uneven regulations. Um, and so there's people outside of Lafayette who would have much better Internet access, have a choice in providers that don't have it today because of those rules.

Terry Huval: Oh, that's true. In fact, extending outside the city has created some stir that's caused us to have to go back to the Public Service Commission to go through an audit, that's all happened again. And you know, but we're confident we're going to do fine with it. But it's the sort of things that those companies can do that, you know, they don't, they don't get a, you know, uh, they don't get something served to them in that same way. It's just, it's just the way that they play that game. And so we always, we're always looking over our shoulder. Every time we decide to do something bold, we say, okay, what's going to happen? You know, what, what's the pushback we're going to get? and uh, and, you know, make a decision based on that and try to get it as much, uh, in the, in the right sweet spot as we can.

Christopher Mitchell: When the referendum happened 13 years ago, you know, one of the major campaign slogans and organizing rallying points was, was about the children, making sure that the children that were growing up in Lafayette could stay in Lafayette or if they wanted to leave for university, and then be able to come back and get great jobs in Lafayette. Many of those kids are of that age now where I guess they're making those decisions. So is that happening? Is that, has that been successful?

Terry Huval: Yeah, we're seeing a lot of that. There's so many reasons why a person might stay here or not stay here, but there are, there are jobs in Lafayette, there are economic development opportunities that's come up through two years of companies building operations here that are able to hire these people, uh, and uh, you know, I, I think, uh, I, I think certainly it has been a component that's helped Lafayette continue to grow. Because from the beginning of this project to now, each year Lafayette has grown, it never has gotten less. And from each year, from the beginning of this project to now, we have grown, we have continued to increase our overall net revenues, our overall gross revenues. You know, we're, we're getting close to $40 million of gross revenues now and clearing about $8 million after we pay all of our cost of, uh, of, of operations. So that's what gives us the position now to have the cash necessary to begin serving other areas. So it's a huge success in that regard. Now you're still gonna have those people out there that's going to say, well, yeah but look at your income statements and your and your depreciation and, there's no doubt that we were under water because of depreciation for a while. Uh, but, but we have gotten above that, uh, we're, we're, we're a positive net income, uh, in the tune of, you know, $3 or $4 million a year and that's going to continue to grow as time goes on. So we're well on our way as a system that served its first customer really nine years ago, nine and a half years ago. Uh, you know, we've gone, we've come a long way from those, those early days.

Christopher Mitchell: Is there anything that, uh, anything else you want to tell us before you, before you leave? I mean, you're always going to be welcome to come back, but I don't know if I'll be able to track you down after you stepped down as the director.

Terry Huval: Well, you've got my cell number so you could always find me, but no, I have really enjoyed my work here. Uh, it'll be 24 years when I retire. I worked 16 years before that with an electric utility company. So I've had 40 years in that business and the last, I guess 14 years since we've talked, began talking about fiber the first time, you know, it's been an invigorating challenge for me and my team and for our community and it's created a lot of excitement, a lot of public support. Uh, and uh, we, uh, we look forward to continuing to grow this system. And I, the good news is that I have some really fine people that I've worked with here, some very bright young minds and they've been sitting at the table with me all the way through this process so they know what to do, they know how to get there. And I still live in town, so, you know, no matter what we're going to, there'll always be a connection there and it's a proud part of our history.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, wonderful. Thank you, Terry for letting us know what's going on, and also being an inspiration for people to know that, uh, this can be done even in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Terry Huval: Well, thank you Chris and look, thank you to you and so many others that have been so supportive of us and especially in those days where we were struggling, you know, y'all voices, uh, gave us, gave us hope because we, sometimes people will try to attack you, try and attack us and say that you, you know, you guys don't know what you're doing or this can't be done. And when you talk to others and especially folks like you who see the see the vision of it all, it, it gave us a lot of, a lot of inspiration to go forward with this. So thank you so much.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher speaking with Terry Huval Lafayette Utility System Discussing LUS Fiber. Remember to read up on LUS Fiber and the struggle in Lafayette at MuniNetworks.org. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcasts@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank Arne Huseby for the song warm duck shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 313 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Link: Tags: transcript

Catching Up With Terry Huval from Lafayette - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 313

muninetworks.org - July 10, 2018
Community Broadband Bits Episode 313 - Terry Huval, Director of Lafayette Utilities System

We’ve been following the community of Lafayette, Louisiana, and their LUS Fiber community network from the early days. Director of Utilities Terry Huval was one of the people responsible for bringing high-quality Internet access to the community back in 2009. Terry is about to retire so we wanted to have one more conversation with him before he pursues a life of leisure.

The last time Terry was on the show, he and Christopher discussed the possibility of an LUS Fiber expansion. That was back in March 2015 for episode 144 and the network has since spread its footprint beyond city limits. Those efforts have inspired better services from competitors in addition to bringing fiber to communities that struggled with poor Internet access.

Christopher and Terry talk a little history as Terry reflects on the reactions of incumbent ISPs who tried to disrupt the LUS Fiber deployment. A winning strategy that has always served the advancement of the network, Terry tells us, has been to focus on the unique culture of Lafayette and its people. Marketing based on local pride has always kept LUS Fiber in locals' minds. Terry discusses establishing pricing and how it relates to marketing and maintaining subscribers; in broadband, the situation is much different than with other utilities.

Terry spends some time answering a few questions on free Wi-Fi at the airport and the ways the network’s economic development benefits have kept the community’s youth in Lafayette. He also addresses how the city has dealt with state rules that apply to LUS Fiber but not to private sector ISPs and the way the city has dealt with those rules.

For more details about how the community of Lafayette developed its fiber optic network, check out our 2012 report, Broadband and the Speed of Light. You can also learn more about how to address some of the many erroneous and misleading claims about LUS Fiber and similar networks from our report Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: Attacks on LUS Fiber.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: lafayettelouisianaterry huvalincumbentlawsuitpricingmarketingaudiopodcastbroadband bits

California's Proposed Network Neutrality Legislation Resuscitated

muninetworks.org - July 10, 2018

Death, taxes, and legislative drama are three of life’s certainties. Most recently, the drama unfolded in California as Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener has tried to pass state network neutrality protections after the FCC revoked federal law, leaving millions at the mercy of a broken market.

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

California is one of a long list of states that have in some way addressed the current lack of regulations regarding network neutrality. In addition to Executive Orders in six states, including Vermont and Montana, state legislatures in 29 states have introduced legislation that address some aspect of network neutrality. Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have adopted legislation. To see a comprehensive list of state bills across the country, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website.

Wiener’s  SB 822 had been described as “the most comprehensive” of state legislation introduced since FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the Republican Commissioners repealed federal network neutrality late last year. The bill passed in the Senate in late May, but amendments adopted during a contentious Communications and Conveyance Committee meeting in the Assembly transformed it into quite a different piece of legislation.

When the bill was at full strength in the Senate, it received the support of network neutrality advocates, including former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Mayors from some of California’s largest cities have also endorsed SB 822. While the bill implemented the types of protections that past federal network neutrality provided, such as prohibiting paid prioritization and allowing equal access to all traffic on the Internet, SB 822 in its original form created additional protections. For example, the bill would have also prevented some types of zero-rating, which controls access to content by exempting data caps, but only to certain types of content. The legislation passed in the Senate on May 30th, with a vote of 23 - 12.

An Earlier Bill

SB 822 is the second bill introduced in California’s legislature to address network neutrality and the legislation favored by those who understand the dangers of ending the policy. In January, another senator introduced a bill that advocates consider too weak to be meaningful.

Sen. Kevin de Leon’s SB 460 had been widely criticized as a hollow effort at network neutrality protections for several reasons. It failed to address “access fees” imposed by ISPs when content providers and app providers want to reach end users. The bill also left open loopholes that would fail to protect interconnection points from congestion due to activity by ISPs toward companies that manage traffic between ISPs and the rest of the Internet. Without this protection, ISPs are able to create congestion at connections points, which interferes with other services, such as VoIP.

De Leon's bill was expected to help large, national providers while hindering newcomers and innovators that need access to an open Internet. The question loomed -- if California's Democratically controlled state legislature couldn't get the job done, could any other state?

Two Become One?

In mid-June, de Leon and Wiener announced that they would combine their bills and retain the strongest parts of each. The “contingent enactment” process requires that both bills must pass or neither become law.

Organizations such as Free Press, Fight for the Future, and Color of Change had pointed out the loopholes in SB 460 and refused to back it, encouraging constituents and lawmakers to instead get SB 822 on the books.

The Committee Meeting

Late in the evening of Tuesday, June 19th, Democratic Senator Miguel Santiago from Los Angeles sent a series of amendments to the members of the Communications and Conveyance Committee, who were scheduled to meet the next morning. With 12 hours to review the amendments, Chairman Santiago scheduled a vote on SB 822. The committee incorporated the amendments to the horror of its author.

Wiener tried to withdraw the bill as amended but the committee passed it 8 - 2 and referred it on to the Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection.

Wiener reacted:

“What happened today was outrageous. After the Senate passed SB 822, with strong net neutrality protections, the Assembly committee forced hostile amendments into the bill before even holding a hearing, before taking any public comment, and only 12 hours after making those amendments public.”

Throughout the process, AT&T, Verizon, and their allies had been pouring money into California to influence public opinion and the vote. In addition to their own direct attempts to sway lawmakers, AT&T supports an organization named CALInnovates that uses social media to undermine support for SB 822 and the committee members that have expressed support for the bill.

Members who voted to pass the bill — described by Wiener as “eviscerated” — quickly faced accusations of bipartisan corruption.

Brandi Collins from Color of Change:

“What we saw on full display from California legislators today was an embarrassment to the process of democracy and truly did a disservice to the communities they were elected to fight for.”

Ernesto Falcon from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

“Only one word can describe what just happened in the Assembly Committee today. Corruption.”

Still Hope for A Good Result

Regardless of accusations and angry statements from inside and outside the Capitol, Wiener and Santiago have since struck up a deal. In early July, the two engaged the help of Assemblyman Rob Bonta from Oakland and de Leon to refill the gaps Santiago’s amendments created. By combining SB 460 and SB 822, the crisis created in committee will likely be averted.

According to Wiener, the provisions that had been stripped from the original language of the bill will be brought back. The protections in SB 822 will be accompanied by rules in SB 460 that prevent state contracts with ISPs that violate network neutrality. Advocacy groups are cautiously optimistic.

The next step for both bills to be brushed up, and for the correct appropriations committee to examine potential costs. After that, a vote in the full Assembly in early August before the legislature ends for the session on August 31st.

Tags: californialegislationsb 822 casb 460 canetwork neutralitystate laws

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 9

muninetworks.org - July 9, 2018

California

Internet Service Providers Pour $1 Million into California Assembly As Net Neutrality Debate Rages by Laura Curlin and Alec Saslow, MapLight

California's Strong Net Neutrality Bill Is Back by Dell Cameron, Gizmodo

 

Colorado

Fort Collins Broadband Bonds Issued and Sold Out by Theresa Rose, North Forty News

Moving broadband to the next step by Michelle Perry, Craig Daily Press

The city of Craig and Moffat County are partnering with Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership to lead local broadband implementation, and CMEDP has financial support from these three entities, plus Memorial Regional Health, Colorado Northwestern Community College, Moffat County School District and Moffat County Local Marketing District to drive the process forward.

The city of Craig will be the network owner and fiscal agent for the project. Mammoth will serve as the network operator, negotiating contracts and overseeing the development, maintenance and operations of the project.

City broadband service is about connecting Fort Collins to opportunities by Darin Atteberry, The Coloradoan

 

Kentucky

Infrastructure: Statewide Broadband on Track for 2019-20 by Dawn Marie Yankeelov, The Lane Report 

 

Mississippi

Is there tech gold beneath Jackson’s crumbling streets? City leaders think so. by Justin Vicory, Mississippi Clarion Ledger

Buried deep under Jackson residents' feet are miles and miles of a mysterious "dark fiber" — unused optical fiber potentially worth high-tech gold.

Forgotten over the years, the fiber optic cables are now being rediscovered, and city officials say they could be a potential game-changer for the city.

 

New Mexico

In New Mexico, a collective push to close the 'homework gap' by Ryan Johnston, EdScoop

 

Ohio

FairlawnGig extending internet service to communities in Greater Akron by LightWave Online

FairlawnGig said it will now extend internet service beyond the city limits of Fairlawn, OH, to communities in the Greater Akron Region. With dedicated service that remains consistent during peak usage hours, FairlawnGig provides 100-Gbps connections to business customers and up to 10-Gbps connections to household customers.

 

Virginia

New state-level positions created to help expand broadband access to rural Virginia by Colter Anstaett, WSLS

Tags: media roundup

Newcomer Nevada Co-op Proposes Broadband for Spring Creek

muninetworks.org - July 9, 2018

In as little as 18 months, the newly formed Pacific Rural Gas Cooperative (PRGC) plans to deliver natural gas and broadband to Spring Creek, Nevada, and to neighboring Lamoille shortly after.

Broadband Needed in Rural Nevada

Nestled at the base of the Ruby Mountains in northeastern Nevada, Spring Creek is a small town of about 12,300 people that originally formed in the 1970s as three large housing sections. The municipality mainly serves as a bedroom community for businesses and industries in the nearby City of Elko. The economy is mostly based on gold mining, with limited ranching, tourism, and manufacturing also providing jobs. Former Nevada governor, Jim Gibbons, who now owns a 40-acre ranch in Lamoille and Tariq Ahmad of Satview Broadband Ltd. founded the co-op in order to serve the 57-square-mile-area in Elko County where those services still do not exist.

Nevada prohibits municipalities with populations greater than 25,000 and counties greater than 50,000 from offering telecommunications services, but small municipalities and co-ops have been stepping up to provide broadband to rural areas. Last year, Churchill County Communications (CC Communications) began partnering with the Valley Communications Association of Pahrump (VCA) and Switch technology to bring fiber to rural areas of southern Nevada along US Highway 95. 

Despite the recent progress in other areas of the state, Spring Creek and Lamoille still need the services PRGC can bring to their communities. Like many other rural communities, large national ISPs have resisted investing in infrastructure needed to offer high-quality connectivity.

While JAB Wireless advertises broadband in the area, the company only provides terrestrial fixed wireless, a service often requires line of sight access between a ground station and subscriber. Beehive Telephone Companies, the only other provider of broadband in the area, brings Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to less than one percent of census blocks in Spring Creek and Lamoille.

Frontier Communications Corporation, the designated Telephone Exchange Area provider, offers Internet access, but no broadband, defined by the FCC as services with a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Not including terrestrial fixed wireless and satellite services, the average speed of all Internet in the area remains well below the FCC threshold at 10.3 Mbps download and 3.2 Mbps upload.

A Little Competition

PRGC’s proposal claims the company will meet the broadband and natural gas needs of all existing residents in Spring Creek and Lamoille and accommodate for growth over the next 30 years. The company plans on using a “single trench model” to install natural gas pipelines and fiber optic lines using existing cable company rights-of-way. 

The proposal puts PRGC in direct competition with Southwest Gas, an investor owned utility that currently serves Elko County and has been attempting to bring service to Spring Creek for years. While Southwest Gas has made little headway in the area, in 2015, it lobbied the state Legislature for a bill that would allow it to expand its infrastructure and has since been investigating project feasibility. 

The Co-op Advantage

Cooperatives have an added benefit when it comes to funding because as nonprofit organizations, they can apply for federal rural energy grants to pay for feasibility studies and capital projects. PRGC took advantage of the opportunity. On June 20th, the Members of the Elko County Board of Commissioners voted to also support their grant application for $125,000 to finance a feasibility study under the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Economic Development Assistance Program. The commissioners also voted for $5,000 of the County’s 2018-19 budget contingency fund to go toward the project. 

Commissioner Rex Steninger explained to the Elko Daily Free Press how bringing natural gas and broadband to Spring Creek and Lamoille would improve residents’ quality of life and promote economic development. He said, “There are 15,000 residents out there that we could help out… I think it’s worth the $5,000 commitment.”

Photo of Spring Creek by G. Thomas at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: ruralnevadacooperativespring creek nvelko county nv

Blandin Foundation Report Reveals Federally Subsidized Infrastructure in Minnesota Not Meeting Goals

muninetworks.org - July 6, 2018

The Connect America Fund provides annual federal funding to some of the largest telecommunications providers, but it can be hard for local officials to know where these dollars go.

A recent report digs deep into the federal subsidies for Internet service in Minnesota. Researcher Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors led a Blandin Foundation project that explored how federal Connect America Fund dollars have been used in two Minnesota telephone exchanges. In the end, researchers found that these networks would likely not meet Minnesota’s state connectivity goals.

Boots on the Ground

While digging through a paper trail of right-of-way agreements and local permits, researchers also went out into the field to find the actual infrastructure in the communities. They identified DSLAMs where fiber-optic lines connect to the copper DSL lines that run to people’s homes.

Using the locations of the DSLAMs, researchers mapped where people can likely receive federal government defined broadband of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The maps also show where people can likely get 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload which is the standard for the Connect America Fund subsidy. 

Result: Little Broadband Access

The 27-page report goes into detail on the connectivity available in the two telephone exchanges. The researchers conclude by explaining:

“In sum, CAF II investments in Minnesota are being spent to build networks that don’t meet today’s federal definition of broadband and won’t meet state goals for the future. Moreover, lack of transparency in proposed CAF II network plans and timelines is making it difficult for impacted communities to plan accordingly to ensure their broadband needs are being adequately met.“ (Page 22)

Read the full report from the Blandin Foundation.

Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons from Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left UnderservedTags: blandin foundationconnect america fundfederal fundingruralreport

Ting Begins to Light Up Sandpoint, Idaho; Sets Its Sights on Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina

muninetworks.org - July 5, 2018

Ting Fiber has continued its expansion into two more U.S. metropolitan areas, lighting fiber up in a northern Idaho town and planting a flag in a city south of the research triangle in North Carolina. Residents of the region of greater Sandpoint, Idaho (a service area of nearly 10,000 residents), and Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina (population of around 25,000), will soon see the benefits of fiber Internet access with Ting’s Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service.

Sandpoint Successes

In the spring of 2017, Sandpoint began leasing out part of its core dark fiber infrastructure to Ting. The Toronto-based ISP has been working on building out its fiber in the Idaho town since early April of this year, and just lit up its first customers (two small businesses) from a fiber expansion effort in downtown and central Sandpoint. Eventually Ting is planning on offering FTTH for residential and business access in Sandpoint, as well as Dover, Ponderay, and Kootenai, all in Bonner County. 

Sandpoint worked on building out its own dark fiber network for around five years, with the intent of leasing its infrastructure out to ISPs. Crews installed two conduits, one to reserve for emergency communications that the city would retain, and one for an open access network for ISPs to utilize.

The city has already entered into one non-exclusive franchise agreement with Intermax, which provides fiber to commercial businesses, and has contracted out fiber builds with Fatbeam. Both companies are local to the northern Idaho region.

A Long Time Coming

The town of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, has been making strides toward gaining a fast Internet network ever since high speed fiber Internet has slowly expanded in the region. Ting already provides fiber to the neighboring town of Holly Springs, which is about 5 miles from Fuquay-Varina. And, Google Fiber set up access across the triangle, with mixed results.

Fuquay-Varina never made plans to formulate a town-run ISP, mainly because a North Carolina law passed in 2011 created barriers that effective prohibit new municipal ISP ventures. Yet, starting in 2015 the town had made successful investments in their backbone fiber infrastructure, utilized for municipal services, with the hopes of luring ISPs to invest in providing broadband there. We spoke to Assistant Town Manager Mark Matthews, who said that Fuquay-Varina reached out to a number of possible broadband providers, including the incumbents, but none of the conversations panned out. They saw the strongest commitment in Ting. 

“When Ting approached the Town, it quickly became clear that they were serious about making an investment in Fuquay-Varina,” Matthews said. “Ting has quickly made a name for themselves right next door in Holly Springs, so our residents are already familiar with what they have to offer.”

Public-Private Partnerships: When They Work, When They Don’t

Public-private partnerships (P3s) between municipalities and private ISPs are often hard to maneuver, to the detriment of the locality looking for a low-risk way to improve its broadband access. We’ve written a lot about these complicated relationships. The ISPs have less to lose and so have better bargaining power.

Ting Fiber is a newer provider whose business model gravitates toward these kinds of partnerships -- knowing the costs and liaising with local governments involved in breaking ground on fiber connections. The company’s most well-known partnership is with the City of Westminster, Maryland, which we’ve written about as a model of how these P3s could be effective.

In the case of Sandpoint and Fuquay-Varina, Ting has actually decided to invest in building out the fiber infrastructure on the integral fiber backbones the cities offer. Both cities have at least partial fiber grids for key services such as emergency communications, and institutions such as City Hall.

In its first foray into fiber Internet provision in the states, Ting, which began as a mobile wireless provider, bought the majority share in Blue Ridge InternetWorks, a small provider in Charlottesville, Virginia, and began operating a fiber network. It’s since started providing services in Westminster, Maryland, Holly Springs, North Carolina, and Sandpoint. It’s also announced expansions in Centennial, Colorado in addition to Fuquay-Varina. For home fiber broadband Ting plans cost $89/month for symmetrical gigabit connectivity with unlimited data usage, plus startup fees; business plans range and are customized based on need.

Image credit Fvman [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: sandpoint ididahofuquay-varina ncnorth carolinapartnershiptingFTTHexpansion

Declaring Independence in Detroit Through Equitable Internet Access

muninetworks.org - July 4, 2018

On Independence Day, Americans celebrate the ingenuity, grit, and fortitude that led us to now. We’ve chosen this day to remember the decision to establish the United States as an independent country. Like other civilizations that have come and gone, America will always have times of honor and unbecoming moments in history, but its citizens have learned self-reliance — it’s in our DNA.

In this video from Motherboard and CNet, we have the chance to see a group of citizens from several Detroit neighborhoods take charge of their own digital future through local self-reliance. The people of the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII) are taking advantage of  dark fiber in the city to provide connectivity to residents in areas of the city sorely needing Internet access and better services. The group is composed of several organizations and, in addition to deploying high-speed wireless technology to serve residents and businesses, they’re heading up programs for young people to increase adoption and provide training.

When the framers of the U.S. Constitution declared their independence, they did so based on economics, social justice, and the desire for autonomy. Diana Nucera and her group, the Detroit Community Technology Project, express a similar motivation as they declare their independence through local self-reliance.

“We risk our human rights if we don’t take ownership and control over the Internet in a way that is decentralized.” - Diana Nucera, Director, Detroit Community Technology Project

If you're inspried by this story, you can donate to the project.

Tags: detroitmichiganfixed wirelesslocalfreevideodigital dividelow-incomecollaboration

Town of Mountain Village, Colorado, Issues RFP; Responses Due August 18

muninetworks.org - July 3, 2018

Another small rural community in Colorado has recently taken an important step toward better connectivity for the community. The Town of Mountain Village issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) late in June to find a firm to conduct a Broadband Assessment and Feasibility Study. Responses are due August 10, 2018.

Read the RFP here.

Assess and Propose

The Town of Mountain Village (TMV) has an existing municipal cable network that offers Internet access, voice, and video. Community leaders want to engage a firm to assess the current infrastructure, consider improvements over the next few years, and make recommendations for improvements.

In addition to searching for ways to improve service and pinpoint any potential adoption and service gaps, the consultants will also be expected to devise a broadband strategy. TMV community leaders understand that the future will require better infrastructure than they now possess. The city wants to learn about the possible outlook for Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), potential partnerships, smart policies, and potential funding sources.

Town of Mountain Village

With only approximately 1,300 full-time residents and an additional non-resident property owner population, Mountain Village has similar qualities to some of the other rural communities we’ve covered. Penobscot, Maine, where seasonal visitors swell the population and the need for better connectivity, recently issued an RFI in their search for firms to help improve local Internet access. In addition to offering services to the general public, TMV's existing network connects municipal facilities, including water and wastewater, public transportation, public safety, parks and recreation, municipal offices, the housing authority properties.

As the name implies, TMV sits within the mountains. At the base of the Telluride Ski Resort in the southwest corner of the state, TMV adopted a free gondola and chondola (chair gondola) system as public transportation in 1996. Cars are still allowed in the town, but parking is limited to two garages and not permitted along streets or roads. The community prides itself on its efforts to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions through efforts such as the Mountain Village Gondola (or “G” as it’s known locally) and mandatory recycling, strong efforts at composting, and adoption of a Zero Waste Action Plan.

TMV covers approximately 3.3 square miles with a good part of that area dedicated to “plazas” where much of the commerce and community events occur. Hotels and businesses line the plazas and planned open and green space provides venues for concerts, free outdoor summer movies, and festivals.

Important dates:

July 11, 2018:  Pre-Proposal Conference/Site Meeting 

July 18, 2018: Pre-Proposal Questions Deadline 

July 20, 2018: Response to Questions Available 

Aug 10, 2018: Sealed Proposals Due/ Proposal Opening 

Read the RFP here.

Photo of the Town of Mountain Village courtesy of their Facebook page.

Town of Mountain Village, Colorado, RFP for Feasibility StudyTags: mountain village cocoloradorfpfeasibilityruralupgrade

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 2

muninetworks.org - July 2, 2018

California

Watering-down of net neutrality bill draws backlash by Jonathan J. Cooper, Associated Press [Ventura County Star]

A California lawmaker's decision to alter a net neutrality bill considered one of the nation's most aggressive efforts to require an equal playing field on the internet has generated intensely personal online attacks aimed at his family as well as criticism from fellow Democrats in Congress.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago leads a committee that this week stripped whole chunks of a net neutrality measure. He stirred a passionate reaction from open internet advocates who think the state that is home to the technology sector and the liberal resistance to President Donald Trump should take a hardline stance on the matter.

The decision reverberated far beyond California's Capitol, drawing rebukes from members of Congress and leading the state Democratic chairman to try to diffuse tension. Santiago quickly drew fire in online memes and a flood of calls to his office accusing the Los Angeles lawmaker of selling out to internet providers, citing his contributions from AT&T.

 

Colorado

Boulder City Council Votes to Fund Citywide Broadband Network by Brianna Williams, Next City

The Fort Collins broadband service will be called … by Nick Coltrain, The Coloradoan

 

Iowa

Rural matters: Small town voters are looking for big ideas in 2018 by Bill Menner, Cedar Rapids Gazette

So, what could the next governor or Legislature or Congress do to help?

Fund significantly the existing broadband grant program. Legislators funded it for the first time this year, approving $1.3 million. In fact, the high-speed broadband of the future lies in fiber. But extending it across rural Iowa will cost a lot of money. As rural telephone cooperatives have proved, fiber has tremendous impacts on the people who have it. Extending fiber to places to where it’s not will cost tens of millions. A better-funded state grant program would encourage expansion and leverage millions in private investment.

The FCC says all of Iowa has access to broadband internet. Speed tests tell a different story. by Sam Bloch, New Food Economy

  

Maryland

Dorchester County fiber optic internet installation by Camila Fernandez, WMDT

Faster internet has arrived to Dorchester County. 

Bay Country Communication has finished their installation of fiber optics to improve high speed internet across the area. 

According to the internet service provider, the mission is to bring high speed internet for local businesses and homes that either don't have adequate access or none at all.

 

Mississippi

Broadband expansion important endeavor by Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal Editorial Board

Mississippi looks to bring fiber internet to rural areas by Cristina Carreon, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

The topic of bringing internet service to rural communities brought 46 Mississippi legislators and more than a dozen electric cooperative representatives to Hamilton, Alabama, Wednesday morning to look at an example of success 14 miles across the state line.

Brandon Presley, Northern District Commissioner for the Mississippi Public Service Commission, called the meeting and said a bill is being drafted to come before the state legislature in January that would allow Mississippi power associations to provide broadband internet to rural communities.

The federal spending bill passed in March allocated $600 million for electric cooperatives and rural utilities to bring broadband to rural areas, but Presley said state law currently precludes that funding from being used in Mississippi.

 

North Carolina

Pinetops customers will be losing Greenlight by Brie Handgraaf, The Wilson Times

 

Ohio

FairlawnGig Expands its Reach, Touts Municipal Broadband Network Success by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

 

Pennsylvania

Lifeline offline: Unreliable internet, cell service are hurting rural Pennsylvania’s health by Kris B. Mamula, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

Tennessee

Bredesen to push for TVA to help expand broadband access by Associated Press, Miami Herald

 

Virginia

How we brought broadband to rural Virginia by Sherrin Alsop, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Loudoun Supervisors Lay Out Rural Broadband Goals by Renss Greene, Loudoun Now

Amherst County's rural areas ready for broadband boost by Justin Faulconer, Amherst New-Era Progress

 

Washington

Grave digging? Changing tires? Washington’s rural telecom companies do it all by Ryan Blethen, Seattle Times

 

Wisconsin

Project tracker: City set to extend fiber optic network by Jim Dayton, Janesville Gazette Extra

Tags: media roundup
Syndicate content