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Highland Telephone Cooperative Gains Gigabit Recognition

The NTCA-Rural Broadband Association this month awarded the Highland Telephone Cooperative (HTC) of Sunbright, Tennessee, its national certification as a “Gig-capable” provider, reports the Independent-Herald.

HTC serves Scott and Morgan counties in Tennessee and McCreary County in Kentucky and is now one of 85 Gig-certified company/cooperative providers in the nation. The certification recognizes rural communities that are at the cutting-edge of broadband technology, offering Internet service of up to at least 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Megabits per second or Mbps). The association launched this national campaign in the fall of 2015. 

Years of Planning

HTC completed its $66 million fiber-optic network within the last year; 1 Gig capacity Internet service is available to all 16,5000 members reports the Independent-Herald.  The six-year project upgrades the cooperative’s old copper network. Highland Telephone CEO Mark Patterson: 

"This gigabit certification caps off years of careful planning, investing and building a brand-new fiber network in our area...All along, we knew our commitment was worth the effort so our friends and families in this area could keep their rural lifestyle without sacrificing world-class connectivity."

The upgrade included more than 2,700 miles of fiber by the cooperative's crews and contractors — enough to stretch from Highland's office in Sunbright to Vancouver in British Columbia, the Independent-Herald reported.

"Our area lacks interstates and many economic advantages that other communities enjoy, and we've suffered through some extremely high unemployment in recent years," Patterson said. "An asset like a gigabit-capable network can be our competitive edge when it comes to bringing in industry and growing existing businesses."

85 Gig Networks

To date, the NTCA-Rural Broadband Association has recognized 85 companies and cooperatives from 26 states as Gig-capable. The list includes 26 recipients in Iowa and six from Minnesota. Among the Minnesota honorees is Paul Bunyan Communications headquartered in Bemidji.  

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Across the nation, more and more telecom cooperatives are helping bring high-speed connectivity to rural America. They are filling the void created by large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who generally consider it financially unattractive to make major broadband investments in sparsely populated areas.

The latest FCC annual broadband progress report estimates 34 million Americans, or about 10 percent of the nation’s populace, lacks access to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up service, the agency’s current definition of what constitutes basic broadband service. Those numbers likely understate the true situation, however, as they are based on form 477 data provided by ISPs and national providers often overstate their coverage based on census blocks. For more on Form 477 data, check out episode #224 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher interviewed our Research Associate H.R. Trostle, who studied mountains of data for her report on connectivity in North Carolina.

Cooperatives Work!

In October, we noted that it was National Cooperative Month and highlighted a long list of cooperatives now providing next-century Internet connectivity. We expect that list to grow as rural communities recognize the value of cooperatives in bringing better connectivity to rural areas.

Gigabit Speed in Red Lake Nation in Minnesota

Native American communities throughout the United States have rather bleak figures when it comes to Internet access. That’s about to change.

In Minnesota, Red Lake Nation now has access to some of the fastest Internet service in the entire country. The telephone cooperative Paul Bunyan Communications has extended its GigaZone, offering a Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second Internet service, to the tribal nation. 

Future Focused

In Red Lake Nation News, Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki, Sr., described the benefits of this new high-speed Internet access: 

“Having access to fiber Internet services is vital to our rural economy and impacts so many aspects of life. To start a new business, find a good job, or get a high quality education you need a quality high-speed Internet connection. The GigaZone is on the cutting edge of technology and enhances the Red Lake Nation's unique assets, including a large workforce and the Red Lake Nation College, for economic development and business expansion. We're excited about the positive impact this will have on our Tribe now and well into the future."

The Gigabit service will be available in the communities of Red Lake, Redby, Little Rock and Ponemah. The Red Lake Nation is home to about 13,000 Ojibwe members, and is the only “closed reservation” (meaning that the land is held in common) in Minnesota. The nation is a model of self-reliance: they just announced the launch of an all-solar electricity project.

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The high-speed Internet service is provided by Paul Bunyan Communications based out of Bemidji, Minnesota, which is about 45 minutes south of Red Lake. The telephone cooperative has built out one of the largest Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks in the United States. Read more of our coverage of Paul Bunyan Communications; we expect to see even more from this community focused rural cooperative.

An Expanding Movement

The Red Lake Nation is the latest community to work with a rural cooperative to get Internet access for the 21st century. Cooperatives are quickly becoming a prime source of high-quality Internet access for rural residents and businesses. When national providers won't invest in less populated areas, cooperatives are taking up the challenge. We've compiled a list of approximately 200 rural telephone, electric, and broadband cooperatives that are now offering Gigabit connectivity, mostly in rural areas. That list is expanding as rural America refuses to be left on the sidelines and cooperatives help their communities to stay competitive.

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."

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.

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 227

This is episode 227 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Chief Information Officer Paul Kronberger of Madison, Wisconsin, explains how the fiber network pilot project will help bridge the digital divide. Listen to this episode here.

Paul Kronberger: We specified we wanted to keep the costs very low and to remove as many barriers as possible for individuals to obtain this service.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 227 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Madison, Wisconsin, has embarked on a pilot project with multiple purposes. As the community seeks ways to improve connectivity citywide, they will use the project to collect data about benefits of providing services to the community. Simultaneously, the project will bring fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to areas of the city with the highest concentration of low-income households. In this interview, Chris talks with Paul Kronberger, Madison's Chief Information Officer, who offers more details about the Connecting Madison pilot program. In addition to describing the aims of the project, Paul explains how the city is using existing assets and how they're contending with restrictive state law as they embark on their partnership with a private ISP. Now, here's Chris with Paul Kronberger, Chief Information Officer for Madison, Wisconsin, discussing the pilot program to help bridge the city's digital divide.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another addition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today, I'm speaking with Paul Kronberger, the CIO of Madison, Wisconsin. Welcome to the show.

Paul Kronberger: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm also glad to have you here. It's a bit of a rivalry time between Minnesota and Wisconsin, but I'm happy to learn more about what's happening over there. For people who aren't familiar with Madison, the home of incredible football and basketball teams, can you tell them a little bit about your city?

Paul Kronberger: We're the state capital of Wisconsin. Our city has a population of about 250,000 or so. We're also home to the main campus of the University of Wisconsin. I mean, there's quite a few other four-year campuses and two-year campuses, but we're the largest, the central UW campus. It's a beautiful city. We're nestled between two good-sized lakes. The central part of the city is actually an isthmus. We have a diverse population and quite a few people who are in the technology area. We have some major government institutions, including the seat of state government. Many of the state agencies are centered here. We have the city of Madison, Dane County, the Madison school district, one of the largest technical colleges here, and another college called Edgewood College, which is a private institution, but it has a pretty diverse and large student body as well. We also are the home to some major corporations, including Epic Systems, which you probably know is a major healthcare IT provider, also American Family Insurance, Cuna Mutual, and a number of other corporations.

Christopher Mitchell: I think you're also home to one of the most interesting of the digital divide efforts that we've seen around the country, where the city has picked four neighborhoods and is building out a rather robust fiber optic network. That's the main thing we're going to talk about. We'll talk a little bit about future plans or discussions around a citywide network, but what can you tell us about the goals of this four-neighborhood network?

Paul Kronberger: We have been discussing the issue of the digital divide for some time, and there's been growing awareness the last few years. We've had a number of discussions with the mayor and other city officials. The mayor moved ahead on this by establishing a city committee that would help determine a direction to go in, and the committee is called the Digital Technology Committee. It has nine members. Two of them are alders, our elected officials, and then the other seven are citizen members. Then I and my staff staff the committee. One of our members is Barry Orton, who is a professor of telecommunications from the University of Wisconsin, I think pretty well-known in the broadband area. He's been a major contributor and part of the effort. In fact, he chairs a subcommittee called the Citywide Broadband Subcommittee. In the early discussions on the committee, we were trying to work through how can we address the digital divide, and discussions ranged in many different directions. Finally, we settled on an idea of doing a pilot project to wire one or more of some of the challenged neighborhoods in Madison, and we went through a selection process where basically we're looking at a number of areas. Madison already has some predefined areas called NRTs, which stands for Neighborhood Resource Team areas, and these were defined years ago as areas that need more attention from the city and more intensive, coordinated effort from the city. Our primarily-challenged neighborhoods have some factors that make them challenged. The committee went through a process and ended up selecting four areas for a pilot project. We weren't sure how to move forward on that, so we did a request for information to get some ideas on what vendors would propose like, "How would you do a pilot project? What technologies would you use? Wireless? Wired?" et cetera. We learned something from that, and then we moved ahead within RFP, a more formal procurement. Our committee, in discussing this, they felt that wireless was perhaps a better option. We structured our RFP to say that a wireless proposal would be preferred, but we were open to other technologies and proposals and would like to see whatever the responders -- whatever they submitted. As we received the responses and then evaluated the RFP, information from the different vendors and such, what came to the top was a solution from a local firm that was for a fiber solution. Basically, leverage the city's extensive fiber backbone and extend that network into each of these four pilot areas and basically have a Fiber-to-the-Premise in those areas. Then the vendor would actually provide the Internet services, and we specified we wanted to keep the costs very low and to remove as many barriers as possible for individuals to obtain this service. At this point, we're moving ahead with offering low-cost but high-speed Internet service for $10 a month. No gimmicks. No need to add on extra services or bundle, unless you wish to, but you don't have to.

Christopher Mitchell: Is that available to anyone that lives within the area, or does one have to qualify by having a certain kind of income or a child in the school system or something like that?

Paul Kronberger: It's available to every household within those defined areas, their defined geographic areas. We actually have it down to the individual address level.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. I found it really interesting. You mentioned the city's existing fiber network, which has a very cutesy name, MUFN. I'm assuming the first word is Madison.

Paul Kronberger: Actually, it's not the first word.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, it isn't?

Paul Kronberger: Metropolitan. It's an acronym. It stands for Metropolitan Unified Fiber Network.

Christopher Mitchell: Ah, okay. I got those other three letters right. The private provider extended the network, but that fiber, was that entirely paid for by the city of Madison, or was that a partial where the city kicked in some and the provider kicked in some also?

Paul Kronberger: For the pilot project, the city is paying the capital costs of running that fiber to each of those households or apartments.

Christopher Mitchell: That's the entire cost, and then the city will also retain ownership of that, right?

Paul Kronberger: Yes. That's the plan. The stated purpose of the pilot project -- and I'm sorry. This is more background, but you may be aware of a Wisconsin state statute which places a number of requirements on any municipality that is thinking about a broadband service for its residents. One of the requirements is that, before any service is actually instituted, the city do a cost-benefit analysis and hold a public hearing and a number of other requirements such as that. The stated purpose of our pilot project is to gather data in order to do the cost-benefit analysis. We intend to move ahead with this pilot project, gather that data, and then have that available, but it also will be a very good learning opportunity for how services could be provided to the public.

Christopher Mitchell: Is this envisioned as a temporary project? If it is, I'm curious what happens at the end of that period to the fiber that's already been created.

Paul Kronberger: The city would take ownership of that, but in parallel with that, we are moving ahead with a major citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise project. It's really in parallel, and I think as we learn more, as we move along on that, that'll help determine or answer some of the questions about what becomes of the pilot infrastructure and will that continue to be used and be incorporated into, say, a citywide infrastructure.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that the state law also does is that if you became a service provider, there are some pretty stringent accounting requirements that I think are designed to basically make it infeasible for you to offer services. Is that part of the reason that you're so focused, that you're working with a private provider in providing this service?

Paul Kronberger: That's part of it. We take a step back, and we look at, "What does this mean, to be providing this type of service?" As an information technology department, I am not staffed up to do that. I do not have staff to provide those customer call services or help desk services. We really know that we have to work in partnership with the private sector to accomplish this. With our pilot project, we're doing that. We have the private sector extending that network, and they're going to actually provide the actual service and bill the residence for that service.

Christopher Mitchell: Is ResTech expecting that they will break even or make the profit that they may need solely through selling customers services?

Paul Kronberger: They're doing this as a for-profit corporation, so they would not be engaging in this if they didn't expect to make some money from it.

Christopher Mitchell: I guess the question, then, is for people -- Frankly, I think there's other cities that are going to be interested in doing similar things or, at the very least, evaluating if they would be able to. I'm curious. Does ResTech have to offer a lease payment to the city for using the fiber? What's their arrangement with the city in that regard?

Paul Kronberger: Right now, no. They do not. They do not lease the fiber. We're providing the money to build that network out, and they are not leasing it from the city, but they will utilize it and then complete the installations within the individual residences. Again, it's designed as a pilot project to help make this happen and move along and then give us the opportunity just to see what we learned from this pilot.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. There's a lot of cities that have had to figure this all out just using paper and math ahead of time. I think actually doing it will give you a much better sense of the true costs and opportunities. One of the things that I think is noteworthy, I think there's a growing trend where, 10 years ago, almost every city that got involved in this said, "Well, we're going to invest in fiber, but that fiber is going to have to pay for itself." Now, it seems like Madison, you're really treating this as infrastructure and as a digital divide effort where your number one goal is to provide social benefit. It's not to make sure that the fiber can maximize its value.

Paul Kronberger: That's correct. We're really looking at the social aspect of this, how to meet some of these needs for people who are affected by the digital divide.

Christopher Mitchell: If I can just ask a final question, since the fiber installs have been happening for some time, have there been any early lessons or big success stories, people being really excited about this available in their neighborhood? What's the reaction from the community been?

Paul Kronberger: It's been positive. I should mention other aspects of the projects. The pilot project for the digital divide is a three-pronged effort. The first is the actual network itself, to get that network to each residence. The second prong is education, digital literacy education. We've contracted with a local non-profit who is, and is going to continue, providing training and basic computer training for people and provide some basic help desk, rate-fixed types of services, and also the installation of computers for the residences. Then the third aspect of it is the computers themselves for the people. What we did is we partnered with another local corporation, actually one of our vendors, who really stepped up to the plate and coordinated the donation of computers from some of the large corporations in the area. Then they're processing any reconditioning that's necessary on those computers and are working hand in hand with our educational non-profit to get those deployed to residences as their services come online. We've been fortunate that several of the corporations locally have donated computers. We actually, at this point, have sufficient numbers of computers, and they're late-model, high-end, corporate computers that are perhaps two years old to three years old that are being refreshed by the corporations, and they're donating these to us. The equipment that's going to go out to the participants in the pilot project, it's going to be decent equipment. That's a three-pronged effort that's part of the project.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. It sounds somewhat similar to a project called Eliminate the Digital Divide and something that I think is a good model for communities anywhere, especially those that have large corporations locally that may have these recent computers that are nonetheless outdated for their needs. Then I just wanted to finish up by noting that you mentioned a citywide potential project. You have a feasibility study that I looked at, doing a citywide dark-fiber-type approach. We will look forward to following any progress there and hopefully talking with you as you move forward. I certainly hope that you're able to make it work out.

Paul Kronberger: Thank you. We're very hopeful about it, and we are really moving it to the next phase where we are planning to engage some outside resources to help us develop an implementation plan. When that's ready, we will then submit that to our city council. It would include options or recommendations for how to finance this and how to move forward on this. There's a very big decision point that'll come up next year for our city council on where we go with Fiber-to-the-Premise citywide, but we're not at that point yet.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, I look forward to seeing what happens, and I just want to salute you for taking a novel approach and just going out there and figuring out how to get fiber to low-income areas and to gather the data that you ultimately need to figure out how to make it work citywide. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.

Paul Kronberger: You're welcome, and thanks for having me.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Chris talking with Paul Kronberger, Chief Information Officer from Madison, Wisconsin. For more coverage, follow the Madison tag on MuniNetworks.org. We'll continue to follow developments as the project grows. Remember, we have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. You can also follow MuniNetworks.org's 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 you're out to get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thanks to the group mojo monkeys for their song “Bodacious,” licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 227 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

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.

Rural Electric Co-ops Power Up a Gig in Pacific Northwest

Rural electric cooperatives are providing next-generation connectivity. In Oregon a consortium of electric cooperatives called LS Networks built a middle mile network a few years ago and now are taking the next step with last mile connectivity.

LS Networks’ Connected Communities program hopes to bring last mile fiber connectivity to 25 communities in rural Oregon and Washington. Internet access will officially be available in early 2017 in some communities. Depending on the needs of each community, the solution could be Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), or fixed wireless using the fiber-optic network for backhaul.

Connected Communities

The project started in July, but LS Networks only now made the official announcement. The Connected Communities program asks folks to nominate their community to be connected by filling out a short form. LS Networks will offer two types of monthly plans [pdf]: 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $40 and a Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) for $70. Customers will also be able to purchase voice service for an additional $15 per line and 50 cents per phone number.

Currently, the small, northern Oregon town of Maupin is the only official Connected Community. LS Networks is already at work building out a fiber connection to nearly all of the 400+ homes and businesses in the community. On November 9th, Maupin residents can take part in a town hall meeting at the South Wasco County High School to learn more about LS Networks’ plans and the Connected Communities program.

Consortium of Cooperatives

LS Networks should be well prepared to handle such a large-scale fiber network project. The consortium of electric cooperatives and the Coquille Tribe came together around 2005 to provide middle mile connectivity. At first, the consortium focused on their region of northern Oregon, but LS Networks’ footprint quickly grew to 7,500 route miles of fiber. The network spread throughout the Pacific Northwest, covering rural regions of Washington, some areas of northern California, and even parts of Idaho. 

If all goes as planned, rural homes and businesses in Oregon and Washington will soon have access to affordable next-generation technology. In the press release, Director of Sales and Marketing Bryan Adams highlighted how LS Networks continued to stay true to its cooperative roots

“Our priority has always been to provide service before profit and to use telecommunications as a tool to bridge the communities that make the Pacific Northwest great — on both sides of the Cascades.”

To learn more about the Connected Communities program, check out the LS Networks Connected Communites information website.

Paul Bunyan Communications Keeps Expanding Gigabit Territory

Paul Bunyan Communications in Minnesota reports it has expanded its “GigaZone” Internet service territory to Turtle River, Puposky, and Tenstrike and to additional areas of Bemidji.

More than 2,800 additional locations now have access to, among other services, Internet speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) following the recent upgrades to its fiber-optic communications network, the Bemidji-based co-op notes.  

"Over the next several months we'll be activating the GigaZone in many more areas,” Gary Johnson, CEO of Paul Bunyan Communications, said in a company statement. "We will continue to do as much as we can to bring the GigaZone to all our members and the communities we serve as fast as we can." 

GigaZone Locations Top 20,000 

The co-op said its GigaZone service is now available to more than over 21,600 locations. Previous areas served include rural Park Rapids, Lake George, Trout Lake Township east of Grand Rapids, most of Grand Rapids, Cohasset, and LaPrairie.

The co-op has an online map showing the active areas of the GigaZone as well as future areas that are set for construction. The co-op said that members who subscribe to GigaZone Broadband can also add PBTV Fusion and/or low cost unlimited long distance phone service.

Co-op Wins Award In 2015

About a year ago, we reported that Paul Bunyan Communications won the 2015 Leading Lights National Award for Most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service. The northern Minnesota cooperative beat out both local innovative local firms like C Spire and national companies like Google. 

We first reported on Paul Bunyan Telephone Communications in 2009. The co-op began expanding its existing fiber network in 2007, but Gigabit connectivity did not become available to members until earlier in 2015. Upgrades began in Bemidji and will continue to include the cooperative's entire 5,000 square mile service area. As new lines are installed, older lines will also be upgraded to fiber in a makeover of the entire network. 

The cooperative first offered Internet access in 1996 as Paul Bunyan Telephone. In 1999, Paul Bunyan began infrastructure upgrades that enabled it to offer phone, high-speed Internet access, and digital TV. The network expanded incrementally and continued to implement technological improvements. In 2005, the cooperative expanded with fiber technology for the first time. In 2010, Paul Bunyan Telephone changed its name to Paul Bunyan Communications.

Fresno Looking For Partners: RFQ Responses Due Nov. 30th

Fresno, California, is looking for one or more partners to bring Gigabit connectivity to the entire community. City leaders recently released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to send out the call for interested entities. Letters of interest are due on November 14th and statements of qualifications are due by November 30th.

Leaving No One Behind

According to the RFQ, the community is experiencing growth in the tech sector and want to support the tide by improving Internet infrastructure throughout the community. In addition to serving new businesses for economic development, the network will connect community anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and libraries. 

As part of their goals, Fresno states explicitly that they want to ensure low-income families and individuals will be able to afford high-quality Internet access. In an article in the Fresno Bee, city leaders sate that they envision rates for some residents at around $10 per month for either a wired or fixed wireless connection.

Using Existing Assets

Chief Information Officer Bryon Horn says that the city has approximately 90 miles of fiber in place in the northeast, northwest, and southeast regions of town for traffic control. The southwest area of town, however, is plagued by gaps in service. In the RFQ, the city suggests that any solution could use and expand on the existing publicly owned fiber. An increasing number of communities are taking advantage of the extra capacity available in fiber installed for traffic light synchronization. Aurora, Illinois, used its traffic fiber as a starting point to build out OnLight Aurora. More recently, Centennial, Colorado, is encompassing its traffic-related fiber-optic network into a project that will allow the city to partner with Ting for Gigabit connectivity to the community.

Fresno also has dig once policies in place and 104 miles of telecommunications conduit that can be used for the project, which will facilitate any project.

Fresno

Approximately 520,000 people live in Fresno, and city leaders estimate the population will grow by about 7 percent within the next five years. It is more than 112 square miles in the San Joaquin Valley where there is a $26 billion agricultural industry. Even though much of our country's food grows there, it is also one of America’s fastest growing tech job centers. Both sectors of the economy are increasingly dependent on high-speed connectivity.

Along with large employers, the school district serves 73,000 students, more than 11,000 employees, in 97 schools. They recently launched a technology initiative. Higher education in Fresno supports more than 80,000 students at California State University and four other community college and universities.

One Of Several Investments

According to the RFQ, the proposed investment in better connectivity it one of several community improvements. They are also developing several public transportation projects and a water infrastructure project to make the city “drought-proof.”

Read the RFQ at the city website.

BT Brings Free Wi-Fi To New Burlington Transit Center

Burlington Telecom is teaming with Green Mountain Transit to provide free high-speed Wi-Fi to commuters and GMT employees at the new transit center, reports Vermont Business magazine. The bus transit center opened on Oct. 13.

The magazine noted:

“A reliable high speed Wi-Fi connection on the Downtown Transit Center platform will improve the customer experience, allowing passengers to use their wait time more effectively as they work, connect with friends, or download an e-book to enjoy on the ride.”  

Burlington Telecom general manager Stephen Barraclough told Vermont Business:

 “The opening of the new Downtown Transit Center is a much needed development for the many who commute to and from Burlington daily, and provides an exciting opportunity to highlight Burlington’s powerful gigabit infrastructure as an accelerator for economic, educational and community benefit.” 

Burlington Telecom joins a growing list of U.S. communities that are making free high-speed Internet connectivity available at public transit stations and airports. 

Free Wi-Fi At The City Gateway

In April 2015, we noted that LUS Fiber began sharing its municipal Gigabit network with travelers at the Lafayette Regional Airport in Louisiana. Free Wi-Fi is available at the airport supported by LUS Fiber, allowing guests to check email, post to social media, and browse the Internet.

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"We know that businesses choose to come to Lafayette for a variety of reasons and many have cited our 100% fiber-optic network as one of those reasons,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel. "As a gateway to Lafayette, we want visitors to experience the ultra high speeds of a Gigabit Internet connection, from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave."

The Locals Love It

In Burlington, the Keep BT Local! Cooperative started in 2012 with a goal of transforming the troubled muni into a telecommunications cooperative and is still active and raising capital to purchase the network. In the spring, the BT Advisory Board recommended that a permanent owner should have ties to the local community

For the time being, the city is leasing the network, which is under temporary ownership of Blue Water LLC, a company that purchased the network as part of a deal hatched with CitiBank. The financial giant had sued the city for $33 million after cover-ups from a past mayoral administration cast the network into financial chaos. That agreement requires the city to find a permanent owner for the network and finalize the sale by January 2019. If the city does not find a permanent buyer of their liking, Blue Water can choose the next owner; locals fear it may be a company like Comcast.

The new Wi-Fi will give commuters a chance to taste the high-quality Internet access that Burlington residents and businesses are trying to keep under local control. The network's ownership is uncertain, but the local initiative is doing all it can to keep it from becoming just another big, faceless, unresponsive ISP.