OPS broadband may soon move beyond the Gig City of Opelika by Elizabeth Lauten, Alabama Today
Branding itself “Alabama’s first Gig City,” Opelika invested about $43 million in the network offering customers “triple play” — telephone, television and Internet. But despite the 425 miles of fiber running throughout the city the service begins and ends in Opelika.
At least one Alabama Senator hopes to change that.
2 more Colorado cities vote for municipal broadband Internet by Mark Harden, Denver Business Journal
In all, 66 Colorado cities and towns have now passed measures authorizing a community-based broadband service, either directly provided by local government or by a third-party vendor, according to the Colorado Municipal League. State law bars communities from running their own high-speed internet service unless local voters specifically authorize it.
Former Intel exec ready to help bring broadband to rural Colorado by Zack Quaintance, Government Technology
ISP privacy rules could be resurrected by states, starting in Minnesota by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica
The Senate and House versions of the budget must be reconciled into a compromise version before final passage, the Pioneer Press noted. Republicans have a one-vote majority in the Minnesota Senate, but one Republican sided with Democrats in order to get the amendment into the Senate's final bill.
“We should be outraged at the invasion that’s being allowed on our most intimate means of communication,” said Republican Sen. Warren Limmer, according to the Pioneer Press. “This is an amendment that so urgently needs to be addressed.”
Broadband access in rural Missouri is focus of McCaskill effort by Buffalo Reflex
Grand Island, N.Y., explores municipal broadband system by Nancy A. Fisher, Government Technology
Franklin Co. seeks broadband-service solutions by Denise A. Raymo, Press Republican
LanCity Connect: Lancaster's municipal broadband is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania by Tim Stuhldreher, Lancaster Online
“This is a good deal” for Lancaster, said Christopher Mitchell, the director of the nonprofit Community Broadband Networks Initiative, based in Washington, D.C. “It’s far better than the status quo.”
Bland receives nearly $200,000 to expand broadband service by Blake Stowers, Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Southwest Virginia towns team with federal partners for broadband expansion by Olivia Bailey, News 5 - WCYB
Survey: West Virginians unhappy with Internet service by Eric Eyre, West Virginia Gazette Mail
Broadband bill stays alive at statehouse by West Virginia Metro News Staff
Competition key for quality broadband in WV by Ronald Pearson, West Virginia Gazette Mail
Several bills have been introduced in this year’s Legislature for the purpose of improving broadband service, and one, House Bill 3093, offers real hope. HB 3093 just passed the House, receiving 97 “Yes” votes out of the possible 100. It was the subject of a public hearing that enumerated the many ways this bill will encourage competition by authorizing fiber optic cable on existing utility poles, mini-trenching for fiber on public highways, and authorizing cities and citizen co-ops to seek federal and other sources to increase broadband access and service. Another feature of the bill is the requirement that broadband providers must deliver the service they advertise!
There are two opponents to HB 3093, Frontier Communications and some, but not all, of the cable companies — the providers that most of us must have been relying on to provide internet access.
What does the new ISP data-sharing rollback actually change? by Russell Brandom and Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge
FCC Chairman Pai pushes for access over competition in rural broadband by Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch
FCC limits order on Charter extending broadband service by David Shepardson, Reuters
Gigi Sohn, a former top Wheeler aide, said the decision shows the Republican FCC is more focused on putting "incumbents first" than on competition. She cited its putting broadband privacy rules on hold and withholding federal approval of new companies to offer government subsidized telecommunication services.
Six broadband policy ideas to spur investment by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor
Next Century Cities releases policy agenda for strategies to expand broadband access by Deb Socia, Government Technology
Image of the Highlander bull courtesy of FrankWinkler via pixaby.Tags: media roundup
Stafford County, Virginia, has issued a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) as they search for potential partners interested in working with them to improve local connectivity. Responses are due April 25.
In addition to searching for ideas to bring high-quality Internet access to unserved and underserved households in the county, the community wants to connect 26 of its own facilities to an existing publicly owned I-Net. The I-Net currently serves county and school buildings but the unconnected facilities are served by separate cable connections.
The county's RFEI states that they are interested specifically in bringing speeds to the county that meet or exceed the FCC definition of broadband, which is 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.
The county has grown considerably in recent years and local leaders want to support economic development with fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in both rural and urban areas of Stafford County’s 277 square miles. Located in the northeast part of the state between the Washington DC area and Richmond, many residents work in the beltway. Unemployment is only four percent in the county where the population is approximately 135,000. During the past ten years, more jobs have popped up in Stafford County, a trend community leaders hope to continue.
Several federal employers have facilities in Stafford County, including the FBI, the Marine Corps Base Quantico, and the DEA. Some of the other employers are Geico Insurance, Intuit, and Northrup Grumman. The high tech industry is growing in the area, especially the number of new entrepreneurial businesses.
Stafford County is open to ideas and encourages respondents to consider all types of technologies including Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), fixed wireless, satellite, or a combination of different types of technologies.
Deadline for Questions: April 13, 2017
Responses Due by 3:00 p.m.: April 25, 2017
Review of responses completed by County: May 19, 2017
Read the RFEI at the city's website.Tags: stafford county varfeivirginiaI-Netschooleconomic development
A recent edition of State Scoop published Christopher's thoughts on the state of competition in the broadband market in the United States. In the piece, Christopher argues how incumbent Internet Service Providers translate their economic power into political power, as seen in the recent vote to strike down consumer privacy protections. He also more widely distributes our recent infographic, "The Market Has Spoken. The Market Is Broken." We've reproduced the op-ed here:Paths for repairing a broken broadband market
Infographic & commentary: Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says the new anti-privacy legislation passing through Congress offers further evidence that America's broadband market is broken, but not beyond repair.
To be charitable, one of the reasons that Republicans in Congress moved so quickly to eviscerate privacy protections for internet access subscribers was an overriding belief that the market provides better protection than regulators. To be less charitable, it is possible all the lobbyist contributions to their campaigns had an impact.
But the market is not providing a check to AT&T or Comcast power. They are effectively monopolies — and as we just saw — can translate their market power into political power to wipe out regulations they find annoying.
At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where we work to support local economies, this broken market is a major problem. Cable monopolies are bad for local businesses, which become less competitive from paying too much for unreliable Internet access. Communities cannot thrive without high quality Internet access today.
So we created the infographic below, which offers evidence for our claim that the market is broken. The Federal Communications Commission has documented that most households don’t have a choice in broadband providers, let alone a meaningful choice (where you actually like one of the companies you have to choose between).
Despite widespread dissatisfaction, the revenues of the biggest companies keep growing, offering another data point that most people really don’t have a choice in providers.
We even discuss why creating competition in the face of all this subscriber dissatisfaction is very difficult.
But most importantly, we offer some hope for a world with choice and how to get there. Hundreds of local communities have made smart investments and created smart policies to create a meaningful local choice. Whether urban or rural, there are options and we highlight a few of them.
We are living in an age of monopoly and the federal government is currently on the side of the monopolists. We can make a difference locally with some smart investment, but only if more people get involved – whether to join a committee, create a movement, or simply writing to elected officials to demand they take action.
Kudos to intern Kate Svitavsky who created the infographic. View the original piece in State Scoop, here.Tags: press centerinfographicchristopher mitchellmonopolycompetition
This spring, two more communities in Colorado reclaimed the authority to build municipal networks. Colorado Springs and Central City voted to opt out of SB 152, a state law that removed local telecommunications authority in 2005.
Voters overwhelmingly chose to restore local authority to make decisions for themselves. Now the cities can discuss if a community network is right for them.
The Denver Business Journal covered the outcome of these April votes - noting the strong showing in rural Central City. The referendum to “opt out” of SB 152 easily passed in the small community; of the 182 ballots, 162 folks voted yes for local control [pdf]. That means 89 percent of the voters were in favor of the measure.
In the much larger, urban community of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Independent described a much tigher vote: 61 percent to 39 percent in favor of local authority. That’s about 50,000 yes votes to 32,000 no votes. Voters also decided another related ballot initiative concerning the sale of city infrastructure. Assets related to city utilities, such as water, electricity or telecom, now cannot be sold without the approval of a supermajority of 60 percent of votes cast in a referendum.
Nearly 100 Communities Say YES
These two communities join the nearly 100 communities that have already restored local authority. Last November, 26 other communities also voted to opt out of the law. More communities may join this growing movement this fall.
Tags: coloradosb 152ruralreferendumelectioncolorado springscentral city colocalstate laws
When Alabama State Sen. Tom Whatley from Auburn spoke with OANow in late March, he described his bill, SB 228, as a “go-to-war bill.” The bill would have allowed Opelika Power Services (OPS) to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services to his community. On Wednesday, April 5th, his colleagues in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee decided to end the conflict in favor of AT&T and its army of lobbyists.
The final vote, according to the committee legislative assistant, was 7 - 6 against the bill. She described the vote as bipartisan, although the roll call isn’t posted yet, so we have not been able to confirm.
According to Whatley:
“AT&T has hired 26 lobbyists to work against me on that bill. It really aggravates me because I have boiled one bill down to where it only allows Opelika to go into Lee County. It cuts out the other counties.”
Whatley has introduced several bills this session and in previous legislative sessions to allow OPS to expand beyond the state imposed barriers to offer services in Lee County. Alabama law doesn’t allow OPS, or any other municipal provider, to offer advanced telecommunications services outside city limits. SB 228 would allow Opelika and others (described as a “Class 6 municipalities”) to offer services throughout the counties in which they reside. A companion bill in the House, HB 375, is sitting in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.
Rep. Joe Lovvorn, who introduced HB 375 agrees with Whatley:
“If it doesn't make sense for a large corporation to go there, that's OK that's their choice,” he said. “But they don't have the right to tell, in my opinion with my bill, the city of Opelika they can't serve them either.”
AT&T’s lobbyists aren’t the only big money opponents facing off with Whatley. The Taxpayer’s Protection Alliance (TPA), one of the many organizations backed by billionaire Koch brothers, has popped up in Alabama to help the national telecom. Per its usual modus operandi, TPA has published several opinion pieces in the local news to spread misinformation.
A Mayor's Work Is Never Done
Mayor Gary Fuller of Opelika has stayed on task. We profiled one of his op-eds in early March, in which he corrected the many errors and lies spread by an article about another sloppy TPA report.
In a more recent piece in OANow, Mayor Fuller tells the story of how Opelika came to own and operate the public’s gigabit FTTH network. In a thoughtful and logical article, he explains how the community became a reluctant provider due to lack of investment and poor service from the monopoly cable provider. He describes a community that took control of their own destiny rather than taking it on the chin from one of the companies that write checks for the TPA.
And, once again, Mayor Fuller addresses the misinformation spread by the TPA about how the network was funded, how much it cost, and how it has impacted the community. He counters unproven statements with facts and supplies the numbers to back them up.
Mayor Fuller describes how Opelika’s investment has injected the community with job growth, better response from area private providers, and the kind of connectivity the town needs to stay competitive. The city’s bond rating has risen. the economy is expanding, and finances are looking good. Clearly, the investment in fiber infrastructure investment was a good decision.
When it comes to recognizing what Sen. Whatley, Rep. Levvorn, and their constituents are up against at the State Capitol, says Mayor Fuller:
For nearly two decades, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications have spent millions of dollars to lobby state legislatures, influence elections and buy research to stop the spread of public Internet services that often offer faster speeds and cheaper rates. These companies have succeeded in getting laws passed in 20 states that ban or restrict municipalities from offering Internet to residents.
Now that such laws are in place, elected officials need to step up and fix a system that prevents municipal networks from expanding to neighbors who want and need service from communities willing to help them, like Opelika. Destroying bills in committee to protect incumbents is not a good way to start.
The Committee Process And Lack Of Access To Democracy
In Alabama, as in most states, the state legislature reviews proposals via the committee process. Bills like SB 228 can be killed in committee or pass through to be taken up by the full body, then the House, and eventually the Governor. Committee hearings are a key component to the democratic process.
In the Alabama State Senate, there are two rooms where committee meetings occur that enable audio live streaming. If a committee chair feels the bills they will discuss should be livestreamed, the committee will meet in either room 727 or 807. If Alabamans want to witness their Senators engage in the process of democracy at the committee level and are not able to watch the livestream or are interested in viewing some other bill discussion, they need to make the journey to Montgomery and attend a committee hearing in person.
We contacted the folks at Legislative Audio and Video Service who told us that there is “no technology in the legislature to archive any audio or video files. Nor is there any transcription service.” Consequently, we were not able to review the hearing to determine what was said or by whom at the time we published this story.
As we attempt to follow the development of bills in different states, we see the wide spectrum of access to democracy at the state level. In some places hearings are routinely livestreamed and archived, either video or audio, which should be the normal practice in every state. Constituents should be able to know what their elected officials say at committee meetings and how they vote on specific measures. Not all Representatives or Senators make speeches during chamber debate and if a decision is made on a voice vote, a citizen may never know if their elected official is representing their interests or the interests of lobbyists like AT&T, Comcast, or the billionaire Koch Brothers.
There are decisions made in Montgomery that affect people across the state and many don’t have the opportunity to go to the Capitol to be physically present for committee meetings. People in Alabama have responsibilities and committee schedules are unpredictable. Even if they make the long trek to the Capitol, they may find that a bill they want to see discussed in a hearing has been rescheduled to another day - a wasted trip.
Alabamans should, at the very least, have the opportunity to read a transcript after the fact to know what went on in committee about issues they care about. In 2017, however, recording and archiving committee meetings so voters know what they're getting from elected officials is a small ask in a democratic society.Tags: alabamaopelikaFTTHlegislational sb 228al hb 375lobbyingexpansionstate laws
Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems allow utility systems to gather and analyze real time data. The computer system reduces outages, keeps the utilities running efficiently, and allows staff to know where problems arise. Municipal utilities that use SCADA systems are increasingly taking the next step - using the fiber-optic infrastructure that supports SCADA to bring better connectivity to town. Clarksville took that route and is now considering ways to become one of the best connected communities in Arkansas.
"I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore"
As the seat of Johnson County, Clarksville is located in the northwest area of the state along I-40 and is home to just under 10,000 people living at the foothills of the Ozarks near the Arkansas River. The area is known for its scenery and its tasty peaches and every summer, the county holds a popular Peach Festival. The nearest urban areas are Little Rock, about 90 minutes to the east, and Fort Smith about an hour west.
Large employers in the community include University of the Ozarks, Tyson Foods, Haines, and Baldor, a motor and control manufacturing processor. There’s also a Walmart Distribution Center in Clarksville.
When he began as General Manager of Clarksville Light and Water (CLW) in 2013, John Lester realized that one of the challenges the municipal electric utility faced was that it did not have a SCADA system for managing the electric, water, or wastewater system communications. Even though the Clarksville utility system was well cared for and managed, a SCADA system could push it to the next level in efficiency and services.
Lester had been instrumental in optimizing the use of the fiber-optic network in Chanute, Kansas, which had been developed for the municipal utilities. He understood the critical nature of fiber connectivity to utility efficiency, public savings, and economic development. Over time, the Chanute network had attracted new jobs, opened up educational opportunities for K-12 and college students, and created substantial savings.
In Clarksville, the utilities commission makes the decisions relating to utility infrastructure investments. The commission members in Clarksville have all served for a number of years, understand the business aspects of managing the utilities, and “get it,” says Lester. CLW needed a SCADA system to improve utility efficiencies and, once they decided to invest in the system, they felt it only made sense to investigate the possibility of fiber for additional purposes.
CLW commissioned a consultant for a feasibility study, who determined that an investment in fiber for the utilities was affordable for CLW. They followed up with another study to determine hard numbers; the second study obtained the same results.
A Quick Turnaround
In the fall of 2015, the utility commission authorized approximately $1 million to build the fiber network. CLW was able to use capital on hand; they have not needed to bond or borrow for the network project. CLW installed 288-strand fiber to ensure ample capacity now and in the future.
At that time, Ritter Communications, was deploying their own infrastructure in the Clarksville area to expand its regional telecommunications network. CLW hired the same construction company Ritter was using when it offered a favorable bid to build the Clarksville project. In December of 2015, they commenced the project to deploy 16+ miles of aerial fiber on the CLW poles and finished construction at the end of March. The design uses a three-ring configuration to ensure redundancy.
Next, the Clarksville utility commission authorized approximately $400,000 worth of SCADA electronics; the system was operational by the end of June 2016. In July, the water, wastewater, and electric utilities began using the fiber for business operations.
Next, Clarksville began exploring how to best use the network to bring better connectivity to the entire community.
Local Schools, Hospital, Signing Up
City leaders have decided to dedicate a percentage of the extra capacity for specific needs in the community, including local community anchor institutions (CAIs). Clarksville will carve out 12 strands each for educational facilities, healthcare institutions, public safety needs, and government facilities. The utility will use 48 strands for its own needs, which will leave more than 200 strands available for future use.
The plan to connect Clarksville schools is already set: the Clarksville Public Schools will begin taking services on July 1st. The district will have two dedicated strands and will connect eight of its facilities directly to the ring; the wide area network (WAN) between the facilities and along the ring will allow 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) capacity between facilities. The school district will also have access to the CLW network operations center so they can install back up servers.
In order to allow students without home Internet access the opportunity to connect beyond school hours, the utilities commission and the school district are considering installing fixed wireless hotspots at locations along the fiber ring. Students would be able to complete homework via the school network. The Clarksville Public Schools is the first district in Arkansas to issue laptops and tablets to each student and needs high-quality Internet access to support their tech initiative.
CLW will charge the public school district $43,000 per year for more reliable connectivity that it currently receives from Suddenlink, which charges the district $72,000 per year. Clarksville schools will use E-rate, a federal program to reimburse schools for connectivity costs, to pay for the services.
The Johnson County Regional Medical Center was already connected to the network with dark fiber, even though it isn’t one of CLW’s customers. CLW leased the dark fiber to Ritter so the company could provide Internet access and other data services to the hospital. CLW provided the service to Ritter for $1 per year in exchange for very low bandwidth rates. Lester says the mutually agreeable arrangement will continue.
CLW is building infrastructure to other city offices and the network serves ten utility facilities. There are also a few locations where the fiber network supports fixed wireless CLW locations where connecting with fiber isn’t cost effective or practical.
Johnson County Government is interested in using the network to facilitate video arraignments so individuals don’t have to be physically moved from the detention center to the County Courthouse several miles away. Sandy, Oregon, uses its FTTH network for the same purpose to eliminate the risk and expense of moving individuals for short arraignments with the court.
Prepping For The Future
Local businesses are also interested in taking advantage of the new publicly owned infrastructure. Lester is already taking inquiries about how and when they can connect to the city’s network. A statewide bank with three branches in Clarksville wants to use the CLW fiber and contract with Ritter for Internet access.
Lester finds that some of the larger businesses, often those with national headquarters that negotiate Internet service agreements, are committed to incumbents for multi-year contracts. If they don’t want to scrap those contracts, CLW can provide connectivity by offering better and more affordable connectivity on the CLW fiber.
In Arkansas, municipalities may only offer telecommunications services to the general public only if the community operates an electric utility. There are 14 communities in the state that own and operate electric utilities, but only two - Paragould and Conway - that offer telecommunications services to the community. Local municipalities are not allowed to offer telephone services.
In February, CLW issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to get a feel for the range of interest from providers that may want to take advantage of the city’s new infrastructure. CLW cast out a wide net to hear new ideas. From the RFQ:
CLW seeks creative solutions for connectivity and advancing broadband adoption throughout the community including anchor institutions, business and commercial entities, and eventually residential customers with the ultimate objective being economic growth and local sustainability. Service providers are asked to respond with their qualifications, level of interest, technical capabilities, potential service/product offerings, and information regarding their overall interest in joining CLW in a public-private partnership. This partnership could be either in a retail or wholesale fashion and designed to be delivered over ultra-high speed communications over a fiber optic network CLW owns.
They received six responses and are in the process of limiting the field to two or three potential partners. Responses ranged from companies that want to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to the local community to a wireless provider and even a company that hopes to offer voice services via the fiber network. As CLW interviews and digs deeper into the possibilities, they are well poised to work out a deal with any potential partners because they have control over the infrastructure they own.
While CLW examines the RFQ responses, students at the Clarksville Public Schools have already participated in a campaign to name their network. Students chose from several possible names for the network and decided on clarksvilleconnected.net as the name of the new publicly owned fiber network.clarksville arArkansasscadautilityelectricruralanchor institutionswaterschool districtpublic savingspublic safetyhospitalpartnershiprfqFTTHvoice
This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits Episode 247. Ken Demlow of Newcom Technologies chats with Christopher Mitchell about what happened in Nashville and why poles are important for fiber. Listen to this episode here.
Ken Demlow: There's all that kind of communication that not only can improve what happens in electric and what happens in water, but also just such better communication with your customer, and it's all good stuff.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 247 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Ken Demlow, Sales Director of Newcom Technologies joins Christopher this week to talk about several topics. In addition to discussing engineering and design and how it relates to telecommunications networks, Ken shares how Newcom is taking advantage of new technology to offer communities the best results. Christopher and Ken also get into the details of smart-grid and some benefits and uses that you might not necessarily think of right away. The guys spend some time on what happened in Nashville when Ken worked on the Google Fiber project. He shares his inside perspective. You can learn more about Newcom at nucomtech.com. Now, here's Christopher with Ken Demlow from Newcom Technologies talking about engineering and design, smart-grids, and pole drama in Nashville.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of The Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with Ken Demlow, the sales director of Newcom Technologies. Welcome to the show.
Ken Demlow: Thank you. Good to be here.
Christopher Mitchell: Ken you're one of my favorite people at these trade shows. We're here at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and as you know, I contrived an excuse to have you on because I think you're a fun person to talk to.
Ken Demlow: Thank you. That's better than I deserve, but thank you.
Christopher Mitchell: I think we're going to start with just a brief explanation of what Newcom Technologies does.
Ken Demlow: We are telecommunication engineers, and that's how we started 20-some years ago. What's kind of cool about Newcom is that design is design, but we design very well, but then what you do with that design and how you make it usable is where we've done a lot of excelling. We did all of our design work in CAD and then converted it into GIS. Well, that's something that can be used in different phases for projects, and so our customers had said, "Wait a minute. We want that." So, we do that. We do mapping, those kind of ancillary services, field survey work, all that kind of stuff that goes along with having really good engineering.
Christopher Mitchell: The way municipal networks or small providers might come across you is trying to figure out where they're going to put their outside plan.
Ken Demlow: Exactly. If they're thinking, "Okay. We know we need to do something," where that would go, how that would be, aerial versus underground, what impediments there could be. We work through designing all that, and then where would the cabinets go? How are the splits going to be? All that's recorded. Yeah, we have to do all of that stuff as part of our design.
Christopher Mitchell: In a recent conversation with Eric Lampland, we talked about the importance of getting this in a mapping program. Esri is what you guys use. That's an industry standard. Why is that important?
Ken Demlow: That's a big deal because a lot of engineering work is just we'll design it. We'll put it on a static platform. We'll print you a map, or we'll put it in CAD, which CAD's a good design tool, but then the end user -- It's static. They just have that done, and then they can refer back to it, but they can't really change it. Doing it in Esri, then if they want to add a section, it's very easy just to add onto that section, or if there's something they want to change-
Christopher Mitchell: Layers, the power of layers.
Ken Demlow: Layers, yes. Or if they want to do how they keep their splits and how they're splicing and how they are able to see it and change those kind of things. If it's dynamic, then they can change it and use it and adapt it along the way. If not, they got it once and then that's it. The last part of that, Chris, is that, also, there's these tools out there called fiber management systems, and those fiber management systems allow you to like put in OTDR readings and see where a problem is. The trucks don't have to drive as far. They don't have to go try to find something.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, this is like if there's a problem with the fiber, you shine a laser down. It tells you how far to wander to get to that problem.
Ken Demlow: Yeah, and if you put that into a fiber management system, you know exactly where to go. You know exactly, so the trucks can go there and not have to go hunt for it, and you can trace the fiber all the way through to the end. You can trace it through the splices. You can change your splices. Those are all tools that you only have if you use a mapping system like Esri. CAD, you can't do that. A piece of paper on the wall, you can't do that. It provides much more management functions and a dynamic instead of static platform.
Christopher Mitchell: Okay. Now that we know what you do, let's talk about some of the stuff you've been talking about. Today, you were talking about smart-grid here at the IAMU Conference. What's the deal with smart-grid?
Ken Demlow: Smart-grid is this cool, important idea that people have a hard time even defining.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think a lot of people are immediately thinking meter reading, right?
Ken Demlow: Yep. Yep, and that's where everybody starts. The reason people start there is because, if you have smart meters, meters that can send information back to you instead of you having to go do a meter reading, you can quantify how much does the person cost, or you can quantify how many truck rolls does it take to do that? Those are very quantifiable things, and people can say, "This is how much it'll cost. This is so much money we'll save," and that's an easy place to say, "Okay. That's smart-grid." Well, it's a tool in smart-grid, but the reason we got involved in smart-grid, Chris, is because what smart-grid is, is it's communication. It's data. It's sending information back and forth. It's communicating with your customer. It's understanding what's happening in your network. That all is telecommunications. We got involved in it because of the telecommunication side. Now, through the years, we've gotten more involved in helping set it up, helping to find how it's going to be laid out, how the data is going to flow. The biggest thing is that the industry, by necessity because of what was available 20 years ago, they've gone to -- If you're going to have a smart meter, you're going to have an RF system, a radio frequency system, that sends the information back that way, not using fiber. That's something that's been an issue of mine for a decade now, of saying, "If we have fiber, we should be using the fiber."
Christopher Mitchell: I think, in a lot of cases, what happens is you have a short wireless hop to a collection point. They're not using radio frequency all the way back to the central office.
Ken Demlow: Some are.
Christopher Mitchell: Oh, wow. Okay.
Ken Demlow: Yeah.
Christopher Mitchell: But others are -- Tantalus' products, I think, were often doing a local collection and then using local fiber to get out of the neighborhood.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. The most common is to send the radio frequency back to a collector somewhere, and then you'll have a certain number of collectors. If the community is small enough and if there's not too many hills or trees or that sort of thing, then some do send it all the way back to the office. That's a shame because if you have fiber and you can use fiber for all of it, that's a good starting point for, "We're going to have these meters. They're going to send the information back over fiber." That's much more secure. It's much more efficient. It's much faster.
Christopher Mitchell: I think a lot of people might immediately think, "Well, that seems like overkill." If you have a ratepayer who's on your electric system, who's also going to be paying for Internet access, for television, then you can justify dragging a fiber to him. Can you really justify dragging a fiber to a home just to do these automated services?
Ken Demlow: No. That's a good point. Right now, if you were saying, "I'm going to go pay for fiber just to bring the information back from a meter," that really is not justifiable, no. It's when you can say, "Okay. We can bring back the meter data, and then we can also offer the other services." There's going to be a lot more coming, pieces of smart-grid, and what can be done with communication, with the ratepayer, with how you can exchange data back and forth. Those things are all coming, but as far as can you actually say, "That will pay for fiber," not really.
Christopher Mitchell: I think what you're saying, then, is, "Hey. If you've got the fiber there, do it. Use it."
Ken Demlow: Yes.
Christopher Mitchell: "Don't also use RF." As an anti-pollution kind of person, I would also say, "Yeah. Let's keep it off the public airwaves if we can."
Ken Demlow: Yeah. It's if you have the fiber and if you have the fiber to use to do -- and you can do multiple things with it. It's crazy not to do that, too. I know of communities who have put in fiber and have used an RF system on top of that to bring their data back. Why? I don't think we really know. You were talking about the pollution and that sort of thing. If we have something that just -- anything we can clean up, why wouldn't we?
Christopher Mitchell: Right.
Ken Demlow: That way, we can.
Christopher Mitchell: I think we're going to slide into the final topic, the one that perhaps people are really most interested in, because nobody really knows a lot of the details of this issue, with what really happened in Nashville and what happened with Google. Before we get there, let's just finish up on smart-grid. What are some of these other things? Let's just talk about a practical example rather than in theory of why having fiber throughout your electric plant is going to not just be nice, but actually save money and really be beneficial to the community.
Ken Demlow: I'll take the easy one first. If you're going to have fiber and you're going to have an RF system, you have to pay for both. You have to pay for the RF system because you have to pay for the collectors. You have to pay for the software to do all that. You have to pay for the module that's going to send the data out. All that stuff is stuff you have to pay for. If you're paying for fiber to go there too, you really are paying for two full systems. In discussion today, in the sessions where we are today, one of the manufacturers of the system that can take fiber all the way to the meter, they said that what they are working for is having equal money. What you would pay for the RF system is equal to what you would pay to connect to the meter in the fiber system. Well if that's even money, if you have the fiber and you pay for the RF system, you're paying double. That's one thing. Another, if you have the fiber, obviously whether it's RF or whether the data's coming back over fiber, the savings you'll have in truck rolls, the savings you'll have in people and all that kind of stuff, those are all areas where you can save money.
Christopher Mitchell: Let's just flesh that out for a second. You're talking about saving truck rolls. You're talking about, right now, electricity goes out on the grid. Your ordinary system, you might be sending a person to drive along and watch the wires and try to physically see where the outage is.
Ken Demlow: That's the way it works.
Christopher Mitchell: Having these meters, it gives you either a good sense or, at the very least, it dramatically narrows the areas where you have to look for it. That's a big savings.
Ken Demlow: It is.
Christopher Mitchell: It's a savings in time. It's a savings in labor. The longer your customers are out, the more angry they are, so you get them on faster. There's savings there. Ideally, then, you have dramatically less overtime costs.
Ken Demlow: Absolutely. Right now, in the present system, when a meter goes down, basically they have to wait for their customer to call them to tell them it's down, most the time. Whereas, in these systems, the meter has what's called a "last gasp," but that's actually an industry term, where it actually sends out a message saying, "I'm dying."
Christopher Mitchell: I wish I could have written that message. You actually want people to get that message and just laugh, right?
Ken Demlow: Yeah, because it could be funny. It really could.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, yeah.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. The thing is, if the meter's telling you we're out, then they can actually call or send a text message to their customer saying, "We know you're out. Here's what we're doing." For example, if you have 100 meters go out, then you can look around, and you can see those. In GIS, you can see where those are out. That will also probably tell you what the problem was, or at least it'll give you a real good idea of what the problem was. Again, that's just money savings, right?
Christopher Mitchell: Right.
Ken Demlow: Because then, as opposed to having the person driving around and trying to find it, if you can say, "Oh, well, this transformer went out," or, "This line had to have gone out, so go there." Those are all ways that, with technology, you just save time. Then, also, with meters and with smart meters and with being able to have the data going back and forth, the ability to see -- just take a water meter for example. We're talking about electric, but take a water meter for example. If you have a smart meter and there's spikes in the usage, then they could call or send a text message to the home owner and say, "Hey, look. Something's going wrong."
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. "Either you left the hose running," or, "Congratulations on that new pool you just built."
Ken Demlow: Yeah, or, "You really shouldn't take that long a shower. You really shouldn't."
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Right.
Ken Demlow: But being able to diagnose that right now, the money that can save or the customer and the customer service of that, there's all that communication that not only can improve what happens in electric or what happens in water, but also just such better communication with your customer, and that's all good stuff.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, absolutely. We were having a really great conversation earlier about what is going on in Nashville and one of the challenges that Google faced, in terms of getting on the poles. You have some firsthand experience having dragged your family there, in an RV, over a mountain, in order to be a part of this project.
Ken Demlow: Yes. Yes. We actually lived in Nashville for a while, in an RV. We did survive coming over the mountains, which could have gone either way.
Christopher Mitchell: This is a man that really wanted to be a part of the Google project.
Ken Demlow: Exactly. Google, when they went into Nashville, I think we all hoped for -- and I know they did, but I think everybody hopes that everything's going to be smooth and everybody's going to want the same things and all that.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Just to set the stage, Google has been in several cities by now. They've done different things. They've tried different approaches. Nashville is like seventh, eighth on the order of maybe communities that they're looking at. They've been doing it for several years, and just as a final note, you're going to be sharing with us things that are public knowledge already-
Ken Demlow: Yes.
Christopher Mitchell: -- that people may not have seen, but you're not really breaking any news on this show or sharing anything that one couldn't find elsewhere.
Ken Demlow: I'm consolidating it from a firsthand perspective.
Christopher Mitchell: Okay.
Ken Demlow: Yeah, consolidating the news. I think it all goes back to even when Google first decided they were going to do Google Cities, and 1,100 communities said, "We want it to be us." I think that set the stage for thinking, "Okay. This is all going to be wonderful in every step of the way." I think Google found out it's more complicated than that. There are a lot of factors that can go into what can happen. In Nashville, for example, when Google first went in, the local electric utility is Nashville Electric. The reason why Nashville Electric is so important is because they own most of the poles. They own most of the poles. AT&T owns some poles, and I think Comcast owns some, but the vast majority are owned by Nashville Electric.
Christopher Mitchell: This is actually why Google picked -- I mean, a lot of the cities Google went to were municipal electrics that they owned the poles, because Google didn't want to have to deal with a hostile pole entity, which I think would be a great science fiction enemy, sort of antagonist.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. I agree completely. Going in thinking, "Okay. We have the poles. We know who owns the poles. They really want us here. This is all going to be streamlined. It's all going to be easy, and we're all going to be able to just go hook onto the poles and all that." By the way, Nashville has a very high rock table, and so it really had to mostly be aerial because buried is really tough there because there's so much rock. Putting fiber on poles is cheaper anyway, but-
Christopher Mitchell: Especially when there's rock in the ground.
Ken Demlow: Especially when there's rock in the ground. When they went into Nashville Electric thinking, "Okay. We're going to be able to streamline the process. We're going to be able to put the -- We're going to be able to attach to the poles." We're talking about over 100,000 poles here. Not that they were going to use all those, but it's still a lot of poles that they're going to have to attach to.
Christopher Mitchell: Which is important for multiple perspectives, because if it was 500 poles or 1,500 poles, there's actually shot-clock rules. There are obligations that others on the pole have to move and do their activities within a certain time period. At this level of poles, it's anything goes. You've got to work it out yourself.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. Working it out yourself and working it out with them is -- Again, everybody, I think, hopes that process is going to be easy, but you've got several things that play there. One is, "What are the attachment rules?" Which means, "What does the local pole owner -- what are their rules for you to be able to attach?" That's a big deal because -- I mean, it's things like how many feet do you have to be below the electric? How many feet do you have to be above the ground? How much is that on a sidewalk, or how much is that over a street? There's all those factors of, "Here's who can attach," and then even, "Can the poles take another attachment?" If the pole can't take another attachment, that means you have to put in a different pole that's either taller or stronger. There's all those things that go into play, and when they got right into it with Nashville Electric, there ended up having to be a lot of replaced poles, and there were a lot of rules that they had to abide by that I think they just didn't expect to have to abide by, or it was more complicated, or it was more difficult. You don't necessarily know that going in, because you can look at poles and say, "Okay. Well, that's a lot of poles. Good, that's cheaper." Well, not if you have to replace every pole at 10, 15, 20 grand a pop.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. If you and I were going to go build in an area, that might have a hostile private company or a co-op or munis. In some ways, pole owners act like pole owners. They're trying to push their costs off on someone else, and the general industry standard is the new guy pays for everything.
Ken Demlow: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Christopher Mitchell: One might expect, going in to an arrangement with a hostile or a neutral pole owner, you're going to have to replace a bunch of poles. When you're going in with a friendly pole owner, you're thinking, "Oh, I'm going to get a break. I'm not going to have to replace that many poles." Maybe that happened. Maybe it didn't. Either way, there were still a lot of poles that had to be replaced.
Ken Demlow: Yeah.
Christopher Mitchell: You were saying that there's a lot of attachments out there.
Ken Demlow: Oh, yeah. In any given pole, there can be six attachments already, six communication attachments.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. That's just your cable and telephone type folks.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. If you think about it, you have the electric at the top. Then you've got a certain number of feet, and then you've got your communication attachments. If you've got six communication attachments -- and they all have to be so many inches apart, or like a foot apart or whatever. They have to be a certain distance apart. Well, then you get down to, "Do we have enough distance above the ground? Do we have enough distance -- " Pole attachment agreements and the rules you have to go by for construction -- We call it make-ready engineering -- what you have to go by there, there was a lot that had to be taken into consideration. There was a lot that had to be done and changed, and that ended up being a very friendly owner, but with a lot of rules. That ended up being a pretty substantial process. Working through that process -- and the way that process works is you go survey what's in the pole. Again, the person who wants to attach has to do this.
Christopher Mitchell: It's only 118,000 poles or something like that.
Ken Demlow: Yeah, exactly.
Christopher Mitchell: You go look at every pole.
Ken Demlow: You do. You go look at every pole and you measure all those things --
Christopher Mitchell: Of course.
Ken Demlow: -- already, so what's existing, you measure-
Christopher Mitchell: Why wouldn’t you?
Ken Demlow: Yeah. You measure every one of those things that's existing, and then you say, "Okay. Here's all the things that are existing. Here's where we'd have to attach, and here's the changes that have to be made to be able to attach to meet your rules." You submit that, and then the pole owner says yes or no. They either say, "Yes, we see that and agree," or, "No. We want you to change this." That ended up being -- When that's 100 poles, that's a job. When it's 100,000 poles, that's intimidating. There's a pole in someone's backyard. It's in an easement, but it's in their backyard. It's inside their fence. We have to go arrange with them. Again, when you're talking about 100 poles, that's annoying. When it's 100,000 poles, that's massive coordination.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. It actually seems like -- I mean, if Greek tragedies and Greek myths were being written today, one of our heroes would be stuck in purgatory where they were just doing pole analysis all day.
Ken Demlow: I like the science fiction route you were taking. I do. I like that. That was a difficult process. That was the first set of stuff to have to deal with. Then they got into who was going to make the moves of those six communications. One of them's AT&T. Another one's Comcast. You go down this list of who's there, and then the question is, "Who is going to actually do the actual move of their communication line?" Now, the argument from the perspective of the communication company is, "But we don't want somebody else to move our stuff, because what if they mess it up?"
Christopher Mitchell: Right. There's also some game, in terms of just, "We want to move our stuff because we can take longer. We can obstruct. We don't want to make it easy on anyone to come in and compete with us."
Ken Demlow: It's all competition. It is.
Christopher Mitchell: I would say there's legitimate and there's also legitimate but not something you want to play up, because it's not very favorable to your position.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. Not something that you want to have on the newspaper as much.
Christopher Mitchell: Right.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. When you start talking about who's going to do those moves and who will actually do that -- Again, if you're dealing with 100 poles, that's some difficult coordination. When you're dealing with 100,000 poles, just think of the nightmare of that. If you say, "Okay. We're going to go do these 50 poles over here, and we need all six of you to be there on the same day at the same time," and then it rains, whatever.
Christopher Mitchell: When it rains?
Ken Demlow: Yeah. That became a logistical difficulty, but it even got a little tougher, and where it got tougher was that the Nashville City Council, to try to make that easier, passed city legislation that said that we were going to go to a one-touch system, which means that they would have an authorized company who would do all the moves on a given pole. That is efficient. It's more efficient, because then you've got one path of saying, "Okay. You are going to go do all of them and go down through here."
Christopher Mitchell: One of the things to note is it's not just efficient from a perspective of the companies that are involved. A lot of these poles, you have to move traffic, and you have trucks that are in traffic. If you're doing that six times, that's a lot of traffic jams and problems you're creating. There's other reasons, aside from telecommunications reasons, to want to minimize touching.
Ken Demlow: You've got to remember that these are electric poles, is really what they are. They're actually electric, and they're just hanging coms on them. From the electric department's perspective, what if they take a certain section underground, or what if they know that they have -- say if a pole starts to fall or any of that kind of thing. Well, if you have this path of, "Okay. We're going to go do this section," but the electric department has to go out and change three poles before you get there. There's this whole logistics that's just crazy. The city passed that legislation, one-touch legislation. Well, some of the providers -- AT&T, Comcast -- they said, "No. We're not going to allow that, so we're going to -- " They went to court to say, "No. You can't do that." That also became a concern of Nashville Electric because they had contracts with all of them. If you already had a contract with somebody that says, "Here's the rules for the next 10 years," and the city says, "No. We're going to change the rules," what about those contracts? That's all now in court, and we won't really know what's going to happen until that all floats its way through court. Lastly, Chris, the other question with that is -- It's even a question of who has jurisdiction over that? Is that the Federal Communications Commission has jurisdiction? Is it the state? Is it the -- Those are all questions that have to be solved in court, and who knows how long that'll take?
Christopher Mitchell: I think those were the big show stoppers. There was also added problems. There were some egos involved, both with Google and the people that Google hired, where they all had a sense of, "We do things our way." I think this is something that the telephone and cable companies and everyone who's been in this field have said for a long time. "Google, you don't get it. You're not going to -- Everyone might love you, but there's still rules. You're going to have to follow the freaking rules," and I think that Google and some of its subcontractors or contractors thought that they could get away with not doing some of the rules because they're so powerful, and they found that pole owners also are pretty powerful.
Ken Demlow: Well, contracts are powerful.
Christopher Mitchell: Right.
Ken Demlow: Signatures on paper is powerful.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. It's nice to live in a society where that's true, frankly.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. There's a whole confluence of issues. You've got political issues. You've got contracts. You've got pole attachment agreements. There's a whole lot of things that get into this space, and you can't just -- No one can come in and say, "But we don't want to do that."
Christopher Mitchell: Right.
Ken Demlow: You have to sort those things out, and that's not always a gentle process.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, and I think one of the things -- and you know this better than almost anyone, I think. When you hear commissioners at the FCC basically saying, "Well, we'd all have fiber everywhere if it wasn't for cities getting in the way with their dumb rules," generally, cities aren't even implicated. Let's just say that cities have inefficient rules. It's like the third or fourth problem on the list. This is poles, and it doesn't have to do with city rules. None of this had to do with city rules. The only city rule that was involved was one that was trying to make it easier. There's just a process involved, and it's very difficult to build fiber networks. That's one of the reasons why. I'll say, frankly, in my perspective, I think that AT&T, Comcast, these existing providers, have found ways to make it as cumbersome as possible.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. I would just add, to all listeners, if there's anybody who is looking at a fiber project or thinking about a fiber project or has any say in a fiber project-
Christopher Mitchell: Come to Newcom Tech for mapping.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. No. Yes, but I would also say that I've been involved in quite a few projects where dealing with the poles has caused big problems. Another one that had nothing to do with Google was there were some folks who were wanting to do a county-wide project, and they just assumed they were going to go over the poles. That's how they accosted everything, and that's the whole plan they had. When they go there, they found a hostile -- and it wasn't the city. They found a hostile pole owner, and that hostile pole owner said, "You're just not going to use our poles," and they just didn't do the project. That's one of the things that has to be looked at, is do we want to go aerial? If we do, can we use the poles we're thinking? That has to determine part of your costs.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, thank you so much. This has been fun.
Ken Demlow: Yeah. Thank you, Chris.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Ken Demlow talking with Christopher about a few topics including telecommunications, engineering, smart-grids, and Google Fiber in Nashville.
Christopher Mitchell: Hey, everyone. I just wanted to thank you for listening and helping out to create a stronger Internet ecosystem, making sure everyone has high-quality access. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested, about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes, please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all of the comments, and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.
Lisa Gonzalez: We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at email@example.com with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. You can 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 Break the Bans for the song Escape, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 247 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. (singing)Tags: transcriptnashvillepolespole attachmentsengineeringmake-readyone touch make readysmart-gridutilitywaterelectriccompetitiongoogleat&tcomcast
Under the pavement of most cities run an old collection of pipes full of rushing water and some cities are adding fiber-optic cable to them for Internet service. The small city of Anacortes, Washington, is the latest community to repurpose some of their water infrastructure to also carry fiber.
The new fiber cable will help manage the water system and may serve as the backbone for citywide, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access. Anacortes approved about $265,000 for an international contractor to install the fiber in existing water pipes.
Fiber in the Water
Local paper Go Anacortes reported that the community will replace an old radio system with high-speed fiber to better manage the community’s water system. The city’s utility intends to connect water treatment plants and pump stations by running most of the fiber through abandoned water lines, but in some areas the fiber must run through active water pipes.
The utility found an international company that specializes in installing fiber through microducts inside water lines. This technique has been used in multiple countries, and the state health department approved the plan. Although this portion of the project will cost $265,000, the overall fiber project is directly on budget and ahead of schedule, Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer recently reported at a city council meeting. Officials estimate the tost cost of the water system project at $500,000 and expect to be completed by the end of summer.
This fiber will serve as the backbone to a network that can provide Internet access in the future. The library will host the hub of the network, enabling the utility to expand throughout the community if they so choose. At the end of 2015, Anacortes began to consider building a citywide network.
Last fall, the city enlisted the assistance of the nonprofit NoaNet to design the new system; NoaNet is the collaboration of multiple public utility districts. NoaNet already manages hundreds of miles of fiber and provides Internet service to many throughout the pacific northwest.
Not Unheard Of
A few other cities have considered a similar approach. Most notably, Sandy, Oregon, dabbled with the water line idea back in 2012 when the city began designing its citywide, fiber network. Joe Knapp, SandyNet General Manager, discussed the concept in Community Broadband Bits Podcast Episode 17. DubLINK in Dublin, Ohio, also uses sewer lines to house some of its fiber.
Local governments often invest in large projects for water or electrical systems - finding new ways to use that infrastructure saves time, money, and energy. Identifying assets that a community already owns is a great early step in developing a comprehensive plan to improve Internet service.Tags: anacortesnoanetFTTHutilitywashingtonsandy orwatersewer
While at the annual Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Broadband Conference, I forced Ken Demlow to be our guest on Community Broadband Bits Podcast 247. Ken is the Sales Director for Newcom Technologies, where he has worked with many different fiber-optic deployments on the ground and is a fun guy to talk to more generally.
Our discussion focuses on two main topics - the benefits of using fiber-optic connections to smart-grid applications rather than relying on wireless and the challenges that Google faced in getting on the poles in Nashville to build its fiber-optic network (which seems to be stalled).
Ken had a front-row seat to the work in Nashville to get Google Fiber on poles but our conversation focuses on what is publicly known. We aren't breaking any insider secrets, but this is a very good discussion about the tremendous challenges of dealing with attachments on over 100,000 poles when contemplating a citywide metro fiber build. For people who haven't done it, this will explain why encouraging private sector competition at the physical network level is very difficult. And we keep it interesting - from possibly the worst idea for a sci-fi antagonist ever and how make-ready could fit into Greek myths.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.Tags: polespole attachmentsnashvilletennesseegoogletechnicalaudiopodcastbroadband bitssmart-gridWirelesswaterelectricityutilitymake-readyengineeringmappingfeasibility
In western Massachusetts, about 40 communities have spent nearly a decade trying to improve Internet service. Governor Baker recently took a step to help clear the way. He took $20 million out of the control of the struggling Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI).
Now, towns can apply for $20 million in infrastructure grants through the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development. MBI will now refocus on other projects, like managing its middle mile network and refining agreements with large cable companies.
The transition marks a change in state policy that many local communities have longed for because they've seen MBI as an obstacle, rather than an aid, to improving better connectivity.
Quick Turn Around for Grants
It’s a step in the right direction for towns that depend on slow DSL, expensive satellite, and even those that still use dial-up connections. Communities that belong to the WiredWest cooperative, which has been in negotiations with MBI for years on it business model, are especially glad to see the shift. In mid-March, local leaders and representatives from MBI and Housing & Economic Development met to discuss development of a new grant process.
After that meeting, a WiredWest representative from Plainfield, Massachusetts, Kimberly Longey, told the local newspaper Berkshire Eagle:
"What we really need is the ability to have self-determination in this process. … We're cautiously optimistic. We think this is a good step. I have a feeling that things are lining up."
The Recorder and MassLive recently revealed some of the details of this new grant process. Procedure will follow the proven model of the Housing & Economic Development’s MassWorks program, which provides funding for major infrastructure projects like sewer and water systems.
The process will have clear guidelines and expectations, and each town can expect its application to be reviewed two weeks after filing. Grant funding will be disbursed within 30 days of a town signing with a contractor to build the network. Each town that chooses to build their own network will still expect to pay about 2/3rds of the total cost.
MBI’s Changing Role
MBI still has a role in Massachusetts’ Internet infrastructure build out. Although the organization is being stripped of half its funding, it has $20 million left for other responsibilities. MBI has to manage the statewide middle mile network, MassBroadband 123, and finish negotiations with the cable companies, Comcast and Charter.
The $90 million middle mile network, built using state and federal funds, connects towns’ governments and community anchor institutions, but not residents. The operator that MBI had contracted recently declared bankruptcy.
As for Comcast and Charter, there’s a plan in the works to build cable networks in some towns but the incumbents will own the infrastructure, not the communities they serve.
Private providers have presented proposals for several western Massachusetts towns for cable networks. Shutesbury recently rejected both Charter's and Comcast's proposals, opting to invest in their own publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, but several other communities are still considering similar proposals. The plans would give the town's share of public funding to the incumbents to build cable networks that the incumbent providers would own and operate. The towns would have no financial responsibility or control. Shutesbury rejected the offers because neither incumbent was willing to build to every address without additional funding from the town.
Communities Move Forward
Whip City Fiber in Westfield, Massachusetts, is expanding its FTTH network to more residents and businesses. The utility has also approached several other communities in the area about working with them as consultants to help get their own community network projects up and running. Otis is already working with Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E) to deploy its FTTH network.
The Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development rolled out the grant program on April 3rd.
Tags: massachusettsmassachusetts broadband institutewired westwestfield mashutesbury ma
OPS broadband? Opelika mayor says yes, and here's why by Gary Fuller, OANow.com
"This is a go-to-war bill to me," Whatley says of Opelka's broadband expansion by Jim Little, OANow.com
Arizona lags in schools' Internet access, but change is coming by Yoohyun Jung, Tucson Daily Sun
Jackson County officials are working to close digital divide by Keneisha Deas, MyPanHandle.com
Regional broadband approaches: Achieving scale with community networks by Peggy Schaffer, Bangor Daily News
From unserved to connected: Leverett's fiber-optic system a model for rural towns by Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
Cambridge municipal broadband is municipal resistance by Saul Tannenbaum, Wicked Local Cambridge
Greenfield municipal broadband rollout a month away by Aviva Luttrell, Greenfield Reporter
For some Greenfield residents, the long-awaited municipal broadband service that promises faster internet speeds and lower prices than commercial competitors is just around the corner.
With half of a townwide fiber optic build-out nearly complete, Greenfield Community Energy and Technology plans to launch the service within the coming weeks, according to interim General Manager Daniel Kelley. All residents and businesses will be able to sign up for the service, which will only be available in the downtown urban area at first. From there, GCET will manage the rest of the build-out based on demand.
Baker administration relieves MassBroadband of $20 million in grantmaking authority by Mary Serreze, MassLive
Grand Island supervisor blasts slow Internet service, backs municipal broadband system by Nancy A. Fisher, Buffalo News
WV House passes broadband access bill by Eric Eyre, West Virginia Gazette Mail
West Virginia broadband bill aims to spark competition, encouraging community broadband, and co-ops by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor
A West Virginia Broadband Bill introduced in the state house of representatives aims to spur broadband competition and deployment by allowing local communities to form cooperatives to build broadband networks. House Bill 3093 also would re-establish a state broadband enhancement council charged with collecting data about internet speeds, seeking and dispensing non-state funding and grants, and making recommendations to the legislature.
Additionally, the bill includes rules about the use of conduit, microtrenching and pole access, and would prevent broadband providers from making false claims about the speeds their broadband service is capable of delivering.
Congress yet again ponders new 'dig once' fiber law by Karl Bode, DSL Reports
Yet "dig once" popped up again this week during a Congressional hearing on broadband. That hearing was run by Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Representative with a bad habit of doing whatever AT&T would like-- and who now is the Chair of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee. While Blackburn paid lip service to the concept, the hearing ending with it being entirely unclear whether the dig once law would actually come to a vote.
California lawmaker Anna Eshoo has been pushing the idea since 2009, and her latest draft bill can be found here(pdf).
Democratic Sens. introduce muni broadband barriers preemption bill by John Eggerton, MultiChannel News
The digital divide: A quarter of the nation is without broadband by Karl Vick, Time Magazine
To jumpstart broadband buildout, let consumers decide who gets FCC subsidies by Jonthan Chambers, The Daily Yonder
Paths for repairing a broken broadband market by Christopher Mitchell, StateScoop
To be less charitable, it is possible all the lobbyist contributions to their campaigns had an impact.
But the market is not providing a check to AT&T or Comcast power. They are effectively monopolies — and as we just saw — can translate their market power into political power to wipe out regulations they find annoying.
Image of the Highlander bull courtesy of FrankWinkler via pixaby.Tags: media roundup
“Monopoly” may be a fun family night activity, but if you live in a place where you have little or no choice for Internet access, it’s not fun and it’s not a game.
According to FCC data, most families don’t have a choice in Internet access providers, especially providers they like. Nevertheless, the biggest companies keep reporting increasing revenues every year. People aren’t happy with the service they’re receiving, but companies like AT&T and Comcast continue to thrive. What’s going on?
In a recent State Scoop piece, Christopher wrote:
[T]he market is not providing a check to AT&T or Comcast power. They are effectively monopolies — and as we just saw — can translate their market power into political power to wipe out regulations they find annoying.
At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where we work to support local economies, this broken market is a major problem. Cable monopolies are bad for local businesses, which become less competitive from paying too much for unreliable Internet access. Communities cannot thrive without high quality Internet access today.
We created this infographic to present the evidence showing that the market is broken. This resource also discusses why creating more competition in the current market is such a challenge. An effective way to overcome this broken market, however, is to consider what hundreds of local communities are already doing - investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. Our infographic offers a few examples of different models, each chosen to suit the communities they serve.
Kudos to intern Kate Svitavsky who created the infographic.
Stay up to date on community networks with our newsletter.Infographic: "The Market Has Spoken. The Market Is Broken."Tags: infographicfree marketmarket powermonopolyduopolycustomer serviceresourcecomcastammonrs fiber coopsanta monicasandy orsandynetcompetitioncabledslchristopher mitchell
Take a minute to learn just a few of the reasons why local communities invest in publicly owned networks. Our short 2012 video is a great way to share information about community networks - there can be other options beyond big cable and DSL providers.
Tags: videocommunity broadbandcompetitioncabledslresource
After elected officials in Washington, D.C., voted to allow ISPs to invade their customers’ privacy online, leaders in Minnesota took steps to protect constituents. A recent amendment in St. Paul may be setting some new rules for ISPs operating in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Taking Action In Minnesota
Both the state House and Senate approved omnibus bill amendments that prevent ISPs from collecting the personal data resulting from customer use of the Internet. The Senate amendment language, introduced by Ron Latz, reads like this:
No telecommunications or internet service provider that has entered into a franchise agreement, right-of-way agreement, or other contract with the state of Minnesota or a political subdivision, or that uses facilities that are subject to such agreements, even if it is not a party to the agreement, may collect personal information from a customer resulting from the customer's use of the telecommunications or internet service provider without express written approval from the customer. No such telecommunication or internet service provider shall refuse to provide its services to a customer on the grounds that the customer has not approved collection of the customer's personal information.
The body voted 66 - 1 to adopt the language into the Senate omnibus jobs bill, SF 1937. In the House, an almost identical amendment was adopted into HF 2209, their economic development omnibus bill. The Senate version added the last sentence, preventing ISPs from denying service unless a customer allows their ISP to collect data.
After the amendment was included in the bill, Sen. Latz commented that the language was, “about standing up and saying that our online privacy rights are critically important.”
Latz's office told us that, since federal law is silent on this particular issue, the state may enact this measure to protect Minnesotans without contradicting federal law.
Feds Remove Protection, Constituents React
Last fall, the Obama administration’s FCC issued a rule to allow subscribers more control over the collection and dissemination of their personal data, including browsing history and real-time location. The Senate voted to block the rule; the House voted to reject it.
Backlash was widespread, including from constituents describing themselves as both liberal and conservative. Trump supporters on Reddit called on their President to veto the bill. It seems that the only people who consider the proposal a good idea, are the federal lawmakers who collect campaign contributions from Comcast, CenturyLink, AT&T, and the like.
A State Solution?
The Minnesota House and Senate bills are now being resolved as the two bodies work out discrepancies for a final version. The language of the amendment is pretty comprehensive, applying to any manner in which an ISP could engage in business with residents, businesses, or institutions in Minnesota. We haven’t heard about any other state taking this approach to protect their citizens, but we’re curious to see where this leads.
Tags: minnesotastate lawsprivacyfederal governmentfccdataadvertisement
Next Century Cities’ just announced that Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will Keynote at the Digital Southwest event on April 18th. You can register now to attend the conference in Mesa, Arizona, at the Mesa Convention Center.
This full-day event will bring together broadband champions from federal, state, and local government, as well as community leaders and broadband policy experts from the Southwest and across the nation. The event will feature stories of broadband deployment success, digital inclusion initiatives, financing opportunities, and more.
Participants will hear from mayors, other city officials, state and federal policymakers, rural and tribal representatives, as well as national broadband experts. From financing to infrastructure development to smart cities, panelists will share a wealth of practical information.
The full agenda and participant list is available online, but here’s peek at some of the topics:
- Stories of Success
- Small Cells and Poll Attachments
- Rural and Tribal
- Broadband Financing
- Models 101
Christopher, as Policy Director of Next Century Cities, will participate in the Broadband Infrastructure Panel.next century citiesconferenceeventchristopher mitchellfccmignon clyburn
We haven’t reported on East Central Fiber (ECFiber) in almost a year and, boy, are things hopping in Vermont. The community network has obtained funding to expand in east-central Vermont and have a plan to bring high-quality connectivity to more towns during the next two years. In the mean time, FairPoint Communications is using federal funding to overbuild inferior DSL in many of the areas already served by ECFiber. No, this is not an April Fool's Joke.
First, The Good News: ECFiber Is Growing
We recently touched base with Carole Monroe, Stan Williams, and Irv Thomae from ECFiber in Vermont to get caught up on what's happening with the publicly owned network comprised of 24 member towns.
The last time we shared an update, they had just announced plans to expand the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The organization of 24 member towns received an infusion of $9 million in revenue bonds, which allowed ECFiber to pay down existing debt and add more fiber miles to the network.
Prior to obtaining the new funding source, ECFiber had always used the crowd funding approach, which limited growth to small and steady deployments. In 2015, the state legislature enacted a state law that created “communications union districts.” A Union District can consist of municipalities that join forces to invest in Internet infrastructure; the new model made it easier for ECFiber to obtain funding for larger deployments.
This February, ECFiber announced that the network would now bring service to parts of Royalton, Strafford, Pittsfield, and Randolph, with more growth on the way:
“These expansions have been funded privately and through Connectivity Initiative grants from the state’s Dept. of Public Service,” said Irv Thomae, Chairman of ECFiber and Governing Board delegate from Norwich. “We’re pleased that more residents in these areas are now able to enjoy the benefits of locally grown, full time, state-of-the-art real broadband, Later this year we will bring our service to six entire towns, including Pittsfield, Pomfret, West Windsor, Barnard, Strafford, and Thetford. We plan to fully cover 21 of our 24 towns by 2019.”
The towns that indicated the highest percentage of interest in signing up for services were chosen as those to first receive border-to-border FTTH coverage. Last July the organization started the make ready phase of the pole attachments, and they anticipate completing the process and being fully licensed for the poles between late April and June. ECFIber has already issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) for construction to build the new infrastructure and link it to their existing network.
This year, ECFiber expects to deploy approximately 250 road miles of fiber. They expect to add 350 and 450 road miles in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
ECFiber finds that demand is typically high in the areas where they deploy because residents use slow DSL running at around 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and even slower upload speeds. New ECFiber customers usually switch from FairPoint, but a few had cable, wireless, or satellite.
Williams stresses that one of the keys of success of the project has been the ability for all 24 communities to work together. Without the scale of a group of rural towns, the project would not be profitable enough to survive. He also points out that the network has relatively low costs and stays frugal.
Not An April Fool's Joke
Chuck Sherman, an ECFiber customer in Strafford lives on Pennock Road, a rural area that abuts the Podunk Wildlife Management Area. There are a total of eleven residences on Pennock Road and an adjoining private drive; ECFiber serves every property. According to Sherman, there are still “new customer” signs gracing properties, even though ECFiber has been serving everyone in the area for some time now. He’s spoken to his neighbors and every one seems satisfied with their service.
About a year ago, Chuck was walking his dog down Pennock Road when he saw a FairPoint truck heading his way. Chuck thought the technicians were coming to repair an old telephone wire that had broken and fallen on the ground months before. The driver stopped, rolled down his window, and the two had a brief conversation that included an exchange that according to Chuck, went something like this:
Chuck: Hey, there, how are you?
FairPoint Fellow: Good, thanks. How ‘bout you?
Chuck: Good. What’s up? You know if you’re coming to fix that phone line that went out after that last storm, it’s been gone a while now.
FairPoint Fellow: Oh no. We’re going to be putting DSL in here and we're getting a look at the layout.
Chuck: What? Why? You know, everyone on this road already has fiber.
FairPoint Fellow: Ah, ECFiber won’t last.
Chuck: (laughs) It won’t huh? Well, everybody on this road has had it for over a year. Everybody I talk to likes it.
FairPoint Fellow: (crickets)
Chuck: So, who’s paying to install DSL here when there’s already fiber Internet access to every house?
FairPoint Fellow: It’s federal funding that they’re giving us to build it, so we have to build it.
No, this is not an April Fool’s Joke.
In 2015, the federal government awarded FairPoint a little less than $8.8 million per year for six years from the Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) program. The total is about $52.8 million to provide DSL connectivity to 28,399 homes and businesses in Vermont.
Incumbent providers were given the option to accept or refuse CAF II funding and FairPoint accepted, so no other potential providers had the opportunity to bid on deployment in the state. By the time FairPoint finishes, the technology they’re deploying will be even farther behind the FTTH that ECFiber already has in place, often in the areas where FairPoint is constructing new DSL infrastructure. To build DSL to each property costs approximately $1,860, which is comparable in cost to what ECFiber spends to hook-up a home or business to their own fiber network. The difference is that FTTH is future proof while DSL is already outdated.
Contributing to the problem, says Thomae, is that data is 12 to 18 months old. As a result, CAF II funding will fund DSL connections in areas where ECFiber is already serving residents and businesses with FTTH. Thomae notes that there are still areas in Vermont where DSL will be an improvement, but FairPoint doesn’t appear to be prioritizing those areas. Otherwise, they would not be overbuilding in areas where ECFiber is already serving customers with better technology than DSL.
FairPoint offers the typical gimmicky low introductory rates and advertises heavily in ECFiber territories, but they still aren’t able to lure ECFiber subscribers. In the past five years, there have been few disconnects at ECFiber and most have been for non-payment. In fact, many residents and businesses tired of poor connections and bad customer service from FairPoint have signed up with the network as soon as the opportunity arises.
Consolidated Communications plans to purchase FairPoint, but only time will tell if the change will impact FairPoint operations in Vermont.
Serving The Community
In every community where ECFiber offers service, they also provide their highest tier for the lowest rate to municipal facilities, schools, and libraries. Currently, those institutions pay $74 per month for 500 Mbps symmetrical service. In about six months, the capacity will increase to 1 Gbps.
A high school in Woodstock needs gigabit connectivity but ECFiber isn’t able to expand to that area of town just yet, so the school has decided to enter into a contract with a private provider. In order to get gigabit connectivity, they must commit to a three-year contract for $2,000 per month. For now, they’ll pay $24,000 per year; if ECFiber were serving them, annual costs would be around $900.
Expectations High For ECFiber And Their Member Towns
Monroe notes that the folks at ECFiber see a lot of demand wherever they deploy. Many of these rural areas have lost population because they need broadband in order to participate in the 21st century. One of the reasons subscribers switch and stay with ECFiber has to do with symmetrical connectivity, which accommodates Vermonters’ entrepreneurial spirit, speculates Thomae.
Vermonters have always started businesses in their own homes and they keep them in their homes as long as they can because the overhead is low in your own basement or your garage. We are supporting all sorts of home-based businesses. They might be making some food product or they might be making a fabric product or telecommuting to do some kind of advanced software development or engineering work. You can’t do that through a DSL connection.
They’ll soon kick off the campaign to determine where they’ll build in 2018 and by the end of May, ECFiber will know which communities will be next up for depolyment.
Blast To The Past
For more converage on ECFiber, check out Christopher's interview with Carole Monroe back in 2015, when they talked about the crowd funding model and how the network was already bringing benefits to the communities it served almost two years ago. You can also read more of our coverage that goes back to 2009.
Photo of Montpelier with state capitol in the distance by Skeezix1000 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.Tags: ecfiberVermontfairpointconnect america fundfederal fundingcrowd fundingdsloverbuildFTTH
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Earlier this week, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Community Broadband Act alongside fellow Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Angus King (I-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). We at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) applaud the effort to ensure communities have the freedom and authority to make local decisions in improving Internet access for local businesses and residents.
"We believe that the decisions about how to expand and improve Internet access are best made by local governments, who are most informed about their communities' needs and challenges," says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at ILSR. "We applaud these senators for their bill to ensure communities can decide for themselves if a partnership or an investment in network infrastructure is the right choice."
At a time when we are seeing fights over municipal broadband networks ramping up from Colorado to Tennessee to Virginia, we are glad to see many in D.C. recognize the value of local decision-making to improve economic development and ensure a high quality of life.
If you're interested in discussing this proposed federal legislation, please give me a call at 612-844-1330 (or reply here), and I can set up an interview with Christopher on this topic.
About Christopher Mitchell:
Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell leads the acclaimed MuniNetworks.org as part of ILSR's effort to ensure broadband networks are directly accountable to the communities that depend upon them. He is a leading national expert on community networks, advising high-ranking broadband decision-makers and speaking on radio and television programs across the United States.press centerlegislationcory bookerdemocratssenateinstitute for local self-reliancechristopher mitchellpress release
On March 24th, Christopher was on episode 232 of the web show "This Week in Enterprise Tech." Christopher discussed the future of community broadband networks in the Trump era as well as shared information about the models of successful networks across the country.
Christopher begins his discussion of these issues at 29:45 with host Friar Robert Ballecer and guest co-hosts Lou Maresca and Brian Chee. Throughout the show, the group covers the beginning of the FCC Chairmanship of Ajit Pai, how the Senate is legislating against Internet privacy regulations, and how community networks are pushing ahead to achieve better connectivity for local businesses and residents.
The folks at TWiT.tv share excerpts from our video on Ammon, Idaho, and the guys get into a deeper discussion about the possibilities of local empowerment from community networks.
You can stream the episode at TWiT.tv, or watch here:Tags: press centerchristopher mitchellammonvideotwitinterviewtrumpajit paiprivacyfccelected officialspolescompetition
This is the transcript for episode 246 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Christopher Mitchell interviews Eric Lampland of Lookout Point Communications at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities. They discuss the importance of due diligence and feasibility studies. Listen to this episode here.
Eric Lampland: The first thing, however, I would suggest that you do is to know who you are as a city, to know exactly where you stand in your own personal knowledge about this kind of activity.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 246 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. We're bringing back Eric Lampland to the show this week. For those of you who are regular listeners, you'll recognize Eric's voice from Episodes 80 and 128. He's the founder of Lookout Point Communications and his firm has consulted for a number of communities and other entities across the country. Eric has also worked with us on research projects. In this episode, he and Christopher have a discussion about feasibility studies. When communities decide it's time to make changes to improve local connectivity, they typically need to engage a consulting firm to provide a feasibility study that's unique to their situation. As you'll hear in the interview, just knowing where to start can be confusing. Eric and Chris tackle some of the questions local communities should consider when they're ready to take this step. What should they look for in a quality consultant? What should they ask for in a feasibility study? And what are some common challenges they face? For any local community where investment and better connectivity is a possibility, this interview is worth a bookmark. Learn more about Eric's firm at LookoutPt.com. Now here are Eric Lampland, founder of Lookout Point Communications, and Christopher talking about feasibility studies for local communities.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. We're back at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Conference in Iowa where I've recorded some interview in the past and we're starting that off again this year. Our guest today is Eric Lampland, founder of Lookout Point Communications, and we're going to be talking about feasibility studies and what cities should be thinking about it, although I really think that this could apply to businesses also, people who are thinking about starting businesses, some of the thoughts you should come in too. Eric, let me ask you. You've long been a critic of feasibility studies, and we're going to talk for a little bit soon about what should be in a feasibility study, but what has a feasibility study been to date?
Eric Lampland: In general, the model for feasibility studies has about two major components to it. One is a survey of the community to find out if you've got public support. And the second is what you would really call a feasibility, which is putting together the financial details of whether or not you can create a sustainable network. You have at least those two normal things. Most often, it also has components to it that include things like what is being done nationally? What business model alternatives might we pursue?
Christopher Mitchell: Who's already in the community? What are their price points?
Eric Lampland: Exactly. Right. The competitive nature and so forth, but when you take a look at those core functions in most feasibility studies, that is what people ask for. It isn't necessarily what they always get.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, and I think that's what we're going to really delve into: what people should be thinking about, what they really want. I want to make a point before we get there though, and that's I think feasibility studies are looked at by people who are critical of municipal networks as kind of like a joke, and they look at them and they say, "Well, yeah you pay someone to come and do a study and they're always going to tell you, 'Yes you can do it,'" and to some extent I think that you and I would agree that there are some consultants that we would not like the way that they've done their feasibility studies in the past. I think different people have different ideas about this. In fact, I don't know if I've ever run into two different consultants that totally agree. But I think that we would both agree that the current status of feasibility studies, although not as bad as critics have claimed, has not met communities' needs in many cases.
Eric Lampland: Or actually, it's a range of issues. In some cases, they meet more than what the community really needs, and that takes us into something we've talked about and that is, if the community really, really is seeking the knowledge about whether they have public support, that's fine. Just do that survey. It's less expensive. You don't need all the rest of the material and you can just go ahead and do that. Unfortunately what happens with some feasibility studies is that they ask for something that might have the qualities of a survey perhaps with some national information and then most importantly some feasibility. In all too often cases, the latter part is poorly done. It's something that's rushed together on people's basic ideas that they had when they did something a year earlier, and those numbers go together, and then yes, you're right. I think they deserve to be criticized by whether or not the telco industry does it or whether other people do it. It's not a business case that would stand up to any real scrutiny.
Christopher Mitchell: I think a lot of communities, as they're starting to get into this, they hear the term feasibility study and they think, "Oh, that's what I need," when what they really need, I think is someone who's knowledgeable to kind of hold their hand and help them, to educate them, to make sure that they learn the things that they need to learn, to make sure that they are gathering the information that they need to do, and that they're thinking about the things that they need to think about. Let's talk about those sorts of things. A community that recognizes it needs to take some kind of action, which may not necessarily even be building a municipal fiber network. It just may be some kind of action. Where should they start? Or where should a consultant start in an ideal world from your perspective?
Eric Lampland: I think you start by simply admitting that that's what you're trying to find out. I've been a consultant now for 20 years and we have a joke in consulting and that is that people hire consultants because they don't know something, but they know exactly how long it's going to take and how much money it's going to cost. When you actually enter it with a little more humility, you say, "I'd like to buy some number of hours and I'd like you to come and educate us about what's important." Many communities have come to us and asked what belongs in a feasibility study, so we've created a few papers that walk people through that general process, but even with that kind of ammunition that they have, the understanding of what's involved is hard to necessary to get impregnated into the minds of the people who are conducting that study.
Christopher Mitchell: Something that you and I have talked about frequently is you need to create a vision. Like I said, you may not know that you want to do a municipal fiber of the home network or a public/private partnership. You really shouldn't have made your mind up about that at this stage of the game. You should be thinking to yourself, "At the end of the day, we're going to solve this problem," and that problem is not going to be not having gigabit fiber. That problem is going to be something like having a good business climate in terms of telecommunications access, having low-income access, having choice and price competition for specific markets, not just in general, but maybe for residents, or for businesses, or for both. Those are the sorts of things I think you want to be thinking about right? That's the vision you want to construct.
Eric Lampland: Right. I think your points are excellent.
Christopher Mitchell: I learned it by watching you.
Eric Lampland: What I often advise clients is that what they're really looking for is not feasibility at the start. They're looking for strategy, and if you think about trying to develop a strategy, that may include cost elements ultimately and whatnot, but in most often the case is that you want to know what your choices are and then you want to be able to select amongst those choices with some intelligence. That might mean that you come down to three choices, but unfortunately what we see today is that feasibilities in sort of a template-d way that we were talking about before go from city to city. They ask the exact same questions. They don't have the exact environment at all. And they don't have the same needs really. It's interesting to see those feasibility study templates be tossed around.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, that's one of the things I've suggested to some communities which is to say, "If you're just looking for a feasibility study in general and you're not going to do the hard work of developing your vision, read someone else's feasibility study." Not just anyone else's, but there's enough of them out there. If you're a large city, read someone's like Seattle's or San Francisco's. If you're a mid-sized city, look at a mid-sized city's feasibility study because fundamentally they're probably going to be pretty similar to yours.
Eric Lampland: Yes, I think that's right. There's a complaint that we have amongst consultants that some consultants, and we won't say who, do sort of a cut and paste job. The piece that is true also about feasibility studies is not only are these template-d feasibilities passed around, but the price is also passed around, so that price becomes something that people lock into without any awareness of what is really entailed in actually getting the work done.
Christopher Mitchell: I think it's worth noting that no consultant that I'm aware of, and I've talked with a number of them, will admit that they do cutting and pasting or the extent to which they do some cutting and pasting. So it seems to me there is a general sense that that's not the way you want to do it. I mean there's nobody who's out there saying, "Actually I do cut and paste and I think it's great," so it is worth noting that there should be some kind of very specialized look at a community for its particular challenges and assets. Fundamentally this is something that we come back to at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance again and again. We don't think states should have one size fits all rules because communities are different. Because communities are different, they should have unique expertise in terms of developing. One of the things that you and I have talked about before and we've seen is that there's a downward pressure on feasibility study prices and I think that this -- we'll get into some of what's delivered. It's not like if you go out and you say, "I want a feasibility study," you know what you're going to get in the end because different entities, different firms, even different firms and different models will come out with different results. So, I want to turn in a minute to what kind of results one might expect, but there is a sense right now that when you are putting in a feasibility study against other consultants, one of the primary determinations of who's going to get is who's the low bidder? That, to me, seems a little bit inappropriate, like mismatched incentives.
Eric Lampland: It's particular foolish when you think about what we're trying to accomplish. If, for example, we go the entire route towards the fiber to the home build, you may be talking about many millions of dollars of expenditure.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, on the order of a thousand dollars per household.
Eric Lampland: At least, right? At least. Two thousand dollars perhaps per household that's connected. If you wanted to say, "Well we're going to have 50 percent of our community connected," take 50 percent times a thousand and 50 percent times two thousand, you got a pretty rough number. Now, you'd like to get a little closer when you ultimately do the business case, but those kinds of simple things can be done.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, so I mean you're talking about a community that could be borrowing tens of millions of dollars and they're like, "Well, we could get this feasibility study for $15,000 -- $20,000 cheaper."
Eric Lampland: Yeah. In fact, we're currently doing the detailed design on a community that made that exact kind of a decision. There were three bidders. Two of us, including myself, came in about $500 apart. Underbid both of us by about $10,000 and of course they selected the cheap one. I then was brought back in to do the detailed design work, and the feasibility study was deplorable. It was just -- the data was wrong. The information wasn't complete. We basically really had to redo the work from -- everything from what services were being offered to the proper number of households in the community and so forth. Well, the point being that they didn't get a cheap deal on that. They actually spent more money because at the time that they actually were correcting this, they were paying higher dollars to get that information.
Christopher Mitchell: This actually reminds me of a conversation we had back in Episode 174 where I had on folks from Vantage Point and we talked about how when you come out of the feasibility study with better information, you're actual next rounds of bidding, in finding consultants or people that are going to do the work of building the network, your cost there will go down because you have better information. This idea of we're going to save $15,000 up front is more like saying, "We're going to spend a lot more money later."
Eric Lampland: Yeah, and there are a number of different cases where that's absolutely true. We, for example, always on a feasibility study try to do the outside plant design work on an Esri GIS System. Why? Well, because we know in the next round we're going to use it and in fact in the next round we're going to use it, and then eventually in the operations of the networks we're going to use it. So we set good foundations right at the beginning, but to do that costs money.
Christopher Mitchell: Right and this is where I think we should be very clear that you shouldn't, as a city, go and just go with the highest cost because that may also not bring you the desired result. You want to go with a feasibility study and work with a consultant that will meet your needs. I don't think you would say that you're the best consultant for every city. Cities, as they're developing their vision, I think they should be thinking in a certain line. If you're really opposed to the city being a service provider then you may want to go with a different consultant than if that's your preferred outcome. Again, we don't think you should be making those decisions but you can be honest about which way you're leaning and you may want to pick a consultant based on someone who has had good results with that kind of direction and ideally someone who is not pigeon-holed in that area but does have some experience with it.
Eric Lampland: It's always difficult to go about hiring a consultant to confirm something that you really don't understand. We had a case in point where the political decisions in the community indicated that they wanted to connect businesses. That was the primary goal and laying fiber to connect those businesses was the best idea. Well, it didn't take much more than a couple of weeks into the competitive analysis to realize that in that particular community, every single fiber seller from level 3 to AT&T to Verizon to you name it was in that city already selling that fiber to those businesses. It may have been a good idea but it would have never flown.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, that wouldn't have been a very wise use of their resources.
Eric Lampland: Well, it turned out it wasn't.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Let's talk about what a community should be getting out of the feasibility. So obviously one is refining their vision. They're going to go from coming into it thinking, "We want better broadband." And they're going to come out of it thinking, "We want to achieve these concrete goals and this is how we're going to do it," but it's not just having a written roadmap. There's certain things. You mentioned the Esri mapping, so what do you need to know at the end of this process that we're calling a feasibility study?
Eric Lampland: Well, what I think of is that the individual components, you can liken to certain tactical pieces of work. Get the Esri layout done in town so that you know exactly what that layout cost you.
Christopher Mitchell: When you say the Esri layout, you mean like where all the fiber goes, where the hand holds go, like which side of the street it's on, that sort of thing?
Eric Lampland: Yes, but on the first go around you want to lay that out at least in a fairly general way on an Esri system because it gives you an accurate cost that you want to look for when you're trying to determine sustainability. You don't get down to the real knits and grits detail of an outside plant piece. That is a next level cut on it because it's significantly more expensive. You can do an Esri layout for most communities for something under $30,000 unless it's a very large community, but when you do the actually walk out, in other words, where are the rocks? What easements can't I get past? So on and so forth. That can be many hundreds of thousands of dollars. You don't want to be doing the second until you make a good decision on the first, but you want enough so that you can walk forward and not have to redo all the same work again and re-lay out different kinds of assumptions, but those are tactical pieces. What you really want after you get done with this is you want a strategy, and a strategy will say when do you do tactical pieces. You know?
Christopher Mitchell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eric Lampland: You can I have written papers on a community that did its own city hookups at first, added ISP connectivity later on for aggregation to-
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Santa Monica.
Eric Lampland: Santa Monica, Telco centers and that kept expanding and expanding and expanding. That's an approach. It may not be an approach for everybody, but it's an approach. It took them ten years to do that. On the other hand, you take somebody like our favorite Chattanooga people. They spent about six year planning before they did anything.
Christopher Mitchell: I did an incredible, I think -- I really enjoyed it is what I'm trying to say, a 70-minute discussion with Harold DePriest about all the things they did before they built their network and I think it's really crucial for people to know how they were so successful.
Eric Lampland: Good planning is really important.
Christopher Mitchell: There's a little avenue I want to go down, a little alleyway perhaps, and that is Chattanooga, Santa Monica, they had people who already wanted to get into this. I've sometimes met with cities who are very interested in this or their CIO has been tasked with being interested in it, and when I talk to them, they're kind of like, "Yeah I just need someone to tell me what to do because I don't really want to get into it myself," and this and that. In my mind, it's kind of a recipe for problems. I think, to some extent, you as a consultant need someone who's there and is eager to learn about this, and they're going to really be the ones to take charge. You can't be doing all the work as a consultant.
Eric Lampland: Yeah, not only can't you do all the work, you don't know the community and you need somebody to share those issues with you, but there's another thing that's on the other side of that too. If a community comes to you and you can get a very quick read that they're not really interested. They're doing something for some management person of maybe even the council.
Christopher Mitchell: Right you've got someone on the council that really wants to and the other people are just kind of like, "All right. We'll humor him a little bit, but we're never really going to go forward with it."
Eric Lampland: You do one of those things and you never do a good product because you need to be working with people that in fact are engaged. If you think that you're going to work your tail off and nobody's going to care, the motivation to really, really do a super project lessens.
Christopher Mitchell: Right.
Eric Lampland: It's just humanity.
Christopher Mitchell: Okay, so backing out of my alleyway. You were listing the sort of things that you want to come out of it with, and we certainly have identified and have a sense of where you're going. I think we've just noted you want to have a sense of who's going to be responsible for carrying it forward. You want to have a sense of the mapping, the layout. Even if your plan is, "We're going to do an incremental type thing that might take 15 or 20 years," you still want to come out with this layout that will show you where everything will ultimately go so you can engage in planning.
Eric Lampland: Absolutely to that last thing. The first thing however, I would suggest that you do is to know who you are as a city, to know exactly where you stand in your own personal knowledge about this kind of activity. If you really find that you really don't know much and maybe you've been asked the question by a council to go do this, probably the best thing to do is to do some education, maybe get a consultant to help you with that education and maybe do a survey of the community to see where those people are.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, this would be kind of a light feasibility study and probably coupled with going to some sort of events, regional events or other events where you can see speakers. You can talk to people.
Eric Lampland: I had an early mentor that gave me the advice one time. He says, "If you want to know something, get around the people who are doing it, and they'll teach you." So if you're a city and you want to know how to do this, get around the people who have done it and they'll teach you.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, yes. I think that's really important for also when you're talking about what consultant you're going to go with. If you're just maybe contacting some of the cities that, or just looking at the results from other cities, I feel like you're not really doing your job. You're going to be picking a consultant. When you're about to pick that final consultant, you really want to talk to the cities that worked with that consultant recently. One of the questions that I always encourage people to ask is how did the consultant act when things went wrong because something's going to go wrong. There's going to be a hassle, and you want to be working with a consultant that's going to be with you to try to figure out how to get past that road block.
Eric Lampland: Yeah, that's a really good point. However, I will tell you a piece of human nature that we run into all the time. Oftentimes we follow some of the consultants that aren't as skilled and they've done a less than good job. We ask the city how they chose that particular consultant and often times it's because they talked to other people who had that consultant and they get good references.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I can think of a city where I actually know where the network did not work out as planned. Part of the problem was the consultant had made some errors in the feasibility study, not that it necessarily wasn't feasible, but they didn't even recognize these problems were looming below the surface, and they had no sense that their consultant's obligation. Their consultant did a bad job and they should not have been blindsided by those problems.
Eric Lampland: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's just sort of normal that when somebody comes to you and asks you for a reference about somebody that has worked for you, the natural sense is to defend you decision, to think that you picked well, and that you got something positive out of it, even though you may in the heart of hearts know that that wasn't really the case.
Christopher Mitchell: Especially us Midwestern folks, it's hard to talk negative about some of these folks. One of the things that I've found is that even consultants that I think would fit into the group that we find might be cookie-cutter sometimes. There are cities that have been very well served by them, so it's not the case that there's some group of consultants that's always doing a bad job. If that was the case, I would be talking about them. I'm not afraid to come out and say, "Don't hire a firm ABC. They're terrible." In fact what I find is that different consultants work for different places, and I wouldn't say that there's a firm that I would say, "No, never use them under any circumstance."
Eric Lampland: Well, I have a few of those, but-
Christopher Mitchell: I'm sure that you do.
Eric Lampland: They'll remain nameless for this. I think that even amongst the consultants that I've known over the last 12, 13, 14 years that I've been doing this. There are consultants that have particularly strong strengths here and there, strengths beyond mine, and I have strengths beyond theirs. Amongst the consultants, we know each other, and we know who's good at what, and even with some of those consultants that don't do what I consider to be a really, really good job, they do some good things. It depends on what you're looking for, but herein is the actual problem. If you're a city that doesn't know, then how do you pick?
Christopher Mitchell: Let me just suggest one thing, and this is a thing that I'll say. I'm not going to try and have too much of an ego about it, but I'll sometimes talk to cities that have been working with consultants. They've been going down this path for a year or two, and when I meet them, they'll be kind of like, "Oh, who are you? What do you do?" And I'm not saying that I'm famous. I'm definitely not. It's a small pond. I'm kind of a moderate-sized fish, but if you've Google-d municipal broadband or municipal fiber and you're thinking about that, there's no way that you cannot have come across me. So when I hear someone that says, "Oh, I've never heard of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance," or "These reports are interesting. I'm surprised we didn't come across them." If you haven't come across our work, then you're not doing any due diligence frankly.
Eric Lampland: Absolutely.
Christopher Mitchell: That's a concern.
Eric Lampland: Absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more Chris. There are some basic things that you should do. You should know what conferences occur around the country and who holds them. You should know the magazines that get done, and if you don't know the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, you haven't done your homework.
Christopher Mitchell: So as we're wrapping up, let's try and just nail down a couple of items. One is, what is cost? What are some realistic costs for things you have to do?
Eric Lampland: About 6, 7 years ago, feasibilities used to cost around $70,000 to $80,000 to get done.
Christopher Mitchell: For a moderate-size community.
Eric Lampland: For a moderate-size community. With a certain amount of price competition, that price has come down to closer to $50,000. The difficulty with $50,000 feasibility studies is that you can't actually do all the work of a feasibility study for that amount of money.
Christopher Mitchell: Right and let me just say that this is one of the reasons a lot of feasibility studies are ugly.
Eric Lampland: Yes.
Christopher Mitchell: Because feasibility studies, to make them look better you're looking at 3 to $5000 worth of graphic design. That's 10 percent of the project and a lot of firms are just going to, I think good consulting firms especially are going to say, "We're going to put that money into better analysis, not into making it look nice."
Eric Lampland: Yes, and you know you may be talking about $20,000, $25,000 for doing the outside planned evaluation. That's a very important number because it usually represents about 70 to 75 percent of the total cost of the project, so you want to get that number right, but when you take that and you take your $3,000 and you talk about $50,000 you're done saying that this person who's going to work for you for about 3 to 4 months is only going to take home about $20,000 worth of income.
Christopher Mitchell: Pre-tax.
Eric Lampland: Pre-tax. Pre-benefits, pre-tax. And consultants get paid by the hour so they have to curtail what they would really like to do to meet your budget, and that's something that is a disservice to you.
Christopher Mitchell: So let's turn to technology then. What sort of things, technologically, especially for people I think that recognize they have a problem -- they're not technologists. They may not be surrounded by any technologists that they know. What do they need to be thinking about?
Eric Lampland: Probably the first thing that you want to be able to do when you're evaluating consultants is to ask them about technology that they -- what they think about it. What you're looking for there is not just specific things like, "I can plug this box into that box."
Christopher Mitchell: "Ah, technology. I'm for it."
Eric Lampland: Hah, technology, you're for it. Good. But you really want to understand does that person understand the technology deeply enough to know where the trends in the business are. Right now we're going through a very significant change in the technology markets. The architecture is in fact changing. If you've got a person that is going to come in and do a feasibility study for you for typical bonding of 20 or 25 years, you're probably going to change your electronics 2 or 3 times during that period of time.
Christopher Mitchell: To be clear then, I mean what we're talking about is if you build a network that is sort of built as you would build a network five years ago, your locking yourself into five, seven, or even longer potentially if you drag it out years before you can upgrade to the stuff that people are building today if they're thinking properly.
Eric Lampland: Absolutely. You can think of the existing legacy providers because they are actually caught in that problem. They built their networks 20 and 30 years ago and they're trying to maintain that same capital investment for as long as they can continue to get a revenue stream off of it.
Christopher Mitchell: The reason Comcast isn't doing fiber isn't because they think fiber is dumb. They're doing it because they have a massive investment in Coax, and they're trying to figure out the best possible use for it because they have it.
Eric Lampland: Absolutely. In fact, Comcast always builds with fiber today when they're building in green field because fiber is actually cheaper to build today than the coax networks that preceded them. If you don't get the technology right, how in the world do you expect to get the budget correct? Because what you're pricing is the technology that you're implementing, and that budget is not a budget for next year. It's a budget that probably has at least a ten year horizon on the electronics or the optics that you are planning to use. If you're building with yesterday's technology, you might get two to three years out of that technology versus seven to ten years out of that technology, and what changes for you are the services that your customers are asking for. If I'm asking for one and a half megabit service in rural America, it's because I've got a technology that's not capable of giving me a hundred megabits or a gigabit or whatever the case may be. You run into the same issue if you're building a new network.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, this has been a really good conversation. I've had a really good time. I think we've covered this pretty well. There's so much more we could talk about, but I'm trying to keep the show at a reasonable length, so thank you Eric for coming back.
Eric Lampland: Christopher it's always good talking to you. Thank you.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking about feasibility studies for local communities with Eric Lampland, founder of the Lookout Point Communications Consulting Firm.
Christopher Mitchell: Hey everyone. I just wanted to thank you for listening and helping out to create a stronger Internet ecosystem, making sure everyone has high quality access. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes, please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all of the comments and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.
Lisa Gonzalez: We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcast available at MuniNetworks.Org/BroadbandBits. Email us at Podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. You can follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and 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. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you to Break the Bands for the song, "Escape," licensed through Creative Commons. And thanks to listening to Episode 246 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.Tags: transcripteric lamplandfeasibilityconsiderationhow-to
Spring Hill, Kansas, just released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Citywide Fiber Optic Network Feasibility Study. The community of approximately 6,000 people has established April 26th as the deadline for submissions.
Open To Suggestions
Spring Hill wants study authors to look at several models, including:
INFRASTRUCTURE PROVIDER – the City provides conduit and dark fiber services for lease to community organizations, businesses and broadband providers, which use the fiber to connect to one another and to data centers to reach the internet, cloud services and other content networks;
OPEN-ACCESS PROVIDER – the City owns the fiber optic network and equipment needed to create a broadband network and may operate said network itself or in contract with others on its behalf. Content is typically resold from other providers;
PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS – the City and one or more private organizations enter into a partnership to plan, fund, build, operate and maintain a broadband network within the municipality’s jurisdiction.
A Growing Community Needs To Grow Its Connectivity
Spring Hill has grown in recent years, tripling in size since 2000. Even thought there are two incumbents - CenturyLink and SuddenLink - some residences in the community don’t have access to either provider. Where a household is located within the city determines which, or whether, residents have any choices. The town is situated along the southern edge of the Kansas City metro.
According to the RFP, there’s an industrial part in the city that houses several local services and retail businesses. They anticipate even more business growth because a BNSF Intermodal Facility is located in town and commercial activity is growing nearby.
The local school district has recently undertaken a 1-to-1 laptop program for both middle and high school students, so the community will also need fast affordable, reliable connectivity to support the students both home and at school.
RFP respondent notice of intent due: Monday, April 10, 2017
RFP respondent questions due: Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Proposals due: Wednesday, April 26, 2017 (5:00 PM CST)
Check out the full RFP on the city website.Tags: spring hill ksrfpfeasibilitykansas