Port of Ridgefield Receives Grant for Feasibility Study

Ridgefield, Washington, a community of about 4,800 located about 25 miles north of Portland, is one step closer to establishing a dark fiber network for the Port of Ridgefield after taking advantage of state funding for community revitalization. On September 15, the state’s Community Economic Revitalization Board approved a $50,000 grant for the project, and the city has approved matching funds to initiate the planning process. 

“A unanimous decision by the board to award us the grant in the full amount we applied for is much appreciated,” Port of Ridgefield vice president of innovation Nelson Holmberg said. “It recognizes our disciplined approach and smart policy we’ve established as we work to ‘light up’ the Discovery Corridor.”

As planned, the dark fiber infrastructure would include the Ridgefield Port District (also called the Discovery Corridor), reaching the Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center and Washington State University Vancouver. While the port is not interested in operating the infrastructure, several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be able to compete to provide services through leasing space on the public fiber network.

Eugene Encouraged: Expanding Fiber Project

For the past year, Eugene has worked on a pilot project to bring high-quality connectivity to businesses in its downtown core. Now that community leaders and businesses have seen how a publicly owned network can help revitalize the city’s commercial center, they want to expand it.

The Proof Is In The Pilot

The project is a collaboration between the city of Eugene, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG), and the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB). As we reported last year, each entity contributed to the project. EWEB owns the infrastructure and uses its electrical conduit for fiber-optic cable, reducing the cost of deployment. EWEB also has the expertise to complete the installation, as well as manage and operate the infrastructure. They lease dark fiber to private Internet service providers (ISPs) to encourage competition over the shared public infrastructure. 

The pilot project brought Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity to four buildings in the pilot area. Vacancy rate for those four building is at zero while typical vacancy rate in Eugene is 12 percent. Matt Sayre of the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) notes that speeds in one of the buildings, the Broadway Commerce Center, increased by 567 250 percent while costs dropped by 60 40 percent. TAO joined the other pilot project partners in 2015.

The Search For Funding

The expanded project will cost approximately $4 million to complete. In June, the City Council approved a measure to make the project eligible for Urban Renewal Funds. Urban Renewal is another label for what is also known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which has been used in other places for fiber infrastructure. Bozeman, Montana; Valparaiso, Indiana; and Rockport, Maine, all used Urban Renewal or TIF to help finance their builds.

Eugene provides a helpful explanation for Urban Renewal on their website; they describe it in three steps:

Step 1 - The District is created . The value of ALL the properties inside the district is calculated. This becomes the frozen base amount of property tax for the area.

Step 2 - Redevelopment and Improvements. Public and private investments generate improvements. As property values increase, all new tax revenue above the frozen base amount go to the urban renewal fund to reinvest in the area.

Step 3 - District is retired. Once the City Council is finished investing in the area and the debt of the district has been repaid, the district is retired. Property taxes are distributed among the taxing districts.

Eugene offers more information about Urban Renewal and how the city applies it to help revitalize strugging areas. They also provide this illustration:

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The city will also apply for federal Economic Development Assistance Program Investment grant funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The grant they pursue requires a 50 percent match which will include Urban Renewal Funds and the value of EWEB’s existing electrical infrastructure. In July, Eugene and its partners submitted a pre-application and the EDA invited them to submit a full application; they hope to obtain approximately $2.1 million.

Residents, Too!

Businesses are not the only ones expected to benefit form the community investment. The expanded project area also includes several multi-dwelling units (MDUs), and the network will help improve the city’s free Wi-Fi:

Anne Fifield with the city of Eugene says three low-income housing projects are in the service area, and she has been in communication with the building managers. One of the goals of Eugene’s broadband plan, she says, is to “bridge the digital divide” and bring internet access to low-income households. An added bonus, she says, is users of the city’s free wifi should eventually see an increase in speeds.

If all goes according to schedule, the project will be completed in late 2017 or early 2018.

AT&T Makes Good On Threats, Sues In Nashville

AT&T lawyers filed suit against Nashville just two days after Mayor Megan Barry signed the new One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance into law. The Metro Council passed the proposal for the final time, and sent it on to the Mayor, on September 20th.

Seeking Out Streamlining

OTMR was proposed by Google Fiber, which wants to enter the Nashville market by deploying an aerial fiber network. In order to do that, they need to attach fiber-optic cables to utility poles around town, but the current process is cumbersome and will significantly delay the rollout. OTMR streamlines the procedure but would allow some one other than AT&T to manage the rearrangement of wires on all poles in the Nashville rights-of-way. The telecom giant owns about 20 percent of the poles in Nashville; the city’s electric utility, NES, owns the rest.

Three Arguments

AT&T seeks a permanent injunction to stop the city from enforcing the new ordinance. They argue the city does not have the authority to enforce the ordinance - that role is within federal jurisdiction through the FCC.

They go on to state that the Metro Council does not have the authority to pass the ordinance because, according to the city charter, only the Electric Power Board the has the right to pass regulations that deal with issues related to equipment, such as poles and the cable on them. 

AT&T also asks that the court grant a permanent injunction on the basis that they already have a contract with the city relating to AT&T’s wires that are on NES poles. The contract allows the company to handle its own wires and enforcing the ordinance would basically nullify that component of the contract.

What This Is Really About

AT&T filed a similar suit in Louisville earlier this year when the Metro Council there passed OTMR; that suit is still ongoing. Google Fiber wants to serve both communities and, in typical AT&T fashion, the telecom giant is attempting to use the courts to put a block on them. Even before the final Metro Council vote, AT&T threatened to sue if the measure passed. “The short answer is the One Touch Make Ready proposal Google has offered is a proposal that we expect would result in litigation,” said Joelle Phillips, President of AT&T Tennessee. Mayor Barry had asked that the ISPs and NES all work together to come up with an agreement but AT&T was determined to slow Google Fiber’s deployment, hindering its success.

Lawyers On Loan

Google Fiber has offered assistance to Nashville in the form of its legal team. Before the final vote, Google’s parent company Alphabet had already committed to helping out:

“Google Fiber is disappointed that AT&T has threatened to go to court in an effort to block Nashville’s efforts to increase broadband competition should the OTMR ordinance pass,” Fleur Knowlsey, senior counsel of Alphabet’s Access group, which manages Google Fiber, wrote in an email to the council on Monday.

“We believe the city's commonsense initiative will be upheld in the face of any litigation. We know, however, that litigation can be challenging and expensive. In the event of OTMR litigation, Google Fiber will therefore be glad to share the capabilities of its in-house and outside attorneys, including some of the most experienced and accomplished regulatory attorneys in the industry.”

Read the complaint here.

RVBA Gets Governor Kudos

Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe recognized the community of Roanoke and the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) for their work in bringing better connectivity to the region. McAuliffe presented the Governor’s Technology Award at the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) in Richmond on September 7th.

The award recognizes the project because it has improved government service delivery and efficiency. In addition to serving local government, the network provides high-quality connectivity for businesses, offering affordable dark fiber, transport service, and dedicated Internet service. Christopher spoke with President and CEO Frank Smith about the network in episode #221 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

In a Facebook press release, Smith said:

“We are honored  to be recognized by the state for the work we're doing to ensure the Roanoke  Valley continues to be a great place to live, work, and start or grow a  technology business. This  affirms that as a community we have found yet another creative way to ensure our  region is competitive on the national scene.”

Congrats to the RVBA and the Roanoke Valley!

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Virginia's Roanoke Valley Opens Fiber Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 221

Having few options for high-quality telecommunications service, Virginia's Roanoke Valley formed a broadband authority and is building an open access fiber-optic network with different options for ISPs to plug-in.

In addition to being our guest on Community Broadband Bits episode 221, Frank Smith is the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority CEO and President. We discuss their various options for ISPs to use their infrastructure and the various services their network is providing, including access to conduit and dark fiber leases. We also discuss why they formed a state authority to build their carrier-grade network.

Though they have had some pushback from incumbents - something Frank seems unphased by in calling the Authority "the new kid on the block" - they have built local support by building relationships with local organizations like Blue Ridge PBS.

Read all of our Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority coverage here.

Read the transcript of the episode here.

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

This show is 29 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."

Trust In Government: Strongest Close To Home

We have recently covered state laws preempting local control, especially in North Carolina and Tennessee. State governments are supposed to be “laboratories of democracy” and municipalities are sub-parts of the state. Preemption is ostensibly to prevent problems, but instead these state laws limit local governments’ solutions for ensuring better connectivity.

At the same time, people trust their local government more than their state government to handle problems. That’s the latest finding from Gallup’s most recent Governance Poll, and that makes sense for all of us following community networks.

It's no surprise that trust starts with local community leaders. We have spoken to a number of public officials that acknowledge that when you know your elected official - perhaps live down the street from them or run into them at the grocery store - it's much easier to know that they share your hopes for the community.

Polls, Trends, and Republicans

Gallup’s September 7th-11th Governance Poll found that 71 percent trust their local government to handle problems, but only 62 percent say the same about their state government. This continues a fifteen-year trend of people putting their faith in local government more than in state government.

Seventy-five percent of Republicans stated that they have a "great deal/fair amount" of trust in local government. (Compare to only 71 percent of Independents and 66 percent of Democrats.)  This corresponds with what we found in January 2015 while analyzing our data. Most citywide, residential, municipal networks are built in conservative cities. They trust local governments to solve connectivity problems when the big providers can't or won't deliver.

Municipal network voting patterns

Image of the graph on trust in local and state governments from Gallup

Community Broadband Media Roundup - September 26

Colorado

Centennial's gigabit Internet service now taking pre-orders by Tamara Chuang, Denver Post

Centennial was one of the first communities in the state to opt out of a 2005 state law known as SB152, which restricts municipalities from using taxpayer money to build broadband networks. By the time Centennial voted in 2013, the city of Longmont was alreadygetting its gigabit Internet service up and running. In Colorado, 71 cities and counties passed a measure freeing them to look into municipal broadband. Another 14 will try on the Nov. 8 ballot, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

 

Iowa

Community gets broadband update by Brittany Bierle, New Hampton Tribune

 

Kentucky

Kentucky's statewide broadband network moves forward with build-out by Government Technology News Staff

 

Massachusetts

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Municipal broadband for Harvard? by John Osborn, Harvard Press

 

North Carolina

Muni ISP forced to shut off fiber-to-the-home Internet after court ruling by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Severed connection: Pinetops to lose broadband by Halloween by Brie Handgraaf, Wilson Times

Brave telco giants kill threat of decent Internet service in rural North Carolina by Shuan Nichols, The Register

How a telecom-backed law and a recent court decision conspired to give a small North Carolina city infintely worse Internet by Aaron Sankin, Daily Dot

Pinetops has found itself caught in the crossfire in a pitched battle between activists who advocate for the government to fill in gaps in the nation's broadband infrastructure and telecom industry-backed lawmakers intent on preventing municipal broadband efforts from competing with incumbent private providers.

Town loses gigabit connections after FCC municipal broadband court loss by Karl Bode, TechDirt

 

General

Google pursues both fiber and wireless broadband ambitions by David Jones, E-Commerce Times

Despite appeals court decision, municipal gigabit momentum continues by Joan Engrebretson, Telecompetitor

Code & Conduit Podcast: What's next for muni broadband? by Lydia Beyoud, Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs

When judges pull the plug on rural America by Susan Crawford, BackChannel

Despite state barriers, cities push to expand high-speed Internet by Jen Fifield, Huffington Post & Stateline

Photo of the horse courtesy of Norja Vanderelst via pixaby

Rio Blanco County Fiber Project Forges Ahead

The Rio Blanco County's fiber optic and wireless network project continues to make steady progress with services likely available in some areas by January. 

County IT director Blake Mobley offered the update at a recent meeting of the Meeker board of trustees. Asked by the trustees when broadband access would be available to residents, Mobley said, “I think it’s very likely local will be lit in 2016,” according to a report in the Times Herald.

Work In Progress

Currently, Rio Blanco County is building out an open access network in the towns of Meeker (pop. 2,500) and Rangely (pop. 2,400) and fixed wireless system across a county-wide tower network. The county plans to build infrastructure to the curb and allow private providers to finish the connections to residential and business customers from curb to premise. Cost of the first stage is estimated at about $13 million. Rio Blanco County has a total population of 6,200 people over 3,000 square miles or an average of 2 people per square mile.

In a recent report to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Mobley said the fiber project will offer several tiers of Internet service, including 1 Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second or Mbps) symmetrical to residential and business customers in Meeker and Rangely. Gigabit service from Cimarron Telecommunications, one of the first providers to offer services over the county network, will cost $70 per month.

Meanwhile, most rural subscribers who are outside of Meeker and Rangely, will have access to Internet speeds of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload with no data cap over the fixed wireless system, Mobley told us.

The Rio Blanco County fiber network will provide residents and businesses in Meeker and Rangely an alternative to DSL service from Centurylink and Strata.

“The intent is to reach as close to 100 percent of rural addresses as we can,” Mobley told us. “This phase of the project is a work in progress.”

Grants, County Funds, Partner Contributions

Rio Blanco County is financing the stage 1 of the project from two grants from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA); a $2 million general appropriation to build the fiber network and a $1.66 million grant to erect 8 to 12 towers for fixed wireless coverage. The bulk of the remaining financing is coming from internal County funds and also some assistance from community anchor institutions and other partners, Mobley said in episode #158 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast last year.

Connectivity's Community Impact: Looking At The Numbers

People rave about next-generation connectivity’s possibilities in rural economies, but what does that mean for locals? A recent survey quantified the actual impact of a reliable high-speed Internet connection in an underserved area.

Central Minnesota telephone cooperative, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), released the results of an impact survey on their newest fiber Internet service customers. CTC had extended their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to an underserved area south of Brainerd, with funding from a 2015 state broadband grant.

A Positive for Small Businesses and Farms

The survey of the CTC customers in the grant footprint highlighted the importance of connectivity for the community. Forty percent reported that they could not live in a home without a reliable high-speed connection. At the same time, fifty-six percent of the CTC customers currently use their home Internet connection for work purposes.

The new connectivity had a positive impact on small businesses and farms. More than twenty percent of the CTC customers maintain a home-based business or farm, and thirty-six percent of them reported that Internet service reduced their overall operating costs. Meanwhile, nine percent of all the CTC customers surveyed stated that they plan to start a home-based business in the next few years.

Reaching Goals

These results are especially refreshing for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program. CTC received more than $750,000 from the program in 2015 to improve connectivity for telecommuting and home-based businesses in the area. 

The previously underserved area sits south of Brainerd and extends to Fort Ripley. To encourage survey responses, CTC offered the chance to win an iPad and sent reminder postcards and emails to their customers. Twenty-eight percent of CTC’s customer base in that area took the survey either online or over the phone

The Co-op Perspective

Blandin on Broadband recently published videos from a co-op panel at the 2016 Minnesota Broadband Conference. In this short video from the conference, CTC representative Kristi Westbrock discusses the survey and the role of rural co-ops in expanding access to high-quality Internet service. 

"We Just Can't Go Back In Time": Pinetops Calls For Repeal Of State Law

In a September 22nd press release, the community of Pinetops, North Carolina, called out their Governor as they lose access to high-quality Internet access. Read the full statement here:

A state law is forcing the termination of Gigabit Internet service to the small rural town of Pinetops, NC. Last week, members of the Wilson, NC City Council expressed their deep regrets as they voted to approve the city attorney’s recommendation to disconnect Wilson Greenlight services in Pinetops under the North Carolina law commonly known as H129 (S.L. 2011-84).

Wilson was able to bring fiber-to-the-home Gigabit service to our town in April 2016, after the FCC preempted H129 on the grounds that it is anti-competitive and creates barriers to the deployment of advanced telecommunications capacity. Under Governor Pat McCrory, North Carolina challenged that ruling in May, 2015 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and won a reversal last August.

Members of the Pinetops community are particularly distressed because the Gigabit service Wilson was delivering enabled Pinetops to compete with urban areas of North Carolina that get such Gigabit services from Google Fiber, AT&T, and Frontier. In Pinetops, in contrast, other sources of Internet service don’t meet the federal definition of broadband and are insufficient to support small business, home-based telework needs, and homework for students. The Gigabit network enabled the Town to begin developing new economic development plans to attract knowledge workers from nearby Greenville and Rocky Mount. That strategy is now impossible in light of the imminent disconnection of Gigabit services.

Town Commissioner Suzanne Coker-Craig operates a small screen printing business that depends on Wilson Greenlight’s hyper-fast upload speeds.  Commissioner Coker-Craig, with her colleagues in Pinetops government, passed a resolution in early September detailing the devastating economic impact this disconnection will have on their rural community. “H129 is now only hurting North Carolina’s rural communities.” the Commissioner stated. “Our urban areas are getting their Gigabit from the likes of Google. This is not a positive move forward for Eastern North Carolina in any fashion and we must lay the blame and the resolution at the feet of our Governor and state legislators” who are responsible for the anti-Gigabit law.

Pinetops Mayor Burress met last week with Governor McCrory’s staff, and handed them the Town’s letter and a Town resolution asking for repeal of the law that is forcing the Wilson City Council to cease service to Pinetops.  

Commissioner Coker-Craig reported that she has set up a Facebook page ​called “NC Small Towns Need Internet Access,” that directs residents on how to call their legislators and candidates who are running against them. “We are holding the Governor and our state legislature responsible for keeping this law in place, by challenging the FCC and knowing this would be the effect of a win. This law is not about protecting taxpayers, it’s about preventing competitive choice, and now it’s only hurting our rural areas where those monopoly companies could care less about bringing us 21st Century Internet.”

“We just can’t go back in time,” said Coker-Craig. “That does not represent sound social or economic policy,” the Mayor’s letter states.

​The Wilson Times reports that the Town's fiber network will be disconnected by Halloween.​