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Unpacking Policies In West Virginia's HB 3093

March 29, 2017

West Virginia rural communities struggle with access to broadband but a bill in the state legislature is taking some first steps to encourage better connectivity. HB 3093 passed the House with wide support (97 - 2) and has been sent on to the Senate for review. The bill doesn’t appropriate any funding for Internet infrastructure projects around the state, but adopts some policies that may help local communities obtain better connectivity.

Revenue Neutral And Popular

The state is facing a $500 million budget deficit and lawmakers don't have the appetite to appropriate finds for Internet infrastructure projects. As in most states, policy bills do well during times of financial strife. Elected officials still want to do what they can to encourage better broadband so, according to at least one lawmaker, the revenue neutral nature of the bill has contributed to its success in the legislature. Delegate Roger Henshaw, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Metro News:

“Notice this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Hanshaw said. “That’s in fact one of the reasons we’re rolling it out now. We have other bills here in both the House and Senate that are not revenue-neutral bills that were on the table for consideration.

“But with the clock ticking on us, it became clear that we probably ought to be looking at options to advance service that didn’t even have the possibility of a financial impact. This bill does not.”

Check out the 3-minute interview with Hanshaw on Soundcloud.

The Broadband Enhancement Council

West Virginia’s Broadband Enhancement Council was created in a previous session and receives more authority and responsibility under HB 3093. They are tasked with the authority to, among other things, gather comparative data between actual and advertised speeds around the state, to advise and provide consultation services to project sponsors, and make the public know about facilities that offer community broadband access. 

HB 3093 briefly addresses the creation of the “Broadband Enhancement Fund," and addresses how the funds should be spent. For now, the fund remains dry. The fund is under the control of the Secretary of the Department of Commerce. The Broadband Enhancement Council also has the authority to apply for and dispense funding from the state legislature and from federal sources.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen how a state agency, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), has repeatedly shifted policy and tried to control local decisions as they managed and dispersed state and federal funding that was earmarked for local communities. As a result, towns with poor connectivity in western Massachusetts have had to delay their plans to improve local connectivity. Others have had to compromise and settle for technology they didn't really want to access the funds to which they were entitled. No doubt they’ve lost opportunities while waiting for MBI to move forward.

As the council and the Department of Commerce establish policies and procedures, let's hope they consider lessons learned from similar entities in other states (like the Department of Local Affairs in Colorado). If they want to best serve local folks, one way is to leave decisions up to local communities.

Pole Attachments, Conduit, Rights-Of-Way, And The Like

Some of the policies in the bill seem to be matters of housekeeping, but incumbent providers oppose other provisions in HB 3093.

The bill incorporates a One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) policy to reduce the amount of time it takes to deploy fiber that is hung on utility poles. Frontier Communications opposes the bill and, as recent history in Tennessee shows, incumbents vigorously oppose OTMR policies. AT&T and Comcast filed suit against Nashville when the city tried to implement OTMR. At the time, Google Fiber hoped to speed up deployment of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure, and sensible OTMR appeared to be a way to prevent incumbents from delaying any entrant's construction schedule.

OTMR policies allow approved contractors to prepare utility poles for new fiber on one truck role, which is a departure from traditional make ready procedure. Until the OTMR idea was introduced, technicians from each entity with wires on a pole were the only ones allowed to move their own cables. OTMR policies greatly reduce the amount of time needed for make ready work on utility poles.

Microtrenching is explicitly allowed under HB 3093 as acceptable conduit placement procedure in some situations. When an entity chooses to microtrench, they must also install an additional vacant conduit for others’ future use. In order to keep track of where new conduit is located, people or entities that install it, must provide location documentation to the correct agency that provided the permit to do the installation.

One of the duties of the Broadband Enhancement Council will be to establish a donation program for pipelines, railroads, easements, and other types of structures that rest in the public right-of-way. These assets can be used by public or private entities during deployment if they happen to be in the right location. Abandoned railways and old sewer lines can be reconditioned as ideal routes for fiber-optic lines and, if those assets have already been handed over to the entity that wishes to make the infrastructure investment, the permitting process is quicker. 

Encouraging The Cooperative Model

In the past couple of years, we've increased our reporting on the activity of cooperatives that are picking up the slack and offering better connectivity to rural areas. In addition to telephone and electric cooperatives, which have expanded to include Internet access, the RS Fiber Cooperative exists to provide high-quality connectivity to members.

We published an in-depth report about RS Fiber and its Fiber-to-the-Farm project in 2016. The collaboration between several rural communities in Minnesota shows how local control and determination is bringing 21st century connectivity to people who were passed over by the national providers. 

Within the language of HB 3093 is a section that allows the Broadband Enhancement Council the ability to recommend a pilot project to the legislature:

Notwithstanding any provision in the code to the contrary, the council may create guidelines and recommend to the legislature a pilot project for no more than three municipalities or counties, either individually or in conjunction with one another, to establish non-profit cooperative associations to provide high-speed Internet and broadband services.

The bill doesn't appear to specify whether or not those three are total or annual recommendations, nor does it mention funding, but perhaps this language could lay the ground work for disbursement of state and federal grants. The cooperative can also apply for and obtain funding in the form of grants and loans that individuals can't and when several local governments pool their resources, their opportunities expand. While it's a step in a positive direction, limiting the number of communities that can participate in a non-profit cooperative association, puts an unnecessary limitation on this provision. In rural areas, where municipalities are very small, three communities combined may still lack the resources for a non-profit cooperative and a pilot project.

It is worth noting that RS Fiber is a cooperative of people. Wired West in Massachusetts was intended to be a cooperative of municipalities. We think a cooperative of people (comprised of those who take service from it) is apt to be more successful.

Twenty or more people who want to work together to create a cooperative to bring Internet access to their area can do so under the language of HB 3093. Keep BT Local!, an organization in Burlington, Vermont, is an example of a group of individuals and businesses that are combining resources to purchase Burlington Telecom in order to manage and own it as a cooperative. They're motivated by the desire to retain local control over the network that they have come to trust.

No More “Up To,” Now It’s “At Least”

Bills in other states that limit local attempts to improve connectivity typically try to define "broadband" at speeds other than the FCC definition, which is 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. So many times we see bills that reduce the required speeds to 10 Mbps/1 Mbps to accommodate the big telephone companies that provide DSL service. HB 3093 appropriately specifies that "broadband" for purposes of the statute is to be consistent with the FCC definition. Again, this is a step in the right direction - avoiding a pitfall other states often make by allowing incumbent telephone providers too much influence during the drafting process.

On the consumer protection front, the bill addresses a complaint subscribers have repeated for years - the difference between advertised speeds and what customers really get. Rather than advertising “up to” speeds, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in West Virginia will be required to advertise the “minimum data rate to be provided as part of the service.” Violating the new advertising requirements will be considered an unfair or deceptive act or practice.

Del. Henshaw described how the current advertising practice has a negative toll on economic development.

“People across the country are making decisions on where to locate a business sometimes based on where they can get service.” 

He added, “People are making six-figure investment decisions on no data. An ‘up-to’ number is a meaningless number.”

While we sympathize with this idea and strongly support efforts to ensure these services are honestly advertised, it is infeasible to advertise a minimum speed guarantee as each home on DSL is a different distance from the DSLAM and line quality varies significantly. Nonetheless, we support the Legislature’s effort to crack down on blatantly false advertising.

What Do West Virginians Think?

With the current budget deficit, West Virginians probably aren't expecting much financial investment in Internet infrastructure around the state. In a recent Herald-Dispatch editorial, the paper's leadership described the bill as "a start" and noted that the policies probably won't solve the problem of poor connectvity in West Virginia, but incumbents aren't doing that either:

But residents in areas without broadband access are still waiting for Frontier and other existing internet providers to get the job done in their parts of the state. That's not happening fast enough because those providers are slowed by bottom-line concerns. Since broadband accessibility in West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation, the state government would be remiss if it didn't try something. And if the existing providers don't want co-ops formed that might provide competition in the future, they had better step up.

At a Senate Committee hearing on March 24th, lobbyists for Frontier and Suddenlink “skewered” sections of the bill, reports Challenge West Virginia:

Smaller Internet providers like Bridgeport-based Citynet support the legislation. Citynet CEO Jim Martin told lawmakers that Frontier and the cable industry want to shut out competitors and protect their stranglehold on broadband service across the state.

“There is a reason they’re opposed to it, and that’s because this bill is going to enable competition,” Martin said.

Tags: wv hb 3093virginialegislationpolicystate policycooperativers fiber coopgeorgia public webnorth georgia networkBurlington Telecommassachusetts broadband instituteone touch make readyconduitstate lawsright-of-waynashvilleincumbentfrontierfccpolesruralfundinggrantloaneconomic development

ILSR's Building Local Power Podcast Tackles Hyper-Partisanship

March 29, 2017

Whether you’re a local elected official, a business owner, or a grassroots advocate, you’ve learned that politics can make or break an initiative to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. Improving local connectivity is only one of many initiatives that are influenced by partisanship. As we’ve seen in Washington, DC, hyper-partisanship leads to ineffective gridlock. Is there a way to move forward despite strong diametric positions?

In the most recent episode of ILSR’s Building Local Power podcast, "Breaking Through Partisanship: Left-Right-Local," our own Christopher Mitchell leads a conversation with John Farrell, Stacy Mitchell, and David Morris, directors of the ILSR Energy Democracy, Community-Scaled Economies, and Public Good initiatives, respectively.

The group discusses both broad and focused solutions. They get into the effect of corporate concentration of power and how it undermines our democracy. The group ponders monopoly power and lobbying forces, and how they influence decisions that impact the ability for local communities to make decisions. The conversation touches on media and perception, economic analysis and language, and other factors that influence how people who may have opposing political beliefs may still be able to organize for a common local policy.

“Talking about economics is one way to get there, but also, there are these shared values that we have around democracy, local control, liberty,” says Stacy Mitchell of organizing for better local solutions to national problems. “Those are things that are widely all American. I think, also, going back to those basic values and motivations are really helpful in getting past being trapped in an unhealthy partisan conversation.”

The conversation is free flowing and last about 34 minutes. You can also read the transcript of the show.

Tags: audiochristopher mitchellinstitute for local self-reliancepoliticspolicylocalgrassroots

Feasibility Study? How to Start a Community Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 246

March 28, 2017

After discussing this issue time and time again, with community after community, we finally recorded our thoughts on how communities should get started when considering a community network. Eric Lampland, the guy behind Lookout Point Communications, is our guest on Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 246. 

We talk about common mistakes and the importance of developing a compehensive vision when evaluating an investment or partnership to improve Internet access. 

We also talk a little about the importance of some technical knowledge and having at least one person championing the effort. This is not something a consultant can do for you - someone in the community has to take ownership and responsibility. 

These are very important considerations for any community considering what it should be doing in the modern era.

Read the transcript of the show here.

Eric has also been a guest on Episode 128 "Open Access and Incumbent Challenges" and Episode 84 "Justifying a Network with Indirect Cost Savings."

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

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: feasibilityeric lamplandconsiderationmunisurveyhow-toaudiopodcastbroadband bits

Public-Private Partnership Pursued in Pennsylvania

March 28, 2017

Pennsylvania’s state barriers won’t stop this community from improving Internet service for its municipal facilities, residents, and businesses. The City of Lancaster is collaborating with private provider MAW Communications to ensure the community has next-generation technology. Their public-private partnership, LanCity Connect, will offer affordable 1 gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) service over a new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Shared Risk, Public Financing

The Lancaster Online has closely followed the development of the partnership from a 2015 Wi-Fi project between the partners to the current citywide fiber plan. Here's a quick summary of the basic framework of the partnership: 

MAW Communications originally built a $1.7 million fiber backbone starting in 2015 with financing from the city's water fund bond. The city had refinanced its water utility debt, saving some $7.8 million and they worked out an agreement with MAW where the private partner would deploy and own a backbone fiber network. Over the 20 year term of the deal, the city has the right to half the network for city services, including automatic meter reading (AMR) and a traffic control system, with the city being able to renew the deal for four additional terms. Officials have said this arrangement will not impact water rates.

MAW Communications will extend the network to premises, aided by a $1.5 million loan with a 7 percent interest rate from the city's general fund reserves. The provider will repay the loan over a 13 year period. As long as MAW Communications has an outstanding loan to the city, the provider cannot sell the network without the city's written approval. Though the loan will help MAW to begin building the network, the costs of connecting homes and businesses would still be prohibitive at $1,000 each if not for another element of the plan.

The city developed a creative way to spread that $1,000 connection charge across a longer time horizon. Lancaster will transfer a $1.5 million loan from the city’s water fund to a Special Revenue Fund for LanCity Connect. If more funds are needed, the city can loan $1.5 million in 2018 and again in 2019 from the water fund. These loans will be paid back via a 13 percent surcharge on LanCity Connect’s rates - this surcharge is expected to last indefinitely. 

Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins provided the details these financials in this presentation, which the city government live-streamed on its Facebook page (the presentation runs for about 48 minutes):

 

Savings For The City

The city of Lancaster looks forward to necessary improvements and major cost savings for city services. High-speed connectivity for traffic signals will enable remote monitoring of traffic congestion. The water utility will save $130,000 - $200,000 per year through automatic water meter reading. For internal Internet service costs alone, the city will save $110,000 annually. Police and city officials will be able to securely and freely connect to the network from anywhere in the city.

And of course, the city will see better Internet service for residents and businesses. Local leaders anticipate that the network will improve economic development and generally improve the quality of life locally.

If MAW Communications defaults on the loan repayments, the city may claim ownership of the network and will have liens on other MAW Communications' assets and revenues. The community may run a risk if another provider like Comcast were to purchase MAW, however unlikely that may be. The city would be repaid the debt but would no longer have a real market for Internet services.

MAW Communications and the city of Lancaster have attempted to strike a balance between risk and reward that benefits the community overall in this partnership. We think they have done a reasonable job given the challenges of creating a partnership in the current environment. For more about collaborations between the public and private sectors for better connectivity, read the report Successful Strategies Behind Broadband Public-Private Partnerships by Christopher Mitchell and Patrick Lucey.

From Free Wi-Fi To Fiber Fast: Recent History

When Lancaster was originally ready to improve Internet access with fiber, the incumbent provider wasn't interested. Under Pennsylvania law, the main telecom provider has the right-of-first-refusal and Lancaster approached Verizon but they turned down the offer in February 2015. Lancaster looked to other providers and found a trusted partner.

MAW Communications proved its reliability to Lancaster by working with the city on previous projects. The company had provided free public Wi-Fi and installed fiber in the downtown corridor before considering a citywide network.

For the project in downtown, MAW Communications installed the fiber underground through microtrenching -- overhead wires are not allowed in the city center. The city pitched in $500,000 to have this fiber installed, and the local ABC affiliate's video lauded Lancaster as “the first city in Pennsylvania to offer free public Internet access.

At this point, MAW Communications and Lancaster began to look specifically at a citywide network. They created a pilot project, called The Early Adopter Program, to test the possibility of providing Internet service to residents. From the pilot project, 95 percent of the customers described LanCity Connect as “reliable” “high quality” and “useful.” 

Building the Network

Over the next two years, MAW Communications will build the network overhead by stringing the cables on the utility poles. The company will divide the city into nine sections and build the network in four phases. See the map of the plan on LanCity Connect’s website.

Each phase will feature a registration period when folks can sign up for the new service. After the registration period closes for a particular phase, new sign-ups will not be accepted until the entire network is complete. 

The city has an area of about 4 square miles and approximately 21,400 total households. Both partners anticipate quick deployment and attracting customers quickly. MAW Communications estimates 4,000 initial households will take service from the network and a 2 percent annual growth in subscribership. Like an increasing number of communities considering or investing in publicly owned infrastructure, LanCity Connect won’t offer video service, instead focusing only on Internet service. 

Rates And Installation

Residents in Lancaster will have four speed tier options:

50 Mbps for $34.99 per month

150 Mbps for $49.99 per month

300 Mbps for $75.99 per month

1 Gbps for $89.99 per month

There will also be a low-income price available for 50 Mbps (price not available yet). This chart compares MAW's rates to the incumbent's. The Internet service also requires a router, which costs about $250 through MAW Communications. Residents have three options: pay $250 outright, rent-to-own the MAW Communications router, or provide their own router. All tiers are symmetrical - the same upload and download speeds - which will enable telecommuting opportunities and better service for local businesses that need to share files with clients and colleagues.

Scheduling for installation will begin on April 1st and all phases should be complete by December 2019. 

Tags: pennsylvaniaFTTHlancastermuniloanutilityvideopartnershipWi-Fieducationpublic savingssymmetrygigabitpilot projectmaw communications

Bill On Data Collection Up For House Vote Today: Time To Call

March 28, 2017

Last week we shared an alert from Fight for the Future (FFTF) regarding the Senate vote on data protection. You’ve probably heard by now that the vote passed, which means the measure moved to the House. FFTF sent out a follow up with important information about that vote, that’s happening TODAY:

Congress has scheduled a vote TUESDAY to eliminate Internet privacy rules and allow ISPs to sell your data to advertisers without your permission. It already passed the Senate. This is our last chance to stop it.

Just last week, the Senate voted to gut internet privacy rules that prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from selling your sensitive personal information to advertisers without your consent.

The measure passed the Senate by only two votes. It was close, and there was significant public outcry which means we still have a chance to stop it.

Now the bill moves to the House of Representatives, and we just got word that they scheduled a vote on it TUESDAY. 

They’re trying to ram it through quickly without discussion or debate. We need to stop them.

Call Congress right now. Tell them to vote NO on repealing the FCC broadband privacy rules.

[FFTF] will connect you with your lawmakers and give you a simple script of what you can say. Here’s the number: (415) 360-0555

Even creepier, they’ll be able to install software on your phone to track you, and inject undetectable “cookies” into your Internet traffic to record everything you’re doing online.


If this bill passes the House, companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T will be able to constantly (and secretly) collect our online activity and sell our browsing history, financial information, and real-time location, and sell it to advertisers without our permission.


Call this number and FFTF will connect you directly to your representatives: (415) 360-0555

 

Tags: legislationprivacygrassrootshouse of representativesdatafcc

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 27

March 27, 2017

California

San Francisco ponders the largest community broadband network ever built by Karl Bode, TechDirt

 

Missouri

After years waiting for Google Fiber, KC residents get cancellation e-mails by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Community Broadband ban bill ties the hands of MO communities by Phillip Dampier, Benton Foundation

 

North Carolina

Bill would allow Pinetops to keep Greenlight service by Corey Friedman, The Wilson Times

Muni broadband customers could lose service unless a new bill becomes law by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Greenlight came close to shutting off Internet service to those new customers after the state ban on municipal broadband expansion was upheld by a federal appeals court. But in October 2016, the Wilson City Council voted to provide free Internet serviceto Pinetops and Vick Family Farms for six months. Wilson's wholesale providers agreed to waive their fees for six months, making this decision possible. Wilson's Greenlight ISP was technically in compliance with the state law as long as it didn't charge its new customers for service, but Wilson community leaders hoped the state legislature would eliminate or change the state law before the six months were up.

That might be on the verge of happening. Reps. Susan Martin, R-Wilson and Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson last week "introduced a bipartisan bill that would allow Greenlight Community Broadband to keep its existing customers outside the Wilson County lines," The Wilson Times wrote.

 

Washington

More of Auburn to get broadband Internet access by Robert Whale, Auburn-Reporter

 

West Virginia

WV House tries to raise broadband competition, Internet speeds by Eric Eyre, West Virginia Gazette Mail

Broadband bill would empower rural WV communities, delegate says by Brad McElhinny, West Virginia Metro News

Frontier, cable industry oppose WV lawmakers' broadband plan by Eric Eyre, West Virginia Gazette Mail

At a public hearing Friday, lobbyists for Frontier and the cable industry skewered parts of a bill (HB3093) that would authorize a pilot project in which three cities or counties would band together to build a broadband network and offer internet service to customers.

The industry lobbyists said legislation should target areas without high-speed internet — not places that already have service.

House bill creates broadband 'co-opts' in W.Va. communities by Liz McCormick, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

House Bill 3093, which was taken up in the chamber’s Judiciary Committee Friday morning, seeks to expand access to underserved areas in the state.

The bill itself is 33 pages long. It allows communities to form “internet co-opts,” which lead sponsor of the bill Delegate Roger Hanshaw explains are groups of citizens who live in certain geographic areas. The groups can work together to become their own internet service provider.

Legislation to expand broadband is at least a start by Herald-Dispatch Editorial Board

West Virginia broadband bill aims to spark competition, encouraging community broadband co-ops by Joan Engebretson, Telecompetitor

Sen. Smith supports new rural broadband bill, legislation as written would promote more competition by Theresa Marthey, The Preston County News & Journal

Making the case for broadband expansion in W.Va. by Ashton Marra, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

 

General

Report suggests AT&T is blocking quality Internet access in poor neighborhoods by Lauren C. Williams, ThinkProgress

Telecom policy tilts in favor of industry under Trump's FCC by Tali Arbel, The Seattle Times

"Dig once" bill could bring fiber Internet to much of the U.S. by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

The idea is an old one. US Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has been proposing dig once legislation since 2009, and it has widespread support from broadband-focused consumer advocacy groups. It has never made it all the way through Congress, but it has bipartisan backing from lawmakers who often disagree on the most controversial broadband policy questions, such as net neutrality and municipal broadband.

Image of the Highlander bull courtesy of FrankWinkler via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Kit Carson Electric and Continental Divide Electric Combine Power for Fiber Network

March 27, 2017

In rural New Mexico, about 80 miles west of Albuquerque, sits the small town of Grants. This community of 9,000 people is the seat of Cibola County, but 77 percent of Grants' residents live without high-speed Internet access. Thanks to two intrepid electric cooperatives, however, the town is now set to receive a next-generation network.

Continental Divide Electric Cooperative is teaming up with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative on a 3-year plan to bring a high-speed, fiber network to Grants. Local economic development groups are excited for the telecommuting and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Steady Journey Leads to Cooperative Cooperation

Continental Divide Electric Cooperative spent several years investigating how to improve Internet service. In 2014, they were rejected for a grant to build a proposed $77 million Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. By 2016, the cooperative devised another plan: partner with another organization to pursue better Internet access. The co-op members voted in May of that year to amend the bylaws to try that route. 

With the bylaws amended, the cooperative was then free to partner with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, which built a fiber network in northern New Mexico a few years ago. Now, Kit Carson has the opportunity to share its experience. The cooperatives will connect homes and business in the town of Grants as they build out the network to connect Continental Divide's electrical substations. 

Chief Executive Officer Robert E. Castillo of Continental Divide Electric Cooperative shared his excitement for the project's potential in a post on Broadband Communities Magazine:

“Grants, New Mexico, has long been underserved and has lacked the necessary infrastructure to develop high-speed connectivity for communications. Advancing communication through fiber-optic technology in the 21st century has similar potential to the development of electricity in rural America in the 20th century.” 

Internet Service to Boost Job Creation Program

Two local organizations are especially looking forward to the new high-speed Internet service. The Cibola Communities Economic Development Foundation and Soloworks believe it will prove an asset to their job creation program. Soloworks supports entrepreneurship and is a collaboration among many groups, including FatPipe ABQ, Community Economics Lab, Digital Works, and Circles USA. 

The job creation program is set to bring about 20 jobs to Cibola County, and most are telework positions that need reliable Internet service. Executive Director of Cibola Communities Economic Development Foundation Eileen Yarborough explained the importance of the cooperatives’ fiber project in an Albuquerque Business First article:

“Having broadband/fiber connectivity will be transformational for the northwest region. It will give us the ability to be highly competitive for business attraction and provide existing businesses the opportunity to be more profitable and productive in this economic environment.”

Tags: new mexicofiberrural electric coopcooperativekit carson electric coopcollaborationFTTH

Cities With Municipal Networks Go Far In #StrongestTown Contest

March 25, 2017

Update: Traverse City, Michigan, took home the prize as 2017 #StrongestTown. Congrats to Traverse City!

Keeping with the spirit of March Madness, the nonprofit StrongTowns ran the second annual #StrongestTown contest based on the nonprofit’s Strength Test and Principles. Of the 16 communities that participated, almost a third have been featured on MuniNetworks.org for their Internet infrastructure plans: Ellsworth, Maine; Lafayette, Louisiana; Traverse City, Michigan; and Valparaiso, Indiana.

These five communities have battled their way forward against steep competition. Through articles and podcasts on Strong Towns, they tried to showcase how their residents are active in their communities and committed to change at the local level. All five overcame the initial rounds, and Traverse, City, Michigan made it to the final round against the Canadian city of Guelph. The winner will be announced Monday, March 27th on the contest page.

Community Networks Support Vibrant Towns

It comes as no surprise to us that these communities would be in the running for #StrongestTown. Building a community network takes public support and a realistic look at financials. Publicly owned networks encourage job creation, improve healthcare, and connect low-income residents. The towns that made the cut took different approaches to better connectivity. 

Lafayette, Louisiana’s fiber network follows a classic model: it’s a city-run utility serving both homes and businesses. The city incrementally built the network, funding a new section of the network with revenues from already connected homes and businesses. The ubiquitous connectivity attracted many new jobs and businesses to the Silicon Bayou.

Taking a different tact, Ellsworth, Maine, created an open access network, enabling multiple providers to compete for subscribers. Valparaiso, Indiana, invested in a dark fiber network to allow businesses and providers to lease what they need. And of course, Traverse City, Michigan, is in the midst of deciding how best to use its fiber backbone - with many options still on the table.

#StrongestTown

Regardless of which city takes home the title of 2017 #StrongestTown goes to, at the end of the day what really matters is community. Just like transit infrastructure and green spaces, these networks improve quality of life for residents and make these towns good places to live, work, and play.

 

Tags: munilocalcommunity broadbandellsworth mainelafayettetraverse city mivalparaiso

New Hampshire Bill Seeks To Improve Bonding For Munis

March 24, 2017

New Hampshire has made strides in bringing better connectivity to unserved areas with projects like New Hampshire Fast Roads, but for years one factor has held them back: state law limitations on municipal bonding for Internet infrastructure. Once again, a proposal to change the law is in the state legislature.

SB 170 - It's Simple

SB 170 proposes to eliminate the one provision in New Hampshire law that has prevented municipalities from bonding for Internet infrastructure - the requirement that the infrastructure can only serve properties where there is no existing service. By blocking access to funding, the requirement has prevented projects that might bring service to whole communities when small pockets of service already exist in those communities.

The House companion bill, HB 191, passed the Science, Technology and Energy Committee but died when brought before the full House for a vote. The bipartisan vote against the bill was 193 - 168, emphasizing that the issue of connectivity is not related to political party.

SB 170 was heard in the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee in early February and, even though a number of individuals and organizations from communities in effected towns spoke on its behalf, a motion was presented to kill the bill. We’re happy to report, however, that the motion failed and the bill was rereferred to the same committee. It’s been sitting there ever since. In other words, it’s still alive, but it may not be picked up again unless committee leadership feel motivated to do so.

Tell Them, "It's About MY Hometown"

This proposal has seen the inside of New Hampshire’s General Court several times since we first reported on state bonding bills back in 2011. The measure appears to have gained momentum and with more constituent support, this particular piece of progress could become law. It may or may not be too late for SB 170 this session, but remember that legislation often takes several years to happen.

This proposal is about better connectivity, but at its heart it is about local control and access to choice. Why should the state dictate in which geographical areas a community can and cannot develop a project, regardless of the type of infrastructure, in order to preserve a national company's monopoly? After all, no one knows what your community needs better than you do.

We encourage you to call the members of the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee ASAP and tell them that you want this bill to get another chance. It’s also worth your time to call or email your legislators and tell them that, if this bill or others like it appear before them, you want them to support those bills now and in the future.

SB 170 New Hampshire HB 191 New HampshireTags: new hampshirelegislationnh sb 170nh hb 191bonds

Wilsonville, Oregon: Survey, Analysis, Consideration

March 24, 2017

The city of Wilsonville, Oregon, is collecting information from businesses and residents to explore community interest in a municipal fiber network. So far, efforts to analyze need include two surveys and the first of several public meetings with businesses. The City Council anticipates considering the results of the study this summer.

This Is Wilsonville

Wilsonville is a densely populated city located in the Portland metro. Its seven square miles is home to about 20,000 residents and a handful of tech companies. The city has some existing fiber, which connects to neighboring Clackamas County’s broadband network and provides high-quality, low-cost service to Wilsonville’s police department, library, and schools. Wilsonville doesn't have a municipal electric utility, but does supply water and wastewater.

It's in the northwest corner of the state, primarily in Clackamus County with a section of the community located in Washington County. There are a number of large distribution centers in the community, including Coca-Cola and Rite-Aid, that require access to high-capacity connectivity. Clackamus County's Broadband eXchange provides fiber connectivity to public facilities and businesses across the county.

Wilsonville first considered improving Internet access last January, when the City Council authorized staff to work with a consultant to explore their options.

“It really goes to the concept of how competitive we think our city should be across business interests and across industry, as well as the financial addition and even the residential participation in that,” said [Mayor] Tim Knapp.

All Options On The Table

In 2013, the city invested in some fiber that serves government institutions and could become the backbone for expansion projects. They're considering several possibilities, including maintaining a network only for governmental purposes, providing connectivity to the commercial district, and offering high-quality Internet access to residential neighborhoods. Though community leaders have not made a decision on the matter, they are considering whether to become a municipal Internet Service Provider (ISPs) or to find a partner to operate on the network. 

Incumbents Comcast and Frontier offer services in Wilsonville now. The project has the potential to add another ISP, giving residents more options and possibly encouraging competitors to provide a better product.

Tags: wilsonville ororegonconsiderationclackamus countysurveyeconomic development

Legislative Relief For Pinetops In Sight

March 23, 2017

Since August 2016, the small community of Pinetops has been on the verge of losing their best connection to the 21st century - high quality Internet access. The North Carolina Legislature has a chance to change all that this session with legislation that will carve out an exception to restrictive state laws that prevent a local municipal provider from serving this rural town.

The State Blocks Service

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the FCC’s preemption of state law restricting geographical reach of broadband from municipal electric utilities, Pinetops was in a pickle. Nearby Wilson had extended its Greenlight high capacity Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to the tiny community where residents and businesses were still slumping on DSL, dialing up, or not connected at all. The court’s reversal required the city of Wilson to risk losing their ability to serve their own community if they continued to do business as a provider for Pinetops.

The only way Pinetops and another customer outside Wilson County - Vick Family Farms - could continue with Greenlight was when the City Council voted to continue temporary service at no charge. Elected officials made the decision based on the expectation that legislators would introduce proposals to carve out exceptions for both Pinetops and the Vick Family Farm, commercial potato farm also located outside of Wilson County. Last week, they made good on that promise.

Reps Step In To Help

Representatives Susan Martin (R) and Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D), both from Wilson, introduced HB 396, which allows Wilson to expand Greenlight to Pinetops and the area in Nash County where Vick Family Farms is located. The legislation would allow the Nash County business to continue with the service it needs for daily operations. Pinetops is located in Edgecombe County. North Carolina’s restrictions prevent municipal networks like Greenlight from serving subscribers beyond county lines. 

When the FCC preempted that restriction, Wilson answered requests from Pinetops and Vick Family Farms to come to their neck of the woods. Pinetops has steadily lost population and jobs due to its poor connectivity. Vick Family Farms wanted to invest in a new processing facility and open up its business to an online customer base. Both have experienced turn arounds since obtaining access to FTTH connectivity and don’t want to go back to their prior situation.

Hurricane Matthew hit Pinetops in September 2016 and the community is still recovering. Community leaders in Wilson don’t want to compound Pintetops' difficulties by taking away the Internet access they’ve come to depend on.

Bipartisan And Local

Because HB 396 is local and impacts 15 or fewer counties, it doesn’t require the Governor’s signature to take affect. If both the House and Senate pass the bill, it will immediately become law. In addition to the two main sponsors - one from each party - several other legislators have signed on to HB 396.

 

Tags: pinetopsnorth carolinanc hb 396legislationwilsongreenlightFTTHrural

Key Vote On Privacy Rules: Your Call Needed

March 23, 2017

Our friends at Fight for the Future let us know that an important vote on privacy rules is happening today. We want to pass on the information so you know who to call to express your concern about who collects and disseminates your personal data:

Today at noon, Congress is expected to vote on whether to gut the FCC’s broadband privacy rules that prevent Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon from collecting and selling your personal data without your permission.

In just a few hours Congress could roll back these landmark rules that many of us fought hard for last year.

And get this-- the 22 senators behind this controversial resolution have received more than $1.6 million from the very same companies that would profit from us losing our broadband privacy rights.

Here are the names and phone numbers of the lawmakers who we need to side with us to protect broadband privacy rights:

We can’t let this happen. Call Congress right now.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (202) 224-6665 @lisamurkowski

Sen. Susan Collins (202) 224-2523 @SenatorCollins

Sen. Jerry Moran (202) 224-6521 @JerryMoran

Sen. Cory Gardner (202) 224-5941 @SenCoryGardner

Sen. Benjamin Sasse (202) 224-4224 @BenSasse

Sen. Dean Heller (202) 224-6244 @SenDeanHeller

If these privacy protections are removed, ISPs will be able to do the following :

Monitor and sell all your location data, search history, app usage, and browsing habits to advertisers without your permission, hijack your search results, redirecting your traffic to paying third parties, and insert ads into web pages that would otherwise not have them
.

This is going to be a close vote. We’ve included the names, numbers, and twitter handles of key members of Congress who could vote to uphold current broadband privacy rules.

Call them now. Tell them to protect our privacy. Here’s a sample script you can use:

“Hi, my name is ______, I’m calling to ask Senator _____ to vote against the CRA proposal to roll back the FCC’s broadband privacy rules. Please don’t let Internet Service Providers sell my personal information without my permission.”

This vote is happening very soon, please call or contact these key members of Congress now.

Tags: legislationprivacygrassrootssenatedatafcc

Holland, Michigan, Will Expand Pilot To More Of Downtown

March 22, 2017

In January 2016, Holland, Michigan, made commencing fiber-optic Internet access to residential neighborhoods its number one goal for fiscal year 2017. They’re a little behind schedule, but the town is now moving forward by expanding a pilot project in order to serve a larger downtown area.

It's Really Happening

The Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) held an informational meeting on March 13th to answer questions from the community and share plans for the potential expansion. About a year ago, we reported on the results of a study commissioned by the city in which, based on a take rate of about 40 percent, 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) connectivity would cost residents about $80 per month. Small businesses would pay approximately $85 per month and larger commercial subscriber rates would run around $220 per month. The update on the plan confirms those figures, noting that the four businesses that tested the pilot services had positive experiences. As a result, BPW feels it’s time to expand to more of downtown.

"If it goes really well we hope to be able to expand the service out as far into the community as we can," said Pete Hoffswell, broadband services manager at BPW.

The expansion is planned for construction in June and July, with service testing in August. Actual delivery would be in September, BPW estimates.

BPW will use a boring technique to place conduit and fiber below ground so there will be minimal disruption. No streets will be closed. Next, BPW will get construction bids, evaluate them, and present them to the City Council for approval.

Not An Impulse Decision

Holland has had dark fiber in place for decades for the municipal electric operations. Later BPW extended it to schools and businesses that needed high capacity data services. After years of incremental expansions, the network is now more than 150 fiber miles throughout the city.

They tried to lure Google to the community in 2010, but when the tech company went elsewhere, city leaders created a 2011 strategic plan which confirmed the desire to improve connectivity. The plan came with a $58 million recommendation to invest in a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network but the plan stalled when community leaders never acted on it.

AT&T and Comcast serve area establishments in an unsatisfactory manner and in recent years local businesses and entrepreneurs have taken to pressuring community leaders to make more use of publicly owned fiber. They created hollandfiber.org, a grassroots group of business owners and residents who are educating the public, advocating for a municipal FTTH network, and sharing information on developments. Several of the organizers are volunteering to the pilot project group and can attest to the improvement of fiber over prior connectivity.

When the pilot project launched, businesses that volunteered to use it were happy with the results.

Dan Morrison of Collective Idea, one of the pilot businesses, said it's ideal for uploading, downloading, sharing large files and video conferences, as is common practice for the software developing company.

He said he would love to get rid of AT&T.

"I think it's way overpriced for minimal offerings," Scott said. "(Fiber) has worked for us more often than not, and any bugs there were got worked out smoothly and quickly."

Memorializing Better Connectivity

What about those FY2017 goals? The City Council has scaled them back a bit to reflect the project at hand. At a recent meeting, they adjusted the city’s FY2018 goals to include expanding fiber Internet access to the downtown area, rather than expecting to reach neighborhoods so soon.

At their March 15th meeting, the City Council also solidified the commitment to the project by unanimously adopting Holland’s Master Plan. Within the city’s goal of offering “high, quality, efficient, and cost effective” public services, one of the potential action steps is, “Ensure that all residents and businesses have fiber optic broadband access.”

Tags: holland mimichiganpilot projectFTTHsmall businessbusiness serviceseconomic developmentratesutilityexpansionmaster planat&tcomcast

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 245

March 22, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 245 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Brough Turner of Netblazr joins the show to explain point-to-point wireless service. Listen to this episode here.

 

Brough Turner: Here's the deal. It's $59.95 a month. No contracts. No teaser rates. No special deals. But we're not pulling any funnies on anybody and you can leave at any point.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 245 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. NetBlazr is a Boston wireless Internet service provider that focuses on urban delivery of high-quality Internet access. This week, Brough Turner, founder and chief technology officer, connects with Christopher to talk about the ins and outs of providing the point-to-point wireless service in an urban area. Brough gets into the technology and the guys discuss what might be in the future of wireless. Brough also shares his company's experience as a startup, some of the challenges they faced, and how NetBlazr is keeping up with demand. Check out their website, NETBLAZR.com, to learn more about the company, the technology, and the team. Here's Christopher talking with chief technology officer and founder of NetBlazr, Brough Turner.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm speaking with Brough Turner, the founder and chief technology officer for NetBlazr. Welcome to the show.

Brough Turner: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: We'll get into this in a second, but NetBlazr's a wireless firm. We're going to talk a lot about wireless technologies. Maybe you can just tell us a little bit about what you know about wireless networks. I guess a different way of saying that would be, tell the audience why they should listen to you.

Brough Turner: Let's see. I'm an electrical engineer in distant origin and I've started a few other companies. I spent a lot of years working in computer telephony and early voice over IP. In 2008 I was perceived as a wireless expert and I had tons of theoretical knowledge, but at that point I would say I had zero practical hands-on experience. I was out of a job. My previous company, we'd sold it off in pieces. I was pondering what to do next. I have been generally pissed about US broadband policy for 20 years now. I decided I would do something about it in the way I understand, which is as an engineer and an entrepreneur. I came up with the idea for NetBlazr. I conned my partner, Jim Hanley, into joining me in doing this. We started up in 2010. Quite frankly, it's okay to have tons of theoretical knowledge, but the hands-on also is worth something. The business model took us probably till late in 2012 to crack the code on what we were really doing. Since then, it's been very rapid growth. I have a lot of experience. It's, as an urban wireless Internet service provider, NetBlazr is in downtown Boston, Cambridge, Somerville. We don't go out to the suburbs. I don't have any experience with rural stuff except talking to other members of WISPA [Wireless Internet Service Providers Association]. Tons of theoretical knowledge. Six years, seven years of practical hands-on experience in an urban environment.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's just be clear. You're a WISP, and yet you're somewhat of a rare WISP, in that I think those of us that have dealt with a lot of WSPs are used to a kind of condescending attitude from some. I've certainly met wonderful people that are running WSPs, but I've met many people who also tell me, "Oh, three megabits is just fine. When it's a good quality three megabits, you won't ever need anything else." You've taken a different philosophy, which is that you want to deliver high throughput. How's that working out?

Brough Turner: Very well. We have a lot of customers on a 300 meg down, 300 meg up service. We're migrating new buildings to 500 down, 500 up. I'd like to do one gig down, one gig up, but to do it to the standards that we're used to still has some price increment, which I can describe at some point. Right now we're focused on 300/300 or 500/500. We sell that for $59.95 a month. No contracts. No whatever. We earn your business month by month. That's very profitable. It's relatively easy to do for multi-tenant buildings. I think the smallest building has 30 units in it. We have a lot of buildings that have more than 100 either condos or apartments. That's our bread and butter high speed stuff. For isolated buildings that we can't really justify the investment that we would put into a building with 50 or 100 doors, we have another piece of technology, which is somewhat related to rural WSPs. We manage to get either 15 megabits down, 15 megs up or 50 megabits down, 50 megabits up as the two service levels for isolated buildings. Three megs sounds crazy to me. I wish I could offer a gigabit symmetric. It's much, much cheaper for us to offer 500 megs down, 500 megs up with the technology we can get off the shelf today. That will change.

Christopher Mitchell: Are you wireless all the way to the user? How does it work if I'm a person in one of these buildings getting your service? How does the signal travel?

Brough Turner: We are wireless. Typically high-speed point-to-point links. We have a rooftop-to-rooftop. We have at the moment seven different fiber feed points in the downtown Boston, Cambridge, Somerville area. From these feed points, we go out to hundreds of buildings where we have -- Typically on the roof of one of these buildings we'll have three to six radios. It's powered over ethernet in the mechanical space or the upper top floor, telco closet, or wherever we can locate a rack. We put a UPS, a router, a power over ethernet switch. We use this dense mesh of point-to-point links to distribute capacity to hundreds of buildings. The point here is that we always have at least two paths to any important building and we have routers at every node so we can rearrange our network automatically. Should a building lose power, typically the relay function will keep going. The only customers who are out are the ones who are in that building.

Christopher Mitchell: You end up with a really high-capacity, high-quality signal on the roof. How does that get to people then within the units? That goes over the structured wiring in the building already?

Brough Turner: Yes. Basically, we run cables vertically. Most multi-tenant buildings have, not all of them, but most of them built in the last four or five decades, have stacked telco closets. Our only hard part is figuring a path to get from the roof to the top telco closet. That requires some ingenious things, and every building is different. We don't want to penetrate the roof, because we don't want to be on the hook. We're looking for ways to go in through the wall of the head house or the stairwell or some existing penetration. But once we find a path, that is the one piece of ingenuity, is how do you get from the roof to the top of the stacked telco closets. We run our own cables vertically. Typically Cat6 cable. We locate the routers at the top and we put switches where we need to in order to cover the number of people we expect to penetrate in the building. Some buildings will do a bulk deal, in which case we're lighting every apartment. That's not the most common, but we have a number of those. Other buildings we figure it partly depends on the demographic, but we're figuring on a 30 percent penetration within a year or so. Our best building has 52 percent penetration, and that's us competing against Comcast and Verizon. Our worst building is whatever is our newest building, because you get a burst initially and you get a few more rounds in 60 or 90 days. Then you wait out the year as people's contracts expire and they're ready to roll over and try something new.

Christopher Mitchell: Some of our listeners might be listening to this and thinking, "Well, this is very similar to what WebPass is doing." But I think you have a twist on it that they're not doing. For people who may not have been paying attention, WebPass was the firm that had a business model that's somewhat similar that Google bought and is now we expect going to be ramping up.

Brough Turner: Yes. Certainly some similarities to WebPass. In fact, WebPass announced they were coming to Boston and we were initially worried. Since they've been acquired by Google, my impression is that they are signing buildings but not actually bringing buildings online. They are in Boston. I don't know the extent to which they have the technical model we have. They're mostly using Siklu radios. We're using some Siklu but mostly Ubiquiti airFibers. They're certainly going after buildings with more than 50 doors. They do their wiring inside the building in much the same way we do. Beyond the two of us, there are three or four other companies I'm aware of who do similar things in different cities. It's not the thousands and thousands of WSPs you see in rural areas, but there probably are four, five, or six companies like NetBlazr doing things in urban areas. I would say it's early days but it's an incredible growth opportunity for us and for anyone else that wants to get into it.

Christopher Mitchell: Brough, how do you engineer the network to make sure that you're always delivering the speeds that you're promising, even if there's bad weather or something like that?

Brough Turner: We don't have anything that slows down during inclement weather. There are three exceptions, but all of our links are engineered for at least five nines in terms of the weather. There are three links that are airFiber links that are approaching three kilometers. Those have a number of minutes of outage per year. But during that time I've got five gigahertz back up. There are certainly portions at the edge of the network where the backup path is a five gigahertz link without adequate capacity to guarantee full speeds. For example, we're in Medford now. Medford is a suburb. We're hopping from Cambridge and Somerville to the edge of Somerville to the edge of Medford. The primary links are all airFiber, so I've got more than a gig of capacity coming out in that direction. The backup is probably limited to 100 megabits by the time it gets out there. There's certainly the case that, should we experience some sort of an outage or a failure somewhere, people will still have service, but it may not speed test the whole way during the period of us scrambling to repair things. Literally out of hundreds and hundreds of wireless links there are three of them that I worry about the weather.

Christopher Mitchell: You certainly had plenty of opportunities to test that in recent months, let alone years. One of the questions I wonder about is, is there a constraint to expanding this service to all of the larger residential buildings in Boston and actually the metro area? Is there a constraint in spectrum or in terms of other issues, like line of sight, that would make it difficult? Is this something that you literally could, with the right time and if the cards fall right, you could take this to every last large building in the area?

Brough Turner: Technically we could take it to every last large building in the area. There's not a spectrum limitation. At five gigahertz there's obviously spectrum issues. We basically have a lot of 24 gigahertz operation and we have a few links at 60 gigahertz and we're putting in our first 70 and 80 gigahertz link. There will be a couple more of those. Anything in the 24, 60, or 70, or 80 gigahertz range is a highly directional beam. Basically you have no interference. You just reuse the spectrum over and over again. From one given roof, you can send out beams that are less than 10 degrees apart on one frequency, and you've got 24, 60, 70, and 80. There's not a spectrum issue for doing high-frequency, high-capacity, point-to-point links. In terms of line of sight, dense urban areas have a lot of buildings and you can't always get to a particular building right away. But if you were talking about filling things in, we can get to an awful lot of things. It's only occasionally we have a real problem with how do we get there. There's a little, low building in Chinatown, a four-story building in Chinatown, surrounded by 20-story buildings. The problem is how do you get a mount at the edge of one of the 20-story buildings that's close enough to the edge that you can look over and get a line of sight down to the four-story building in Chinatown? No. I would say there is certainly a capital issue. We look at our capital investment on trying to break even within 12 months. Sometimes it's better and sometimes it's worse. Let's see. We started doing all our capital investments entirely from cashflow, which meant we were growing fairly slowly. We raised $1 million in convertible loans. We used that to grow a lot more rapidly. We've reached the point where we're EBITDA-positive. We're approaching the point where we may actually be gushing enough cash to fund the current growth rate. But that's still a few months in the future. There's a capital issue. Then, beyond that, quite frankly, we're not growing faster than a mere, say, eight percent per month because we're still scrambling to put in place the automation and the training and the policies and procedures that can keep us ahead of where we are. We are constantly scrambling. We're growing. If we were a more professional organization or where I hope we'll be one year from now, then there's no reason we can't grow even faster and there's no reason we can't go to other cities.

Christopher Mitchell: You're not seeing any anti-competitive kinds of behavior. It seems like when you look at ISPs that are trying to really get big quickly and they're putting their name on the map, you might have Comcast coming in and really trying to underprice them and that sort of thing. But a comment you made earlier made it seem like for you're growth you're not having to work that hard for it. You're mostly focused on internal issues and getting them set up right.

Brough Turner: Yeah. We're still a drop in the bucket for Comcast in the city of Boston. One of the things, as I remember, is when the cable companies came after the phone company 15, 20 years ago with their triple play and they started offering voice telephone service. Verizon did not react to Comcast taking over voice telephone business, which was their bread and butter, until Comcast had taken 20 percent of the market. I don't know if Comcast will react more completely, but we're nowhere near taking five percent of the market, let alone 10 percent or 20 percent. I don't expect Comcast to be noticing us except for individual people in specific buildings maybe. There is a building where we now have past 50 percent and it's a building that Comcast has served poorly. Maybe somebody will notice that. But, no. I don't see that. I do see building management is all over the ballpark. Some people love what we're doing and want to offer their tenants new things. If you run into a condo, what we do, we just wait until we have a couple of people inside the building who'd like our service and we get them to introduce us to the condo board. If somebody's on the condo board, it's a no-brainer. On the other hand, I can think of one large condo in downtown Boston. It's multi-hundred-unit building facing the Common. They literally get a six percent kickback from Comcast. This is the condo management operation gets a six percent kickback. This allows the condo board to cut a different deal with the condo management firm. There was many hundred people in the building and we didn't have an advocate on the condo board. The condo board basically said, "Well, unless you give us the six percent kickback that Comcast gives us, we won't let you come into the building." We said, "Well, we don't deal with kickbacks and we don't do anything. It's simple. Here's the deal." We are not in that building.

Christopher Mitchell: To give a sense, I would guess that a building of 50 people, a six percent kickback on revenue, you would expect that would be in the order of $5,000 per year, maybe give or take, but that's the order.

Brough Turner: Here's the deal. It's $59.95 a month. No contracts. No teaser rates. No special deals. But it also doesn't go up. Over time, we look to provide more and more services for that amount of money. But we're not pulling any funnies on anybody and you can leave at any point. But by the same token, we don't want to get into weird funnies and kickback schemes and agents and so on and so forth.

Christopher Mitchell: I salute you for that. I think probably most of our listeners do. Frankly, just about everyone who's had to deal with the cable companies salutes that. I'd like to round out the discussion with a little bit of where we're going with wireless technologies and that sort of thing. I think it might be useful to talk a little bit about the cost of these wireless radios, because some people look at these kinds of services that are being provided to the multi-tenant buildings and they think, "Well, we just need to do that on single-family homes as well." I'm guessing that it actually doesn't work out that way. You can't really scale it. Because whenever I talk to WSPs that have a single-family home approach, it's generally on the order of 25 or 50 megabits at the upper end it seems like nowadays. I'm just curious if you can give us a sense of how this works and what we might expect for rounding out single-family home coverage from WSPs in the future.

Brough Turner: We do provide single-family home coverage, but you're right. The choice is either 15/15 or 50/50.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things I'm curious about is whether or not that technology will improve rapidly enough that you would ever be competitive with cable for those who care about the higher-quality speeds. Which is to say that will the wireless speeds improve more rapidly than the cable speeds have been?

Brough Turner: Maybe. There are a number of interesting things in so-called 5G. Forget about the 5G that's part of the mobile operators and thinking of the underlying radio technology. There are things with massive MIMO, the potential to deal with non-line-of-sight reflections and things like that mean that potentially you could be using 24 or 60, one of the higher-frequency things, to get to single-family homes in some shared fashion. That's not in the next three to five years, despite what people may claim. But it is in the next 10 years. For sure there will be some pretty dramatic stuff at some point. Meanwhile, we've got Ubiquiti and Mimosa Networks and the Motorola spin-out Cambium, competing to bring new radios to up the speeds that you can deliver to individual users. Independent of any major technology shift, there's ongoing improvements. Things get better every couple of years. Will it get faster than cable? I think over 10 years, absolutely. Cable has a lot of investment it needs to do to get from coax with amplifiers to coax with no amplifiers to fiber to the home. When it gets to fiber to the home, it'll be ahead of us. But the next investment they have to get to right now is fiber to the node and then cable with no amplifiers before they can do much of anything. They have a major capital investment also.

Christopher Mitchell: Then, I think you were going to continue a thought and I pressed in on some of this, the economics of the home. Do you remember what that was?

Brough Turner: I was going to talk about the economics of the multi-family buildings, which in urban areas are a major percentage of what's happening. There we are talking about the list price for a Ubiquiti airFiber 24 link is basically $3,000. I buy a lot of them, so I'm paying, I don't know, less than $2,800. But I'm still paying thousands of dollars per link. The list price for the 60 gigahertz radios, which we've trialed in a few places and still had some problems with, but which I'm very, very, very interested in, that's the IgniteNet MetroLinq radios. When I'm confident that they're really rock solid, that's basically one gigabit TDD, which is from my perspective 750 down and 250 up, is quite a respectable thing. That's about $1,000 per link, although the range is shorter than the airFiber 24. But again, we have an awful lot of links that are pretty short. A few city blocks. Then, at the 70 and 80 gigahertz range, they're basically Siklu and BridgeWave are providing two gigabit, four gigabit, up to 10 gigabit links that are good for two kilometers easily. 2,500 meters perhaps. Again, I only have three links that are more than two kilometers in the entire thing, and I have hundreds of links. You're paying thousands of dollars, but those prices are coming down. For the 60 gigahertz radio, once we have that stuff deployed, for less than 1,500 meters it's $1,000 for a high-capacity link. Those in the audience who run ISPs are aware of how things work, but an awful lot of people aren't. Some people who, and even rural WSPs don't think about it the way we do, say you've got 100 customers and you're feeding them with 700 megs or a gigabit or two gigabit capacity. The question is, what do you need to do to guarantee that they all see 300 megs up and 300 megs down any time they run a speed test? The answer is, if it's 300, you need 300 megs of headroom above the peak of the actual usage. If it's 500 meg service, you need 500 megabits of headroom above the peak of the actual usage. For residential users in Boston, that peak is distributed at different times between nine PM and midnight. I look at minute-by-minute averages of the actual traffic between nine PM and midnight. As long as I've got 300 or 500 megs of headroom above that actual traffic, then anybody who runs a speed test or anybody who hits a webpage and does a download or something will get the full 300 or 500 that they're paying for. What's the average for 100 users in Boston on a 300/300 service? The answer is 1.2 megabits per second per user. The reason for that is that some of the people went out to dinner and some of them are watching Netflix not in HD and the few are watching Netflix in HD, which is only like four megabits anyway. The reason for the high speeds is not because you're going to use that capacity all the time. The reason for the high speeds, the reason there's a real benefit and would be to a gigabit service, is for reducing latency. When you click on something, pop. It's right there. Because you go really fast for a very short amount of time, and then you don't do anything for a long time. If you have 100 or more people, that averages out to 1.2 megabits per user during the evening peak.

Christopher Mitchell: In my mind, this whole discussion about what a person uses over the course of a month, or this or that, it doesn't tell you whether or not they're achieving what they want to have done. If I'm a small business or even myself, whether I'm acting in a small business capacity or not, and I'm trying to e-mail, or not so much e-mail, but upload a large file to someone, I don't want to sit there for a half hour and watch it happen. I just want it to be done. Even if I only do that a few times a month, that's important to me. I don't think you want to size your link based on how often I do something, necessarily.

Brough Turner: The goal is to provide as much available speed as you possibly can, because that reduces latency. What people actually use averaged over periods of time is a lot less, and that's fine. That allows me to aggregate a lot of people and provide them with blazingly fast service using radios I can actually buy.

Christopher Mitchell: I think one of the points you've made a number of times elsewhere also is that you can do this affordably. It's not bankrupting you to offer high-capacity connections.

Brough Turner: No. No no no. No. I do have an advantage. We're in an urban area, which means there's a lot of people. A lot of prospective customers. Basically, we won't do a building unless we can put a minimum of three radios on the roof. If the building says, "Oh, we won't allow you to use our roof to relay to anywhere else," we won't do it, because our whole model is a dense mesh of point-to-point links. That's generally not a problem for 98 percent of people, but it comes up every now and again.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to ask you a hypothetical question, because I know that Boston has fiber that could be available, but they're working internally on the policies and that sort of thing I think. My question is more for a generic city, particularly a larger urban city. Would having fiber available that you could lease, or conduit, make it easier for you to expand your business and services? If so, what do you need? Not just the hypothetical knowledge that fiber is there, but what do you need the city to do to make it valuable and useful to you?

Brough Turner: I'd rather deal with private companies because it's faster and easier.

Christopher Mitchell: No. I appreciate that. You know me. You know my position on a lot of these things. But let me just share with you an experience that Travis Carter with US Internet relayed previously with us and led us to go do an interview with St. Louis Park. They gave him basically, I think it was a sheet or three sheets of paper and said, "Here are our terms. Let us know what routes you want to use and then it's yours." It strikes me that if cities can make that work then maybe that would turn your opinion a little bit.

Brough Turner: Boston. Verizon has fiber to all sorts of places. Comcast has fiber to all sorts of places. But if you look at Level 3, Lightower, there are about five or six companies that have fiber to various buildings in the city, but they only have fiber to maybe 150 or 300 buildings. But that's enough. I don't need fiber everywhere. I need fiber to a few places around the city as seed points. 10 years ago the only possible model that would have made sense would have been to back haul everything to a data center where I could buy Internet transit from two or three different upstreams. But in fact data centers are rather expensive, from my perspective. I can actually today buy burstable Internet transit at specific buildings not in a data center. I literally have four U of rack space that I rent as a sublet from somebody in one data center. Basically we don't have any data centers. We have seven fiber feed points where we're buying Internet transit from one of three existing vendors. If the city was doing something, if it were very appealing, I'd certainly think about it. But would it be fiber that would -- In the end, it would have to go back to some Internet data center, and there I'd have to rent some space, pay for some power, pay cross connect fees, terminate the fiber, be an interesting monthly recurring, even if the city was giving me the fiber for free. Every deal is different. In any of say the top 30 or top 50 markets, there are multiple providers who own fiber to some buildings. If you can cut a deal with one of those guys, it's probably easier than renting a layer two fiber or owning a layer two connection to a data center and doing it all yourself. I don't know if the economics are great or not. It would totally depend on the price.

Christopher Mitchell: I think it's helpful to get that real-world perspective. I think I will limit myself to one last question. We've already gone longer than most of our shows, but I'm really enjoying all of the information that I haven't necessarily seen anywhere else. What do you think about in terms of city policies that would try to deal with the contracts that Comcast already has and others, in the sense of San Francisco has passed a bill or it's passed a statute that gives tenants basically a right to choose different ISPs. Landlords would not be able to charge unreasonable fees for you to get into their buildings. That is of course not perfect, because you have to deal with that term "unreasonable." But is that something you would see benefiting urban areas from your perspective?

Brough Turner: Possibly. As I say, there's a enough buildings that are interested in our service that we can walk away from anybody who wants to charge us any fee, reasonable or unreasonable.

Christopher Mitchell: That's the way the market is supposed to work, of course.

Brough Turner: Yeah. There are enough buildings that we have not been tempted to pay kickbacks or to pay access fees. We have a capital investment. We have to pull things, and so forth. We will give the building manager or the building whatever one free service, but in exchange we expect to be able to consume 150 watts of power. We're expecting the building owner to basically, for the privilege of having us as a amenity for their tenants or their co-op members, they need to let us get in and invest our capital. They need to pay for the electricity that we're going to use, which in many cases is 150 or 180 watts. In exchange, we give them a free high-speed Internet connection in their office.

Christopher Mitchell: I want to thank you for taking all this time to talk with us and to share your experiences, to be so open, frankly, with your costs and whatnot. I think people are going to get a lot out of it, so thank you.

Brough Turner: Okay. Any time. Happy to help.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Brough Turner, the chief technology officer and founder of NetBlazr, talking with Christopher about the company and what it's like to offer high-speed wireless services in an urban environment.

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. 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. E-mail us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. 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. We want to thank Break the Bands for the song "Escape" licensed through Creative Commons. We want to thank you for listening to Episode 245 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcriptnetblazrfixed wirelesstechnologybostonurbanmdu

netBlazr Offering Blazing Fast Fixed Wireless - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 245

March 21, 2017

Like other urban centers in the U.S., Boston is filled with multi dwelling units (MDUs) and buildings that house multiple business tenants. Obtaining high-quality connectivity in such an environment can be a challenge, especially if choices are limited to just one or two incumbents with little or no competition. With the advancement of new fixed wireless technologies in recent years, however, residential and business subscribers now have better options.

This week, Christopher talks with Brough Turner, the founder and Chief Technology Officer at netBlazr. The company provides high-quality fixed wireless Internet access to residents and businesses across the city. Listeners who enjoy our occasional deep dives into the technical side of wireless connectivity, you’re in for a treat.

Brough and Christopher also discuss the company and the challenges they face working in a market traditionally reserved for the big incumbents. The guys spend time discussing the future of wireless and what Brough, who has extensive experience in this field, expects to see both in the short and long term.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitsnetblazrfixed wirelessbostonmassachusettstechnologymduurban

Shutesbury: "No Thnx, Charter. K. Bye."

March 21, 2017

Even though they don't have to chip in any local funds, the town of Shutesbury, Massachusetts, rejected Charter’s proposal to build a hybrid fiber coaxial network in their community. They don’t consider the proposal a “good long-term solution to bring broadband to our town" and prefer to build a publicly owned fiber-optic network for future-proof technology, provider accountability, and local control.

You Get What You Pay For

Unlike Charter’s proposal to serve only 96 percent of the homes in the community, the town made a commitment to include all members of the community some time ago. Charter would not extend its proposal to include about three dozen properties that are further out unless the town committed to providing funds above and beyond what the state offered to provide as part of the proposal. Board of Selectmen Chair Michael Vinskey went on to tell MassLive that Charter would not commit to a specific cost for extending a network to those additional homes.

In the words of Vinskey, committing to such an ambiguous arrangement, “would not be fiscally responsible.” No kidding.

Shutesbury authorized spending for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network once already. In 2015, folks at the annual Town Meeting voted to approve $1.7 million in bonding to pay for the infrastructure. They’ll take another vote this May for the debt exclusion authorization, as required by state law.

Community leaders estimate deployment to every property at approximately $2.57 million. Their share of the state grants that are to be distributed by MBI come to $870,000 for construction and professional services. Like the community of Leverett, Shutesbury intends to use a modest property tax increase to fund the infrastructure investment. 

A basic subscription for Internet access at speeds higher than those proposed by Charter would cost approximately $75 per month and would not include video services but would include Voice over IP (VoIP) services. A number of the local communities in the western Massachusetts region have dealt with sub-par telephone services due to aging infrastructure.

Shutesbury wants to include symmetrical Internet access speeds, so upload and download are equally fast, in order to encourage a participatory environment rather than just a consumerism. They understand that businesses need robust upload speeds and that an increasing number of potential residents want to be able to work from home. 

Charter’s proposal would offer several tiers, but its basic plan would cost $59 per month and would only offer speeds of up to 60 Mbps download and 4 Mbps upload. They plan on offering video even though an increasing number of subscribers are cutting the cord to opt for OTT video selections. As current and former cable and DSL Internet access customers know, advertised speeds are the upper end of the spectrum and typically the number of people using the system has an effect on whether or not subscribers ever obtain those advertised speeds.

The proposed Charter network wasn’t redundant and was only served by a single line through New Salem, which rightly concerned town leadership. Businesses that rely on connectivity for transactions or properties that choose VoIP could be completely cut off in the case of a single one cut. With their own FTTH network, Shutesbury could insist on a design to eliminate the possibility of complete failure.

Community leaders were especially concerned with relinquishing local control to a distant, profit driven cable provider. First, they did not want to face the possibility of rate increases with no accountability. Second, they felt that lack of regulation for VoIP and Internet access would give Charter or a subsequent provider the ability to raise rates, refuse upgrades, or provide shoddy service, defeating the meaning of the “no risk, no cost” option.

Read more about why Shutesbury chose to pass on Charter’s proposal in the elected officials' analysis of the plan.

According to Vinskey, the community is willing to invest local funds to get a system that will serve them well:

Vinskey said fiber would provide higher speeds, be more durable and redundant, and give the town local control. "We are committed to a proposal that incorporates hardware that will allow increased capacity well into the future," he wrote.

Throwing A Wrench In The Machine?

After several years of drama between the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the WiredWest broadband cooperative, powerful incumbent providers, and dozens of local communities, events finally seem to be moving forward. In February, MBI announced that itwould finally release funding for engineering and design so communities that wish to pursue the publicly owned network option can begin planning their projects. 

Over the past year, MBI has worked with local incumbents like Charter to establish proposals for the unserved and underserved western Massachusetts communities. MBI and the incumbents presented several proposals that would allow “no-cost, no-risk” options to towns like Shutesbury. 

The incumbents would receive state funding to build network infrastructure - typically cable or hybrid fiber coaxial cable - that the incumbents would own. Charter’s proposal to Shutesbury also included five other hill towns - Egremont, Hancock, Monterey, New Salem, and Princeton - all communities that have struggled with poor connectivity and have investigated the possibility of municipal networks. A number of the towns in the proposed Charter project, including Shutesbury, had planned on working with WiredWest. What will happen to the proposal now that Shutesbury has declined the offer is uncertain because that proposal was described as "unseverable." All towns considering offers from incumbents face a decision deadline of March 24th.

Charter would have qualified for $4,872,239 in construction grants to build infrastructure that they would have owned, had all six communities chosen to accept the offer. 

Comcast Proposal For Nearby 'Burgs

While Shutesbury has opted out of the Charter proposal, there is also a smaller Comcast proposal for several other communities, one of which included Shutesbury. Now that the town has officially declared that it wants to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, the future of that proposal may need adjustments as well.

Next In Shutesbury

On March 28th, Shutesbury will hold a special Town Meeting to provide updates to the community. Attendees will also be asked to vote on a measure to set the number of members of the Municipal Light Plant (MLP) board at five. The town established an MLP, the entity charged with administering municipal networks, six years ago when they first planned to develop their own infrastructure but now wish to separate it from the Select Board.

The town is currently engaged in its pole survey with make-ready work from the utility companies as the next required step. Along the way, they will need to secure an entity to operate and manage the network and an Internet access provider. WiredWest has expressed an interest in filling the role of operator for local communities.

Shutesbury hopes to start serving the community with fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via its publicly owned FTTH network by late 2018 or early 2019.

 

Pic of the Shutesbury Community Church by John Phelan (Own work) CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tags: shutesbury mamassachusettsmassachusetts broadband instituteFTTHchartergrantfundingnew englandwired westsymmetryeconomic developmentproperty taxleverettbondredundancyaccountabilitylocalmuni

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 21

March 20, 2017

California

Advisory panel revives San Francisco's citywide gigabit fiber plans by Colin Wood, StateScoop

San Francisco reveals latest #Resist effort - resisting sub-gigabit Internet access by Kieren McCarthy, The UK Register

Panel to study wiring San Francisco with high-speed Internet by Dominic Fracassa, San Francisco Chronicle

 

Michigan

Fiber Internet rollout in downtown Holland will be ready in September by Sydney Smith, Holland Sentinel

 

New York

New York City sues Verizon, claiming broken promises of FiOS coverage by Patrick McGeehan, New York Times

 

North Carolina

Cooper highlights needs for rural broadband in address to General Assembly by Amy Cutler, WNCN

 

General

Bills limiting broadband move forward in Mo. and Tenn. legislatures by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

National community broadband advocates such as Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance who worked recently to de-fang Virginia’s anti-municipal network bill, believe similar activities should occur in Missouri and Tennessee. “It’s essential for people to advocate publicly for local investments in broadband,” he said. “Communities need to enlist volunteers to counterbalance the incumbents because they have all the money in the world. Get citizens to go online to post on Facebook and Twitter, e-mail their legislators, talk to their church groups.”

Community group: AT&T 'digitally redlines' poor neighborhoods by Andrew Tarantola, Engadget

Google Fiber was doomed from the start by Susan Crawford, BackChannel

We do need fiber, everywhere. But we’re talking about basic infrastructure when we talk about fiber. And it is not in any private company’s short-term interest to make that basic fiber infrastructure — which amounts to a substantial upgrade to the last-century copper and cable lines with which Americans are now stuck — available to everyone at a reasonable price.

Image of the Highlander bull courtesy of FrankWinkler via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 244

March 20, 2017

This is the transcript for Episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher Mitchell speaks with Tom Stehn of West Plains, Missouri, on how the community is encouraging economic development. Listen to this episode here.

 

Tom Stehn: Businesses look to expand, move to other locations. There's usually five questions they ask, and one of them is always what kind of broadband do you have?

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. West Plains, Missouri, located in the south central part of the state, is situated in the Ozarks, and known for its beautiful terrain, forests, and vistas. Despite attracting outdoor enthusiasts, the community has suffered some economic losses in recent years and is taking steps to boost economic development. Recently the city began offering high quality connectivity to local businesses. Tom Stehn, City Administrator, talks to Christopher this week about the city's foray into municipal Internet infrastructure. Tom describes how the city's plan to update municipal services led them to discover that local businesses also wanted better connectivity. He describes the city's project, their plan, and how they're starting out slowly to address any challenges they encounter along the way.

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: Now here's Tom Stehn, City Administrator, of West Plains, Missouri, talking with Christopher about the community's municipal fiber project.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm talking with Tom Stehn, the City Administrator of West Plains in Missouri. Welcome to the show.

Tom Stehn: Thank you, glad to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: I've been following a little bit from afar what's happening in West Plains. Actually we've been doing a lot of interviews with folks all over Missouri, so I'm pretty excited to hear more about what you're doing in your corner of the state. Let's start off by discussing a little bit about West Plains is. Can you give a sense for people who haven't been through it?

Tom Stehn: Chris, West Plains is located in the heart of the Ozarks in south central Missouri. We have a population of over 12,000 people. Any given day, we're probably about 17,000 to 18,000. West Plains is home to a two year college, MSU, Missouri State University, West Plains, a 115 bed hospital, called Ozark Medical Center, and has been recognized on three separate occasions as being one of the best small towns to live in America by National Publications. We also have been recognized by a publication called Spark Asset as being one of the top eight places in Missouri to retire.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. It sounds like you're a bit of a regional center and a fairly rural part of the Ozarks there.

Tom Stehn: Yes we are. We're kind of the regional hub for south central Missouri. The closest communities to us, major communities, are about 100 miles away, and that's Springfield, Missouri to the northwest, and Poplar Bluff to the east.

Christopher Mitchell: If there's one thing I know about towns that are loved by nature lovers and that are off in the middle of, what we might say, nowhere, is that you often have problems with high quality Internet access. Is that one of the issues that you've been dealing with there?

Tom Stehn: Yes, it has. Chris, it all kind of started back in basically February of 2015. We were having a work session with council. As a small community, just looking at the city of West Plains individually, we were kind of behind the curve on some technology issues for our own staff. What we recommended to council was we would like to proceed and connect all city buildings to a fiber Internet, which therefore could help us with our police and fire, intranet, SharePoint or Cloud, and some other things. The question asked was, "Would you be able to serve businesses possibly if that comes to play?" We answered, "Yes." The media was there, and that kind of started the process. From February to about September, the community was letting our city council know that they did not feel they had reliable and affordable Internet. Basically around September, the council asked us to form a committee, which we formed a broadband study group. It was about 20-25 people, businesses, and chamber, Ozark Medical Center, and other people throughout the community, to look at this broadband issue. Basically in December, we made a presentation to city council that we needed to proceed. We made three recommendations. One was we would like to proceed with our fiber loop. It's a 14 mile loop around town and connect businesses as they show interest. Then, basically this year we would do some type of pilot to connect more businesses and possibly look at residential. The third would be at the end of this year we would give an update on what's working, what's not, costs, and where do we need to go from there.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that sometimes pops up when we're talking about these kinds of things as you're describing what you went through, is whether or not you, as a city administrator, really are thinking this is something you want to do. I'm just curious, as you're going through that process that you just described, is this something that you were excited to do, or is this something that you wish you didn't have to get into?

Tom Stehn: Chris, that is a loaded question, and a very good one. Unfortunately, at the City of West Plains, in the last two years, we've lost over 500 jobs. This fiber or broadband is a huge issues for companies looking towards the future. From that avenue, I was very excited about it. Of course, as a city administrator, I'm concerned, because if we would go completely to all businesses and residents, we're looking at a high price tag that is estimated at $15 million. What scares me the most is the customer service aspect of this. If we're going to do this, I want to make sure the city is successful and that we can respond at serving the customer service. That's the piece that really scares me the most.

Christopher Mitchell: That makes a lot of sense, and we hear that from a lot of communities, frankly. You described your plan. You're going to be serving, what we typically call the anchor institutions, your schools, presumably the police, and that sort of thing. You're going to make it available to businesses. Are you running this out of City Hall? Do you already have an electric utility or something? Who's going to manage it for the city?

Tom Stehn: Right now, basically we are running out of City Hall, and we're kind of doing it through our utility department. Last February, council did agree to add fiber as a utility for the city of West Plains, but we're really managing it right now out of our electric department and our IT department. That is one of the things that we're looking at, as we take some next steps, and that's one of the reasons for the pilots this year is, really getting a better gauge on what type of costs, what type of resources we need, equipment all that. We're still very much in the learning stage here. Chris, I'd like to clarify something. What we're talking about right now is dedicated Internet, which is available upon request. It's 25 Mbps up, 25 Mbps down, so it's a committed source where it doesn't fluctuate based on the number of customers. That's what we're offering to businesses right now.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and I think for people who aren't as familiar, that's going to be a higher quality service than they're used to getting, maybe if you get 25 Megabit from a telephone or a cable company. When it's committed, it's always there.

Tom Stehn: Yes, it is. That is correct.

Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about how you're financing the network. How are you paying for this first approach that you're laying out with the ring?

Tom Stehn: Well, right now, Chris, we're kind of funding it through the utilities department. The costs have been a little over $260,000. Our estimate right now if we would fund the whole thing is $15 million, which would include the residential and commercial service. We probably would be looking at some type of bonding in some fashion, either fully or partially. This would have to go to the vote of the people for the City of West Plains, but those are things we're still trying to work out as we test pilot our system.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say, it's funded through the utilities, is that a loan within the utilities system then?

Tom Stehn: In a way, yes. We're kind of borrowing from the electric department, and then as we add customers and all that, we're going to try to pay that back as much as we can.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, that's something that we've often seen. It's nice to be able to do those loans internally. In fact, in our experience, when you actually get into the accounting, it actually works out very well for the electric department to fund it that way.

Tom Stehn: Basically what we're also trying to do is, as we upgrade our lines or improve our lines with taking it from overhead to underground, we'll be putting electric lines in the underground, we'll be adding another conduit for fiber. So pretty much where we're doing those changes or where we're running electric to new services, we're bringing fiber along with it. If you have the potential of receiving our electric from our utilities, then you'll have the potential of fiber as well. We're saving on some of the labor costs there by doing it together.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and I just have to put in a big plug. Any time I hear of utilities going underground, I'm always thrilled, because I think, particularly if you're in a very scenic area, getting rid of those wires overhead really makes everyone's day better, even if they don't realize it, I think.

Tom Stehn: Yes, we just had a big project last year. What we consider, we call our Southern Hills Shopping District, that's where pretty much our commercial area is with Walmart and other shops. We work with them and basically put all the services underground in front of that. Aesthetically it makes it look so much better.

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely, so what are some of the results of the fiber project thus far, or I guess to some extent, what are you forecasting as well?

Tom Stehn: Chris, right now we have put out a survey to all our businesses just trying to better understand their concerns and gauge interest. Unfortunately we have not received back all those surveys, so we don't have the data where I can communicate with you on that. We are advertising that we have a dedicated Internet, 25 Mbps, 50 Mbps, and 100 Mbps, trying to get interest on what businesses would be interested in that. We will be trying to go forth, probably late summer, with a pilot of hooking up so many businesses and residents, where basically about a 90 day pilot, where we can really evaluate our system. Other things, later this year, first of next year, we can present to council our findings and kind of finalize our direction even more. Right now, Chris, we're still very much in the learning stage and trying to just better understand the concerns of our customers and their interests, but also trying to better understand what equipment, technology, and all that, that we need to use to move this forward, as well as resources.

Christopher Mitchell: I guess I'm curious, Tom, as there's a debate right now happening in Missouri at the state legislature over whether or not there should be more barriers for cities, is there anything you think the legislature doesn't really understand in terms of what your position is as a small community, maybe outside of the major cities in Missouri?

Tom Stehn: We have Representative Shawn Rhoads and Senator Mike Cunningham. There is a bill filed this year called Senate Bill 186, and if I recall Chris, this is the fourth year for a bill similar to this being filed.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes.

Tom Stehn: We've had several communications with our representative and state senator indicating that we really need that flexibility, especially for a small rural community, such as ourselves, because basically it could be our survival for economic development. We need to have that flexibility. I believe our rep and state senator totally understand our position and support our position.

Christopher Mitchell: Good. I'm glad to hear that. I know that there's been a split. That's why it keeps coming up is because the majority of the legislature recognizes that communities should be making these decisions locally, and I think nobody at the state level has a sense of what every community needs.

Tom Stehn: I feel with our state rep and senator, they have very much been involved in discussions with us and talking to us on our feelings. They totally understand that and realize the situation the City of West Plains has been in with losing so many jobs. They attended some of our meetings with the broadband study group. They're hearing from our citizens as well, and pretty much, they both said they would oppose any bill that comes through limiting our flexibility on this.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm very glad to hear that. Is there anything you'd like to wrap up with as we close up the interview?

Tom Stehn: West Plains is a great community. We have great citizens, and they're very progressive. We just want to do what's best for this community and move it forward and hopefully grow in the meantime.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that you're really smart to be examining what you can be doing and doing the pilot project, because it looks a lot of the rural electric cooperatives in both Arkansas and in Missouri, are seriously moving ahead. It's one thing if you have bad Internet access, and none of your neighbors have better Internet access, but if Missouri's going to be one of the first states that has really great rural Internet access across it, you need to make sure that you're there in the game at the same time.

Tom Stehn: We agree. Our citizens are driving us, and so we're responding to their needs. The other thing is as businesses look to expand, move to other locations, there's usually five questions they ask. One of them is always what kind of broadband do you have. We just want to make sure that we can provide that service, so they really consider the City of West Plains as they grow.

Christopher Mitchell: Great, thank you so much for your time today, Tom.

Tom Stehn: Thank you, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Tom Stehn, City Administrator from West Plains, Missouri, where the city just began offering high quality connectivity to local businesses. We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcasts@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Don't miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at islr.org. Thank you to Break the Bands for the song, Escape, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

Tags: transcriptmissouriwest plains moruralmunifiber-to-the-businesspreemptionstate laws

Ting's New Vid In Centennial

March 18, 2017

 

We reported last fall that Ting Internet was considering Centennial, Colorado, as its next Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) target area. In preparing for preregistration, they have developed one of their marketing videos that tries to capture the unique flavor of the place they intend to serve.

 Check it out:

 

Tags: centennialcoloradotingvideomarketing

Mission Viejo, CA, Embarks On Feasibility Study

March 17, 2017

At one time, it’s hilly geography earned it the label “undevelopable” in the 1960s, but now the planned community of Mission Viejo, California, is home to approximately 97,000 people in Orange County. The city with the suburban feel is looking at ways to develop even further.

A Blank Slate

The city has recently commissioned a feasibility study to examine how this suburban community can improve its connectivity to boost economic development and improve municipal efficiencies.

According to the city’s website, they want to:

      • Define the City’s strategic goals, objectives and roles of deployment for broadband network services;
      • Develop an understanding of community-wide need for fiber-based broadband;
      • Document fiber-based broadband demand in the City that leverages the City’s existing relationships with local businesses and stakeholder.
      • Assess the feasibility of using existing right of way, existing and new conduit pole lines and other assets to reduce the cost of FTTP deployments throughout the City;
      • Determine the benefits that a fiber network would provide in terms of economic development, education, healthcare, municipal government and the quality of life of its constituents, residents and visitors;
      • Determine how a fiber network could create added-value through economic efficiencies and cost reductions;
      • Determine the most feasible options to gain consensus on the path forward to achieve the City’s goals.

Like a number of other communities, Mission Viejo has existing fiber within the city that was deployed some time ago for its Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). The community doesn’t own or operate municipal gas or electric utilities. Incumbent Internet access providers are Cox and AT&T.

Business A Priority

Local businesses have been complaining about poor connectivity for years. Back in 2015, one of the community’s two large retail shopping centers found that Cox Communications didn’t see investing in a connection worthwhile. Merchants at The Village shopping center had to depend on DSL and were understandably irked:

“How can you run a business if you don’t have basic services like the Internet?” said Mary Kim, who owns Skimmer’s Panini Grill. “We can’t even run simple (credit card) transactions. We might as well just go back to using cash.”

The complaints inspired the idea for the city to provide Wi-Fi to the shopping center and city leaders integrated the initiative, along with many others, into its 2016 Technology strategic plan.

The results of the feasibility study should be completed this summer.

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