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Highlands Looking For A Partner: RFI Responses Due June 9th

muninetworks.org - 5 hours 28 min ago

Highlands, North Carolina, deployed a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure and fixed wireless complement to serve the community. The small rural community has been operating the municipal network in the Appalachians since late 2015, but is now considering passing the mantle to a private partner. They recently released a Request for Information (RFI) and responses are due June 9th.

High In The Appalachians

Tourism is one of the town’s staple economies, as it’s known for its natural surroundings atop the Nantahala National Forest in the mountains. While less than 1,000 people live in the town all year, summer tourists swell the population to around 20,000. There are several country clubs nearby that cater to the affluent second-home owners in Highlands and there are at least 500 homes that are valued at $1 million or more.

The FTTH network does not serve the entire community. Local leaders want the network available to the entire community, in part to keep second home owners in Highlands for extended periods of time. With better connectivity, many could work from home. The community also operates a municipal electric utility that owns 2,600 utility poles and 110 miles of line, most of it aerial. Interestingly, the Highlands Electric Utility serves over 3,000 accounts, some in the suburban Atlanta areas.

Highlands issued the RFI to search out  provider that would be interested in expanding the FTTH network and acquiring more customers for the network as a whole. They still want to own the infrastructure, but hope to attract a provider willing to lease the existing network and add to it.

Read the rest of the RFI.

Responses are due Friday, June 30th.

Tags: highlands ncnorth carolinarfipartnershipFTTHfixed wirelessappalachiansrural

Francis Ford Coppola Appeals To FCC On Behalf Of Net Neutrality, The Arts

muninetworks.org - May 22, 2017

The new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has not been shy about letting the public know that the agency, under the new administration, will undo many of the net neutrality protections of the Obama years. Unsurprisingly, the FCC website has been taxed with heavy traffic as concerned citizens reach out to comment.

Many of us consider what will be available to us if ISPs are able to decide which content has access to “fast lanes” through paid prioritization. Artists who create that content have the same concern.

This short video from Public Knowledge highlights the words of Francis Ford Coppola in his open letter to the FCC. He asks the agency to remember its place in history and to protect artistic innovation from corporate greed. In other words, “leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

Tags: network neutralityinnovationvideofccpaid prioritizationpublic knowledge

Community Broadband Media Roundup - May 22

muninetworks.org - May 22, 2017

Colorado

Fort Collins likely to put city-provided broadband services on November ballot by Kevin Duggan, The Coloradoan

 

Maine

Proposed legislation aimed at protecting Mainers' Internet privacy by Portland Press Herald

 

Minnesota

Is there a market for city-owned Internet service? by Randy Petersen, Rochester Post Bulletin

The need for improved technology took Robison to the April 17 Rochester City Council meeting to join four other residents supporting a proposed market study regarding municipal broadband. The concept of a city-supported Internet service in Rochester was first broached by the council in 2015 in an effort to ensure adequate access to high-speed Internet service at a reasonable price.

Council member Michael Wojcik has been advocating for action from the start, noting quality Internet access is needed to keep local students and businesses competitive. "Broadband is key for information for a lot of people, particularly younger generations, and going forward, it becomes more and more critical," he said.

 

Ohio

Study: Ohio statewide broadband office, investment fund could help boost rural access by Theo Douglas, Government Technology

 

General

National Digital Inclusion Week helps build nationwide momentum for digital equity by Zack Quaintance, Government Technology

Tucows' Noss: Google Fiber's realignment won't have a material impact by Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

ISP deregulation discourages competition by Josh Maasberg, Daily Evergreen

FCC commissioner: 'Net neutrality is doomed if we're silent' by Lucas Matney, TechCrunch

Small but powerful: Despite objections, small ISPs need net neutrality too by Sara Kamal, Public Knowledge

Tags: media roundup

Can't Make It To Mountain Connect? Periscope It

muninetworks.org - May 22, 2017

Spring is the season for Mountain Connect. This year, it’s all about Building Sustainable Communities through Smart Networks; the event starts today and runs through May 24th in Keystone, Colorado. 

Christopher will be participating in a panel on Tuesday at 12:15 p.m. The title of the discussion is “Broadband Policy Lost In The Woods,” and speaking with Christopher will be Blair Levin from the Brookings Institute. Phil Weiser from Silicon Flatirons will moderate.

Can make it? You can still follow the action at the conference via @MountainConnect and @CommunityNets. There will be Periscope broadcasts of some of the panel discussions throughout the conference.

Some of the other topics will include:

  • Navigating Rights of Way and Pole Attachment Agreements
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems
  • Wireless Considerations
  • Smart Utilities
  • Evolution and Impact of Over the Top Content
  • Digital Government Services
  • How can we Partner with our Incumbent Providers
  • Navigating Financing Options

View the full agenda online.

Tags: conferencecoloradochristopher mitchellblair levinvideoevent

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 254

muninetworks.org - May 19, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 254 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Christopher Mitchell sits down with Joshua Breitbart, the Senior Advisor for Broadband to the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of New York City. Listen to this episode here.

Joshua Breitbart: From New York City, I think that we are maybe the first city to begin to look at how we can take responsibility for the space of the Internet itself.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 254 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Finding ways for lower income individuals and families to obtain high quality Internet access is a problem in most urban areas. As Internet access becomes more central to our lives for everyday tasks, solving that problem becomes more immediate. In New York City the Queensbridge Connected project is aiming to solve that problem by working with a private sector partner and involving the community. This initiative will bring high-speed Wi-Fi to residents of Queensbridge Housing, which is part of the New York City Public Housing Authority. In this interview, Christopher talks with Joshua Breitbart who works for New York City. Joshua describes how the project has progressed, how they view the Queensbridge Connected project as a model of other parts of the city, and shares some of the lessons learned that have helped guide the project. Now here's Christopher and Joshua Breitbart talking about New York City's Queensbridge Connected initiative.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, still in my hotel room, talking with another person from the Broadband Community Summit down here in Dallas, 2017. Welcome to the show, Joshua Breitbart. Senior advisor for Broadband to the CTO of New York City.

Joshua Breitbart: Hello, Chris. Good to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm excited to have you on the show. I've talked with you a few times. You've been doing a lot of interesting stuff. I know you've been doing interesting stuff for many years but you've gone from somebody who was doing interesting policy, in the ground grassroots working with neighborhood groups, to working for the most powerful, most amazing city in the world, so I'm interested to see what's going on. Maybe we can start, why are you down here in Dallas for the Broadband Summit?

Joshua Breitbart: Queensbridge Connected, which is our initiative in New York to connect all the residents of the Queensbridge houses to high-speed broadband has won an award for Most Promising New Plan from Next Century Cities and Google Fiber. We're very excited to come here and receive the award and learn from a lot of the other attendees here.

Christopher Mitchell: Queensbridge Connected. Before we even start there, there's something that you said a long time ago that stuck with me and that's -- For people to get a sense, New York I think maybe they think of Manhattan. You said something along the lines of, "You have to understand that if you take one problem, that you face one sub-sector like low-income housing, that in aggregate is more people than most cities are in size."

Joshua Breitbart: The New York City Housing Authority is the largest housing authority in the country. There are approximately 400 thousand residents which would put it on its own I think in the top 50 cities in the country. They live at about 328 different sites, 26 hundred buildings, 180 thousand or so apartment units. It's about one in 12 New York residents live in public housing so it's an important part of our city. It's important part of keeping New York affordable. The New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA, the residents, they are an important part of New York. There are communities like the Queensbridge houses, which in itself is the largest public housing development in the country with about seven thousand residents, that are almost a neighborhood unto themselves. This was a great opportunity to work with those residents to establish a real center of excellence for the city where we could start to put into practice the Universally Connected New York that the mayor has set as a goal for 2025.

Christopher Mitchell: I wanted to know, you have these challenges, you also have a unique challenge in that a lot of communities that come to me and they say, "We're trying to solve this problem," and I think, "You're similar to someone else." New York City's not similar to anyone else.

Joshua Breitbart: Or in some ways we're similar to everyone else. There might be one section of New York that is like a whole other city of 500 thousand people and that 15, 16, 17 times throughout the city. But we also have great people as part of the city. It's a real privilege to have the colleagues that I have. Other cities can't necessarily bring together the same group of people. We have a fantastic -- Mayor's really committed to this issue, and again the residents are great contributors and partners. I'm a New Yorker. It's where I grew up. It's a real great opportunity to contribute to my hometown. I love going to work everyday trying to solve these problems.

Christopher Mitchell: As we start talking about Queensbridge Connected I want to know one other thing and that's that you had worked previously with Maya Wiley, who I have a lot of respect for. She goes way back. She's moved on to other things now but I wanted to make sure we honored all the work that she put in to a lot of these things.

Joshua Breitbart: Maya Wiley was council to the mayor. She hired me into this position and gave me this opportunity and providing credible leadership really the first time the city was really taking responsibility for Broadband for all New Yorkers. We've been very fortunate that after she left Miguel Gamino became the chief technology officer. Broadband was put into his office where I now work and I work for him. Again one of the great things about New York is great people come to work for our city and so the opportunity to -- I've worked with Maya and now work with Miguel is a great opportunity.

Christopher Mitchell: Queensbridge Connected, how did the project start?

Joshua Breitbart: Maya had actually written about a project that I had helped some called Red Hook Wi-Fi that was ongoing for a number of years before Mayor de Blasio was elected.

Christopher Mitchell: Also before Sandy came and I think everyone in the country was paying attention to tech policy at least saw an article about it.

Joshua Breitbart: It was a great asset. The community built it up. Also continued to build it up after Sandy had really made it a part of their recovery and a part of strengthening their community both from a tech sense as well as from a social sense. Maya saw that as an example for how broadband could help low-income communities in New York. She wrote an article telling the mayor what she thought about that. They mayor saw that article and asked her to lead out this broadband effort. Queensbridge Connected was the first time that we tried to apply the lessons from Red Hook Wi-Fi which was a totally community-led effort, and how to do that from a city-led perspective which really is the first step toward thinking about how the city can do something like that at scale. We took a lot of the lessons from Red Hook in terms of community engagement, and everything from designing the initiative to actually participating in the installation of the equipment. I think that we've been very successful in incorporating those lessons into Queensbridge Connected, and that's part of why we're getting recognized with this award at the Broadband Community Summit.

Christopher Mitchell: If I could exaggerate for a second, I feel like as a policy person thinking about how to solve low-income access, I think there's this dream of, you see a community that has this desire, you come, you put the technology up, you make it available, people are happy, there's parties in the streets, problem solved. There's a really good Wired article that talked about some of the lessons that were learned and I got the sense that you can't just wander in, throw wireless access points around and the problem is done.

Joshua Breitbart: There are a few steps there. I think what New York is recognizing is first of all, we've moved past this idea that the infrastructure's all fine in urban areas. In fact it's not all fine. In fact there's quite a lot disparity and inequity and we've put some effort into measuring that so we can really point to what those inequities are.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I think cities often -- You have someone that's in power, they really want to get things done and they may understand problems and they may not go to the trouble of really empirically documenting rigorously that there's a problem, but you guys did that.

Joshua Breitbart: Yeah, and we continue to do that. There's a issue with infrastructure and some inequities there. Also if you go talk to people about what their consumer experience is they will generally tell you that they are not satisfied. That maybe was an okay situation when broadband was something for a small fraction of the city-

Christopher Mitchell: Before every homework assignment had homework components for kids.

Joshua Breitbart: -- but broadband is now an essential utility and that means cities have to take some responsibility for making sure that all residents are connected to it, and that all residents are getting equitable service. That does require some form of empirical data and in some ways we have to invent that field. There is helpful information in the American Community Survey and the FCC form 477 data but it's not enough, so we're looking at how we can build on that and do all of our own measures that really match to the principles that we have of equitable, affordable, high-performing service. That residents have choices for those services.

Christopher Mitchell: Getting back to, explicitly about the Queensbridge project. One of the things that we should really cover is very explicitly what it does. Just in elevator pitch, what problem is that solving?

Joshua Breitbart: Queensbridge Connected is a free high-speed Wi-Fi throughout the entire Queensbridge Community, plus a number of initiatives to support the residents to make use of that free service.

Christopher Mitchell: The size of the community?

Joshua Breitbart: There's seven thousand residents across basically six city blocks. About 96 buildings.

Christopher Mitchell: The scale is amazing. It's probably the size of St. Paul's downtown, to exaggerate a little.

Joshua Breitbart: But it is sizeable. The building's were built in the 1930s so this is a retro-fit. There is some existing wiring that we can make use of in the installation but that's certainly one of the challenges with New York City public housing. But at Queensbridge there's a great community leadership from the Tenant Association. There's a really great community organization called Jacob Resettlement. We referred to those onsite organizations as cornerstones in New York for the NYCHA communities. Through them we're also able to bring in older adults’ technology services which is provided training to some of the seniors. And there too, folks went door-to-door talking to people about what kind of services they wanted, what they wanted training in. They designed a curriculum and they're now on their third iteration of that curriculum. They're focusing on things like health in addition to digital literacy skills, how they can use Fitbits to be more healthy, how they can use digital tools to be more engaged in community organizing to make changes in their community. It's again, a real focus on the Queensbridge residents and how they can be the leaders of this initiative.

Christopher Mitchell: There's several things there I want to follow-up on. One is the going door-to-door because I think, again in this exaggeration of what a public policy person might think is this sense of, "Everybody wants a broadband and if you're in a place where you can't afford it, it's suddenly available for free, you're just going to want it." But one of the lessons I gather from that Wired article that talked about this and I'm sure will link to in the show notes was that, there's a history and people don't necessarily trust someone coming to their door or getting a pamphlet in the mail that says, "Here's this thing. Go and use it."

Joshua Breitbart: Nor should they. From the beginning we knew that we wanted to look for every opportunity to engage the residents as the leaders and drivers of this project, so finding the vendor we wanted a partner that was going to do that. Spot On's network's hired Queensbridge residents to work on the project both as ambassadors to go talk to people about the project, explain why they might need to put a wireless access point in their apartment. Also hired somebody with an IT background who had been through a training program sponsored by the city, hired that person to be involved as a technician and do the installation. Part of that is building trust to get access to people's apartment, it's very practical, but it also does lead to a much more robust set of impacts of the project because now you're giving people not just a way to connect to the global Internet and all that has to offer, but a way of actually strengthening their local community. By installing a Wi-Fi network you're connecting people who live next door to each other, not just those people separately to the world.

Christopher Mitchell: That's one of the things that I find really promising. I think a lot of us are afraid of the way that Internet can pull us away from community. One of the things that several conversations recently brought back is that this local organizing has spillover benefits for other things. It makes the neighborhoods, the housing units, better, like people better know their neighbors.

Joshua Breitbart: Strong social fabric is key to so many things. We worked with NYCHA to pick a community where there was that community leadership already in place that we could really build on. That's a really key component. I think you're also touching on some of the increasing challenges of the Internet in the way it can really fray relationships and have some negative social impacts, whether it's exposing people to loss of privacy to online abuse and harassment.

Christopher Mitchell: In particular, let's be very clear about this, communities of color and women. You and I are white guys. It's amazing when you look at studies of people like you and I. If we changed our avatar, the way people respond to the things that we tweet regularly changes and this is something that is, I think a lot of us being white guys making policy aren't familiar with. It's not something where you think, "No one harassed me." Change your avatar for a few days, say some provocative things and see what happens.

Joshua Breitbart: Even the same experience of harassment is not even experienced the same way. Then if that's certainly compounded if you are low-income, your time is restricted, your equipment access is restricted, your digital literacy skills might also be limited. All these things really compound those problems and you're right, create disparate impacts for communities of color, low-income communities, and many other groups. For New York City, we're recognizing this. I think that we are maybe the first city to begin to look at how we can take responsibility for the space of the Internet itself. The chief technology officer and the chair of the city's Human Rights Commission are convening a working group to review what the city is doing to address some of these issues where in a place like Queensbridge, the city can take a strong role in what the privacy policy is, what open Internet policies are, and really shows the importance of the city being involved, certainly now that we see that the federal government is walking back from that role. All these things really are heightening the need for cities to be very much involved in, not just of the delivery of service but in making sure that their residents have a good experience on the Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's worth noting. I think a lot of us would like it if cities could focus on infrastructure and walk away, but the reason we're focusing on infrastructure is to create good outcomes. Those good outcomes won't necessarily just happen because there is more ubiquitous Wi-Fi available.

Joshua Breitbart: That's absolutely right. I think what we see in Queensbridge Connected is that the best outcomes come from when you do those things in tandem. You're embedding the work with the residents to identify what the best experience is, and you're installing the technology and building out the infrastructure with the residents as part of that same process. Doing those two things together is really how you get the most out of the Internet in terms of positive impacts for your community and your city. What we've seen at Queensbridge is the way that the role that the city can play in that process working with the New York City Housing Authority, with our Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, with our non-profit partners, with the Resident Association, and now we want to see how we expand on those lessons and move towards the goal of universal broadband for all New Yorkers.

Christopher Mitchell: You have a history of .. Way back into what we called Muni Wi-Fi in the day, of looking at these and finding that when you try to just provide the technology and you're over the community and you're not really within the community it doesn't work out. It's not like you're coming at this afresh. This is something has been awhile. You have some experience with.

Joshua Breitbart: Let's say a lot of people contributed to learning these lessons. In the early days of cities being involved in broadband, with Wireless Philadelphia for example. There was a robust community engagement process that led to a plan that then they veered away from to involve a corporate partner, EarthLink, to deliver the service. At that point there was really this fallout of community leadership, community engagement, and a real loss of a sense of ownership on the part of the community. That was a real contributor to the downfall of that project. There were other problems in terms of density with the nodes, predatory pricing by the competitors, the way that it was setup with the non-profit partner, and you can link to their report in the show notes as well. In any major technology project you're going to have steps at the beginning where you're going to need the community to continue to support as you iterate through those challenges to move towards success. If you aren't working in close partnership with the community, you're not going to retain that support, so that was a really important lesson there. I think New York and other cities have really seen the importance of that.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you for coming on and telling us more about the program and the lessons learned.

Joshua Breitbart: Thank you, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Joshua Breitbart talking about New York City's Queensbridge Connected project. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email as at podcast@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 all of the podcasts in the ILSR family, iTunes Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research, subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 254 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptnew york citydigital dividefixed wirelesslow incomeWi-Fifree

Famous Actors And Fast Access: FTTP Coming To Beverly Hills

muninetworks.org - May 19, 2017

Beverly Hills may be known for mansions and upscale shopping, but within a few years, it will also be known for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The city is investing in a citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network for all homes and businesses, including apartments and condos, inside the city.

"90210" Wants Something Better

The city (pop. 35,000) is a little less than six square miles and they receive electricity from Southern California Edison (SCE). AT&T and Time Warner Cable (now transitioning to Spectrum) provide Internet access throughout the community but a 2014 survey as part of the city’s feasibility study indicated that 65 percent of respondents would “definitely or probably” switch to services from the city, if the services were offered. As part of the survey, 25 percent of respondents also want video and voice bundles; 86 percent feel using the Internet at home is important.

While incumbents offer fiber connectivity in commercial areas of Beverly Hills, local businesses report that rates are expensive and they must pay for the cost of construction, which is also a big expense. At a recent City Council meeting when the Council approved funding for the project, the Mayor and Members expressed the need to be an economically competitive city. With Santa Monica, Culver City and Burbank nearby (all communities with municipal networks), Beverly Hills wants to be able to attract businesses looking to relocate or hold on to the businesses that need affordable and reliable gigabit connections.

Nuts And Bolts To Networking

The city owns existing fiber-optic infrastructure and plans to integrate its current resources into the new deployment. They’ll be adding about 100 miles of additional fiber to connect premises - including households, businesses, and schools - with both underground and aerial connections. In addition to existing streetlight conduit, Beverly Hills will add conduit for the project where necessary. SCE poles run through many of the city’s alleys and the community has been working on a pole attachment agreement so fiber-optic cable can hang from approximately 1,900 SCE poles. About 60 percent of the city’s parcels can be connected via underground connections. Construction will happen in phases and will likely start in the southeast part of the city; properties will be connected as construction in their area is completed.

Beverly Hills has firmly established a goal to offer 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) connectivity to residential subscribers for $50 per month. The city intends to offer the service to both single-family homes and multi-dwelling units (MDUs). Commercial tiers have yet to be determined, but will be offered in a variety of tiers.

Recently, communities investing in Internet infrastructure have chosen to bypass video as part of services offered, but Beverly Hills feels they need to be able to provide both voice and video to meet certain financial targets. 

Paying For The Network

Beverly Hills will spend $19 million to deploy its network and has already approved vendors for the first phase, which includes construction, management, and equipment. They’ll use $10 million from the General Fund, which was already earmarked for the FTTP project in addition to internal loans from the city’s Information Technology funds and other city resources. Planners expect the network to run a positive cash flow in the fifth year and estimate it will pay for itself in 16 years.

Spreading the Word

In a town known for its links to show business, it’s not surprise that the city has created media to spread the word about the project. In addition to fact sheets, Beverly Hills has created a couple of videos that describe why the project will benefit the community and what it will offer.

 

 

Image of the Beverly Hills Hotel by Alan Light (The Beverly Hills Hotel, 1989) CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: beverly hillscaliforniaFTTHgigabitvideovoicepole attachmentsconduitsurveyfeasibilitytime warner cableat&t

Fibre Centre: Carrier Neutral Connectivity In New Brunswick

muninetworks.org - May 18, 2017

The Fibre Centre began linking Boston and Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, in April 2015 with dark fiber. The network neutral 25,000 square foot is a network-neutral data center and meet-me-room where physical networks can connect. The project “offers a route around the big-city carrier hotels” and its visionaries hope to reproduce it in other communities.

Hub City Updated

In 2000, a now defunct company invested $960 million to lay a giant fiber-optic cable between the Canadian Maritimes and Europe. When the company went bankrupt, Hibernia acquired the fiber, which runs under the community of Moncton. There is also a second similar cable running in the city of about 72,000 people, which put Moncton in a good location for a colocation facility. The community obtained the nickname “Hub City” back when railroads where the main form of transportation, but the nickname still applies.

The city helped establish the Fibre Centre within Moncton as a way to contribute to economic development and improve services for the city. One of the owners of the facility, Hunter Newby, has visited us for the Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes 111 and 104. Newby has been involved in other carrier neutral projects and hopes to reproduce this model in other communities.

Ryan Sorrey, Director of Information Systems for Moncton described some of the benefits to the city:

“Our partnership with the Fibre Centre has provided our organization with several advantages, including enhanced reliability, access to higher speed network(s), and opportunity for increased connectivity between municipalities for greater collaboration, and the benefit of more direct connections to major cloud providers.”

 

Economic Development

The addition of the Fibre Centre spurred economic development in Moncton. A tech boon in New Brunswick, especially in Moncton, has created a gap between open positions and the skilled people to fill them. Companies are looking outside the province for potential employees to find the talent they need. Local officials see that trend continuing.

Improving Local Internet Access

Moncton recently became a new Internet Exchange Point when the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) announced in April that the Moncton IXP would be operating by early May:

The IXP puts Moncton in with other major Canadian cities that have an exchange, such as Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary.

"It's now of sufficient size, strategic location and importance [to say] that it's New Brunswick's city with an Internet exchange," said David Shipley, the director of strategic initiatives at the University of New Brunswick's Information Technology Services.

"An IXP acts as a hub where Internet service providers and content delivery networks - such as Google and Amazon, as well as universities, cities, and others with web content - connect to each other's network infrastructure.”

Securing Data In Canada

Another advantage of an IXP in Moncton is the security it provides due to its geographical location. With more data routes in the country, ISPs don’t have to rely on networks that travel within the U.S. When personal information travels into the U.S., American regulations apply regarding surveillance of that data. With more exchanges in Canada, there is less need for traffic to travel outside of the country.

Enhanced security by keeping connections closer to home is welcome by the local tech industry and security experts. CyberNB, Canada's Cyber Security Strategy, noted:

"This new Internet exchange point in New Brunswick is very important to our provincial innovation agenda and to our collective security as we connect our communities. This partnership, supported by CIRA's unique tools and insight, helps to establish a more resilient and safe Internet for our communities and sets us on a course to establish a more secure Internet in Canada," said Allen Dillon, managing director, CyberNB. "This new exchange point helps to protect New Brunswick businesses by accessing more data locally in Canada versus transiting information through the United States. This is an essential step to help protect our data and information sovereignty as we continue to build our economy on the Internet."

Looking For More Communities

Newby hopes to find more communities in which to develop similar models. He can be contacted at hn(at)fibrecentre.com.

Tags: canadacarrier neutralhunter newbyeconomic developmentsecurityinternet exchange

EPB Fiber Today: 90K+ Subscribers, Lower Power Rates

muninetworks.org - May 17, 2017

Congratulations to Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber, which in April exceeded 90,000 subscribers and contributed to lower power rates for all EPB customers.

Savings For Everyone

While the increased subscribership is cause for celebration, an equally important chapter in the story is that EPB lowered power rates by 7 percent as a result of upgrading to a “smart grid.” All EPB customers may not subscribe to EPB Fiber's Internet access, but all electric customers benefit from lower electric rates. Chattanooga’s fiber network operates as the main mode of communications for the grid, while also providing Internet services to businesses and residents.

The grid and fiber combination includes sensors, meters, and switches that enable EPB to track energy use and manage power outages. During one storm in 2013, the grid’s switches reduced outage times by 55 percent, saving EPB $1.4 million. In late April, the area endured severe storms, but network officials estimate the smart grid prevented power outages to 17,800 customers.

In an interview with Christopher last November, EPB’s former President and CEO Harold DePriest detailed how Chattanooga’s fiber network helps bring down costs:

“We built a smart grid on the back of that fiber, and that has very literally cut the number of outages and the length of outages here in Chattanooga by 50 to 60 percent... that one thing is saving our community's businesses somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 million dollars a year. That's pretty substantial.”

J. Ed. Marston, EPB’s vice president of marketing and communications, said:

"It's proved out a business model that is very effective and one that could be played out on a national level. We've proven that this subscriber-funded model for building both a smart grid and a fiber-optic communications network provides a valuable asset for our community and actually helps to lower power rates."

Surpassing Expectations

The publicly owned electric utility offers speeds of up to 10 gigs to all subscribers in its 600-square mile foot service area and is one of the most celebrated examples of a municipal fiber network and smart grid combination in the United States. The city initially estimated it would need 35,000 subscribers for the network to be profitable; clearly, Chattanoogans’ desire for lightning-fast Internet speeds far exceeds the minimum. "Our original board decision to undertake fiber optics has proven to be very solid and a great asset for our community and our electric system," EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson said Monday.

Learn the details on Chattanooga's story to better connectivity from our 2012 report, Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks. The report highlights the communities of Chattanooga; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Bristol, Virginia.

Tags: EPBchattanoogatennesseeharold depriestFTTHelectricitysmart-gridratespublic savings

NYC Works With Grassroots for Low-Income Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 254

muninetworks.org - May 16, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 254 - Joshua Breitbart, New York City Senior Advisor for Broadband to NYC CTO

Some time ago, when speaking with Joshua Breitbart, the Senior Advisor for Broadband to the New York City CTO Miguel Gamiño, he mentioned to me that any subset of the issues they face with regard to improving Internet access in New York City is itself a massive issue. Joshua joins us to elaborate on that challenge and an exciting project that points to the way to solving some of their problems on episode 254 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

We talk about Queensbridge Connected, a partnership to ensure people living in low-income housing have access to broadband Internet connections. We also discuss how their responsibility does not end merely with making Wi-Fi available, but actually helping people be prepared to use the connection safely.

Joshua offers an important perspective on the challenges in large urban areas to make sure policy is fully responsive to local needs by ensuring residents are a part of the process and solution. 

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 21 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: low-incomenew york citynew yorkhousing authorityWi-FiWirelesspartnershipaudiobroadband bitspodcastprivacy

Traverse City Picks A Path To FTTH

muninetworks.org - May 16, 2017

After long deliberation, utility board members in Traverse City have taken a firm step toward Internet infrastructure in order to improve connectivity in Michigan’s “Cherry Capital of the World.” The board of Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P) voted unanimously to adjust their six-year capital improvement plan to include the cost of a citywide fiber network.

Making A Decision

City leaders have considered several options to give residents and businesses better Internet access. They’ve had their own fiber infrastructure for about ten years, which they’ve leased to schools and hospitals and used to offer free downtown Wi-Fi. For over a year now, they've tossed around several possibilities on how to move forward to meet the demands of the community.

TCL&P has mulled over the pros and cons of offering retail services themselves as well as leasing the infrastructure to a single provider. The consultants who developed their feasibility study examined both options. A local group of tech enthusiasts encouraged TCL&P to consider an open access plan, but their consultants reviewed the option and advised against it. Other options were to do nothing or work with an electric cooperative serving the rural areas around the city.

At their May 10th meeting, board members decided to eliminate the option that places TCL&P in the role as retail ISP. They will expand the existing network by another 184 fiber miles over the next two years to approximately 10,800 customers; TCL&P will own and operate the infrastructure, but they intend to seek some other entity to serve as ISP. The up front investment is lower with this plan than if they were to operate as a muni ISP and they’ve had discussions with at least one interested provider. TCL&P officials note that their current decision doesn’t prevent them from an open access arrangement or contracts with multiple providers in the future. 

Board members decided they weren’t ready for the extra investment required for TCL&P to serve as ISP in addition to infrastructure management:

“Jumping into a new industry when you have no experience in that industry is just…not a good way to go,” said Vice-Chair Jeff Palisin. “If down the road it makes sense to get into it, then we can really do our due diligence in getting into a new business.”

Next Steps

The City Commission and the Planning Commission must both approve the amended capital improvement plan. Deploying the network will cost approximately $10 million; the city intends to bond. Construction should start in the fall of 2018 or spring of 2019. Traverse City expects to break even in the second year through contracting with an ISP.

Tags: traverse city mimichiganFTTHexpansionmaster planutilitymuni

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 253

muninetworks.org - May 15, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 253 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Diane Kruse of NeoConnect joins the show to discuss Colorado's community networks. Listen to this episode here.

 

Diane Kruse: I think it's reached this critical point where it is absolutely a necessity for municipalities to build out fiber infrastructure.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 253 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This is a special twofer week. Christopher interviewed several people at the recent Broadband Community Summit in Dallas, and we want to bring you the material while it's still fresh. We'll be back to our regular schedule next week. Diane Kruse and her consulting firm, NeoConnect, work with communities that are looking for ways to improve local connectivity. In this interview, Diane offers a consultant's perspective on Colorado's restrictive SB 152 and how it has affected local community initiatives to improve broadband. She shares how her firm approaches working with communities. Each one has unique goals and considerations while making public investment. Chris and Diane discuss some of the changes they’ve seen in both private and public investment and how it's happening. Learn more about Diane's firm at NeoConnect.us. Now, here's Christopher and Diane Kruse.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, coming at you live once again -- We're live right now, but it's coming at you from the Broadband Community Summit in Dallas, Texas, 2017. With me today is the president and CEO of NeoConnect, Diane Kruse. Welcome to the show.

Diane Kruse: Thank you, Chris, it's great to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: NeoConnect, I know that your firm is located in Colorado. There's tons of things happening in Colorado, but you do things around the country.

Diane Kruse: Yeah, we are a nationwide consulting firm. We work with municipalities and local governments on broadband planning and implementation. We have projects all over the US, but you are absolutely right. There's a lot of work that’s being done just right in our back yard in Colorado.

Christopher Mitchell: You're about to kick off a number of projects in California. I know that you are involved in Tennessee, several other southeastern states, but today we're just going to talk about Colorado. First let me just ask you, you had any good bike rides lately?

Diane Kruse: Oh, gosh. We could talk for hours about that. Yes, of course. Living in Glenwood Springs in Colorado, right in the middle of the mountains, is just the ideal place to go for a bike ride.

Christopher Mitchell: I was talking to someone just the other day. They were talking about a bike ride across America, and I was thinking we could put together an interesting team. I'm really good at flatlands, being from Minnesota. I can go 50, 60 miles with only a mile of up or down gain.

Diane Kruse: I'll take the mountain passes.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Diane Kruse: It's perfect.

Christopher Mitchell: You can do the hard work and I'll just coast along. Colorado, for people who are brand new to the show, this might be a surprise, but for everyone else that’s aware, nearly 100 local governments, which includes almost half the counties, I guess, and a lot of cities have opted out of a restrictive law in Colorado that says communities basically can't do anything in telecom without authority, without a referendum.

Diane Kruse: Right. Senate Bill 152 is a law that was established in 2005. It was essentially written, I think, at the urging of some of the larger telephone and cable companies.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. At that time, Qwest was headquartered in Denver, I think.

Diane Kruse: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: That was their territory.

Diane Kruse: Right, and so the law basically states that a local government is restricted in building out telecommunications infrastructure for citizens. The law states that they can build out infrastructure for other government entities as well as quasi-government entities, schools, hospitals, the medical clinic, libraries, but they are only allowed to build out telecommunications infrastructure to citizens for the service providers to use. Even the service provider piece of that is what the law refers to as insubstantial compared to government use. Unfortunately, insubstantial is not defined in the law, and so there isn't any indication of what is a large amount for the service provider and what is an insubstantial amount. It also restricts the local governments from entering into public-private partnerships, which, as you know, is a model that many municipalities use to help solve broadband challenges in their communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Certainly desire to use. I'd love to talk to you about what your definition of that is toward the end of the show. When we look at a public-private partnership, we're trying to figure out how many there are, but there doesn’t seem to be that many of them when you actually look at a true partnership.

Diane Kruse: About 90 communities, local municipalities, and counties have opted out of this law, and so there is a provision in the law that states that they could opt out with a 50% majority to opt out of the law and take back local control. In all of the elections that have been held, Longmont was the first. They lost their first election, but then came back strong with a stronger advertising campaign and it passed. Since then, over 90 communities have held out the election. It has passed with overwhelming support in favor of opting out. On average, the vote has been in the 70 to 75% in favor of opting out, and in some communities like Telluride and Estes Park and Durango, over 95% of the citizens that voted wanted to opt out of that law. I think what was interesting about that, in hindsight, I think it was originally written to be a barrier to entry for municipalities, and it's actually, I think, served just the opposite result. It's become this spur of innovation for municipalities to step up and figure out ways of solving some of the broadband challenges that they have in their community.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think that’s a hundred percent correct. What I find interesting and what I think you're really the right person to tell us about is what happens next. For people who are watching from the outside, sometimes I talk to people who are following this from afar, people on the East Coast, West Coast, whatever, and they're thinking, "Oh, Colorado, you have so many communities that have opted out, but I'm not seeing a lot of stories as to what they're doing next." As you know, this is not a vote to establish a Chattanooga or a Longmont style network. This is a vote to reclaim authority to then later make a decision. I guess I'm curious to know, are there any patterns emerging for what comes next for -- ? Let's start with maybe urban areas and then talk about rural separately.

Diane Kruse: First of all, I think that municipalities that want to solve broadband, that task should not be taken so lightly. It is often a very costly, capital-intensive endeavor for a municipality to build out, say, a fiber to the home network. As a consultant, one of the things that we have to sift through early on in the process is what is the city's appetite and at what level of investment do they feel comfortable entering into some type of infrastructure so that it could potentially be leveraged in a public-private partnership or it could potentially be leveraged to bring broadband to homes and businesses. Considering that it's a large capital expense, it should not be taken so lightly. It does require a lot of review and consideration on the municipality's side. Honestly, it is kind of a weird time in our industry because in larger metropolitan areas, we are seeing the cable companies rolling out DOCSIS 3.1 that is supporting gigabit-type services. They're also working on another version of DOCSIS that will allow for symmetrical gigabit services. I think, again, we're seeing that happening in mostly large metropolitan areas. That’s where Comcast and Charter and the CenturyLinks of the world, if you will, are investing in fiber to the home like gigabit-enabled services. In some of the larger urban areas, I think a lot of the municipalities are taking a let's-wait-and-see approach and let's see if the private sector actually does step up. Municipalities in the metropolitan areas are having a different conversation, and that conversation is how can they build out smart city infrastructure to support the needs of local government.

Christopher Mitchell: Three years ago, if you had told me CenturyLink was really going to invest substantial amounts of money in, let's just say the top 25, top 30 markets for fiber to the home, larger areas, I probably would have said, "No, I think you're wrong. They're really not going to do that," but they have done that. They’ve been much more aggressive than I would have expected. Now for a local leader, I think you could have a reaction that says, "Well, we're glad that there's additional investment, but we also feel that even if we have fast cable and if we have some fiber to the home from CenturyLink to some neighborhoods, we still want another option," because a lot of times, people just naively assume, I think, that these are cities that have nothing or that they're just very poorly served. I think in many cases, they're the average and they're looking for something better.

Diane Kruse: Yeah, I think that's what happens, too. We should, first of all, say that -- We shouldn’t make the assumption that in every major metropolitan area they have gigabit-type services, because that isn't happening. That isn't true. Even in the Denver metropolitan area, CenturyLink is not deploying fiber to the home in a very fast fashion. In many parts of, say, the Denver metro area, there are people that can't get adequate broadband services and maybe even can't get broadband services that meet the minimum definition of 25 mb down and 2 megabit upload.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I'll readily concede that. I've been more surprised in the Twin Cities and in Seattle and Portland. I may have just assumed that it was true in Denver, but they may be less aggressive in that region, or I might just be -- It's always hard to tell what's really happening on the ground, because, frankly, government has totally fallen down on keeping accurate statistics, so most of this is rumor and asking around. Anyway, you were saying?

Diane Kruse: Yeah, so I think how we figure out what's rumor and what's advertising, what's fiber to the press release rather than what's actually happening on the ground, is working directly with the municipalities. You can see what permits are being pulled, and from that, sit down to understand what each of those companies are doing within that municipality. For example, in the city of Arvada, which is a suburb of Denver, Comcast has stated that it will be one of their first target areas to offer gigabit-type services. We are seeing that, actually, in the city of Arvada, as they're pulling permits for fiber construction to get fiber out to the neighborhoods, deeper into the neighborhoods. I would like to bring back in the smart city-

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Yes, go for it right now.

Diane Kruse: -- conversation as it relates to these larger metropolitan areas, because what is happening, what is the conversation, if you will, is that infrastructure needs to be built, and broadband is one of the components that will be supported on this infrastructure. The reason why many cities are building out fiber and building out more conduit and facilities, I think, is to make their cities more efficient. They're rolling out traffic management systems. They're rolling out more complex lighting fixture systems. They're putting sensors along every corner of their city to support smart city applications. They're having to build fiber and they're having to put in facilities and infrastructure, and if they can do it with the private sector, great, but they're going to do it without the private sector as well.

Christopher Mitchell: I would just add one other use case to that, and I'm curious if you'd react quickly. Don’t feel compelled to. If I was a city contemplating those kinds of builds right now and I saw this 5G on the horizon having small cells which need to be fiber-connected in many cases, some cities, I think, react to that with, "Oh, man, this is going to be really hard to permit and deal with all this stuff." If I was looking at it, I'd be thinking, "Wow, that’s another anchor customer for the fiber I'm building out to my city, and this is going to help me justify the cost, to help drive revenues, because whether it's Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T or whatever, I would love for them to be using my fiber to backhaul to their central location in the city or something like that."

Diane Kruse: Yeah, if they will acquire the fiber from the city, I think it's a great application. I think it's also a great opportunity as this is happening, where small cells are being deployed and fiber is being built to those small cell sites, it's another opportunity for the city to gain some assets. I think the first thing that a city needs to do is look at a shadow conduit policy or a dig-once policy.

Christopher Mitchell: What is shadow conduit?

Diane Kruse: Shadow conduit is just -- Maybe it's a version of the dig-once policy that any time there is work being done in the right of way by, say, Comcast or CenturyLink or any utility provider, it could be the electric company or it could be a road widening project or a trail project, any time there's work being done, a shadow conduit needs to be installed at the same time. Then the city would typically only pay for the incremental costs of the conduit, putting the conduit in. It essentially takes the cost of construction down from, say, $30.00 a foot for new construction down to -- It should be $5.00 to $6.00 a foot to put in an additional conduit while work is being done. As, say, Comcast is upgrading their fiber network and putting fiber out further into the neighborhoods to support their gigabit-enabled services, as they're laying fiber, they should be putting in shadow conduit on behalf of the city. Then the city could potentially use that as leverage, if you will, for a broadband strategy but also as infrastructure that can support smart city applications.

Christopher Mitchell: As someone who's worked with cities on these sorts of things, let me ask you, people might think Comcast is going to oppose that, but I actually think that the number-one source of opposition to that in many cases is the Public Works people for the city, who might be saying, "Look, we like to build roads, we maintain this and that. We don’t do conduit. We don’t want to have to deal with that sort of thing." What do you do, what do you advise your clients when you come across that?

Diane Kruse: Usually, the Public Works Department would not be responsible for laying the conduit, but they would continue to do what they normally do, which is to approve the permit process. I'll take the city of Arvada as an example because we just finished implementing some rules around shadow conduit. We did get some opposition, honestly, from the Comcast and CenturyLinks, and the existing electric company also pushed back a bit, but we sat down with them and we heard what their concerns were and then we mitigated those concerns. One concern is that it would slow down the permitting process. We had sat down with the city of Arvada and we mapped out their priority locations and their priority applications for a smart city, and we did a preliminary design of a fiber network, so we were able to identify priority routes for them. The city of Arvada said that they would not slow down the existing 14-day turnaround to get a permit approved. What they will do when a permit comes in is they verify whether this is a priority route based upon the design that we put together, and if it is, they will notify the company within three days. Then the permit will still get approved within the 14-day window. It's smart conduit installation. It's not just installing conduit everywhere. There is a strategy behind it, if you will. One other pushback that the industry had was that it would be a burden to them, and the city agreed that they would pay for all of the incremental financial costs of the shadow conduit and that there would be no burden to the service provider. Really, ultimately, at the end of the day, it's the contractor that’s doing the work. Comcast is not doing the work and neither is the city. The contractor is doing the work, and it's easy for them to throw in spare conduit.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. No, it's actually, kind of I just -- Having talked with some people who are working often in smaller communities where they may first approach the network owner and then figure out there's a big bureaucracy they can't navigate, so then they just go to the contractor and be like, "Hey, you want to make an extra couple of bucks?"

Diane Kruse: Right. I think that happens, too.

Christopher Mitchell: Probably some of the cities where they want a permitting and that sort of thing, but sometimes you got to just get the job done, it seems.

Diane Kruse: You said that, not me. Right?

Christopher Mitchell: Right, right, and you're disagreeing with me. I can tell.

Diane Kruse: That’s okay.

Christopher Mitchell: You answered this, but I really want to just make sure people noticed it. You don’t just throw conduit in the ground. You not only just prioritized it, but you did a layout so that you would know where to put vaults and things like that because-

Diane Kruse: Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, because if you have this big, long conduit, you need to figure out where you're going to break it to gain access to it.

Diane Kruse: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think what the takeaway is often, say, from conferences like this is that a city would just go put in conduit and then three years later when they want to go use it, they can't access it. Yeah. We have done a design so we know exactly where the vaults are going, we know what size of vaults we want, the specifications of the conduit, and we have the priority routes already identified. That’s in a KMZ file that the city can use. Any time there's a permit that’s filed, they can easily check that preliminary design to see if it's a priority route for them.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Diane Kruse: It's smart conduit installation.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's look back at the rural issues, then, for much of Colorado, quite rural. Not just rural, but terrifyingly expensive, Rockies rural. What's happening in rural Colorado?

Diane Kruse: I think maybe kind of going back to one of the questions that you had about, gosh, there seems like there were a lot of communities that have opted out of Senate Bill 152. Why aren't we seeing more projects being installed? I think the reality is that we are seeing more projects installed. Typically, they're done on a regional basis. For example, Region 10 is six counties and 22 communities. All of them have opted out, so they're 30 of the 90 communities that have opted out of Senate Bill 152.

Christopher Mitchell: It's worth noting, Colorado has this history, so when you say Region 10, it's like this group of communities have a history of working together. It's worked out really well for how Colorado is organized and allowed for grass roots leadership. I jut wanted to put a pin in that quickly, because I don’t know if other states have done this as well, but this is a known thing in Colorado that’s worked well historically.

Diane Kruse: Yeah, it's worked really well. It's a regional council of governments, and they have worked together for a number of issues around transportation, around economic development, and now around broadband. They are local community leaders that are actively involved in solving their communities' issues and problems and making their communities a better place to live. They work together as a region to make it happen. There's a lot of synergies that I think have come about from that process. Now, a lot of these communities or regional councils of government are coming together to help solve broadband challenges. There was state funding that was set aside for regional projects through the Department of Local Affairs. There was $20 million that was set aside for broadband implementation, and so many of these communities leveraged that funding and then further leveraged it perhaps with an economic development grant or some other form of grant to build out infrastructure. I would say if you look around the state, there's probably 12 regional councils of government that are working together to put in infrastructure, and they're spending money and they're making that happen. Some of it is DOLA money and some of it is EDA.

Christopher Mitchell: DOLA is the Department of Local Affairs.

Diane Kruse: The Department of Local Affairs in Colorado. Maybe taking the example of Region 10 and what they have done, I mentioned that they are six counties and 17 to 22 communities that make up the membership of Region 10. The size of their territory is the same size as the state of Vermont, so it's a massively large geographical space.

Christopher Mitchell: I guess if you compressed it to make it all flat, it would probably be even bigger.

Diane Kruse: Yeah, if you pressed it. Absolutely, yes. In the mountains in western Colorado, it's rocky terrain. They are building a middle mile infrastructure that will connect all of their counties and all of the communities with fiber. It was a very expensive project, but what we were able to put forward was a number of partnerships to reduce the cost of building fiber to all of those communities. At first glance, we were looking at 50 to $75 million to build out fiber to connect the region, and we were able to identify fiber that the local power companies owned for their SCADA system and power management operations. Then we also identified fiber, long-haul fiber, if you will, that was in place from Tri-State, who's the power generation and administration, kind of the wholesale provider of power in the region. We were able to negotiate a partnership with both Delta-Montrose Electric Association and Tri-State to reduce the cost of just acquiring or providing as an in-kind contribution existing fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: Now if I could just jump in for a second. This is one of those things where I think sometimes people might hear that and they think, "Wow, I wanted to do that sort of a thing, but my co-op was resistant or they weren't super enthusiastic about it." Now my understanding is Delta-Montrose Electric Association was at first skeptical, not necessarily wanting to -- It took some local organizing to put pressure on them and to make them understand this would be a good thing to support. This is not something where everyone was just like "Yeah, let's all work together." It was real work-

Diane Kruse: Oh, absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: -- that had to be done along the way.

Diane Kruse: Yeah, there was real resistance at first because DMEA obviously saw their mission is to provide power to their constituents, and they didn’t want to get distracted. There was a lot of local organizing and grass roots efforts around the business community coming to the board of directors meeting for DMEA to talk about how important broadband is to the economic development wellbeing of all of their communities and that they did have a vested interest in making sure that we could retain and keep companies to be based there and also to keep people continuing to live there. To make a long story short, they organized over 70 business people to come to the board of directors meeting for DMEA to encourage them to support the Region 10 project, and they did wholeheartedly. It's a great partnership between DMEA and Region 10 and Tri-State where we took the spend from 50 to 75 million down to 17 million, and then Region 10 applied for grant funding through the Department of Local Affairs and then leveraged that further with an EDA grant that all told, about $3 million will be spent in a cash contribution to build this 50 to $75 million network. After Region 10 received their funding, Delta-Montrose Electric Association actually announced that they would be offering last mile solutions and last mile services gigabit to every home with Google-like pricing. They're building that out in Delta and in Montrose Counties now, and they're also further expanding that footprint on a regional basis. I think that that’s a huge success story, and maybe that’s not something that’s being written about in our industry magazines, but it's a great success story that Colorado has, and I think it's a good model that could potentially be followed for many of these rural areas that are difficult to serve, is to partner up with the power company to make something happen.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, we're excited about that approach and we've done a lot of coverage of different electric co-ops doing that sort of thing. It's actually kind of interesting, because it answers one of the questions right. You're saying these are 30 communities that have opted out and that was an important part of their organizing. Though the ultimate solution in many ways is actually not necessarily a municipal solution, but that opting out was kind of a step that took and united them and helped them to make sure they had lots of options to choose from and then ultimately have gone with a solution that is not going to add to my number of municipal broadband networks on our map.

Diane Kruse: Yeah, exactly. In fact, I would say that one of the things that we do that might be different from our colleagues in the industry is there are so many ways to solve broadband, and one way to solve that is to build a municipal fiber to the home network. There's a whole bunch of other things that municipalities and counties can do to improve broadband services that may not hit your list, if you will. Maybe that’s one good example. It's not a municipal network, if you will, that is building fiber to the home, but it is a collaboration of municipalities that have definitely come together to solve broadband challenges. In this case, Region 10 will support an open access system that’s available to anybody, so we've reduced the biggest cost for all of the service providers in the area by reducing those backhaul costs to almost nothing through the Region 10 network. Then we happen to have a last mile gigabit-provider with Delta-Montrose Electric Association, but I will say that there are a whole bunch of other service providers that are also able to improve their services in their respective communities because of the middle mile work that Region 10 is doing. That’s one way to solve it. I want to talk about another project that is also a lot of collaboration, and it may not hit your list as well.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, that’s all right.

Diane Kruse: Jefferson County Schools is a school district that is located in the Denver metropolitan area, and they want to build fiber to their 155-plus schools. That, too, is a 35 to $50 million project that they did not have funding for. They have hired us to work with the 15 or 16 municipalities that their schools are operating within the city's footprint and to collaborate with the schools to figure out how we could work together and how we could collaborate so that everyone could get their needs met, get fiber built to key critical anchor institutions, to government offices, get smart city applications in place, and then build fiber to the schools. Sometimes, the solution is E-rate. In other cases, it might be rural healthcare grants, but in the case that we're finding is very effective in the Denver metropolitan area is Public Safety. Public Safety has their own source of funding that is available to improve safety and their ability to respond to a crisis.

Christopher Mitchell: Now I'm curious. It gives me a lot of hope to hear that these are working together, because in the past, we've always heard criticism that some of these programs would be silos, where if you were going to build one network, it couldn’t share anything with another network, but it sounds like some of that’s been resolved.

Diane Kruse: Yeah, I think so. I think there was initially some resistance to working together and I think we're all guilty of this, that we're all so busy in our own little worlds and we do work in silos. Our mission, if you will, for that project is to break down the silos and to get people to work together and to collaborate to make something happen for everybody's benefit. This is turning out to be a great project as well where Jefferson County Public Safety, I think, is interested in putting cameras and high-speed fiber to all of the schools. It improves their ability to respond to a crisis at the school, and so that’s effective with their mission and their strategy, and it allows the schools to get fiber for enhancing their education experience for the students.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who haven't seen it, we did a video about Ammon, Idaho, where they have developed applications around specifically making sure that emergency 911 centers are alerted in the even that there's a gunshot in the schools. There's some really interesting work that’s being done. A lot of people are thinking about how not just to have these sort of surveillance cameras and the high-speed, but how to really make sure that they're integrated well and that you have these different actors talking to each other and coordinating ahead of time.

Diane Kruse: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s a great project, and it's a great project to have collaboration. It may not be one that would hit your municipal fiber list, if you will.

Christopher Mitchell: No, but it'll probably hit our list of communities that build anchor networks and see savings, because I'm guessing that the schools, when this network's all completed, will save a tremendous amount of money. They'll have higher connectivity to their locations. They’ll probably pay less, and most importantly from my point of view is they’ll have control over future costs. The contracts that come up in three years for whoever they're with, they'd have to re-bid it and they wouldn’t really have a sense of is our price going to increase by 10%, 30%. Now you have security in budgeting, which I have to think is a big deal for local governments.

Diane Kruse: Oh, it's a huge deal. Absolutely. That’s why I think it's critical that local government own their own networks for supporting their government needs. Schools need to have their own networks as well to support education. I think those are the trends that we're seeing. Then if that infrastructure can be leveraged to do a public-private partnership for broadband, then that may be a good strategy to serve the homes and businesses within that community.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm about to go a panel in a little bit, and another person that will be on that panel who's very much an opponent of municipal broadband recently wrote an article in which he said, "This is why we're not seeing more municipal broadband networks," and the premise being that we're not seeing a lot of growth. You in your experience and having to talk to other consultants, as we finish the interview, what's your top line? Are you seeing growth in municipal investments and working to solve these problems?

Diane Kruse: I think it's reached this critical point where it is absolutely a necessity for municipalities to build out fiber infrastructure. Now whether they use that to go out to homes and businesses is maybe something that they should carefully study. I think that what we're seeing is in almost every city, they're building out fiber infrastructure, perhaps to their key anchor institutions and to their schools and libraries or as a way to leverage a public-private partnership for broadband to homes and businesses. I would say it's happening everywhere, and it's just hit a critical mass that we can't report on every single opportunity. I think in Region 10, that’s a good quantifiable project because they received funding and were implementing it in those partnerships that have been developed. All over the state I think municipalities are putting in fiber infrastructure to support their anchor institutions and then to use that as a way to put together a strategy for broadband for the homes and businesses.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think to some extent we're a victim of our own success, in that if you're not announcing 100 gigabit to every home for $5.00 a month, the press might be thinking, "Ah, boring," the idea that you're adding a bunch of conduit and fiber and in three to five years, it'll be used and it'll be used in interesting ways. It's not as sexy of a story.

Diane Kruse: Yeah, I think that’s right. I don’t know who your panelist is, but I would have to say that that person is not correct. We're seeing a lot of municipalities put in infrastructure. Now they may not have a gigabit to the home, municipally owned fiber to the premise strategy, but they may be using a different strategy to improve broadband for their constituents.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you so much for coming and telling us what's going on in Colorado and I think a real picture as to what cities are wrestling with around the country.

Diane Kruse: You bet. My pleasure. Thank you, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Diane Kruse, founder and CEO of NeoConnect, talking about municipal broadband deployment. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. E-mail us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNet. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all the podcasts in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to Episode 253 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

 

Tags: transcriptconduitcoloradoneoconnect

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 252

muninetworks.org - May 15, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 252 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Westminster, Maryland, has developed a public-private partnership with Ting, and Robert Wack the city council president joins the show to discuss how the project is meeting its goals. Listen to this episode here.

 

Robert Wack: When he brings clients or vendors or just friends into his office, he sits them down at his desk and says, "Watch this." And he shows off his gig like it's his new, shiny, red Corvette.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 252 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. When Christopher was at the Broadband Community's conference in Austin recently, he had the opportunity to check in with Robert Wack, city council president from Westminster, Maryland. Westminster is a town of about 18,000 people that decided the best way to improve local connectivity for schools, businesses, and residents was to invest in publicly-owned fiber and work with a private sector partner. In 2015, they began working with ISP Ting. Robert was the leading voice of the initiative. He gives Chris an update on how things are going in Westminster and the two talk about expectations, realities, plans, and challenges. Robert was on the show way back in 2014 for episode 100, when the project was just getting started. And we've written about Westminster for muninetworks.org as the community network has grown. Be sure to check it out. Now here's Christopher with Robert Wack, city council president from Westminster, Maryland.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to the Community Broadband Bits podcast live edition, coming to you live from the Broadband Community Summit with Robert Wack, the city council president from Westminster, Maryland. Welcome back to the show, Robert.

Robert Wack: Thanks, Chris. Glad to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm excited to get an update, because I know that things have been going well. I've been following and I don't think we've talked about this much since maybe we did a podcast talking about the public-private partnership as you were getting it kicked off.

Robert Wack: It was a long time ago. And as you recall, in the fall when we saw each other in Minneapolis, I said, "When are you gonna ask me to come back and talk about our project?" And you gave me a look and said, "Well when you have numbers, real numbers, to talk about, then we'll have a discussion."

Christopher Mitchell: That sounds more honest than I normally am. So I'm not sure that that happened.

Robert Wack: No, I think we know each other well enough now that you're honest with me. And you were pretty direct.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, we've probably have a whole four or five guests lined up at that time and I was feeling pretty good. But when I have people face-to-face, I love to be able to do the recording here in this very professional studio in my hotel room. So let's just do a quick reminder for people who aren't familiar. If you were just ... If you had a elevator pitch for what you're doing in Westminster, how would you describe it?

Robert Wack: We're building a community-wide gigabit, broadband network using a unique and innovative public-private partnership model. The fiber is completely owned and built and maintained by the city of Westminster. And our private partner, Ting, lights the fiber and installs the equipment and has the customer service relationship with all the residents and businesses.

Christopher Mitchell: Now let me ask you ... Because I know that you pay really close attention to what's happening out there. What do you think is most unique about your approach?

Robert Wack: Now that I have seen more projects all across the country, our project is even more remarkable than I originally understood, because we started with nothing. We didn't have municipal utility. We had no native fiber experience or skills within our city employees. Frankly, we didn't know what the heck we were getting ourselves into. But we knew we wanted to do it. And it's been a very steep learning curve. And had I know back then how hard this was going to be, I'll be honest, I might have had some second thoughts. But we've done it, or we are doing it with considerable success. And the other thing that's remarkable about our project is our relationship with our partner. Ting is a fabulous company to work with. They've been as interested in creating innovative solutions to this tricky space of, "How do you divvy up the responsibilities of creating a gigabit fiber network in a community?" But not pushing either partner outside their comfort zone. And they've been great to work with.

Christopher Mitchell: Let me tell you what I think is something that is incredibly unique and I hope continues to get people thinking along these lines. And I'm curious how you react. Your relationships with Ting is, as you alluded to, I think unique in the sense that I don't that there's another place where that relationship is happening, even where Ting is working with other cities. You divide up the responsibility in the event of an event where you don't have enough money for debt service. If the network is not producing enough cash, you pay, the city pays a certain amount. Ting pays 100,000 dollars and then you pay the rest potentially. So it actually, for the first 200,000 dollars of overage, splits it down the middle, right? If I'm remembering it correctly.

Robert Wack: Yeah, more or less. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. So it's a little bit complicated, but it's something that we haven't seen anywhere else. The thing that I thought was genius was that Ting pays you, because you own the fiber, and Ting pays you for homes that could connect to the fiber but are not connected to the fiber, thereby giving them an incentive to do a really good job advertising.

Robert Wack: Exactly. And how we got to that is something I've been talking about a lot, but I'm not sure it's catching on. I don't know if that's my fault or if there's a problem with the idea. But it's thinking about fiber as real estate. So if you think about a shopping mall and you go into a shopping mall and you want to open a yogurt stand, you're gonna pay a base rent. Even if you never make a penny, you still own the landlord a base rent. Now some real landlord will do interesting things where they will give you a cut, a break on your base rent in exchange for a piece of your business. So if some percentage of your profits or your revenues. So we looked at that. And ours is skewed more heavily toward the performance part. So we get a bigger payment for a lit customer than we do for a passed premise. But the passed premise is exactly what you said. It's an incentive. It's a base payment to help us cover our debt service, but it also creates a very powerful incentive for them to get those customers lit. And it also creates an incentive for us to help them get customers lit. And because when we did our research looking at other projects that have failed around the country, that was one of the things, is that there weren't aligned incentives all the way along the process. So there's incentives aligned during construction, but then the operations part and the customer service part and the subscriber enrollment part, there have to be very concrete, real incentives for both parties to be working together at each of those stages, even though that thing may be more one party's responsibility than the other. You want them helping each other all along.

Christopher Mitchell: To what extent do you think your successful relationship with Ting comes out of Ting being a really interesting partner versus the contract that you drew up with them?

Robert Wack: That's a really interesting question, Chris. And I refuse to be drawn into the false dichotomy that you're proposing.

Christopher Mitchell: It was a brilliant contract with the right group.

Robert Wack: This is like choosing between your spouse and your wedding vows or something like that. It's both. And they are a function of each other. We wouldn't have the contract we have without Ting as being the partner that they are. And vice versa. We wouldn't have Ting as a partner if we weren't willing to be creative with the contract and do innovative things, so I think they're inextricably intertwined. You can't separate them out. But that should be a goal, going into the relationship knowing what both parties want and then being willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Christopher Mitchell: But also then a lesson that one can't just take your contract and say, "We're gonna do it with this group."

Robert Wack: That's correct. That's another lesson from this. As I've gone around the country and looked at other kinds of projects is there's no template. There are some principles. There's some basic concepts about risk-sharing and proper allocation of risk between the parties, but the devil's in the details. And those are gonna be a function of the unique characteristics of the community, the local government, and the partner and the kind of project, and the community, the features of the community and what's possible and ... So yeah, every contract, every partnership's gonna be unique. But there are some underlying principles that are common to all of them.

Christopher Mitchell: Let me ask you then, you said you have some doubts as to whether maybe you might not have done it based on how difficult it's been. Well, what has been the most difficult part of this? Because I think from afar, we just see you rolling and rolling and rolling and it looks like it's working pretty well.

Robert Wack: Yeah, that's a good point. I'm probably ... My perception is skewed because I live it day-to-day. One of the biggest challenges has been we're pushing our municipal employees, particularly the folks at public works, really hard, way far outside their comfort zone, because fiber stuff is not anything they've done before. And they're doing a great job learning it, but it's a lot to learn. The other piece is just managing the vendors in this space. It's something that's new. We've never contracted with fiber engineers before. We've never contracted with fiber construction companies before. We don't have that capability, so we are relying totally on them to do the work the way it's supposed to be done in a timely manner under budget. And that's a lot of work managing that. So we're getting better. But I'd be lying if I said it's been perfect. There have been little snags along the way. And then there's stuff that's out of our control. So for example, the fiber shortage in the last 18 months. It's gotten better, but we had a solid six months where we couldn't do anything, because we couldn't get fiber. And that was a result of all the other activity around the country. And didn't plan on that, but you had to deal with it. Weather was another thing. And the whole utility locate thing. We are putting such a burden on our local utility locating company that there are delays sometimes because of that. We ask them to come out and do 100 locates, because we're getting ready to plow through a neighborhood and they can't keep up with us. So little things like that. But they add up. And so we're behind schedule, not catastrophically so. We're certainly under budget. Our guys have done a great job managing the construction costs. So we're doing really well in that regard. And now our take numbers, our subscriber numbers are really picking up. So we're very pleased overall.

Christopher Mitchell: Right and so as a refresher for people, you have Comcast and Verizon DSL, those two service providers in the area. They haven't done much real investment to keep you current. You partnered with Ting. Ting is rolling out ... You're doing this in an incremental fashion. About how much of the community has service already?

Robert Wack: We're probably at about 20% of what will ultimately be the total build. The pilot project was pretty small relative to the rest of the city. This first phase that we just lit is about 800 premises. And then this next phase after that is another 1700. So that'll be completed by the end of this year. So that will end up being about 30%. 30-something percent by the end of this year will be built out. So still early, relatively. But as I've said, we're very pleased with the subscriber take already even in this early stage.

Christopher Mitchell: So what're you seeing?

Robert Wack: North of 30% for the pilot project and then in phase one that just got lit, we're already at 15%. Altogether, then with those two pieces, it's about 10% of what's been constructed. So not where we want it to be. We want generally to be north of 20% for the whole thing, but the trajectory is in the right direction.

Christopher Mitchell: If I remember correctly, you are obligated to go to the next phase when you hit 20%. So sounds like, I mean if you're that close that quickly, it sounds like you're doing what you were expecting to do when you were making the plan.

Robert Wack: 20% is kind of a guideline both Ting and we agreed to. But there's wiggle room in the contract that allows both of us to say, "Hey, speed up. Hey, slow down." And so it's a discussion. And again, it goes back to the partnership and the lines of communication and their efforts and success with their subscriber enrollment and the pre-subscription numbers are sufficient enough to give us confidence to keep moving.

Christopher Mitchell: Just reminds me of the line from Pirates of the Caribbean, if you can remember back to, I don't know, 20 movies ago when it first came out. It was: "The pirate's code, more of a guideline than-"

Robert Wack: "It's more guideline, love."

Christopher Mitchell: So you are aiming for city-wide for people who are not gonna go back and listen to our original interview. I'll spoil it for them. You're building out city-wide.

Robert Wack: City-wide. That will end up being over 7,000 premises. And then, we're already looking at building beyond the perimeter of the city. Assuming we have a continued success that we're having now, we'll start looking at ways to finance extending it out to our entire water sewer system, which will end up being about 15,000 premises.

Christopher Mitchell: Wow, that's wonderful. And Carroll County already has some fiber infrastructure, so I hope that helps a little bit.

Robert Wack: It will, a little. Mostly what's near the city is gonna be all us. But the county's interested in working with us. So.

Christopher Mitchell: When we last spoke, I feel like you already had some early business excitement. You had a business that brought more ... They were coming into your community. They brought more into your community than they expected because of this infrastructure. Do you have any other exciting stories, anybody stopping you at the grocery store to say, "I can't believe how wonderful this is!"

Robert Wack: Well actually, yes. One of my colleagues on the council ran into somebody at a soccer game or something and it was a father of a family of four in one of the neighborhoods that we just lit. And this guy almost threw himself weeping into the arms of my colleague saying, "Thank you. You have saved my family, because our internet before was so crappy that the kids were fighting all the time. I couldn't get work done. My wife works from home. And it was a nightmare. And we got our Ting lit up and for the first time in years, everybody's happy. And we can all do whatever we want: stream movies, download large files. And nobody has a problem and everybody's happy."

Christopher Mitchell: That reminds me of a story. This is actually something that never gets discussed in public policy, I feel like. That's important, right? That's like a ... And you're a doctor. And this a measurement of quality of life-

Robert Wack: Stress.

Christopher Mitchell: And health. Stress? Yeah.

Robert Wack: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: There was a family we interviewed in Ammon, Idaho that they were on the city ... They were on the cable system that the city was building a fiber network to basically offer people good service, because the cable system was so bad. And this is a cable system that's advertising gigabit speeds. But the modems, they keep, people's cable modems, kept cutting out. And so these people would say every Saturday morning, they'd be woken up by their kids early because they'd be like, "We can't get on the computer. We can't do this. We can't play the games." And as soon as they switched over to the ... They were beta testers on Ammon's municipal fiber network. And they were just talking about how they got to sleep in on Saturday mornings now.

Robert Wack: Well so along those lines, we have a business locally who's a software development company. And as you may know, in software development, it's usually a distributed process. So they have developers in other countries, all over the United States. And they're moving big files back and forth all the time to test modules and it's just a part of the process. It's a very iterative process. So he said once they got their gig, that it shortened their development time by days and when he brings clients or vendors or just friends into his office, he sits them down at his desk and says, "Watch this." And he shows off his gig like it's his shiny, new, red Corvette. Those are his words, "Because this is my shiny, red Corvette. Watch this." And he does a speed test and starts doing stuff and it's made a significant impact on the efficiency and profitability of his business.

Christopher Mitchell: I believe it. One of the things that I'd like to do is, I think, is not to tell people. To have them sit down and say, "Hey, just go check out some news sites or do something you'd normally do online." And just see how they react and if they notice a big difference. I suspect they would. They may not notice it immediately, but once you call it to their attention, I would guess that they would just be blown away.

Robert Wack: There's a video out there from our fiber lighting ceremony. And the Ting folks put it together. And there's a short clip showing a young girl with her phone flipping through some stuff. And that's my daughter. And you look at the smile on her face. She said literally, "This is unbelievable. This blows me away." Because she was flying through stuff on her phone just from the wifi connection from the gigabit at the place we were. So yeah, it is a mind-blowing experience when you feel it and experience it for yourself.

Christopher Mitchell: So I want to get onto the discussion around what you're actually doing with it in a minute. But first, have we covered all the nuts and bolts in terms of the numbers that you're seeing and your experiences with the infrastructure stuff?

Robert Wack: Yeah. I mean, so we're a little behind schedule. We are under-budget. And our subscriber numbers are hitting the targets that we're expecting. And we are covering our debt service. That's probably the most important number from the municipal finance perspective and the replicability of this model, is that this is paying for itself. So this is a 21 million dollar project that, at the end of the day if we stay on track like this, it will not impact city finances by a penny, because the revenues generated by the fiber will pay for the fiber. And that's a really, really important thing for people to know.

Christopher Mitchell: That's interesting because one of the things that I perhaps falsely remember was that you didn't make a huge deal about that. I mean in some people, they make this whole thing: "Your taxes will not be raised. We are going to build this network without using a penny of tax payer dollars." I seem to recall ... I know that you live in a more conservative community, but I seem to recall you saying, "This is infrastructure. We're gonna make it work."

Robert Wack: Chris, that's called managing expectations, my friend. So you're right. I did not make a big deal out of that. Because I didn't know, with a capital K, that that's how it was gonna work out. But now that we have data and it ... That was our intention for it to work out that way, but we weren't gonna lead with that. Because if we didn't deliver on that, it would've been a big problem. So yes, we opened with the argument that this is infrastructure and this is our responsibility as municipal officials to provide this kind of infrastructure, because it's good for our economy. And that's it. But the plan all along was for it to pay for itself. But we weren't gonna lead with that, because we didn't know for sure that that was gonna be the case. That's politics, baby.

Christopher Mitchell: Well that's successful politics, maybe yeah, not just politics. What's MAGIC?

Robert Wack: MAGIC stands for the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory. And what MAGIC's mission is, it's an independent non-profit that's building economic development around technology generally and broadband infrastructure specifically. A thing I'm involved with that's going to leverage our fiber infrastructure and hopefully turn it into jobs and new companies in our community and new investment dollars. As Jason Stambaugh, our former executive director says, it's a magic trick. We turn fiber into jobs and investment.

Christopher Mitchell: I think this is something I really want to spend a few minutes on. Who are the people that are in the Collaboratory?

Robert Wack: Right now, it's a combined effort between MAGIC, our library system, the career and tech center that's part of the Carroll County Public Schools, the Community Media Center, and the community college and McDaniel College. So we've got all the educational institutions involved. And we do three general categories of things. One, we call tech experiences, which is really just another way of saying workforce development. We try to draw as many students in as possible into technology programming that gives them new skills, gets them exposed to employers, and hopefully gets them into internships and part-time jobs. The second group of activities we do are what we call our innovation labs. And these are demonstration projects for different kinds of technology. And that one ... The sort of the flagship of that category is our smart home project, which is tied into the fiber network. And we're doing some really cool work with telehealth with that. And then the last is sort of the more traditional incubation effort where we are assisting startups with mostly business development kinds of services. We do not have a building. We're not in the real estate business. We're not leasing cubicles. That, when you're saying incubator, that's typically what people go to right away. "Oh, you got a cool building. Or you've got young people hanging out playing Foosball and--

Christopher Mitchell: Free pop.

Robert Wack: Yeah, right. No, we're not doing that. We're not doing that yet. Maybe some day. When we've got 100 startups that can't find office space on Main Street, that's a good problem to have. And then we'll do that. But right now, we've got plenty to office space on Main Street, so we're not doing the real estate thing. But we are helping startups.

Christopher Mitchell: If we fast forward five or 10 years, how will you know MAGIC was successful?

Robert Wack: There will be a lot of 20-somethings crowding the bars and cafes on Main Street. There'll be a lot of cool logos visible from Main Street, because these companies have taken up office space on Main Street. We'll have some splashy announcement about some venture capital group dumped five million dollars into a Westminster, Carroll County-based technology company. But most importantly, we'll have kids graduating from local and area schools saying, "I'm going to Westminster, because that's here all the cool stuff's happening." And believe it or not, just in the little over a year we've been in operation, we're getting that already.

Christopher Mitchell: No, I believe it. And part of the reason I say that is I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. Family friends who have some daughters that recently graduated from college, they love going down to Baltimore. And they drive down to Baltimore for weekends regularly. And the idea that someone would say, "Oh, wow. Like I'm so close to Baltimore. All this culture and cool things happening. I can live out here in Westminster where all this cool stuff is happening." And it just seems like it's an exciting place to be.

Robert Wack: That's what we're shooting for.

Christopher Mitchell: Lafayette, Louisiana. One of the things that they did was really trying to create jobs locally so that kids will not be leaving. Are you seeing ... Like I mean, what are you seeing from some of the kids that are going through this, because I think this is one of the main reasons communities build these kinds of networks is to make it exciting for kids to come back. So one thing is the culture and that sort of thing. But what kind of ... The first thing that you mentioned in terms of creating the jobs and that sort of stuff, it may not be sexy 75-100,000 dollar a year jobs, but what kind of jobs are you talking about there?

Robert Wack: First of all, it's very early in the process. So the positive indicators we're seeing are very small and subtle. But they're real. So we've placed probably about a dozen kids into internships and part-time jobs with local tech companies. You know, some might say, "Oh that would've happened anyway." Maybe not. Maybe some of these kids would've gone elsewhere or maybe the tech companies would have looked elsewhere for these employees. This is a five to 10 year project of growing these companies and getting kids placed. In terms of the kinds of jobs, what we've seen so far it's web development. It's software development, coding, some network stuff, cybersecurity. Those are good, reasonably well-paying, white-collar jobs that we want more of in our community. Like many rural and semi-rural communities, our local economy is skewed heavily toward school system, local government, the hospital, and maybe one or two large manufacturers. If any one of those things has a problem, that's a major negative impact on our local economy. So we need to have a more diverse local economy with lots of small businesses, because there's a substantial body of economic research that says that net job growth is 60 to 80% of net, new job growth comes from small businesses and entrepreneurs. So we need more of that. And that's a big part of what we're doing and the fiber infrastructure is a unique asset now that we in this community that will hopefully be an engine for creating those jobs, attracting those entrepreneurs, and getting that net new job growth that's gonna drive our economy for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

Christopher Mitchell: What is the best unanticipated thing that has happened? Like what is something that came along and just hit you out of the blue? Like when I started thinking about building this fiber optic network and arguing that we should do it, something that you did not expect to happen that's happened, if there's anything.

Robert Wack: The fiber project has unrolled how I hoped it would unroll. So there haven't been any big surprises there. I guess maybe the surprise is that I was right.

Christopher Mitchell: Not used to that?

Robert Wack: No, really the big surprise is with MAGIC. The totally unexpected thing that's been a big engine driver of the success and rapid growth of MAGIC is I never realized how many technology professionals we already have living in our community that drive into Baltimore and Columbia and Washington DC and northern Virginia. And they're in the car for hours. They hate it. And they want to do anything they can to help do what we want to do in terms of creating jobs and creating a technology ecosystem in Westminster and Carroll County. So we had this army of volunteers that have been helping us with our programming and projects that are all really high-skilled technology professionals that want to do this because they see the long-term benefit for their kids and everybody's kids for creating this thing out of nothing for our community.

Christopher Mitchell: Well that's great. And I'm incredibly excited. For people who really want to know more of the nuts and bolts, we covered it in a paper that you can find dealing with public-private partnerships and what we took away in terms of the best parts of the model of Ting of Westminster. So let me just say thank you so much for coming up here and letting us know the update.

Robert Wack: Thanks for having me.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Robert Wack, city council president from Westminster, Maryland, getting caught up on how the network has impacted the community. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits 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 all of the podcasts in the ILSR family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, "Warm Duck Shuffle," licensed through Creative Comments and thanks for listening episode 252 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptpartnershiptingwestminstermaryland

Indianola FTTH Business Plan Blasting Forward

muninetworks.org - May 15, 2017

Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) in Iowa finalized its business plan for citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service earlier this month. The decision marks a shift in how residents receive services in the community; IMU will take over from current partner Mahaska Communications Group (MCG) and expand to offer triple-play citywide.

Up To Now

Indianola created its municipally owned broadband utility back in 1997 and invested in fiber-optic backbone infrastructure a year later. They used the investment to backhaul fixed wireless service beginning in 2002 and by 2006 had developed a partnership with MCG. Expanding fiber to residents didn’t start until 2010 and two years later, MCG began offering triple-play services within certain areas of the city. Last year, the community commissioned a feasibility study to examine the possibility of using existing fiber resources to all premises in Indianola.

Under the current agreement between IMU and MCG, wholesale rates for residential connections are $30 per month and $100 per month for commercial connections. The feasibility study determined that the current rates “did not support expansion” to the entire Indianola community.

Trustees Say OK

Under the business plan approved by the Trustees at the May 8th meeting, IMU will step into MCG’s shoes and will buy out MCG’s existing 596 customers. IMU will be the FTTH retail services provider, offering triple-play of Internet access, VoIP, and IPTV. The network will work with Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) on video services, connecting at the Des Moines regional data facility in order to reach them. IMU will have the opportunity to tap into about 7,350 potential residents and businesses in addition to MCG’s current customers.

The plan for expansion divides the city into 26 service areas but subscribers need to sign up early in order for the utility to connect their home. People who participate in early sign up will all have services activated at the same time. IMU has proposed rates for different services including:

  • Residential gigabit Internet access: $119 per month
  • Residential gigabit triple-play: $174 per month
  • Residential 100 Mbps Internet access: $69 per month
  • Commercial gigabit Internet access: $500 per month
  • Commercial 25 Mbps Internet access: $150 per month

All speeds are symmetrical, so upload speeds are the same as download speeds.

What's Next?

IMU anticipates about 72 miles of additional fiber to complete the expansion; construction will start this summer. The next step will be accepting the bid for construction, which the Board plans to do at the May 22nd meeting. 

After bids are accepted, Indianola will secure financing. According to the Des Moines Register, bids under review suggest that construction for the project will come in under budget.

Indianola's Community Network

IMU and the community of Indianola have used their fiber infrastructure to build partnerships and spur economic development. In 2015, IMU began offering gigabit connectivity and working with MCG to determine which residents and businesses were most interested in obtaining FTTH services. They've also forged partnerships with local colleges to spark entrepreneur development.

In addition to MCG, Mediacom and CenturyLink still serve areas of the city. As is often the case in a small- to mid-sized community, there are ares in town with only one provider and some of those areas don’t have FCC-defined broadband: 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Indianola’s population is around 18,000; community leaders want to offer choice and provide high-quality connectivity to all of them.

Tags: indianolaiowaFTTHbusiness planpartnershippublic v privatesymmetrycenturylinkmediacomexpansionutility

Great Community Advice and Colorado Update - Broadband Bits Podcast 253

muninetworks.org - May 11, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 253 - Diane Kruse, CEO and President of NeoConnect

Bonus episode! We did several interviews while at the Broadband Communities Summit and Dallas, so we are publishing two episodes this week. Diane Kruse joined us for today's discussion, episode 253, with an update about progress around community broadband in Colorado and great advice for communities considering an investment.

Diane is the CEO and President of NeoConnect, a consulting firm located in Colorado that works with communities around the country. We discuss realistic expectations for the nearly 100 communities that have voted to restore their authority to build and partner for better Internet networks.

We also discuss the range of options from doing nothing to building the full citywide fiber-optic network that Longmont is currently completing. Our interview touches on everything from incremental approaches to shadow conduit. 

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 35 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: conduitcoloradofeasibilityconsiderationmunineoconnectaudiopodcastbroadband bitspolicyincrementalarvadadenvercenturylinkpublic v privateutilitydelta countymontrose countydelta montrose electric associationcooperativeplanning

Infographic On Super-Preemption

muninetworks.org - May 11, 2017

Preemption at the state and federal level threatens local telecommunications authority, as we’ve seen in about 20 states. When state laws usurp local governments’ ability to decide how they improve poor connectivity, they disregard an understanding of local affairs that is unique to each community. Some states are threatening to take preemption another damaging step farther with super-preemption.

Super-Preemption: "Super" In A Bad Way

The Campaign to Defend Local Solutions describes the problem like this:

State legislatures across the country have gone beyond preventing local governments from passing common-sense local solutions. They’ve begun silencing local voices using draconian super-preemption laws.  These laws allow special interest groups to sue local governments and in some cases personally sue local officials for doing their job. These laws are designed to intimidate, bully, and chill government at the local level. This infographic highlights where these laws exist, where they have been recently proposed, and what their impacts could be to cities, counties, local officials, and taxpayers alike.

Mayor Andrew Gillum from Tallahassee, Florida, recently spoke with Christopher and our Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer about super-preemption for episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast. He noted that local governments need flexibility to meet the demands of local constituents:

“There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for. The legislature [is trying to] exclude us from being able to make any investments in that space for the greater good.”

In order to spread the word about super-preemption, the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions created an infographic to help educate lawmakers, constituents, and communities about the issue. The resource describes how super-preemption influences policy makers, giving lobbyists and their corporate or special interest clients' power. The infographic also shows where super-preemption laws are in place or are proposed. Lastly, the infographic suggests how citizens can get involved and express their concern for preserving local authority.

Check out a larger version of the infographic here.

There are more resources at the Defend Local Solutions website, including a list of partners, how to get involved, and more resources on local matters.

Campaign to Defend Local Solutions Super-Preemption InfographicTags: preemptionlocalchristopher mitchellinterviewflorida

Winter Park, Florida, Considers I-Net

muninetworks.org - May 11, 2017

Winter Park is considering creating an institutional network (I-Net) to provide gigabit connectivity to municipal facilities. Community leaders are examining the pros and cons of deploying a fiber backbone to 17 city-owned buildings that could save significant dollars and be used for other applications in the future. Some of the uses they've discussed include connecting traffic signals and street lights to address traffic congestion, a common complaint in Winter Park.

“When you talked about ... fiber 10 years ago, it was hard for people to see the future; now the future is here, and we’ve got to do it,” said Winter Park’s Information Technology director Parsram Rajaram, who is working with the task force. “Fiber is essential in my view.”

Not A New Idea

The Orlando suburb, home to 30,000 people, has been considering creating a network for years and last summer released the results of a broadband feasibility study to the City Commission.

“This is something that has been discussed at the city and the City Commission for a decade. If you’re like me, you hear from people multiple times about a dissatisfaction with the (Internet) service that they are offered, a fairly singular service… We’ve been talking about it long enough, and if we started this a decade ago, we would probably already have a backbone for the city that could be utilized,” said Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary

In March, Leary created a Fiber Optic Task Force, charged with making and presenting recommendations to the City Council. The Task Force is leaning toward suggesting the community invest in an I-Net rather than a larger project to serve businesses or residents at this time. An I-Net is estimated to take two years and cost $4 million. In contrast, connecting municipal facilities, businesses, and residents would cost up to $28 million.

Serving The City Saves Public Dollars

I-Nets provide cost savings and fast speeds to local governments across the United States because municipalities no longer need to lease expensive lines from large corporate providers. Cities and towns can also budget easier because they aren't at the mercy of price hikes over which they have no control. I-Nets can often be the starting asset for expansion when a city decides to invest in infrastructure to serve businesses or households. When communities build municipal fiber networks that connect homes and businesses, they often build on existing fiber backbones that have served as I-Nets.

Despite restrictive preemption laws in the state, several Floridia municipalities have successfully constructed municipal networks that reach government institutions, businesses, and residences, including Palm Coast, Florida, an hour and a half north of Winter Park.

Tags: winter park flfloridaI-Netconsiderationgigabittask force

Update on Westminster's High Profile PPP Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 252

muninetworks.org - May 10, 2017

If you picked up the Institute for Local Self-Reliance dictionary, under "public-private partnership," it would say "See Westminster and Ting fiber-optic network." We discussed it with Westminster City Council President Robert Wack in episode 100 of Community Broadband Bits and he rejoins us for episode 252 to update us on the progress they have made.

We get an update on the construction process and the exciting developments around the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (previous accomplishments noted here). One piece of good news is that they are hitting the milestones needed in the business plan for the network to break even financially. 

We also discuss the importance of finding a good partner to work with. Communities seeking a similar partnership cannot just copy this arrangement - they might start with it as a blueprint but will have to mold it to their circumstances and partner.

To learn more about Westminster, read our paper on partnerships and the Westminster tag on this site. Also, this interview from last year... 

 

Read the transcript of the show.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

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: partnershiptingwestminstermarylandinnovationfinancingincrementalaudiopodcastbroadband bitsquality of lifepublic benefits

Franklin, KY, Piloting FTTH

muninetworks.org - May 10, 2017

Franklin, Kentucky's Electric Plant Board is now offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity in limited areas of town through a pilot project. Franklin EPB wants to experiment with the possibility of bringing high-quality Internet access and VoIP to all its customers.

Businesses First, Now Residents

In 2013, Franklin EPB began serving local businesses after national providers refused to install fiber connectivity in local industrial parks. Community leaders in Franklin knew that retaining existing businesses and attracting new opportunities relied on fast, affordable, reliable connectivity and that giving up was not an option. The town already had experience with its own electric utility and chose to deploy and manage a municipal fiber network to spur economic development, improve connectivity for municipal facilities, and to enhance communication for EPB facilities.

A $1 million U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant combined with municipal bonds funded the initial deployment. The network encouraged a local establishment, Tractor Supply Company, to invest in a Franklin distribution center adding more than 330 jobs to the community.

Rural Kentucky Connecting

Approximately 8,400 people live in Franklin, which is located in central Kentucky along the southern border. Franklin is only about 90 minutes from Clarksville, Tennessee - another community with publicly owned fiber.

For now, residents in the pilot area can sign up for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds for $50.00 per month. The pilot program page doesn’t describe them as symmetrical, but doesn’t list upload speeds. A gigabit option is not yet available but is listed as "to be determined." Installation is $49 and VoIP activation is $29.95. 

Tags: franklin kyFTTHpilot projectruralelectricutilityeconomic development

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 251

muninetworks.org - May 9, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 251 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae discuss connectivity in East Central Vermont and the future of the ECFiber Network. Listen to this episode here.

 

Carole Monroe: What we see, in this area, is that most of the customers coming to ECFiber are customers that are coming from FairPoint.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 251 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. ECFiber is a consortium of 24 member towns in East Central Vermont that banded together in 2008, on a mission to bring high quality connectivity to their small, rural towns. The project began with funds from many local investors. Since then, the network has expanded, and a new structure will allow ECFiber to continue to grow. In this interview, we learn about ECFiber's past, present, and future plans. Christopher's guests, Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae, describe what it was like getting the community network going. Now, here's Christopher with Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae, talking about ECFiber in Vermont.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and I'm enthusiastic today, to be talking with Carole Monroe, once more. Carole is now the CEO of ValleyNet. Welcome back to the show.

Carole Monroe: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Irv Thomae on, who is the district chairman of the governing board for the East Central Vermont Fiber Network-

Irv Thomae: Telecommunications district.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. We're going to explain for a second, how that used to be ECFiber, and now has a different name because it has a new, exciting approach. So welcome to the show, Irv.

Irv Thomae: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: Maybe that's actually just a really good place to start, quickly. Irv, can you just remind me how ECFiber is now structured?

Irv Thomae: We were and still are a collection of 24 municipalities in East Central Vermont, but we formed, originally, under an obscure provision in Vermont law, for what's called an inter-local contract. We worked that way for several years, but it became clear that outside of Vermont, people who might have chosen to invest had no idea what that meant. So in the spring of 2015, we successfully asked the state legislature to pass new law, creating a structure called a communications union district, which is essentially like a solid waste district, or a water district, or even a union school district, with the important distinction that, under preexisting Vermont law, although towns can own and operate telecom networks, for the benefit of their residents, they can't fund them from local taxes. So the district is a union district of 24 municipalities, that does not have local taxing authority, but it is, under the laws of Vermont, a municipal entity. That gave us standing to go out to the municipal bond market, and seek revenue bonds in the name of a recognizable government entity. That's why we are now the district.

Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. The network itself, or the governing board, doesn't actually have employees. That's all handled by Carole and ValleyNet, as I understand it.

Irv Thomae: That's correct. The district itself doesn't have employees. It contracts with ValleyNet, to design, and build, and operate the network. The network is now owned by the district, but the district is, in turn, owned by its member towns.

Christopher Mitchell: Carole, can you tell us a little bit about ValleyNet. Where did that come from?

Carole Monroe: ValleyNet originally started as an ISP, doing dial-up connections in the Upper Valley Region, and was that entity when these towns in Vermont were trying to determine what kind of a structure they could have, and what it would look like. ValleyNet, itself, was on its way out, because dial-up was going away, and that structure of ValleyNet came into play to become the operating entity of ECFiber, or East Central Vermont Telecommunications District now. It's always sort of been this ISP, and some of its revenues at that time were also invested into this network. So ValleyNet is the operations company. It's a not-for-profit in the state of Vermont. We have 12 employees at the present time. What we primarily do is exactly that. We build and operate the network for ECFiber.

Christopher Mitchell: So you don't have a larger service territory, that ECFiber's just a part of? You are entirely focused on the ECFiber telecommunications area?

Carole Monroe: We are, at this time, completely focused on that. There's enough to do.

Christopher Mitchell: So how is the network doing? What kind of footprint are you looking at, and how many customers?

Carole Monroe: Right now, we're looking at about 1,650 customers, that are active, live customers, and we have about 375 miles of fiber up, to serve those customers. We're looking at about a 35 to 40% take rate overall, in those areas where we have service.

Irv Thomae: And we have at least some service in -- I'm losing count, 17, 18 of our 24 member towns. Or is it 19, now, Carole?

Carole Monroe: It is 19. And there are another 1,600 who have subscribed, that are just waiting for service, and waiting for us to get to them, in their towns, and along the routes that we're serving. As you know, we offer only fiber to the premise. It's all symmetrical service. We have levels at 10, 25, 100, and 500 meg. That is going to be moving up again. We keep increasing the service instead of increasing prices in any way, or decreasing prices. We just keep increasing the amount of service. So we expect that we'll be at a gig within the next year.

Christopher Mitchell: Well it sounds like pretty impressive growth, by my calculations, because we just happened to do a story about y'all about a year ago. It looks like it's more than 30% growth since then.

Carole Monroe: That's about right, and we're looking to add about 800 customers this year, and that's on top of the building of 250 miles, so when you add miles, you add customers.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, it looks like you must be -- I don't know exactly how the geography works, but the thing that I saw was that you plan to cover 21 of 24 towns by 2019, fully, which suggests you're not just plateauing, you're continuing to ramp up.

Irv Thomae: We are.

Carole Monroe: We are, so it's 250 miles this year for a build, and then we're planning the 350 miles for 2018, and 450 mile build for 2019, which will bring us to about 1,450 miles complete by that deadline. That represents all of the un-served areas in our territory. Un-served meaning they don't have a cable connection. They don't have service at an FCC definition of 25/3, so we still have work to do after that, but we will have served all of the un-served areas by that time.

Irv Thomae: And the reason we speak of 21 out of our 24, the other three have very extensive coverage by a cable company. By and large, the folks in those remaining three towns are not already hurting for true broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: That makes sense. I have to wonder if, in the years that you've been working on this, do you have more towns that are clamoring to be the 25th, or the 26th community connected?

Irv Thomae: We get some inquiries, and what I often say when somebody asks if we have plans to expand geographically is, "We don't have any imperial ambitions." We'd be happy to encourage other groups of towns, elsewhere in the state, to form their own communication union districts. We're glad that we helped get that all in place, and we believe it can benefit others. We might add a few neighboring towns, but we really got to take care of the un-served population within our own towns before we think about getting bigger.

Christopher Mitchell: That makes sense to me. I mean, it really resonates, although it does seem like just getting something started is an intimidation, that you need a certain kind of community, willing to really just do it, to go out there and to do the hard work to bring something new in, whereas expanding seems less intimidating.

Irv Thomae: That could be partly true. Certainly, we were extremely fortunate in two ways. At the very outset, that there were three individuals who were able to invest a quarter million dollars each, as seed money, long term loan. That helped us get the network operating center built, and the first 25 mile loop of cable hung. We were also fortunate that this happens to be a group of towns with a lot of very energetic people, who are willing to pitch in and work hard to make something happen. Some of the towns, certainly not all of our towns, but enough of the 24 member towns, had sufficient numbers of people with some money, that we were able to grow initially, by small amounts of investment, by local individuals who wanted it to come to them, and by the time we wrapped up that phase, we had about 475 different people who'd invested, and at least 90%, I think, of those 475 people, had invested in small multiples of $2,500.

Christopher Mitchell: So I guess one of the things I'm always curious about is, with all that grass roots involvement, are people pretty excited? What kind of stories do you hear about people that just get connected or respond?

Carole Monroe: We get a lot of stories from people who are working from home, whose family comes up to visit and needs to work from their house. That's generating a need, so we'll get a customer who will say, "Can you get to my house, and can you get to the house across the street that my son's going to buy for when he's up here?" And, "He can't come unless there's high speed Internet here." I think there's a number of people who generally work from here, and work for somebody outside of Vermont, but then a lot of homegrown businesses throughout. We know that, because if we have any kind of an outage, small outage, we get calls from people who say, "I need to process these transactions today or my employees aren't going to be paid," and I look at their account, and they're sitting on a residential connection. I think that's hard, from an economic development perspective, to get a handle on, to find out how many people are actually doing that, but it is-

Irv Thomae: Well there's some data that indicates Vermont has a very high percentage of people in self-employment. We know that there are many young people, who've grown up in Vermont, and they've gotten started in a specialty, in a career, maybe from college or through military service, and they want to come home and live where they grew up. They have faced a Draconian choice. There's one part of the state that's relatively urban, for Vermont. That's the city of Burlington and its immediate surrounds. There, there's plenty of high speed connectivity available, but the cost of living is quite high. Then, across rural Vermont, there has been very little real broadband, so young people that would like to come home, and build their career and their family, end up not coming back to Vermont, but wishing they could. We're trying to solve that problem, and stop the loss of rural population in our area.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I guess one of the things that springs to mind, Carole, when you were describing those folks who have friends that come up, or maybe have second homes, they probably have cable connections where they're from, and they come up and they might be surprised, I wonder, how great the symmetrical connectivity is for them, from ECFiber and ValleyNet.

Carole Monroe: We often hear that, sometimes, that they have better service here, on our network, than they do from where they come from, in a very urban area, and it's more consistent. So they enjoy being here, and of course the more that people with second homes, and people that can work from here, are in Vermont, the more they spend in Vermont. It's good for economic development across the board. It's great to see that happening. So we don't rule out second home owners. They're really a good part of our subscription base, and they may be here three months out of the year, or six, or one, and yet they enjoy being here in Vermont, and they like to have that kind of connectivity that they can continue to work, or do what they need to do, from afar.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, Irv, I wanted to pick up on something that you were saying about you're now able to issue bonds, because you are this public district. Is that how you plan to finance the rest of the infrastructure?

Irv Thomae: That's what we've been doing. Last year, we sold $9 million in revenue bonds. We used about half of that to refinance some of our more expensive short term debt, and to do the design and pole preparation work for this year's construction of 250 miles. This year, we will be announcing a closing, very soon, on $14 million of additional revenue bonds. With that, we will do the 250 miles of actual construction. We will refinance our remaining expensive debt, from past financing arrangements, and we will do the engineering work and pole preparation for next year's 350 mile build. Then, next year, we won't have any more of the old, expensive debt to refinance, but we will once again, build the prepared miles, and design that last tranche of mileage.

Carole Monroe: That will get us to where we need to be by 2019, and then we'll see where we go from there. We all know that the areas with a cable footprint have a different business model, so as we build out the rural areas, that still leaves about 300 miles of, we call it dense here in Vermont, but it's still very rural compared to the rest of the country.

Christopher Mitchell: Right.

Carole Monroe: Higher density areas, where you see about 100 premises a square mile, versus our average towns are about 25 premises a square mile. They have a higher density, but it costs more to build them, mostly because there's about a 15% higher cost in doing that make ready work on the poles, because you're dealing with more carriers. The cable company, and some other carriers that might be on the poles, so they're a higher cost to build, and the take rate ends up being about 17%, versus the 35, 40, or 45 that we experience in other areas. That, in itself, creates a different kind of business model for building out those areas, and thinking about how to do that effectively. Those towns want us to do that, particularly through their business districts, because they want those business districts to have competition, that doesn't exist there today. So with some competitive pricing, they may see some business pricing go down in those areas. And they also have a lot of small businesses in those areas, and those small businesses, even the business pricing of a Comcast or a FairPoint, is too expensive for those small businesses, but our business pricing is perfect for them. So they're looking for us to get through their business districts first, and then look at some other areas, but that's one of the reasons they'd like us to be in those towns.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I can certainly imagine that.

Irv Thomae: We have a small amount of experience, already, with take rate in cabled areas, because we have concentrated on outskirts of our more densely populated towns, where there wasn't anything else, but to get to the outskirts, we had to go through the inskirts, as it were. Although those more densely populated areas are, in the towns we've touched so far, chiefly residential, there we see some people making the switch, or cutting the cord, but not so much because they want to save money by switching to us, but because they have some ideological point of view, or active discontent with the cable company, as a supplier.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, Vermont being just wonderful for independent businesses, historically. Not being a big fan of the chains.

Irv Thomae: Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things that I think surprised me, may have surprised you at the time, is that in some of these rural areas, where you were the first to provide broadband, you're now seeing FairPoint start to build connections that may not be able to offer broadband as the FCC defines it, but some kind of DSL service. What's happening there?

Irv Thomae: Will your listeners be familiar with the Federal Communication Commissions CAF II, Connect America Fund Phase II?

Christopher Mitchell: I don't know how familiar they are with it, specifically, but they've heard me complain about it many times, and they are well aware that it is not well administered, and it is resulting in massive amounts of subsidies for subpar connections. That part you can assume.

Irv Thomae: It is indeed. We couldn't have put it better than you just did. The plan was, FCC wanted to make every effort that incumbent phone carriers would take on the burden, before they asked independents to tackle it. A phone company was now required either to take all of a service territory, and take on the CAF II mandate, or none, and if the incumbent passed, then there would be a reverse auction. But because FairPoint decided to take up the offer from the FCC, we never got a chance to bid on providing service in any part of Vermont. There are about 28,000 eligible locations in the FCC's list, to be serviced under CAF II, and the phone company cheerfully agreed to take on all of them, ignoring the fact that the list that the FCC was working from was a year-and-a-half old, so there were already a few hundred locations on that list that had ECFiber service. FairPoint committed to a six year process, during which they will provide at least, no not 25/3, but at least 10/1 service. The FCC has officially defined broadband, for most of the country's residents, at 25/3. The definition in rural areas remains much lower. 10/1 actually often translates to 10/3 quarters. FairPoint's got this big job to do. We can't tell what they're doing in other parts of the state, but we do know that they are rolling out fiber to DSLAMs, fiber to neighborhood nodes, in places where we already have customers. They're going to be offering these new potential DSL customers a service that doesn't match what the customer can get from a fiber to the home connection. And what the customer can get depends very heavily on exactly where the customer happens to be, relative to the neighborhood node.

Christopher Mitchell: Carole, I don't know if you wanted to add anything.

Carole Monroe: CAF II funding is funding connections in 14 of our 24 towns. In many cases, they were completely overbuilding where we already have existing fiber. In the town of Barnard, for an example, there's 14-and-a-half miles of which we already have fiber, and we've already connected those customers, but they're overbuilding that with DSL, about 120 premises. In our calculations, based on what they indicate, about $1,800 per connection is what they're getting paid, we can provide that service for that same amount of money, without too much difficulty. It doesn't make any sense to us, but it all stems from the fact that this is a small company. We're growing rapidly. In 2013, we didn't have the connections that we have today, and they were using old data to create the lists in which FairPoint is building from. That's partly the inconsistencies of the FCC, and some of this not doing it effectively.

Christopher Mitchell: Carole, one of the things that I just think when I see that is that if your roles were reversed, if you were getting some kind of federal subsidy to compete with FairPoint, I have to think that given the power of these larger companies in DC, that someone in DC would notice, and they would pull the funding back from you, and say it was wasteful. But somehow, that just doesn't seem to happen when small companies are getting the short end of the stick.

Carole Monroe: You're talking to a company that has gotten no federal funding.

Irv Thomae: We're not in it to make a profit. We're able to do this to serve our residents, and we're able to do it at lower costs, because we don't have to return dividends to stockholders.

Christopher Mitchell: And Carole had noted that ValleyNet itself, as the ISP, is a nonprofit.

Irv Thomae: Right.

Christopher Mitchell: You know, it's just one of those things that I find so frustrating. I mean, here you've gone to this trouble, and now you have to deal with this massive subsidy going to FairPoint, which is then taking it, and putting it into DSL. We've been wrestling with this in a few other states, as well, with the massive subsidies, and I was trying to figure out exactly how much a company like FairPoint itself has to put in. It's not clear. And in talking to experts that follow it closely, it's really not clear, although one of the things that I want to ask you, Carole, is I think some of that, because you mentioned it's $1,800, and it's split up over six years, I think some of that money is actually destined to be operating costs, because as you know, running those DSL networks has a high operating cost. So they are going to be expecting future handouts as well, whereas you've built your network in a responsible manner, using a technology that has lower operating costs, so you will not require -- You know, you didn't get any past handouts, but you're not going to get any future ones either, and you don't need them.

Irv Thomae: I thought that the FCC, with CAF II, was telling phone businesses, large or small, "We are shifting here, from ongoing support, to capital investment, and after that you have to be on your own."

Christopher Mitchell: That's what the intention was. I think there's been some mixed messaging, and I think that when you look at the technology choices, honestly a lot of this stuff is rumor and innuendo, I feel like, because so much of the real negotiation happens outside the public record.

Irv Thomae: The rules for CAF II indicate that there will be some statistical sampling to ensure that the recipient of the money has indeed delivered the bandwidth that they were supposed to produce, but the rules aren't clear as to whether that testing happens year by year, or after the six years of build-out is completed, and the rules also aren't clear how they do the statistical sampling. If you do the sampling by taking a list of the 2,800 locations, if you're just randomly drawing people out of that list, then because there are more people living in village centers than out on the dirt roads, you're going to over-represent areas where it's easy for DSL to meet the specs, and you're going to under-sample areas where it's not.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure.

Carole Monroe: It will be difficult to deliver a 10/1 service to the rural back roads of Vermont. In our territory, they probably won't have an opportunity to prove that, because many of these customers won't be their customers. Many of these premises won't be their customers, but will be our customers, and so they'll be getting good service here, in Central Vermont. It's the other areas of Vermont that I'm concerned about. What we see in this area is that most of the customers coming to ECFiber are customers that are coming from FairPoint. There's about a 10% of our customers who move over, come from a wireless ISP, that was a stopgap measure to begin with. Then, most of them are coming from FairPoint. About another 10% come from the cable companies. What bothers me is, of course, that that money could be better spent. There are certainly areas of Vermont and elsewhere, very rural areas, that are trying to create projects, and move forward, and deliver some sort of broadband that's real broadband. It just is money that could be better deployed. That's not happening, and I don't know what will happen in the future, particularly as it seems like the FCC is moving towards more of an alignment with big business.

Christopher Mitchell: What I'd like to wrap up with is a sense of the local anchor institutions. You know, when we wrote a story about this situation, I saw that you are providing a pretty affordable service to schools, and libraries, and that sort of thing. Can you tell me about it?

Carole Monroe: Sure. We're providing a great service to schools, and libraries, and municipal institutions. They receive our highest level of service, which is right now at 500 megabits per second, but we'll go up to a gig when that occurs, for the lowest residential price. That's $74 a month. That's in contrast to what they're paying today, in many cases. Many cases, they're paying 400 to $800 a month, for 100 meg. It's really going to allow them to cut their costs dramatically, and to reallocate those costs to using this technology in ways in which they can share information across their networks, and with other schools and school districts. We'll have six towns that will be fully built out, at the end of this year. That's great for the schools, because then you can send the homework home. You know that they will have an affordable connection at home, so they can count on their students having a network connection. Those schools are thinking about how they can best utilize that, now that will be happening. So it's a great opportunity for the schools in our area. We don't think of them as a profit center, as most of the bigger companies do. We really see this as a community endeavor.

Christopher Mitchell: Not only is that a great deal, but it's in comparison to much higher costs. It looked like the high school in Woodstock needed a gig, and is ended up paying something on the order of, I don't know, 30, 40 times more than what the schools are paying in your area, but you're unfortunately not in Woodstock yet, so they had to go with a private provider and really get fleeced, it looks like.

Carole Monroe: And when you think about it, the private providers have a whole government and education business sales arm. They think of a school district, or a government facility, as an opportunity for a big sale.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and especially because a lot of the school districts can tap into the e-rate funding, and so the federal government will pay those outrageous charges, so there's less of an incentive for the local person to really seek alternatives, which is, I think, just not with fault with them, but it's the perverse results of the system. I was just at an event, and I was talking with a municipal provider. They were talking about the challenges of e-rate, and he said, "You know, we got around e-rate. We just decided that we'd charge the schools so little it wasn't worth it for them to go and try and get reimbursed." I would guess that at $74 a month, your schools may not be doing that paperwork to have federal folks picking up the tab.

Carole Monroe: No, the only e-rate we have is potential construction to get to a school that's sort of off the beaten path, that's been approved for this coming year. That's under that new construction guidelines, that e-rate opened up last year.

Christopher Mitchell: Great, well thank you so much, both of you, for taking the time to give us a sense of what's going on, and I really want to congratulate both of you, because I know that your competitors have run you down. They've said for years that you were going to disappear. You weren't going to make it. I know that this is a hard business, whether you're in an easier area or in the middle of Vermont, so I just really want to thank you for all of your dedication and work in making this happen.

Carole Monroe: Take care.

Irv Thomae: Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae, discussing ECFiber in Vermont. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Christopher on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Thank you to Arne Huseby, for the song, "Warm Duck Shuffle," licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 251 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcriptVermontecfiberfairpointruraldslFTTH
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