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Short Policy Report on Munis and Education From ECS

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

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

Inside the Report

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

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

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

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

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

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 228

This is episode 228 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager David Young of Lincoln, Nebraska, describes the city's work with local Internet Service Provider, Allo Communications. Listen to this episode here. 

Listen to, or read the transcript for, episode 182 in which David Young, Mike Lang, and Steve Huggenberger discuss conduit policy in more detail.

 

David Young: Engaging your provider, engaging your community upfront and deciding what your model should be and then creating a plan and executing that plan is very important.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 228 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez . A number of states have laws on the books that obstruct local governments from directly providing high quality Internet access to businesses and residents, or even partnering with local providers. Nebraska happens to be one of them. In Lincoln the community found a way to work within the confines of the law by using publicly owned conduit and creating a welcoming environment for private Internet Service Providers. As a result, Lincoln has entered into an agreement with the local provider Allo Communications who will use the conduit to build its Fiber-to-the-Home network. David Young, Lincoln's Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager talks with Chris this week. David discusses the early days of the project and how it has evolved. He also shares more information about the franchise agreement and more about the partner Lincoln chose. Be sure to take a few moment and listen to Chris' interview with David and several of his colleagues in episode 182 from last December. Now here are Chris and David Young, Lincoln, Nebraska's Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager talking about the community's conduit network and how they are capitalizing on it to bring better connectivity and technology to Lincoln.

Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm speaking with David Young the Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager for the city of Lincoln and the public works department. Welcome back to the show.

David Young: Hi Chris, how are you?

Chris Mitchell: I'm doing well. I'm excited to speak with you again. Last time we had you on the show was the day after my son was born because he came a little bit early and I really wanted to get that interview in. I'm a little less frazzled today, although once again some traumatic events this week as we're recording the week of the election.

David Young: Yes. I did enjoy seeing your son at the Broadband Communities conference, good looking kid. It looks like he's very healthy.

Chris Mitchell: Yes. Yes, he's doing well. Now I wanted to note that since we spoke you've become a bit of a trade show hopper. You were at the NTIA in Big Sky Missoula where we served on a panel together, and then I think you knocked them dead here in Minneapolis for the Broadband Communities conference. I hope that people will feel that you're a more seasoned, more a big get for us now.

David Young: I think you're being overly kind. How much can you talk about broadband in front of a group of people who know a lot about broadband?

Chris Mitchell: I just wanted to see if I could start off by making you blush and be modest. We're going to talk about some more details that I've learned about the franchise you have with a Fiber-to-the-Home provider in your community that results from your system of conduit. I think people should start by listening to that podcast that we had done previously, it was in December of 2015. For a quick refresher, for people who aren't familiar with Lincoln, what have you all done to supercharge Internet access in the community?

David Young: Starting in 2012 the mayor and Public Works Department came up with a broadband technology plan. Basically the goal was to attract new carriers to the market and have those be very specific carriers. We wanted Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers to provide competitive access to broadband for businesses. Under state law, Lincoln, or any city in Nebraska, is not allowed to provide municipal broadband. Lincoln took stock and figured out that what we could do is put in conduit system and lease out those conduit to other providers. We initially put in five miles of conduit in our downtown area as part of a revitalization project and started looking around and found 80 miles of abandoned waterline, probably 40 miles of abandoned waste water lines. We repurposed those lines into conduit systems and traffic conduit, old electric conduit, old natural gas lines, basically any pipe we could get our hands on and turned it into a conduit system that now is over 350 miles. We've leased that out to seven carriers total. When we got down to the last space we started talking about, "Gee, this is pretty successful, maybe we ought to look at Fiber-to-the-Home." We started working with different carriers and financing professionals to build a Fiber-to-the-Home with that last space in the conduit system. In December of last year we signed that agreement. Can you believe it's already been a year? It's been very exciting on our side, very busy.

Chris Mitchell: Yes, I can imagine. How much did the city spend in creating this asset?

David Young: In total about $1.2 million over four years. There was about 600,000 upfront in conduit expense and then staff time and maintenance and a $600,000 CIP, so a little bit more than about 1.2 million.

Chris Mitchell: CIP, that's Capital Improvement Program?

David Young: Yes, I'm sorry. Yes. For all those in the government, CIP is the Capital Improvement Plan, which is a six year plan that is how you allocate your capital dollars across programs like streets, water, sewer, those kind of things.

Chris Mitchell: If we ignore the new businesses that have come to town using some of this fiber that these carriers are leasing from you and if we ignore the better competitiveness of some of the businesses that were already in town, what are some of the direct benefits the city has had in terms of raising revenue from that 1.2 million that they spent?

David Young: If you're only talk pure money from the system we make $475,000 a year in lease revenue.

Chris Mitchell: That's like a three year payback then, just from that alone from today.

David Young: Right, and we've been making money since 2013. 2013 is 55,000 and then we had two more leases in 2014 and really 2015 was our banner year. Right now we're at 475, with the Allo project we're expected to be in the neighborhood of two to two point seven million a year by 2018.

Chris Mitchell: Allo is a local company, it's in Nebraska. I know in people in Colorado are familiar with it. It's incredibly well regarded by its customers from what I can tell. Tell us a little bit more about Allo, I think it's in a unique position there in Lincoln.

David Young: Allo is a Western Nebraska company. It was started by, they like to say, Nebraskans for Nebraskans. The city was meeting and doing presentations on Fiber-to-the-Home and the value of the community to various local organizations, building that community support for the program. We were meeting with financiers and talking to them and Allo was brought in and offered to competitively bid on the Fiber-to-the-Home project in Lincoln. We had another company, Bluestem, also bidding on the franchise. Bluestem is still in operation, they are building one portion of the city. We actually have three Fiber-to-the-Home projects going right now. Allo won the citywide franchise, Bluestem is doing a small neighborhood in Northeast Lincoln and then our incumbent provider, Windstream, has announced that they will upgrade 5,000 homes over the next two years in Southeast Lincoln to Fiber-to-the-Home. It's been very successful from a community planning aspect of partnering with the private sector to build this infrastructure, but it is a lot of work. It's hard to believe that we're going on our fifth year of operation.

Chris Mitchell: I want to clarify something with the franchise, which is I think sometimes people think of franchises as being exclusive. Now you talk about offering a franchise because of the limited conduit space, that's the franchise to use that conduit. A company like Bluestem, there's nothing stopping them from building to the rest of the city, they just wouldn't be able to use the same asset that Allo is using. Am I getting that correct?

David Young: You are. We had one space left in the conduit system and I will tell you, sometimes that space isn't even there. The conduit system is getting very full. It's been very successful. The last guaranteed spot in the conduit system, what we said was we wanted somebody to provide Fiber-to-the-Home services and in order to do that we wanted to franchise for that last position. Allo and Bluestem both worked with the city very closely. It took us about 90 days to come to an agreement and Allo was ultimately chosen to do the project.

Chris Mitchell: Now when you say there's no more room in the conduit, I'm assuming that over time you'll fix that, you'll be putting in extra conduit or you might be doing something differently now because it's not like this is the end of the conduit forever.

David Young: Correct. No, no, no, there's nothing to prohibit the city from putting in additional conduit, and we are. The new conduit system as we're building it out is designed for six carriers occupancy. All extensions of the conduit system that are performed by private providers are deeded over to the city and owned by the city. All the additional expansion, all expansion construction is now under the new standard of six pack of conduit system.

Chris Mitchell: We did talk about that in the previous show so if people want more detail I invite them to go review that. The transcript's on our website at muninetworks.org. Before we get into the franchise, which is where I'm really excited about some of the things that you guys are doing with that, I wanted to make sure people understand, Allo is a little bit of a unique company that has I think more of a local focus than other companies. The reason that I think it's important is because other cities that might think, "We'll build our own conduit system," you may not get the same results. I hope that they would. I hope that they'll find firms that are interested but Allo has a direct relationship to another Lincoln company, Nelnet, which I'm hoping you can tell us a little bit more about in terms of how Allo's capitalized.

David Young: Nelnet is a Nebraska based student loan provider I believe, and a bank. They have been very successful, very community focused. They were one of the entities we were working with to build community support for the Fiber-to-the-Home program. Nelnet decided they would capitalize the entire project for Allo. They really believe in the community in Lincoln, Nebraska, and broadband as an infrastructure that is designed for 21st century cities. They wanted, Nelnet, their home town to have that infrastructure. It's my understanding they have given Allo $100 million loan to build the entire city.

Chris Mitchell: Right, I think from my perspective as someone who works at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we love seeing that kind of local focus, local businesses investing in the community. I think the city of Lincoln has really done a great job in terms of making it easier for that to happen and really facilitating that. In particular because you have this conduit system you have a little bit more leverage in negotiating with Allo for this franchise. If you didn't have the conduit system, do you think you would have had a different discussion with Allo?

David Young: Yes. I have talked to several communities in Nebraska and a few surrounding states about this project and I think your cautionary statement is very correct. Sometimes building a conduit system isn't the right model but I do think that engaging your provider, engaging your community upfront, and deciding what your model should be and then creating a plan and executing that plan is very important. We had the last space in the conduit system, we had a very successful model and we had a ton of community support for our program. When you put those three things together, yes we had a significant asset walking into the negotiations for the Allo project. I think that was born out in the agreement. I wouldn't describe it as leverage. Any partnership, what you bring to the partnership creates value for you and what the other party brings creates their value. We were just trying to maximize value for both parties. With a very successful system already in place we had a lot of value on our side of the table.

Chris Mitchell: Because you brought that value you could then make asks of Allo. One of the things I would start with is this idea of the SSIDs, which is I think we're using that as shorthand for virtual networks and SSID is the name of a wireless network that you see when your device is trying to connect to a WiFi network. Now tell us in terms of Allo's network how these virtual networks are involved.

David Young: Of course you're going to cause me to geek out and your listeners may want to fast forward to this next section.

Chris Mitchell: I think there's other people who might be fast forwarding to this section because we don't geek out enough.

David Young: Really?

Chris Mitchell: You never know.

David Young: One of the sections of the franchise, and this is a public document, anybody can have access to it, is called service to government buildings and facilities. A standard clause in many franchises but there's one section I'd like to read it to you. "The franchisee shall provide 15 Virtual Local Area Networks, VLANs, across the entire system. The public VLAN shall be provided free of charge to the city for non-competitive use. These VLANs shall be available at every connection and termination point on the franchisee's network." To those network engineers out there listening, they will have a big smile on their face because that means I have 15 virtual networks across the entire system that Allo deploys and at every termination and connection point, meaning wireless access points, I can have access to those VLANs. I can turn up my own SSID, Lincoln public school's access, health department access, those are a few of the ones that we're working on right now. A public VLAN access for education is in our library system, combining those two together so they're available on the entire system. It is very exciting. VLANs, if you really want to go to sleep late at night look up and read about VLANs. Basically it's an addressing system for the network and we have 15 of them.

Chris Mitchell: Let's talk about one use case that I'm very excited about. I've been in some ways evangelizing for this type of approach. The intricate technology is not as important to me as the sense of what you can do with it. I like to imagine, I have a child in the public school system, they have a device likely from the public school system. This is hypothetical of course, Jackson is almost one year old. What happens is wherever he goes with that device as long as those VLANs are there, that device could just log in. If he's at a friend's house or even if maybe I'm a low income family, if then he goes out to a public access point or perhaps the neighbor's signal is there and if the neighbor has consented to this, then his device will just connect. Effectively he will be at school on his device.

David Young: With all of the school's network security policies and access to all of the public school's resources, the public library resources. It would be as if seamlessly he was inside school on the same network. Yes, that is one of the most exciting use cases for us as well.

Chris Mitchell: The nice thing is, is that if you're a parent who's really worried about your child being on the open Internet, where they might find material that they're not even seeking and would be inappropriate, the fact that even in your home you wouldn't even have to worry about managing that connection -- Because I think a lot of parents are worried that their kids are going to be more tech savvy than they are, or they're worried that they won't have it set correctly, but now even in your home own your kids is using that device behind the filters and using all those resources. To me that seems like it's a very good solution.

David Young: We were very excited about it. It was one of those conversations, it's like, "What could we do with this? What would be the actual cost of providing this?" It's not a lot because there's some version of over 9,000 VLANs on a particular network so what does providing 15 cost? Not a lot from the provider, other than willingness and creativity of thought. By building this network as a public/private partnership there was a higher level discussion than just a dollar here or a dollar there, it's what could we do together. The Virtual Network, Virtual Local Area Network, VLAN project is actually my personal favorite part of the agreement. As we go forward we're connecting all the traffic signals in the city as they're building it out. We have a new program called Green Light Lincoln, which is upgrading out entire traffic system to the 21st century. We'll be putting in a new ATMS, Advanced Traffic Management System, next year to leverage all these new connections. Over the next three years every street light in the city will be connected to this new ATMS system.

Chris Mitchell: Let me suggest that perhaps your traffic engineers haven't seen Die Hard Four. It's a little bit concerning.

David Young: Technology should be treated cautiously I agree. Die Hard Four was a wonderful movie.

Chris Mitchell: Yeah, especially the part where the car flies up to take the helicopter out, but it's not something I've seen more than ten times, I assure you.

David Young: If you think about commute times and public dollars and impacting people's daily life, if we can make the system more efficient, that impacts everybody's life every day, whether you're riding the bus or whether you're driving your own car.

Chris Mitchell: Right, you can do a prioritization for public transit. As you said if everyone spends less time in congestion you're not only saving them time, you have less pollution. There's tremendous benefits to this.

David Young: On that, and then the other piece what if we don't have to widen the road? To widen the road costs us -- A road widening project for one mile is $10 million. What if we can just upgrade the infrastructure and allow more cars to travel through faster? We don't have to spend that public dollar there, we can spend it on maintaining that road instead of widening it and impacting those properties that are adjacent to it. It is really exciting for us. It's an exciting time to be in Lincoln working with the Public Works Department. Fiber-to-the-Home, the Fiber-to-the-Business project, the Green Light Lincoln project, there's a lot of technology projects going on right now in Lincoln.

Chris Mitchell: We talked about a couple of different aspects with the franchise. Is there anything else that you see that you are doing in Lincoln working with Allo that others aren't doing where you're getting ahead of the curve?

David Young: Defining the characteristics of service is something we do in our franchise. Basically, in most franchise you provide service to the city, great but we go a little further and we say that all residents and subscribers shall be provided service under non-discriminatory rates, terms and conditions. Meaning everybody gets the same price, no more negotiating for price. We also say that there are no residential contracts for service allowed, so if you don't like the price you're receiving you're not locked into a contract. We also do not allow installation fees, except for in very unusual circumstances. You can't get charged to have it installed, there is no contract and you're paying the same rate as your neighbor. We think these are actually very good things to put in a franchise because it creates a very competitive marketplace for the carrier, they have to compete on customer service and quality of service, not on contracts and the fact that you negotiate better than your neighbor about price. I think that's important. I think that other communities should consider doing that. I'm staff for the telecom advisory board for the city and a lot of the complaints we get are, "My service isn't great from X carrier," and, "I pay too much," but there is no competition. That was the single most, the highest complaint that we received. The highest number of complaints that we received was “there's no competition.” When you're building out a new infrastructure you're going built to every home ensuring that those competitive roadblocks are not institutionalized in your franchise agreement. It was very important to us, and I think other cities could look at that.

Chris Mitchell: I want to talk briefly about Rights of Way management, which is a part of your title. I'll telegraph that you're going to be back for a show later this year, in I don't know maybe another 10 episodes, in which we are going to be talking about some small cell deployment type stuff that your approach is enabling you to do. One of the things I feel like you've done in Lincoln is that you have simplified permitting in ways that both Allo and Bluestem may find it easier to pull permits and to build than they would in my city, in St. Paul, Minnesota perhaps. Do you have any advice for communities in terms of dealing with Rights of Way?

David Young: One of the major initiatives we had in 2013 was how to make our system more business friendly. Permitting was the number one area of conversation with every carrier we talked to. We did a little reorganization project and a study inside of public works and identified every staff position that was associated with managing the Right of Way, inspections, plan review, private development, public development, and we put them into one team called the Right of Way Construction team. That team is responsible for all public facing Right of Way construction projects, meaning if it's a natural gas project, if it's the waterline project, if it's a sewer line project, if it is not a CIP project, so not a capital project, then this group manages that and works with the public to ensure a fast, safe, and affordable project. As part of that program, as part of that program, we created an electronic permit system where carriers or franchisees can upload their plan set in a very simple permit. Our goal is to have that approved in two business days or less. Sometimes we get a little bit longer than that but most of the time we get it approved in about two business days.

Chris Mitchell: One of the things you had told me before was that when it comes to dealing with these companies, many of which I think local governments are frustrated with because they don't feel like they can get enough out of those companies in return for use of the Right of Way, I think you've said those companies are much more willing to negotiate on terms that would be viewed as favorable to the community if the community can turn permits around quickly. That's the thing they really care about.

David Young: The old adage, time is money, is very important. From the time a sales person goes into a business and says, "I would like to provide you with next generation broadband," to the time the company can actually deliver that broadband, is a very sensitive topic. The faster they can do it, the better they look to their customers, and, when they go slow, they point the finger at the city and say, "We can't get through permits, blah blah blah." If you can align your interest with the company, which is the city wants that customer turn up on broadband, we want them to be a happy customer, they're our customer too. Streamlining the permit process, it takes a little insight into why you're a community, why you're a service provider in the community and what your values are as an organization. For Public Works, it was providing good customer service that means providing good customer service to our corporate clients as well, and permits is how we do that. Establishing a goal, making that goal known, putting a goal in the contract, that gives the carrier comfort, allows them to forecast a little bit better. It gives them a better level of customer service, a better sense of partnership in the agreement instead of a one-sided agreement. It has paid off with us, all of our contracts have 15 minimum day turn times permits and we try to do it in two.

Chris Mitchell: Great. I want to ask if there's any last words of wisdom you might have from your entire lifetime working on this conduit project?

David Young: You know this is the second conduit project I've worked on, getting out there and talking to the community is critical.

Chris Mitchell: Let me ask you about that for a second, because I just imagine me going out and trying to talk to people in the community about conduit. I imagine people rolling their eyes and being like, "I'm bored," or, "I'm not interested." What does that mean?

David Young: I don't talk about conduit.

Chris Mitchell: Okay.

David Young: I talk about the Internet. We open with a couple of jokes and everybody laughs and we have a good time. Then we talk about the Internet and why it's important in their lives. The access to a trillion dollar marketplace, the competitiveness with other cities to attract and retain young people, young workers. We talk about the highest paid IT jobs, network engineers, database administrators, and architects, server engineers. You don't get those jobs unless you have a good robust broadband infrastructure. People get excited about that. A lot of people still don't understand truly what the Internet is, there's a feeling in some circles that it's a nebulous thing. Why is it important to me? My presentations generally are 10 slides and 15 jokes, and then we talk about what's really important to them, how their business can leverage the Internet to make more money, be more customer-focused. I'm done in about 30 minutes and then we talk, answer questions for 30 minutes. It's a great time, people feel like you're actually talking to them about what's important to them. We don't really talk about conduit. Usually I bring a piece of conduit, a piece of fiber and pass it around the room and let everybody touch it and feel it so they get an idea. When I first started here in 2012 almost every group that I went to that I took this piece of conduit and fiber to loved it. People wanted to see it, they had never seen and heard about fiber their whole life. They'd never seen it, they'd never touched it. Giving them that tactile sensation of handing around a piece of hard conduit in your hand and somebody says, "What happens if somebody digs into it?" You bang the conduit on the table, "It's pretty tough stuff." They laugh, and it's a good time. You have these visions, and I've been to these meetings where it's long and painful and slow. It doesn't have to be that way, but it takes a lot of work building a presentation that's fun and exciting and really talks to what people care about, not what you care about. I care about conduit but most people really don't care about that, they just care about the Internet, how it impacts their life. Talking about that is the best advice I can give people because people get excited about that and then you get to ask for support, asking for help in the community to prioritize budget money for that project. It's a finite pool. People want to support projects that they like so you have to get out there and market your project to the community so that the mayor and city councilors hear from those groups, to say, "Yes, we want this. Yes, we want to support this. This is a good thing."

Chris Mitchell: I think that's a great note to end the show on. Thank you so much for coming on.

David Young: Chris thank you very much.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Chris talking with David Young, Lincoln, Nebraska's fiber infrastructure and Right of Way manager. As the network unfolds we will bring you more news. Remember we have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcast 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. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all of the podcasts in the ILSR podcast family on iTunes, Stitcher or however else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. We want to thank the group mojo monkeys for their song, Bodacious, licensed through creative commons and we want to thank you for listening to episode 228 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

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

logo-missoula-county-ps_1.jpg

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."

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

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

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

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

Read the transcript of the show here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."

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.

Lakeland, Florida, Takes Small Steps

This spring, Lakeland city officials began contemplating the future of the city’s dark fiber network with an eye toward making a firm decision on whether or not to expand how they use it. Rather than pursue a municipal Internet network, Commissioners recently decided to seek out private sector partners to improve local connectivity.

Too Much For Lakeland?

Kudos to Christopher Guinn of the Ledger for very thorough reporting on the issue. According to his article, the city will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a solution that provides Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity to replace the current speeds in Lakeland. Cable serves the community now with maximum speeds of 150 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and about 10 Mbps upload.

In addition to the difficulty of establishing an Internet access utility, City Commissioners appeared intimidated by incumbents:

“I look at us trying to develop and design a fiber-to-the-home (network), the marketing, the technical support and all that, and going up against current providers, and I don’t see it,” Commissioner Don Selvage said.

Pilot Won't Fly

One of the options the Commission considered was a pilot project in a limited area, but that idea didn’t catch on either. Commissioner Justin Troller advocated for the pilot project:

“I think we should have a test area. If that’s something that costs we can say we tried it, we invested in it, it didn’t work and we’re moving on and finding a private partner,” Troller said.

He added: “I’m not against going out and seeing what the private sector will offer us. I’m saying how do we know we can’t do it if we don’t do it?”

While a number of Commissioners agreed that high-quality Internet access is critical for both economic development and the residents’ quality of life, fear of facing off against incumbent Charter overcame any vision of how a municipal network could benefit Lakeland:

“For most of us there is not a philosophical problem with expanding utilities. This is a utility; we can pretty well justify it ... (and) when you look at the revenue possibility down the road to replace the hospital it makes good governmental sense,” [Mayor Howard] Wiggs said.

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But incumbent providers are not obligated to play nice with new competition, Wiggs said, and he worried an operation like Charter Communications could severely drop prices and erode the city’s market edge.

Not A Total Loss

While Commissioners chose not to pursue the municipal network plan, they did support a number of items intended to encourage better connectivity in Lakeland:

  • It will submit a bid for supplying internet access to Polk County schools when its current contract expires with the goal of making money from existing assets while reducing the cost of the School District’s services.
  • To address the “digital divide” between rich and poor, Lakeland will consider expanding its free wireless service, SurfLakeland, into neighborhoods. The service is currently available in municipal buildings and in Munn Park.
  • Wiggs recently made a pitch to other municipal leaders in Polk County to join forces in encouraging broadband expansion throughout the county.
  • The city will continue its “dig once” policy for all infrastructure work — that when roads are closed and crews dispatched for underground utility work, conduit that could be used for fiber optics is put in place.
  • The city’s “dark fiber” network, which provides intra-city connections for companies and organizations with multiple facilities, will be more actively marketed. Currently the program generates about $4 million each year.
  • The city will also look at fees and licensing costs to determine if they are discouraging private investment.

The Lakeland Regional Airport will deploy its own fiber infrastructure and will offer Internet access to tenants. The project had been considered as a business pilot and, according to the article, costs are now going to be covered in part with federal and state grants specifically earmarked for airports.

Citizens Want Action

Gigabit Lakeland, the grassroots organization advocating for a municipal network, expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision. Shane Mahoney, one of the group’s leaders, talked to the Ledger:

A partnership with a private provider has not been his favored outcome, Mahoney said, but his group intends to continue pressuring the city toward better internet infrastructure in the city, particularly for residents who do not have quality access because of price or location.

Eliminate the Digital Divide - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 218

After his daughter asked how her classmates could do their school homework if they did not have a computer or Internet access at home, Pat Millen's family formed E2D - a nonprofit organization called Eliminate the Digital Divide. This week, Pat and I talk about their strategy, which was created in the footprint of North Carolina's municipal MI-Connection but is now expanding through Charlotte and working with incumbent operators.

E2D has arranged an innovative and replicable program to distribute devices, provide training, and arrange for an affordable connection. Along the way, they developed a sustainable funding model rather than merely asking people with deep pockets for a one-time donation.

An important lesson from E2D is the richness of opportunity when people take action locally. That is often among the hardest steps when success is far from assured - but these local actions are the ones that can be the most successful because they are tuned to local needs, assets, and culture.

Read the transcript of this episode here.

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

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

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

Thanks to Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

Dublin Residents Push for Residential Fiber, City Continues to Benefit

The Columbus, Ohio suburb of Dublin is home to Dublink, a fiber-optic network that serves local businesses, schools, and community anchor institutions. Dublink brought new jobs and research opportunities to the local economy while saving local institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. 

Just recently, Dublin City School District and City of Dublin struck a deal to allow public schools to use the network. Now, residents want Dublink to deliver high-speed access to their homes. 

Residents Want The Benefits, Too

This spring, Dublin residents expressed their discontent with incumbent Internet service providers (ISPs) Charter Communications and AT&T at two packed meetings. Doug McCollough, Dublin’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) summarized local sentiments in a memo to the City Council in April. In the memo and in a Columbus Business First article, McCollough downplayed the idea that the city would operate a network itself, but noted a growing impatience in his community:

"We are a city and should not be competing against telecom carriers, (but) the patience for that message is running out. Our residents want broadband service in their home for a reasonable price – now."

Extensive, compelling public discussions on the social network Nextdoor and in an online forum facilitated by resident group Dublin Broadband encouraged city officials to take up the issue at a larger public meeting in April. Community enthusiasm led to the addition of three more meetings in July, August, and September. The next step will be to survey residential Internet needs and to gather information from the Department of Commerce and incumbent ISPs.

Research & Deployment

Dublink started as a public private partnership to lay conduit in 1999. It originally connected 6 city buildings and the business district. Over the past 17 years, the network was crucial to attracting economic development to the region, as we wrote two years ago. A $1.1 billion Amazon data center, a new Costco Wholesale store, and numerous healthcare employers invested in Dublin in part because of its fiber-optic network. 

In 2005, Dublink began to collaborate with Ohio Academic Research Network (OARnet) to create the Central Ohio Research Network (CORN). The effort connects Dublink with over 1,600 miles of fiber-optic cable linking the region’s top academic research institutions. We wrote about the project last December, when Dublink upgraded speeds on its network to match OARnet’s 100 Gbps speeds (100,000 Megabits per second). 

Dublin City Manager Dana McDaniel foresees further economic development success, particularly in the West Innovation District, 

"We're starting to see those anchor tenants come to fruition. It's heavy in the health arena, information technology and R&D, so it's a great start. I would say it's probably only 25 percent built out so we have a lot of capacity out there." 

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Expedient, a network and data center operator, is currently forming an agreement with the city to lease fiber access and bring additional revenue to the city. Expedient’s CEO tied their decision directly to Dublink, "Because of the Dublink connection, we think that we will be able to grow our business faster and more successfully in Dublin.” 

Local officials are optimistic that all this tech development will spill into the local economy. McDaniel told Columbus Business First, "You drive into these big office parks and you have not place to get lunch and the services you need."

Development Drives City Savings and Revenues

The city eliminated leased lines to switch to Dublink and saved over $4.8 million during the first 12 years.

This year, the City Council decided to turn extra capacity into revenue; a May resolution makes additional dark fiber available for lease, estimated to deliver more than $5.4 million in revenue to the city in the coming decade. A recent Dublin Villager story highlighted the decision:

“A resolution City Council approved May 9 increases the number of optical fiber pairs the city is authorized to offer for lease from 9 to 15 pairs, generating an estimated $525,000 per year in non-taxable revenue, or a total of more than $5.4 million over 10 years with the inclusion of expired leases.”

I-Net Beginning to Blossom in Greenfield, WI

Greenfield city officials and school administrators recently agreed to cooperatively build a fiber-optic institutional network (I-Net). The Milwaukee suburb of about 37,000 expects to trim thousands of dollars from its annual network bill and bring its students, teachers, and local government up to speed.

Dig Now, Save Now

Just like many communities across the U.S., Greenfield realized that it was paying too much to connect its community anchor institutions (CAIs) to the Internet. In April 2015, Greenfield school district approved a bandwidth upgrade with a private provider that would cost the schools $45,588 annually. Within half a year, they had already hit their new bandwidth limit. In November 2015, they needed to upgrade again to the tune of $119,141 per year. 

With classrooms and public institutions demanding increasingly higher bandwidth, local officials decided to ditch the incumbent providers to build a fast, affordable, reliable network in the coming semester. Their investment will allow them to make long-term budgeting decisions, direct more money toward classroom expenses, and use technology to offer rich educational experiences. 

Construction started in June on the fiber-optic network that will connect Greenfield school district, neighboring Whitnall school district, Alverno College, and Greenfield public safety buildings. With installation slated to finish by summer’s end, local institutions expect immediate savings. 

Financial Terms

The City of Greenfield, Greenfield School District, and Whitnall School District all applied for state trust fund loans through the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands of Wisconsin (BCPL). 

Michael Neitzke, Greenfield’s mayor, expects the town to repay it share - a $700,000 loan from BCPL - within 10 years thanks to annual telecommunications savings. The school districts anticipate even shorter repayment periods. Officials at Greenfield School District expect to pay off their loan within 4 years, according to Superintendent Lisa Elliot.  The School District of Whitnall authorized a $440,000 loan from BCPL with a 5-year repayment term at an interest rate of 2.5 percent. 

More Than Just Money

Greenfield hopes its network will impact the community beyond the balance sheet. In addition to blazing fast download speeds, fiber-optic networks feature faster upload speeds that shorten data transfer times, opening the door to a variety of indirect benefits for public safety and education. Greenfield Now quoted Nietzke, who said: 

“Benefiting most in local government are police and paramedics... Police especially depend heavily on getting data and lots of it. Based on the increasing need of law enforcement, an upgrade of this kind would have been made, anyway.”

The school districts are also excited for new possibilities. Greenfield and Whitnall will consider sharing the costs of virtual classrooms, where students in either district could attend classes via the Internet. Their partnership with the city will allow the school districts to save substantially on telecommunications costs; school officials can direct funds toward educating students, maintaining infrastructure, or other important necessities.

Ottawa, Kansas, and Monticello, Illinois, are two other communities where schools and local government have teamed up to save public dollars while simultaneously obtaining better connectivity. Schools can use federal E-rate funds to pay for the cost of Internet infrastructure investment, reducing the overall cost for deployment. Money saved by lowering telecommunications costs can later be re-invested. When a city strategically locates fiber-optic rings, they can later expand their network to serve other CAIs, businesses, or residents.

Regardless of how far Greenfield eventually takes their network, these first steps will result in significant cost reduction and a valuable publicly owned asset.

Glenwood Springs Shares Lessons Learned - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 206

Last week, while at my favorite regional broadband conference - Mountain Connect, I was asked to moderate a panel on municipal fiber projects in Colorado. You can watch it via the periscope video stream that was recorded. It was an excellent panel and led to this week's podcast, a discussion with Glenwood Springs Information Systems Director Bob Farmer.

Bob runs the Glenwood Springs Community Broadband Network, which has been operating for more than 10 years. It started with some fiber to anchor institutions and local businesses and a wireless overlay for residential access. Though the network started by offering open access, the city now provides services directly. We discuss the lessons learned.

Bob also discusses what cities should look for in people when staffing up for a community network project and some considerations when deciding who oversees the network. Finally, he shares some of the successes the network has had and what continues to inspire him after so many years of running the network.

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 21 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."