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Connectivity Cornucopia: We Give Thanks!

This time of year, people come together to celebrate the things they are thankful for and appreciate. Here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we want to take a moment to appreciate all the communities, people, and wonderful ideas that help spread the concept of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

A few of us looked into the cornucopia that is feeding the growth of publicly owned Internet networks and picked out some of our favorites. There are more people, places, and ideas than we could write about in one post. Nevertheless, it's always good to step back and consider how the many contributions to the Connectivity Cornucopia accelerate us toward high-quality Internet access for all.

People: Colorado Local Voters

We appreciate the voters in Colorado who chose to reclaim local authority. This year, 26 more counties and municipalities asked voters to opt out of restrictive SB 152, and all chose to take back telecommunications authority. They joined the ranks of a groundswell of local Colorado citizens who have voiced their opinion to Denver - 95 communities in all. They know that they are the best situated to make decisions about local connectivity and, even if they don’t have solid plans in place, want the ability to investigate the options. Colorado voters rock!

Place: Ammon, Idaho  

The unfolding municipal fiber network in the city of Ammon, Idaho (pop. 14,000) continues to attract a steady stream of honors and opportunities. In August, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) named Ammon’s open access network the 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year.  Two months later, the city said it is partnering in a $600,000 initiative with the University of Utah to research and develop a series of next-generation networking technologies supporting public safety, including broadband public emergency alerts. With Ammon’s new fiber network, residents are giving thanks for a system that allows them, among other things, to change their Internet Service Provider (ISP) simply and quickly from a sign-up portal.

We give thanks for Ammon’s innovation and their desire to give people choice.

Policy: Clever Conduit Approaches

Multiple communities have created smart conduit policies to bring connectivity to their residents. Conduit is a reinforced tube that protects and guides cables that run underground. Despite how boring conduit policy might sound, it can bring about better connectivity and ensure community control of public infrastructure. Smart conduit policy is a cornerstone for municipal networks and creating infrastructure for potential future partners. For instance, Mount Vernon, Washington, has its own open access network with eight different Internet Service Providers. The city ensures that developers install conduit in all new developments and then turn control of it over to the city. There are many more excellent models of conduit policy, just check out Lincoln, Nebraska; Centennial, Colorado; or Saint Louis Park, Minnesota.

We understand the importance of smart conduit policy and are thankful for the fact that an increasing number of communities are onboard with implementing similar measures.

So Much To Appreciate!

These are only a few of the people, places, and policies that produce better connectivity for local communities. We're thankful for them and for many others as more communities realize the value of publicly owned Internet networks. We wish you a relaxing and warm holiday and hope you have a moment to pause and consider all you have to be thankful for.


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Photo of the turkeys courtesy of Farmgirlmiriam via Pixaby.

Photo of the cornucopia courtesy of Cliparts.co.

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.

Ammon Wins NSF Grant To Pursue Networking Technologies for Public Safety

The city of Ammon, Idaho, continues to garner more recognition and opportunities from its unfolding municipal fiber network.

In a recent news release, Ammon officials announced the city received approximately $600,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to partner with the University of Utah. They will research and develop a series of next-generation networking technologies supporting public safety. 

Pursuing SafeEdge

Called SafeEdge, the nearly initiative will give Ammon residents connected to the city's network the opportunity to participate in the initiative to develop applications such as broadband public emergency alerts. 

Ammon officials said a major focus of the research will be to evaluate the “feasibility of mixing public safety applications with other applications and services,” such as consumer streaming and data sharing, remote classroom access, and dynamic access to judicial functions, including remote arraignments and access to legal representation.

The city added “It is expected that this open access/multiservice approach will improve the economic feasibility of deploying broadband services in small and rural communities by allowing a variety of services to be deployed across the same infrastructure, while at the same time ensuring that public safety applications can function in this environment.”

Three-year Project

The National Science Foundation and US Ignite, an initiative promoting U.S. leadership in developing and implementing next-generation gigabit applications that can be used for social good, are providing nearly $600,000 in funding over a three-year period for the Ammon project. About $235,000 of that funding will go to Ammon as sub awardee, the city said. The project period runs from Oct. 1, 2016 to September 30, 2019.

Other Honors 

The NSF grant to Ammon is the latest honor for the city’s municipal fiber network activities.  In mid-2015, the city won first place in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Ultra-High Speed Apps competition, which encouraged software developers and public safety professionals to use public data and ultra-high speed systems to create apps to improve criminal justice and public safety operations. We reported that Ammon’s application used gunshot detection hardware and a school’s existing camera system. The School Emergency Screencast Application provides the location of gunshot fire for first responders and transmits live-video and geospatial information so they know what to expect and where to concentrate efforts.

Meanwhile, just two months ago, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) named Ammon’s open access network the 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year at its annual awards event.

Learn more about Ammon's network, and their public safety efforts in our video:

Port of Lewiston Crossing Bridges: Network Forges Ahead

Port of Lewiston’s open access dark fiber network continues to move toward completion. Construction crews are burying fiber lines at multiple project sites around Lewiston. In the past few weeks, the network crossed to the north side of Clearwater River via the Memorial Bridge, where it will link to Whitman County’s fiber network. 

A recent article from the Port of Lewiston listed completed sections of the network, 

“So far, it reaches major employers such as St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, Lewis-Clark State College, Regence and the Vista Outdoor plant at 11th and Snake River avenues.”

The article also outlined the projects to be completed by September 1st,

“They will reach the industrial district by the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport, Clearwater Paper, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and the Southway Bridge. At the bridge, the lines will connect with an Asotin County network built by the Port of Clarkston.”

Questions From The Past

Memorial Bridge is only the first of two bridge crossings necessary for the completion of the Lewiston-Whitman-Asotin fiber network. The Southway Bridge crosses the Snake River to Asotin County. Conduit access rights stalled construction progress across the river. We wrote about the negotiations in a story from earlier this summer.

Readers may recall that there was a question with Centurylink's right to have conduit on the bridge and whether or not they owned the conduit or where the provider's potential ownership rights ended. To iron out the details, the Port of Lewiston filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the bridge builders.

The Lewiston Tribune (also reprinted in 4-Traders) reported that the Port of Clarkston has reached an agreement for conduit access on the Idaho side of the Southway Bridge, 

“CenturyLink granted the Port of Clarkston use of one its 20 conduits on the Washington side of the bridge, enough room to meet the community's needs for as many as 60 years, Port Manager Wanda Keefer said… Ideally, the lines will be live by Sept. 1 to accommodate a customer… Before that can happen, CenturyLink needs to iron out issues with Asotin and Nez Perce counties and the cities of Lewiston and Clarkston, which own the bridge.”

The bridge was built in the 1980s and no one has been able to locate documentation that describes the length of Centurylink's easement on the bridge. Centurylink pays $0 for the use of the bridge, which is another issue that may be re-examined as the parties move forward. According to a local official, the Port of Lewiston has not yet come to an agreement with the involved parties, but negotiations are making progress.

Connecting And Competing

Thus far, the Port of Lewiston has spent roughly $600,000 on the network infrastructure project designed to promote competition among Internet service providers and spur economic development. "We think it's going to provide connectivity to our community so we can compete with almost anywhere in the world," [Port Manager Wanda] Keefer said.

And the Award for Community Broadband Network of the Year Goes to-- Ammon, Idaho!

On August 1st, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) recognized Ammon, Idaho’s promise at the 2016 Community Broadband Awards. NATOA named Ammon’s open access network the 2016 Community Broadband Project of the Year

Innovative Ideas in Idaho

It's a great recognition for the innovative little city in Idaho. They have been incrementally building an open access Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for years. In 2015, they won an award for designing an ultra high-speed application to use the network to coordinate responses to school shootings. And earlier this year, they approved an ingenious funding method: a Local Improvement District (LID). Residents will have the choice of opting into the costs and benefits of the fiber project or opting out completely. 

A New Model

It's all about people's choice; Ammon’s open access model itself empowers community members. Instead of making frustrating phone calls with large corporations, residents can change their Internet Service Provider (ISP) simply and quickly from a sign-up portal. The infrastructure remains the same, and the providers focus on offering the best customer service. Ammon’s open access model is the virtual end of cable monopolies.

For more details, listen to Ammon’s Technology Director Bruce Patterson explain the project in Community Broadband Bits Podcast episodes 86, 173, and 207. For even more information, see our in-depth coverage on Ammon.

In Rural Idaho, Co-op Delivers the Fiber

Co-op subscribers in Challis, Idaho are set to see faster speeds as Custer Telephone Cooperative, Inc. (CTCI) gained permission from city officials to install fiber-optic cable to local homes. With the member-owned telecommunications cooperative expanding its fiber optic network throughout Custer and Lemhi Counties, local residents will benefit from a future-proof network that promises higher speeds and low prices. 

How Did We Get Here?

The rural towns on the eastern side of Idaho’s Sawtooth Range are remote, sparsely populated, and mountainous - all factors which scare away investment from large Internet service providers (ISPs). Yet, they will witness construction of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, something that even their urban counterparts rarely see. CTCI, which has been delivering telecommunications services to the community since 1955, will provide 1,253 co-op members in Custer County and Lemhi County with high-quality Internet connectivity at competitive prices.

CTCI currently provides download speeds of 6-15 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 1 Mbps on its aging coax-copper network. Their initial goal is to achieve 100 Mbps on a 100 percent fiber-optic network, with speeds ultimately reaching 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) (or 1,000 Mbps). The co-op’s pricing chart currently lists a 100 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload fiber connection at $279.95/month. 

Federal Funds Point in the Right Direction

CTCI receives federal funding through the Universal Service Fund (USF), an FCC program designed to improve Internet connectivity in the rural U.S. CTCI’s receives the funding for operating expenses and investments because of the cooperative's contribution to the public benefit as stated in a 2012 report to the Universal Service Administrative Corporation (USAC):

“In light of Custer's longstanding record of outstanding past service, and its plans to continue upgrading, improving, and maintaining its network for the benefit of its customers, there is no doubt that Custer's status as an ETC [Eligible Telecommunications Carrier] is consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity.”

As a member of Syringa Networks, a consortium of 12 Idaho networks, CTCI leases special access lines to community anchor institutions like hospitals, schools, and public land managers across Idaho. Together, USF funding and access charges amount to 45 percent of annual CTCI revenue. Subscriber Internet access accounts for 12 percent of total revenue. 

Ammon's Network of the Future - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 207

On the heals of releasing our video on Ammon, Idaho, we wanted to go a little more in-depth with Bruce Patterson. Bruce is Ammon's Technology Director and has joined us on the show before (episodes 173 and 86). We recommend watching the video before listening to this show.

We get an update from Bruce on the most recent progress since we conducted the video interviews. He shares the current level of interest from the first phase and expectations moving forward.

But for much of our conversation, we focus on how Ammon has innovated with Software-Defined Networks (SDN) and what that means. We talk about how the automation and virtualization from SDN can make open access much more efficient and open new possibilities.

Check out Ammon's Get Fiber Now signup page or their page with more information.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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

This show is 27 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 Forget the Whale for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "I Know Where You've Been."

Dark Fiber Available In Lewiston But Rivers Slow Expansion

The Port of Lewiston’s dark fiber network is up and running and now has connected a commercial customer, reports 4-Traders, but achieving the maximum reach has hit some resistance.

Warehousing and distribution company Inland 465, is operating a 150,000 square-foot warehouse and obtaining Internet access from First Step Internet, which leases dark fiber from the Port of Lewiston’s network. Community leaders hope this is the first of many commercial customers.

Last summer the community announced that they intended to deploy an open access dark fiber network to spur economic development opportunities. The network plan called for a connection to nearby Port of Whitman’s fiber network, which has operated for more than a decade.

Bumps On Bridges

According to 4-Traders, the Port of Lewiston is encountering issues deploying over the optimal route for expanding to serve more commercial clients. The community is near the Clearwater and Snake Rivers and must cross bridges en route to connect with nearby networks in the ports of Whitman County and Clarkston. Both communities have their own fiber networks and would like to connect to Lewiston’s new infrastructure. The collaborations would allow a larger loop and better redundancy for all three networks.

The Port of Whitman has an agreement with Cable One to use the provider's hangers on the bridge across the Clearwater River. In exchange, Cable One is allowed to access certain Port of Whitman County conduit on a different bridge. The state of Idaho issued the permit to Cable One to allow them to install the hangers and now the Port of Whitman County is applying to the state to have those same permits issued in its name. Once the Port of Whitman County has the permits, the Port of Lewiston will be able to use the hangers to connect to the Port of Whitman County network.

CenturyLink's Conduit...Or Is It?

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In order to achieve the maximum reach, Port of Lewiston officials and Port of Clarkston officials will have to contend with a less-than-eager CenturyLink. There is ample conduit space on the Southway Bridge that crosses the Snake River, but the incumbent provider controls all of it. The 20 conduits on the bridge are legacies from the time when it was part of AT&T. 

Clarkston Port Manager Wanda Keefer told 4-Traders that CenturyLink is only using five of the 20 conduits and the Port of Lewiston would like to take advantage of that empty space to link up to the Port of Clarkston’s fiber-optic network. Before they can do that, however, they have to learn more about CenturyLink’s rights to be on the bridge and where on the bridge any potential ownership may end. In order to obtain that information, the Port of Clarkson filed a Freedom of Information Act with the bridge builder, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The Wires Have To Go Somewhere

The situation in Idaho underscores the importance of access to rights-of-way and fiber routes, be it bridge, boulevard, or pole. New York State, filled with bridges and opportunities to host dark fiber over waterways, has its own Bridge Authority that deals with such issues. In Minneapolis, the Park and Rec Board are stalling deployment of a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network as a local ISP seeks to bury conduit in boulevards that are off limits due to protective agency policy.

Occasionally, incumbents take advantage of pole ownership or dispute pole position to delay municipal networks as a sabotage strategy. Frontier did as much in Lake County, Minnesota.

According to Clarkston's Keefer, however, there are agreements in place that all the ports consider priority. Port of Lewiston and Port of Clarkston have set a September 1st target date for having the connections linked and communicating.

Ammon's Model: The Virtual End of Cable Monopolies

The city of Ammon, Idaho, is building the Internet network of the future. Households and businesses can instantly change Internet service providers using a specially-designed innovative portal. This short 20 minute video highlights how the network is saving money, creating competition for broadband services, and creating powerful new public safety applications.

We talk with Ammon's Mayor, local residents, private businesses, and the city's Technology Director to understand why a small conservative city decided to build its own network and then open it to the entire community. We explain how they financed it and even scratch the surface of how software-defined networking brought the future of Internet services to Ammon before any larger metro regions.

Ammon's network has already won awards, including a National Institute of Justice Challenge for Best Ultra-High Speed Application, and spurred economic development. But perhaps most important is that most communities can replicate this model and bring these benefits to their communities.

For more information, see our in-depth coverage on Ammon. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to stay informed on what local governments are doing to improve Internet access.

View the video below, or on YouTube here. Please share widely!

Ammon's Local Improvement District Gets City Council Blessing

Now that a judge has legally approved it, Ammon is forging ahead with an innovative approach to financing Internet infrastructure in Idaho.

On May 19th, the city council unanimously voted to create a Local Improvement District (LID). Ammon’s decision has secured a way to finance its open access Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Local Improvement Districts: You're In or You're Out

LIDs have been used for fiber-optic infrastructure in other places, such as New Hampshire and Poulsbo, Washington, but the approach is still not widespread. In Ammon, the city council's action creates a district from five subdivisions, where residents can “opt in” or “opt out” of participation in the FTTH network. The district includes 376 individual properties, and 188 of those property owners have expressed a desire to "opt in" to the benefits, and costs, of the network. Those who have chosen to "opt out" do not use the network, nor do they pay for deployment.

LIDs are specifically designed to take advantage of any boost to local property value -- and studies have linked FTTH with increased local property values. We’ve previously summarized the most common ways communities finance networks, but LIDs are a little different.

  1. The local community creates a “district” to issue improvement bonds. In this case, the district consists of five subdivisions of the city.
  2. Selling those improvement bonds will fund the construction of the local infrastructure project. For Ammon, that’s the open access FTTH network. 
  3. The bonds will then be paid for by an assessment on each of the properties that benefit from the network - only the households that choose to "opt in."

A Few Dollars A Month For Infrastructure

When Ammon’s IT Director, Bruce Patterson, joined the Community Broadband Bits Podcast in Episode 173, he explained Ammon's LID plan. Chris brought in real-world examples and questions of what LIDs mean for individual homeowners.

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Chris Mitchell: Basically I could opt in and then there would be, based on the number of people that are opting in and the cost, that would determine how much it would cost for me and I could either write you a check for all of it, or I could put it on my property taxes?

Bruce Patterson: That's exactly right so if you want to pay for all of it, part of it up front, you can let it be bonded for. You can go down and pay a portion of it and then it's just collected as we say through your regular assessment on your property tax until it's paid off.

Patterson estimated that monthly assessment on property taxes for those who "opt in" would probably be about $15 to $20. Only those residents who "opt in" have an assessment on their property taxes. If a resident does not want the fiber, there is no assessment on that resident’s property tax.

To connect to the Internet, residents will also need to sign up with one of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering retail services via the open access fiber network. The city will also offer a low cost, no frills, basic option that will allow those that "opt in" the ability to perform basic tasks, like check email. 

Next Steps

Now that Ammon city council has created the LID, residents in those five subdivisions will have to choose whether to “opt in” or “opt out” of the FTTH project. Individual residents must now decide if they want next-generation connectivity. With 188 of 376 individual property owners "opting in" (a take rate of about 50 percent) Ammon should soon have that last mile up and running.