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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.

El Paso County, CO, Commissioner Urges "Yes" On Local Authority

This has been a “loud” general election. The candidates, the campaign ads, and the supporters have all blasted their messages to voters in every state, drowning out some initiatives that are equally important. In Colorado, 26 local governments are asking voters to decide whether or not to opt out of SB 152, the state’s restrictive law passed in 2005 that looted local telecommunications authority.

In addition to seven counties, 19 municipalities have the issue on the ballot. Most of them use similar language from years past, when dozens of Colorado local governments presented the same question to voters.

El Paso County

There are about 664,000 people in the county, with approximately 456,000 living in the county seat of Colorado Springs. Rural residents and businesses typically struggle to obtain Internet access. County Question 1A reads:

Without increasing taxes, shall El Paso County have the authority to provide, or to facilitate or partner or coordinate with service providers for the provision of, “advanced (high-speed internet) service,” “cable television service,” and “telecommunications service,” either directly, indirectly, or by contract, to residential, commercial, nonprofit, government or other subscribers, and to acquire, operate and maintain any facility for the purpose of providing such services, restoring local authority and flexibility that was taken away by Title 29, Article 27, Part 1 of the Colorado Revised Statutes? 

Recently, El Paso County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Sallie Clarke published a guest column in the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Gazette urging voters to support the measure. She noted that, even thought the initiative is important to the community, the local press has been quiet about the measure. With media filled by the Clinton/Trump race, there is little room for anything else, but she spells out why El Paso County needs to opt out of SB 152.

Staying Competitive

Clarke notes that dozens of other Colorado communities have already voted to opt out of SB 152. So far, 69 municipalities and counties have opted out. A few, including Longmont and Glenwood Springs, chose to opt out years ago and have already shown how to take advantage of publicly owned infrastructure to improve quality of life. Some, such as Centennial, are moving ahead with publicly owned infrastructure and partnerships with the private sector.

According to Clarke, El Paso County also has its sights set on working with private providers:

Initiative 1A permits, by public vote, an opt-out provision that allows commercial providers to tap into El Paso County’s existing or planned fiber and create partnership opportunities which are currently unavailable due to the restrictions imposed by state government. The measure restores local control over the future of our technology needs and resident accessibility, especially evident in today’s changing cyber world.

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She also notes that a “yes” vote can have ancillary benefits:

1A may also serve to lower the wholesale cost of broadband supply to commercial internet service providers, making it economically feasible for residential and commercial delivery and expansion of broadband services to more remote areas. It could make faster connections possible, improving business communications.

Collaboration And Opportunity

Clarke notes that several local communities in El Paso County and nearby Teller County are also voting on the opt out measure and considering ways to improve local connectivity. She writes that recent safety concerns have contributed to the county’s decision to ask voters to reclaim local authority:

Commissioners said, during the discussion on this initiative, that the lack of high-speed data and cellular communications were challenges during both the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. It just makes sense that if public entities are already building the “middle mile” infrastructure for public safety purposes, private companies should be able to use excess capacity to make it more efficient to extend broadband services. If those fiber optic lines to its facilities and those lines have excess capacity, it is more efficient for private providers to tie into those lines and build out service to homes and businesses.

Constituents in some rural areas of El Paso County have no Internet access because there is no middle mile close enough to make last mile investment worth their while. Like many of the other communities that voted to opt out of SB 152 in the past, El Paso County may not have solid plans in place, but they know they can't create those solid plans until after November 8th.

A “yes” vote on 1A is a vote for local partnership opportunities and incentives to provide high-speed Internet services for the benefit of our citizens.

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.

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 222

This is episode 222 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Centennial, Colorado's Fiber Director Tim Scott joins the show to discuss conduit policy, dark fiber strategy, and Ting. Listen to this episode here.

Tim Scott: How do we create a more competitive environment and enable new entrants to look at the market and put together products and services, leveraging the city’s backbone that can create this new, competitive, compelling environment in Centennial?

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 222 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In 2013, Centennial, Colorado voters chose overwhelmingly to opt out of the state's law that restricts local telecommunications authority. Since then, they've steadily advanced toward a plan to use their publicly owned fiber to bring better connectivity to the community. Last month, Internet service provider, Ting, announced that it would be partnering with Centennial to bring gigabit Internet service access via the city's publicly owned fiber-optic network. Tim Scott, the city's director of fiber infrastructure, joins Chris today to talk about Centennial's voyage from a new Denver suburb to a city that has the fiber to draw in a growing provider like Ting. He explains what the city has created and how, what providers are looking for, and offers more information about the new partnership. Now here are Chris and Tim Scott, director of fiber infrastructure from the city of Centennial, Colorado.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm speaking with Tim Scott, the director of fiber infrastructure for the city of Centennial, Colorado. Welcome to the show.

Tim Scott: Morning, Chris. Thanks for inviting me.

Christopher Mitchell: I got it right, Tim Scott?

Tim Scott: Yeah, you did. You got it right. Good job.

Christopher Mitchell: The community of Centennial, I've actually been down in that area, in the Denver metro area. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Tim Scott: As you say, it's really considered a suburb nearly of Denver. We're right down on the southeast corner of the Denver metro area. What's kind of interesting about the city of Centennial, a lot of people don't know this, it's a very new city. We're only 15 years old. We were incorporated in February 7th, I believe, 2001. It's a very new city that was pieced together in a lot of what was unincorporated Arapahoe County land. We're 14 miles wide across. We often refer to the city as shaped a bit like a dumbbell. We've got this larger eastern residential area, which would be one of the dumbbells, and then it sort of narrows along the middle where we kind of have more of our central business district, or CBD area, and then it widens out again into more of a dumbbell shape on our western side of the city. 14 miles across and a population, I believe, of 107,000.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that shape actually plays into a lot of our discussion in terms of what Centennial's done with fiber-optics. We'll talk in a minute about the partnership that you're going to be engaging in where Ting is going to be leasing some lines from you. First let's talk about what Centennial has. What has Centennial built over the years?

Tim Scott: The city really has been on a path of really trying to figure out how fiber can continue to develop the city and keep it ahead, really, of a very competitive growing Denver metro area and sort of looking at ways to use fiber as a leading edge tool that continues to keep the city at the forefront, whether it's from an economic development perspective, for creativity, for our own city services. This has really been a path that the city's been on probably for, I would say, four years. It's probably a good indicator hopefully to some listeners of really how long it can take to figure all these pieces out. I know, Chris, that you've met many of their council members that attended some of the broadband shows over the years as they really tried to put these different pieces together. During those years, they took some really important steps, I think, to sort of get the city prepared ultimately for a broader fiber initiative with partnerships, potentially. Across those years, they continue to invest in some city owned fiber. We have about 50 miles today of fiber along most of the major roads through the city. They primarily are used— it’s city owned fiber, what we call ITS for intelligent traffic signaling. It really doesn't do anything more than that. That in itself has really served a purpose because the city through our Public Works Department built, deployed, managed contractors to deploy that fiber— some of that knowledge is internal within the city now, which is great. Probably most importantly really what it required was the building and the ownership of existing city conduit that that fiber would reside in. I think what we learned as a city is that ownership of that physical asset is so important and in this case ownership of as much as our own city conduit was really important because ultimately that's what's going to be leveraged in our next phase of our fiber build out.

Christopher Mitchell: I think the shape of the city actually really works to your advantage because if I understand it correctly, you were able with your intelligent traffic signaling to put in conduit and fiber along a few major corridors and yet be very close to the vast majority of the premises in the community.

Tim Scott: Yeah, that's correct. If we look at 2013, which is really our starting asset for our fiber master plan, which we'll talk about, which is really our 2016 initiative, if we look at our assets in 2013, where we had fiber in conduit, it really isn't that different from where we're going to invest and build new fiber in 2016 going forward, it's just that's called a different type of fiber with a different purpose, and that's going to be for serving our community anchor institutions and for serving ultimately businesses and residents. You're right, even in 2013, the city already had a strong footprint of existing city owned conduit and some existing fiber serving our traffic signaling, would run east to west across the city down those main roads, main lines, as you said really passes some significant residential populations and again with our coming down the core of that central business district in the middle of that dumbbell, passing a lot of business in our city as well that ultimately can be served with fiber.

Christopher Mitchell: Tim, I'm curious, I think a lot of people just sort of think, well if you had fiber to a lot of these places in 2013, why do you have to do something different now to achieve different ends, rather than the original ITS, intelligent traffic signaling ends?

Tim Scott: It's a great question, Chris. It's something I think that the city probably took a good 12, maybe even 24 months to really understand and get their head around completely that this strategy for fiber from a broader perspective needed to be a little different. Around 2013, the city had deployed fiber in typically a let's call it a point to point fashion, where the pure purpose of that fiber was to go from really one street crossing to another street crossing to serve traffic lights. That was a good purpose and why it was built at that time, but obviously when it was built at that time from a fiber density perspective, it was also low count fiber, like everything from 12 fibers up to 40 type fibers, but what we would call low density fiber. Also perhaps most importantly, I always feel a lot of communities tend to forget this, is it's really the accessibility to the fiber that becomes important. It's not just where the fiber goes, but it's where the handholds are and the future splice points are that ultimately that stretch fiber could be utilized to be used from an expansion perspective. Where do you break into that fiber to create a lateral that can connect to an anchor institution, a business, or a resident? It was a great starting point because it was, again, conduit that the city went through the process of either building and owning itself or getting it co-built with a carrier that may have been building some conduit in the city too, and then being able to use that existing conduit to serve a purpose in 2013, but again, revisit that conduit now in 2016 and say, "Okay, the best way for us would be to build a new, what we would call, carrier grade backbone infrastructure," but again using that existing conduit, a lot of it, that was built in 2013 and prior to 2013 to run this high count. In the case of the city of Centennial's backbone, you're going from low strand fiber to a 432 fiber backbone. That is a lot of fiber. A lot of people fall off their chairs when they say, "The city's building a 432 fiber backbone," so absolutely the city's backbone that will be deployed all around the city and in many of the same locations where we had ITS fiber and city owned conduit, except now it'll be probably 65 plus miles of new fiber backbone, 432 fiber count, the latest and greatest from a spec perspective in terms of fiber that's on the market today. Again, with all the records that we think are really important to accompany that. You've got to be able to prove conduit ownership. You've got to be able to create the right splice points and the right accessibility to the backbone fiber, and ultimately then back that up with the right level of documentation that shows the correct as-built exactly where it is, exactly how it's accessible. It's really building it with a purpose to serve as a facilitator for the private sector. I think that's very different than building fiber that has a single purpose, which in our case was ITS, and then building fiber as a backbone that really can be leveraged ultimately someday by the private sector who could come and use it, but has a higher level of expectation in terms of documentation, accessibility, support, how it was built, all that complex stuff that ultimately becomes important. We're going through all that complex stuff to build it exactly in the right way so it could be considered carrier grade.

Christopher Mitchell: There's a couple of questions that sort of spring to mind, and one is when you say you're reusing the conduit, did you have enough space to just put additional fiber in there or do you have to pull out those original 40-some strands?

Tim Scott: Yeah, good question. We have a lot of conduit conversations because actually what's quite interesting with this project is that we're 100% underground. It's all city owned conduit or ultimately what will be city owned conduit. In a lot of places, that's two inch conduit. Where we have two inch conduit and we have city fiber already there, we may build, as we go through this build process, another parallel conduit that will sit right beside it that will serve the 432. We're really going through that process right now with what we're calling our design engineering firm or our owner's project manager that really looks exactly what where do we have conduit, where do we have clean, clear two inch conduit that we can use for the new 432 backbone. Great. Where do we have existing conduit where it's clean and it's a quarter inch conduit, and where do we have existing city conduit where it's maybe two inch but there's going to be some fiber already in there? The plan right now, and of course this is all subjective to ultimately final budgets and stuff, but the plan right now is we really don't want to have to cut and pull out any fiber and then replace it with new backbone. Our preference would be to ensure that the city has lots of available city conduit, both for this project but even for the future too. I mean, if we can put in three two inch conduits in some locations, we'll look to do that because we believe that's still an asset and 10, 20 years down that could be very valuable.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, let's get onto what many people might consider the big news, which is that we've just learned that Ting, a company that's already working in Charlottesville, Virginia, Westminster, Maryland, we've talked about many times. They've also announced Holly Springs, North Carolina, and Sandpoint. And their fifth community they're going to be working with is Centennial, which I think is pretty tremendous, given that everyone seems to love their services. I've long been a wireless customer of theirs and I'm very happy. What's your relationship with Ting in terms of how they're interacting with you?

Tim Scott: Two weeks ago Ting broke the news that they were coming to Centennial, Colorado, which I think as you mentioned is their fifth planned community project. We're very excited about Ting. Ting is a company that certainly I've followed over the last couple of years as they've worked really diligently to get their first couple of projects on the eastern seaboard off the ground. I've had the pleasure of visiting those communities and really understanding both what Ting does locally, but also probably even more importantly is their engagement with the local community. Ting followed an RFI process that the city had, expressed their interest in leveraging this new, to be built, carrier grade 432 backbone, to really come and enter what I think is a wonderful market for them. It's an extremely fast growing area of the country. It's an extremely fast growing area of the Denver metro market. We have actually, in Centennial, we have the highest Internet adoption rate in the country of 96%. We believe we've got a very educated, very connected community. We think it's a great opportunity for a fiber player to come to town, leverage the city's backbone that gives that pervasive coverage across the city, and ultimately invest their dollars to bring the backbone to the premise, whether it's businesses, whether it's residential. One of the things you mentioned I think that's been a real standout has been what we've learned about their customer service. You've experienced that obviously on the wireless side, but it appears to be very similar on the wired side, the fiber side. We're excited about that. Obviously we're excited about their products and their future services, which hopefully they'll be bringing out as well to markets like Centennial. I look at it as a real game changer for the city. I really think that this presence of Ting will really transform the city of Centennial. I'm excited to see their white and blue trucks and vans drive around Centennial just like I saw them in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious, are they actually going to be leasing your fiber then or your conduit or will it vary depending on location? Is that all worked out yet?

Tim Scott: No, it's not all worked out yet. Basically the announcement is I think confirmation that they're in the what I would call research stage. They've already done their preliminary research. They're very happy about the demographics and obviously what they consider is a great market opportunity in Centennial. Now they dropped down a layer and they start to figure out, okay, where exactly should we target first? Which residential areas of the city make sense? What about the businesses? How do we do that? Obviously they have a large step up to create in terms of creating a local team in the Colorado market, something they'll be starting very soon. There's a lot of actions that they have to take. Then really their relationship with the city at this point is ultimately they will execute some sort of agreement or lease of fiber on the city's backbone. I think that will obviously be dictated a little bit about some of the decisions they have to make about where they will go first, which areas of the city, which residential areas of the city. The business relationship, if you want to call it that, is basically they're taking an IRU for fiber lease from the city of Centennial, which would absolutely be obviously available to the next partner that might want to take an IRU on the city's backbone.

Christopher Mitchell: That's actually something I wanted to ask you about. With 432 fiber strands, it seems like you have plenty of capacity then for any other ISPs that might want to also invest in Centennial.

Tim Scott: Yeah, we do. I mean, we are building deliberately a backbone that has a lot of capacity, both for opportunities for private carriers to lease dark fiber capacity on the backbone, but also for our community anchor institution use, public safety use for many agencies across the city. The opportunity is there for other carriers to lease fiber on our backbone and make that bet of investing to create fiber to the premise opportunities. I think a lot of people think about it and I think a lot of people see those opportunities, but actually taking the steps that Ting have done to create the brand around it, create the local teams around it, have the product services and customer support to back it up, those are different. Those are different steps. We're very pleased with the partnership. We're very pleased with where we are with Ting and we look forward to the decisions that they make over the next few months, which will really set up what they do in 2017 and beyond.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, this is a key moment in the podcast that I usually come up against, and that is we could end it right now and have a nice short podcast, but there's another question that's burning in my head. You're a unique person that can help answer it, I think. You have a pretty long background in dealing with various open solutions, both dark and lit open access approaches. Your background, you've worked previously with Axia, which is an open access provider working in the state of Massachusetts. I'm really curious if you can just – Some of our other cities who aren't Centennial who are trying to figure out how to think about their different options in terms of a dark versus a lit strategy for encouraging open competition in the community. What thoughts can you give them?

Tim Scott: Yeah, and it's a great question and I think one, Chris, that we've seen tossed about for years at various broadband and community fiber forums. I think the way that I would answer this is, first of all, just talking about what the city of Centennial did. The city of Centennial really tried to figure this out for a number of years. Went through the process, you've got to sit in a room and have everybody say, "Okay, we can either, at one end of the scale, do nothing or, at the other end of the scale, we can do everything," meaning that we can build a network, fiber, electronics, offer services, move into the whole competitive environment. At one end of the scale it's obviously $0, do nothing, and the other end of the scale it could be $150 million plus and become this new entity. I really believe that in all situations, depending on the community, there's a model for each. In the case of Centennial, it was not really to pick a middle ground or anything, but the right answer because of our drivers which was we didn't have a significant fiber in our community from a city perspective that we could really leverage. We had a competitive environment in the sense that we have Comcast and CenturyLink, but no fiber products being developed or being brought into the community from a fiber to the premise perspective. We had small, small numbers of fiber where the largest enterprises could get served with basically expensive fiber. We really felt, from an economic development perspective, the focus was on how do we create a backbone that can create a more competitive environment and enable new entrants to look at the market and put together products and services, leveraging the city's backbone that can create this new competitive, compelling environment in Centennial? Again, that just takes a lot of time to go through the process as a team to figure that out, to get through the right political support behind it, to educate everybody that's on council, not just the wonderful three members that we had on our fiber subcommittee who are all three sitting council members as well. It just takes time to go through that. In our case, the answer to what Centennial should provide became very evident through a lot of different workshops. It became very evident of what we felt we needed to do to change those dynamics. I see other communities that maybe are more rural and they really, truly believe that they have to move into what I would call the business. Maybe they only have one carrier serving their community and maybe they're not very focused on doing a great job. Obviously they need to go further on that scale towards that number that I talked about, that $150 million number, where they need to not just build fiber, but they might need to light up the electronics and even provide— compelling at least Internet services.

Christopher Mitchell: What I'm curious in particular is for a community that is really set on providing services indirectly, really focusing on wholesale services or wanting to encourage that, I'm curious about the merits of a dark versus a lit strategy. The city's basically already saying, "We're not going to provide services ourselves."

Tim Scott: Yeah. I feel like in our case we chose that dark fiber strategy because we see a line in the sand between being a provider of dark fiber and the complexity that's associated with making that business work and making those prices and products compelling for the marketplace. Then on the other side of that line, the complexity of moving into wholesale lit services is just a different ballgame. You've got to have a different type of team and you've got to have different capital and you've got to have different levels of expertise and different levels of support, and that option which would be wholesale lit services. Again, for us, it just became apparent through our process that creating a dark fiber backbone that was citywide, that has been built to a carrier grid standard that you can prove to any private parties that you sit down, whether it's the biggest guy in the country or the smallest guy. You can say, "Here's how it was built. Here's the as-builts. Here's the quality. Here's the data centers and carrier hotels that the backbone connects to." That becomes a very compelling proposition. There's other things that are important too, Chris. To ensure that dark fiber proposition works, the city has got to be organized. The city's got to have this permanent fix. It's got to have the right of ways fixed. All that stuff, what Google looked towards cities to provide, a lot of that work has gone on in the background as well over the last couple of years as the city also got organized to ensure that we could really be very responsive as it related to our codes and permitting and all those other requirements.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. One last follow up question, which is you mentioned this a couple of times and I think you're probably someone who could define it well, when you talk about carrier grade, I assume that's in contrast to enterprise grade, which is not a Star Trek reference. Aside from all the paperwork, which I find very interesting to prove that it's not going to cause any headaches for someone who's using it in the future, what are some of the other things that a potential ISP would be looking for in terms of something that's carrier grade?

Tim Scott: Yeah. It seems to get thrown around, but I think you got to be able to demonstrate to a private carrier that this backbone fiber that ultimately they're going to use and really treat as their asset under an IRU, you have to be able to demonstrate that it's been built correctly, with the right as-builts, that it's been tested correctly with the right fiber test results, such as OTDR testing, which they would, I assume, expect to see and many of them will, and that it's ultimately the right type of fiber in terms of its specifications. Some of those ... Those three elements I would certainly say all factor into something being termed carrier grade. Then the other piece that we touched on earlier that I didn't want to forget about is accessibility. There's no point in having the latest and greatest fiber backbone from point A to point B if you can't get at it in between. It's the getting at it in between that creates the valuable laterals that connect to the residential communities or connects to the businesses or connects to anchor institutions. It's combining, I feel, all the factors, right, and into that definition of what's carrier grade. Unfortunately, I've sat down over the years with many communities that might have the fiber asset but really struggle to explain and demonstrate to a private party that it's carrier grade because they don't have the documentation or they don't have the test results or they can't prove that it connects to the right points, A and B or A and Z locations, or that it's accessible in between and they've got the documentation to demonstrate where it's accessible in between. All those factors I feel melt into that broad definition of carrier grade.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you for coming on the show to tell us so much more about what's happening in Centennial. I think also almost uniquely in this history of this show at least to really give us the nuts and bolts between the differences between building a network out for intelligent traffic signaling and how to attract a brand new carrier. It's been great.

Tim Scott: Thanks, Chris. Thanks a lot for having me on the show. I look forward to seeing you in Colorado sometime soon.

Lisa Gonzalez: Thank you for listening to episode 222 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Again, that was Tim Scott, director of fiber infrastructure from Centennial, Colorado. Read more about Centennial at MuniNetworks.org. 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's stories on Twitter, where the handle is @MuniNetworks. Thanks to the group, mojo monkeys, for their song “Bodacious,” licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening.

Carrier-Grade Fiber in Centennial, Colorado - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 222

Located in the Denver metro region and shaped like a barbell, Centennial has effectively used dig once policies to build conduit and fiber assets that have attracted Ting to the community. Tim Scott is the Director of Fiber Infrastructure for the city and joins us on Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 222.

Centennial took advantage of a project installing fiber for Intelligent Transportation Signaling. But just putting in more fiber was not sufficient to establish a carrier-grade network that ISPs would want to use. Tim explains what they had to do to attract ISP interest.

Centennial's shape is very conducive to their strategy (which may be a tautology - they chose that strategy because it works for them). At any rate, their arterial corridors run quite close to the majority of premises and therefore a well-designed fiber backbone network is more attractive in that community than others.

Read the transcript of the show here.

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"Go West, Young ISP!" Ting Moving Into Centennial, Colorado

What do Maryland’s Westminster; Sandpoint in Idaho; Holly Springs, North Carolina; Charlottesville, Virginia; and now Centennial, Colorado, all have in common? Ting's "crazy fast fiber" Internet access.

In a press release, the Toronto Internet Service Provider (ISP) announced that as of today, it is taking pre-orders to assess demand in Centennial. The results will determine if the company will take the next step and offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to Centennial’s 107,000 residents and its local businesses. Ting estimates residential symmetrical Gigabit Internet access (1,000 Megabits per second download and upload) will cost approximately $89 per month; business subscriptions will cost about $139 per month. According to the Ting blog, they are also planning to offer a low-cost option of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical Internet access for $19.99 per month.

All Part Of The Plan

In March, the city released the results of a feasibility study and published its Master Plan, which included investing to expand the city’s existing network of more than 50 miles of dark fiber. Ting is the first provider to offer services via the infrastructure.

Once it is established that a sufficient demand exists for Ting’s symmetrical Gigabit Internet access, construction to specific areas of town will begin.

Mayor Pro Tem and District 4 Council Member Charles “C.J.” Whelan said:

“Ting Internet in Centennial will enable faster and more affordable Internet services for both residents and businesses, just as the City’s Fiber Master Plan intended. Technology, and in particular connectivity to the Internet, has become essential to everyday life, so much so that we experience withdrawals when it is not there. Data connectivity needs to be efficient and readily available, and it is at its best when it, ‘just works’ and you don’t have to think even about it. Bringing such a high level of service to Centennial is what makes this collaboration with Ting so exciting.”

"A Fine Ear"

When Centennial voters chose to reclaim local authority in 2013, they told the rest of the state they would chart their own course. They also let ISPs know that they were open to collaboration to improve local connectivity. Centennial is only one of over four dozen municipalities and counties that have opted out of the state's restrictive law, SB 152.

In a video on why Ting chose Centennial as its next city, CEO Elliot Noss pointed out the strong election results of referenda in which Centennial and other Colorado communities chose to reclaim local authority. “Clearly, the state of Colorado has a fine ear for better, faster, Internet.”

Watch the video here:

Colorado Communities Opting Out: The List Grows...and Grows...and Grows

Recently, Christopher spoke with Glenwood Springs, Colorado, about their venture into providing high-quality Internet access for the community. They were, to our knowledge, the first Colorado community to pass a referendum reclaiming local telecommunications authority. The voters in Glenwood Springs chose to opt out of SB 152 and reclaim that authority in 2008.

Last fall was a banner season for local communities deciding to no longer be limited by the state restrictions borne out of big cable lobbying. More than four dozen municipalities and counties voted on the issue and all of them passed, many with huge margins. In the spring of this year, nine more towns joined the fray, including Mancos, Fruita, and Orchard City. There are also over 20 counties and number of school districts that have taken the issue to voters and voters responded overwhelmingly saying, “YES! WE WANT LOCAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS AUTHORITY!”

Most of these communities have not expressed an intent to invest in publicly owned infrastructure, but a few places are engaged in feasibility studies, are raising funding, or even in the midst of projects. For most of them, the question of autonomy was the overriding issue - local communities want to be the ones to make the decisions that will impact them at home.

The Colorado Municipal League (CML) has assembled a list of municipalities that have held referendums on the question of 2005's SB 152 and whether or not to reclaim local authority. They list each community’s election by date and include the language of their ballot questions. Some community listings provide the percentage of pro and con votes. You can download the PDF of the list from the CML’s page created specifically for the local telecommunications authority question.

Wasted Dollars, Wasted Time

Referendums are costing each community dollars they could spend on important services. In 2015, the referendum in Fort Collins cost taxpayers more than $60,000. Those are precious dollars that could be dedicated toward a feasibility study, a school district technology program, or some other program designed to improve their quality of life.

Cities and towns are not alone in reclaiming local authority. Here is the list of counties that have passed the referendum, opting out of SB 152 restrictions:

Archuleta County Clear Creek County Custer County
Delta County Gilpin County Gunnison County
Huerfano County Jackson County La Plata County
Lake County Moffat County Ouray County
Park County Pitkin County Rio Blanco County
Routt County San Juan County San Miguel County
Summit County Washington County Yuma County

We’re not sure what it will take for the Colorado Legislature to see the light and strike SB 152 from the books but we hope they open their eyes soon. We think Colorado will be an epicenter of change and we will be watching.

Three Communities Make Big Moves Toward Municipal Fiber Networks

A March article in Broadband Properties Magazine spotlights three communities around the country that are making progress toward creating municipal fiber networks. The City of Centennial, Colorado announced that they have completed a feasibility study and a Master Plan detailing the city’s plans to develop a network. Additionally, the Cities of Indianola, Iowa and Rancho Cucamonga, California announced that they have begun studying the feasibility of starting their own municipal fiber networks. 

Indianola, Iowa

Indianola, Iowa is a city of about 15,000 just 20 miles south of Des Moines. As we wrote a few years ago, Indianola currently owns an open access Fiber-to-the Premise (FTTP) network which provides Gigabit speed Internet access, plus TV, and phone service to most businesses and select residents in Indianola. The study they recently commissioned will explore the feasibility of using this existing network for constructing a FTTP network to the entire community. 

Indianola built its existing fiber network, which they launched in 2012, out of frustration as CenturyLink refused requests from the community to upgrade their DSL network and the incumbent Mediacom began overcharging for their Internet services. Today, Indianola Municipal Utilities is the infrastructure owner and a wholesale provider of this fiber network while Mahaska Communication Group, an Iowa-based Internet Service Provider (ISP), performs the operations and maintenance services for the network. 

Rancho Cucamonga, California

The City of Rancho Cucamonga, California recently asked a private consulting firm to perform a study to determine the feasibility of creating a fiber optic network. City officials see a municipal fiber network in this city of just over 170,000 as a potential driver of economic development. The city is located about 45 miles east of Los Angeles.

seal-rancho-cucamongo-ca.jpg

Like Indianola, Rancho Cucamonga owns existing fiber-optic infrastructure. They city owns 25 miles of 96 strand fiber and 5 additional miles of vacant fiber conduit connecting to numerous municipal facilities. The city plans to first create a network for municipal buildings and businesses. Later, Rancho Cucamonga will integrate the network into the city’s traffic system and expand the network to serve residents.

Centennial, Colorado

The City of Centennial, Colorado released the results of a feasibility study and Master Plan in March. The study and plan detail a strategy to expand an existing 48-mile dark fiber infrastructure to create an open access network in this Denver suburb of 100,000.

The Master Plan calls for the city to spend $5.7 million to expand its existing fiber infrastructure and create a municipal fiber network that will provide vastly improved Internet access to all of the schools, libraries, local government and public safety organizations in Centennial. The city is also designing the network to run close to major business and residential areas and will have enough capacity to serve businesses and households. The city would serve as a wholesale provider and lease the network infrastructure on a non-exclusive basis to private ISPs that would provide retail services to subscribers. 

Centennial uses its 48-mile fiber infrastructure to facilitate operations of the city’s traffic signal equipment and to connect its government facilities to privately owned Internet networks. In 2013, Centennial residents voted overwhelmingly in support of a ballot question to reclaim local telecommunications authority that had been hijacked in 2005 when the state legislature passed SB 152. The voters’ 3:1 approval of that referendum opened the door to other possibilities for their publicly owned fiber.

Centennial’s Mayor Pro Tem C.J. Whelan, the chair of Centennial’s Fiber Steering Committee, described city’s vision for the network:

“This plan provides the roadmap for a future fiber-optic network infrastructure that will become a key resource of the city and ultimately enable Centennial to pursue improvements to public services and enhance economic development.”

City Councilwoman Stephanie Piko added.

“The city will now be in a position to partner with anchor agencies, such as school districts and public-safety agencies to offer better alternatives for their technology needs and improve their services to our residents.”

After Local Communities Reclaim Authority, Comcast Turns Up Speed In Colorado

On November 4th, voters in several Colorado communities decided to reclaim local authority to provide telecommunications services. As Coloradans celebrated their steps toward self-reliance, Comcast felt a little quiver in its cowboy boots. KMGH in Denver is now reporting that Comcast plans to double Internet speeds at no extra charge for some Colorado customers. Customers now signed up for download speeds of 25 Mbps or 50 Mbps will see their speeds double at no extra charge by the end of the year.

KMGH reporter Ryan Tronier also notes that the recent election may have played a part in Comcast's decision to turn up the speed:

While the doubling of internet speeds is great news for Comcast customers, the move may not be as benevolent as it seems.

Comcast's announcement comes on the heels of seven Colorado cities and counties deregulating restrictive internet laws during the midterm elections. 

As many of our readers know, SB152 was passed in 2005 and prevents local governments from establishing telecommunications utilities unless voters approve an exemption. Exemptions passing in Boulder, Wray, Yuma, Cherry Hills Village, Red Cliff, Yuma County, San Miguel County, and Rio Blanco County appear to have been inspired by similar ballot measures years prior in Centennial, Montrose, and Longmont. Longmont is well into deploying its FTTH network.

With President Obama's recent support for reclassification to Title II as part of a free and open Internet plan, and Comcast's ongoing bid to merge with Time Warner Cable, a number of factors are still unsettled. Comcast is inclined to strategically present tidbits like this as a way to sweeten public perception when they want something of value.

Internet Essentials, Comcast's program for low income families was unveiled at a time when the cable behemoth wanted approval for its NBC acquisition. CEO David Cohen has admitted that it was used as a bargaining chip and it has since proved itself to be as much an obstacle as a tool. Unfortunately, Internet Essentials customers will not be included in this speed increase. In a place like Colorado where local communities are asserting their independence from one of the most hated companies in America, turning up the speed for free is the least Comcast can do.

Nevertheless, this is the latest example of how municipal networks, or the possibility of them, can inspire positive behavior from incumbents. In Columbia, Missouri, the local business community could not get adequate services from CenturyLink.  After announcing its intention to explore municipal fiber resources for commercial uses, CenturyLink decided it would offer gigabit service to a limited number of properties.

Colorado Comcast customers can expect their free speed increases by the end of 2014. While the increases are great news for existing customers, they do nothing for competition or for rural folks who are not served by the cable giant. Comcast customers who live in Denver can thank voters in Boulder, Wray, Yuma, Cherry Hills Village, Red Cliff, Yuma County, San Miguel County, and Rio Blanco County for their faster Internet speeds.

Another Colorado Community May Reclaim Local Telecommunications Authority

Boulder's City Council is considering November ballot question to restore local authority for municipal telecommunications services. The measure, if passed, will create an exemption to the 2005 Colorado law allowing Boulder to better use its existing fiber optic infrastructure.

Apparently, the Boulder community has a self-reliant streak. This is not the first time the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has reported on the community of 97,000. John Farrell, Director of the Democratic Energy initiative, has followed the grassroots campaign to establish a city-owned electric utility in Boulder.

The Daily Camera reports that City Council staff, in a memo to Members, recommend the community seek authority to make use of existing assets. The City owns an extensive network of conduit that it began developing in the 1990s. Boulder has aggressively expanded the network, leasing it to private partners and using the space for a fiber I-Net to connect over 50 municipal facilities.

The Boulder Research and Administration Network (BRAN) serves the City, the University of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Each of the four entities shared equally in funding the $1.2 million eleven mile network. Boulder is an administering partner for BRAN and hopes to capitalize on that relationship even further.

Approximately 10% of Boulder's residents have home-based businesses, reports City Council staff. The community ranks high in the concentration of software engineers, innovators, and scientists. Businesses with less than 100 employees comprise 97% of firms in Boulder. Local surveys indicate the business community is hungry for better services. From the Daily Camera article:

[Director of Information Technology Don] Ingle said the city has no concrete plans in place to pursue partners, but he believes there will be a lot of interest if Boulder can get the authority.

"The broadband capacity currently offered by the private sector is not large enough," he said. "Given all the business innovation going on with the tech center, that level of connectivity would be a huge asset."

In the past, City leaders hoped to catch Google's attention but the election successes in Longmont, Centennial, and Montrose have inspired Boulder to take action rather than wait indefinitely. Boulder policy advisor Carl Castillo, told the Daily Camera city leaders believe the 2005 law poisoned the city's chances of becoming a Google Fiber community.

"The way we look at it is that our taxpayers have paid for these assets, and we're not able to leverage these assets to offer higher-speed Internet at lower cost," Castillo said. "Right now, we can't really engage in these discussions. We're really going to be behind the ball if we don't have this authority."