Short Policy Report on Munis and Education From ECS

Digital learning initiatives for K-12 grades and online coursework for college programs both require high-speed connectivity in school and at home. Policymakers cannot overlook this issue when discussing municipal networks.

The Education Commission of the States addressed connectivity in the classroom and at home in a short policy report, entitled Inhibiting Connection: State policy impacting expansion of municipal broadband networks in September 2016. 

Inside the Report

Co-authors Lauren Sisneros and Brian Sponsler provide an overview of how municipal network issues intersect with state education goals. The paper covers the major arguments for and against municipal networks as well as current state laws restricting those networks:

"As state education policymakers explore options to support postsecondary access and success, they may be well served to consider their states’ policy addressing municipal broadband networks."

They also highlight our Community Networks Initiative as a resource for policymakers to access fact sheets, case studies, and videos. 

Read the entire policy report on the Education Commission of the States' website

For more information on connectivity in schools in general, check out our Institutional Networks page.

Missoula Schools Set To Save With Self-Provisioning

The Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) plans to save $150,000 per year by investing in its own fiber infrastructure. Over a 20-year period school officials expect to save approximately $3 million.

Fiber For Education And Savings

MCPS will be the first in the state to self-provision its wide area network (WAN), the connections between district facilities. Right now, the school pays approximately $287,000 per year to lease its WAN connections and for Internet access; about $200,000 of that figure is dedicated to leasing the WAN.

School officials were already leasing lit fiber service when they began investigating options to compare cost and service. They also looked at leasing dark fiber, which would mean they would need to maintain the equipment to light the fiber themselves, and investing in an Indefeasible Right of Use (IRU). The IRU would give the school district the ability to use a designated number of fiber strands to use as they wished for a fixed period of time. 

As other school districts around the country are discovering, the best choice for them was to own the infrastructure and control it themselves:

"We're saving the district $3 million over the next 20 years in the general fund that will be able to be allocated to other things," Littman said of self-provisioned fiber. "It's more than $3 million, actually. The reason we say we'll only end up saving the general fund $3 million in the end is because we do have some annual maintenance costs to incur to protect the fiber."

Leasing lit fiber for the speeds MCPS needs would have cost $1.5 million to $3.1 million for only a five-year contract. A dark fiber 10-year contract would have cost about $3 million.

Right now, the school pays approximately $287,000 per year to lease its WAN connections and for Internet access; about $200,000 of that figure is dedicated to leasing the WAN. The school will still need to contract for Internet access from an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Lake Oswego School District in Oregon recently discovered the cost benefits from ownership, when they discovered they would pay 89 percent less by self-provisioning than by leasing from Comcast. School districts sometimes partner with municipalities and integrate school fiber assets for larger municipal fiber projects, as in the case of Ottawa, Kansas. Whatever the future holds for MCPS, they will be saving significantly and having an easier time budgeting without the threat of rising leasing costs that they can’t control.

E-Rate Cutting Cost To Community

The cost of the project is $3.2 million, but the district has applied for an E-rate reimbursement for $1.8 million. E-rate, the federal program that helps school pay for telecommunications costs, now allows schools to apply funding to infrastructure investment. Each district's reimbursement rate is based on the percentage of students considered lower-income. Last year, voters approved $158 million in bonds reports the Great Falls Tribune, and the plan was included in that figure; funding for the project appears secure.

Speed For Students

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The 21-mile, underground network will have an immediate impact, reports the Missoulian. The WAN will connect a total of 21 MCPS facilities when it’s completed and increase speeds from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 10 Gigabits (1,000 Mbps) per second - a 100x capacity increase on the WAN.

Even though construction is not complete, students are already feeling the impact:

In Sentinel High teacher Dan Lande's networking class, students conducted a speed test and found their network was pushing close to 1 gbps. He emailed MCPS' technology staff, shocked by the increased speed.

"We were able to renegotiate our agreement in the last nine months with one of our providers to increase speeds to 1 gbps," [Hatton Littman, director of technology and communication] said. "We had a signed contract with them three years ago, and the price we were paying for 200 [Mbps] was closer to the market price of 1 [Gbps].

"It was the geek version of watching a room full of kids watch the touchdown-scoring goal of the Super Bowl. They were so excited about seeing the data transmission speeds we could accomplish."

Bozeman Fiber Breaks Through Phase One

Downtown Bozeman businesses can expect fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via the Bozeman Fiber network within the coming weeks, reports the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Phase one is now complete.

Businesses Up Next

Bozeman City offices, Gallatin County offices, and local public schools are already connected to the open access network, which is owned and operated by the nonprofit entity Bozeman Fiber. There are already three Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating on the community network but local officials do not expect residents to have Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) Internet access just yet:

“Within a few hundred feet of where the fiber currently is will be available day one of commercial operations,” said Anthony Cochenour, president of the board of Bozeman Fiber. “As far as expanding the network and running under our own steam, (we want to) get business first, fill the coffers, then in years two and three make a bigger push into residential areas.”

Connecting to businesses first allows a community to test the waters, locate potential problems, and create interest in a community-based initiative. With the revenue generated by commercial customers and infrastructure deployed strategically throughout the community, it’s easier to expand to residential areas.

Standing On Its Own

In Bozeman, the $3.85 million in funding for the project came from local banks, so local officials feel especially compelled to create a self-sustaining and stable project. “While setting up Bozeman Fiber was important for economic development, we wanted it to be an agency that stands on its own. Bozeman Fiber is running its own show,” said [Bozeman economic development specialist David] Fine.

The Bozeman Fiber nonprofit plans to connect a local hospital in the near future and add another line west of town. They also hope to eventually host up to ten ISPs by the end of the year, increasing choice for consumers in the future.

Listen to Christopher visit with Brit Fontenot, Andy Cochenour, and David Fine during the Community Broadband Bits podcast episode #142 from March 2015. They discussed the community’s early approach as they were beginning the journey toward better connectivity.

Blair Levin Urges Repeal of North Carolina's Restrictive HB129

At a recent WRAL TechWire event, former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chief of staff Blair Levin urged North Carolina communities to seek a repeal of a state law that restricts local telecommunications authority, reports WRAL TechWire.

“When the new General Assembly returns to Raleigh, tell the assembly to tear down the law that prevents faster, cheaper broadband,” Levin said in a keynote address at the WRAL TechWire Executive Exchange in Wilson, N.C. Wilson's municipal Greenlight network is among the first in the nation to offer high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access.  

Currently, North Carolina law HB 129 prevents Wilson from expanding its Internet access service area beyond Wilson County and discourages other communities from investing in similar infrastructure. HB 129 was the subject of a legal battle when the city of Wilson (pop. 50,000) wanted to provide Internet access to neighboring Pinetops (pop. 1,400) and other communities beyond the limitations of the state law. They challenged the law, as did Chattanooga, which faced slightly different restrictions in Tennessee.

In February of 2015, the FCC ordered that Wilson could serve communities beyond the county borders, but both states appealed, challenging the agency's authority. The federal appeals court reversed that ruling in August 2016.

Under the provisions of the North Carolina law, Wilson could lose it's exemption to offer service at all, but by temporarily providing free telephone and Internet access to Pinetops, they protect their exemption. Two state legislators have vowed to take action and try to get the state law changed during the next legislative session.

Levin Praises Wilson

TechWire reported:

Levin credited Wilson with being the bright city on hill, when eight years ago it built a broadband infrastructure because private companies weren’t interested in doing it. Wilson’s success inspired other rural areas to want to duplicate their success, but state regulations now prevent that.

Levin also praised Wilson for not accepting the status quo but finding a way to get high-speed Internet connectivity to its community.

Besides Levin’s keynote speech, the TechWire program included a live "fireside chat" about Greenlight with Wilson City Manager Grant Goings and panel discussions.  WRAL TechWire’s Executive Exchange event was titled “Building a gigabit ecosystem.” WRAL TechWire serves the North Carolina Triangle region that includes the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. 

Levin has also been a guest on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, visiting us for episode #132 to discuss private vs. public ownership and episode #37 to talk about GigU.

The Only Way To Greatness

Levin knows that the future depends on connecting everyone. From his speech:

I do not want to suggest that having a gigabit network will solve all our problems. Addressing other challenges —from climate change to quality of education to the ability to attract an educated and diverse workforce—must be part of the mix.

But at some point in the near future the kind of network you have today, one that thousands of communities wish they had, will be the new table stakes for addressing both the challenges and opportunities of this century to build a better life for ourselves, our children, and the generations to follow.

And when those generations arrive, I hope that America is still great. I hope its residents and the world will see it as a shining city on the hill that we have aspired to be since our earliest days, that Reagan so eloquently described.

Predictions about the future, as Yogi Berra usefully reminded us, are always tricky. But this prediction is safe: America will not be great if it does not have great broadband. 

Read the full text of Levin's speech, titled: "Make America Great - with Great Broadband."

City of Lincoln Conduit Spurs FTTH, School Network Innovation - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 228

When we last spoke to people from Lincoln, Nebraska, about their innovative conduit program to improve Internet access, we focused on how they had done it - Conduits Lead to Competition, podcast 182. For this week and episode 228 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, we focus more on the community benefits their approach has led to.

We are once again joined by David Young, Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager in the Public Works Department. We offer a shorter background about the history of the project before focusing on the franchise they developed with local ISP Allo. Allo is building citywide Fiber-to-the-Home and has agreed to provision 15 VLANs at every endpoint. We talk about what that means and implications for schools specifically.

We also touch on permitting issues for local governments and David explains his philosophy on how to speak to the community about potential projects in an engaging manner.

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 30 minutes long and can be played below 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 mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

Community Fiber Network Diversifying Economy in Louisiana

Acadiana, the southern region of Louisiana, is seeing a resurgence of industry thanks in large part to it publicly owned fast, affordable, reliable network. Years ago, the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, built the LUS Fiber network to connect homes and business.

Now, LUS Fiber is helping to diversify Acadiana’s economy, which once almost exclusively relied on the oil industry. Fiber networks offer much potential for economic development. 

“The State of Business” in the Silicon Bayou

The October-November issue of the Acadiana Profile at MyNewOrleans.com ran an article on the changing landscape of Acadiana’s businesses. Author Kimberly Singletary provides an overview of three growing industries: technology, manufacturing, and healthcare. All three need access to reliable, high-speed connections.

Singletary spoke with One Acadiana, an economic development organization in Lafayette:

“We’ve had a long history of innovation in IT and software,” says Jason El Koubi, CEO of One Acadiana. “But it's still very much an emerging field.”

Due to what El Koubi describes as “almost a grassroots movement in cultivating IT over the years,” the Acadiana region enjoys a robust offering of internet services resulting in a competitive, cheap and extremely fast LUS Fiber network.

LUS Fiber offers affordable, high-speed connectivity to several software developers that have made Acadiana their new home. The network offers speeds of up to 2 Gigabits (2,000 Megabits per second). In 2014, LUS Fiber attracted three companies, bringing almost 1,000 jobs to the “Silicon Bayou.” Another company, Waitr, an Uber-like food delivery service, is planning to add an operations center to Lafayette, which will bring another 100 jobs to the community.

More Than Tech: Industries Need Connectivity

Better connectivity through municipal networks has also diversified other communities. For instance, the community network in Dublin, Ohio, helped attract Cardinal Health’s new research facility. Fiber connections are also important for manufacturing. In Chanute, Kansas, Spirit Aerosystems was attracted by the reliability of the city's community fiber network and built a new manufacturing facility.

Although the fiber network supports new opportunities, oil still contributes much to Acadiana’s economy. The energy sector accounts for nearly 45 percent of the local GDP (down from 72 percent in the 1970s). As Acadiana’s economy diversifies, those oil industry workers will not get left behind. Gregg Gothreaux, president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority explained in Singletary’s article:

“The oil industry is so diverse, with so many sectors that range from manual labor to deeply technical jobs, and everything in between ... those skills can fortunately translate into other industries. These workers are very employable.”

Learn More About Lafayette

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Check out our 2012 report Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks, which tells the stories of Lafayette, Chattanooga, and Bristol, Virginia, where publicly owned networks have improved access, created economic development opportunity, and greatly enhanced the quality of life.

Christopher also spoke with Terry Huvall, Director of Lafayette Utilities System, in March 2015 about the network's expansion plans; that was episode #144 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Back in 2012, we also spoke with John St. Julien for episode #19 and episode #94. He was one of the leaders of the movement to educate the community about the benefits of a publicly owned network. John passed away earlier this year, but his work to educate the people of Lafayette is still available online.

Community Broadband Media Roundup - November 14

Colorado

Dozens more Colorado communities rejected SB 152, clearing the way for municipal broadband by Andrew Kenney, Denverite

Another set of Colorado counties vote to toss restrictive law, permit municipal broadband by Kate Cox, Consumerist

Part of the reason broadband competition is so dang hard to come by for millions of us? Protectionist, industry-backed laws that make it either obscenely difficult or outright illegal to start a public network. Colorado is one of the states with such a law on the books, but voters in the Centennial State are once again saying they’d rather municipal networks had a chance.

MuniNetworks, which supports and advocates for communities to be able to build networks when they choose, reports that every single one of the 26 local municipal broadband networks on ballots in Colorado Tuesday passed with flying colors.

Golden, Lafayette and 24 Colorado communities vote yes on broadband Internet alternatives by Tamara Chuang, The Denver Post & True Viral News

Colorado communities preempt state muni broadband limits by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

Colorado voters oppose Comcast-written protectionist state law by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

Colorado voters continue to shoot down awful Comcast-written protectionist state law by Karl Bode, TechDirt

 

Minnesota

Otter Tail County's broadband speeds rank fourth-worst in MN by Maria Johnson, Wadena Pioneer Journal

 

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North Carolina

Gig East panelists: Broadband key to future growth by Brie Handgraaf, The Wilson Times

What's standing between rural North Carolina and reliable Internet service? by David Hudnall, IndyWeek

Former FCC exec: NC needs to loosen rules on local broadband by Jane Albright, WRAL - TechWire

 

Vermont

Lame broadband a direct hit on Vermont's livelihood by Bryan Alexander, Vermont Digger

Grant will help expand broadband access by Rolf Parker, Deerfield Valley News

 

General

Trump could spell big trouble for broadband, net neutrality by Karl Bode, DSL Reports

How election day can shape states' community broadband laws by Craig Settles, CJ Speaks

The time for community broadband champions to engage their newly and re-elected state senators and representatives is from November 9 until January 3. Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says, “Concerned citizens need to organize and speak out. This is a great time for meeting your state representatives by phone, email, or in-person because the big industry lobbyists work them constantly. Let legislators know this is an important issue and you are watching them.”

Communities are finally taking back their broadband destiny from big telecom by Jason Koebler, Motherboard Vice

More cities, towns, counties, and municipalities are building, or are considering building, their own high speed broadband networks. And many of these networks have been hugely successful, even though they’ve been faced with legal hurdles and public relations campaigns from incumbent providers.

Photo of the Colt courtesy of logesdo via Pixaby.

Estes Park, CO, Moving Ahead One Year After Opt Out Vote

Estes Park, Colorado, recently moved into the design engineering phase as it considers how to bring high-quality connectivity to businesses and residents.

One Step At A Time

With a $1.37 million grant from the Energy Mineral Impact Assistance Fund, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) is providing the funding to proceed with the engineering phase. Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority (LETA) is providing additional grant funding to extend the project further to include a wider geographic area for 911 and public safety purposes.

This phase of the project should be complete by next summer and will result in a shovel-ready plan. At that time, the Town Board will consider the information and decide how to proceed. The goal is to develop a network to make Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) capacity available to the Estes Park Light and Power service area.

So Far, So Good

Last fall, 92 percent of those voting on the issue chose to opt out of SB 152, the restrictive state law that prevents Colorado local governments from offering telecommunications services or advanced services or partnering with private partners to do so. Since then, they have hired a consultant to draft a feasibility study and examine model business options.

The community’s municipal electric utility already has fiber in place, and has the personnel, knowledge, and significant assets to ease the operation and management of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network utility. The consulting firm estimated that, if the city chooses to deliver services themselves, they should focus on Internet access rather than adding video and voice to the list of services. Estimates for the project are approximately $27 - $30 million.

For video of the community's Project Stakeholder Kickoff Presentations, check out their Broadband Initiative page.

NC Rural Electric Cooperatives Teach Model Collaboration

Throughout the October Broadband Communities Magazine conference, folks kept repeating this sentiment: some partnerships are smooth and others have rough patches. At the conference, we heard from several electric cooperatives who had partnered with other cooperatives to provide next-generation connectivity to their communities.

We specifically want to highlight the work of two North Carolina electric cooperatives: Lumbee River EMC and Blue Ridge Mountain EMC. They were both included in our report North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Each co-op took the bold step of building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout sparsely populated regions. At the conference, we were able to learn first-hand about their experiences.

Despite the Distance: Lumbee River EMC & HTC

HTC Chief Executive of Marketing Brent Groome described how the two cooperatives collaborated despite being nearly an hour away from each other. Their work together has involved a commitment to similar values and dedication to improving rural communities. (Lumbee River EMC’s representative was unable to attend the conference as much of the service territory had suffered flooding from the recent hurricane.)

Lumbee River EMC’s entry into Internet service brought fiber connectivity to southeastern North Carolina. The co-op provides electricity to more than 50,000 members. In 2010, the USDA provided Lumbee River EMC with nearly $20 million in funding to install fiber. A state law, however, imposes certain restrictions on electric co-ops and USDA funding. The electric co-op had to find another company with the drive and expertise to provide Internet service.

HTC, also known as Horry Telephone Cooperative, may be far from Lumbee River EMC’s boundaries, but shares the same commitment to community. The electric co-op reached out to HTC in 2013 while completing construction of the FTTH network. Lumbee River EMC had reached out to three other telephone companies, but eventually landed on HTC. After working out an Indefeasible Right of Use (IRU), HTC set to work and signed up the first customer in 2014. Although at times the co-ops had tension, they are both now focused on providing service to rural communities.

Borders And Blue Ridge Mountain EMC 

While HTC and Lumbee River EMC were learning to collaborate, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC had already built its own network and been involved in multiple partnerships. The co-op's Director for Economic Development Erik Brinke described how the service territory’s many challenges required the electric co-op to team up with other organizations.

Blue Ridge Mountain EMC's service territory runs along the border between Georgia and North Carolina. The cooperative’s 40,000 members are widely dispersed throughout the southern Appalachian Mountains. The terrain also made fiber deployment difficult, but it did not dissuade the electric co-op.

In 2002, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC brought fiber connectivity to the schools. Then in 2006, the co-op started the process of building their own FTTH network. Recently, the electric cooperative decided to partner with the Ellijay Telephone Company (ETC) to also provide voice and video services over the FTTH network. This was not an entirely new partnership. 

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Blue Ridge Mountain EMC had already collaborated with ETC, and several other neighboring organizations, to create the North Georgia Network. The group featured county governments and other electric cooperatives. With funding from several federal programs, they built a middle mile fiber network, connecting many rural schools and libraries that previously had shoddy service. The middle mile network improved connectivity for the whole region.

Cooperatives Overcome State Challenges

Several states, however, have legislation that can create complications for electric cooperatives' FTTH projects. For instance, the 1999 North Carolina law requires that electric cooperatives form a separate subsidiary that cannot receive financing from the USDA or the RUS (two common sources of cooperative funding). To navigate such challenges, Lumbee River EMC and Blue Ridge Mountain EMC had to collaborate with others who shared their values. Now, the electric co-op members have access to affordable, high-speed Internet service.

Holland, Michigan, Releases RFI, Responses Due Dec. 20th

Holland, Michigan, continues to pursue better local connectivity and hopes to find a private sector partner interested in using publicly owned fiber.

Recently, the city released a Request for Information (RFI) to reach out to potential partners who might be interested in working with the city for a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) project. Responses are due December 20, 2016.

Developing Over Time

The community of approximately 33,000 people deployed fiber-optic infrastructure in the early 1990s for power smart grid capability for their municipal electric utility. Since then, Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) has expanded the network to provide connectivity for local school facilities and wholesale Internet services to a few local businesses that require high capacity data services. Over the years, Holland has increased the network to about 76 miles of backbone fiber and more than 150 total miles, which includes laterals.

After engaging in a pilot project, HBPW released a study that analyzed possible business models and routes for a FTTP network designed to provide Gigabit per second (1,000 Megabits per second) capacity. Cost estimates for two separate options - one to provide service to all of HPBW’s service area and one only to premises within the city - came in at $63.2 million and $29.8 million respectively. The study assumed a “hybrid open access” model in which Holland would offer retail services but also lease excess capacity to private providers who also want to offer services to residents or businesses.

Looking At All The Options

Now that Holland has completed a study that provides one option, the community is interested in hearing what potential partners have to offer. The city seeks a partnership that:

  • Balances financial risk
  • Adopts an open access approach
  • Embraces a community wide FTTP deployment

They stipulate that there is to be no “cherry picking” because community leaders see high-quality Internet access on level footing with water and electricity - a utility that should be robust and affordable. From the RFI:

Citizens in low-income areas are particularly vulnerable, and broadband is important to help level the playing field. As the world becomes increasingly connected, broadband access is key to education, job training, and even access to one’s own medical records. We expect respondents to this RFI to be sensitive to this reality, and to be willing to work with the HBPW to develop creative solutions for supporting all members of the community. For the network to have the intended economic and quality-of-life impacts, we consider both cost and availability of service to be important. We encourage responses that address both to maximize service adoption. 

Unemployment is below the national average in Holland, where there is a healthy manufacturing sector. The city is trying to stay ahead of the curve, however, by taking steps now to ensure they retain the employers they have and establish and environment to attract new ones.

The HBPW has a long history of more than 130 years. The municipal utilities board provides electricity, water, and wastewater services. According to the RFI, they serve approximately 28,000 electric meters and 13,000 water meters.

Important Dates

  • November 1, 2016 – RFI issued
  • November 15, 2016 – Deadline for submitting letter of intent to respond to RFI
  • November 22, 2016 – Deadline for submitting questions 
  • December 6, 2016 – Responses to questions due (from the HBPW) 
  • December 20, 2016 – RFI responses due

Read the entire RFI online at the city website.