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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.


turkeys.jpg

Photo of the turkeys courtesy of Farmgirlmiriam via Pixaby.

Photo of the cornucopia courtesy of Cliparts.co.

Designing A Faster Anacortes Starts With NoaNet

Anacortes, Washington, is officially on the road to better connectivity via publicly owned infrastructure. Community leaders voted on September 19th to collaborate with the statewide middle mile network, Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), to get the project started.

One Piece At A Time

Public Works will be the first to use the fiber backbone to monitor and control its facilities; the community’s current radio-based system is prone to frequent failure. Water and sewer utility funds will pay for the design and construction of this section of the network. Officials estimate the fiber backbone will cost around $3 million.

Turning To Experience

The city approved $175,000 in design fees to nonprofit NoaNet, in part because it is funded and managed by several public utility districts. It brings high-quality Internet access to local government facilities all across the state. NoaNet’s fiber-optic network spans Washington with more than 2,000 miles through metro and rural areas. Its open access model encourages multiple service providers to offer services to more than 2,000 schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community anchor institutions in over 170 communities. The network has served the state for 15 years.

The Anacortes plan would connect its network to the Internet and then to local businesses and homes in a later phase. For now, the city’s priority is the utilities upgrade:

“Every day my guys are telling me we have (communication) failures,” Buckenmeyer said. “A fiber telemetry system is arguably the best system you can have. Our current system is outdated and we need to do something about it.”

Buckenmeyer said the first phase of the network could be finished within 18 months.

An Island Community

Anacortes, home to about 16,000 people, is located on the northern half of Fidalgo Island. Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands surround it on the north; Skagit Valley and Mount Vernon, another community with its own municipal network, are east on the mainland.

Island communities are often plagued by poor connectivity. Often they are hard to reach and large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can't justify the cost to bring high-quality Internet access to places that are not densely populated. Places like Islesboro, Maine, and Doe Bay, which is also in Washington, have taken to finding their own solutions to improving Internet access.

Our "Open Access Networks" Resources Page Now Available

When communities decide to proceed with publicly owned infrastructure, they often aim for open access models. Open access allows more than one service provider to offer services via the same infrastructure. The desire is to increase competition, which will lower prices, improve services, and encourage innovation.

It seems straight forward, but open access can be more complex than one might expect. In addition to varying models, there are special challenges and financing considerations that communities need to consider.

In order to centralize our information on open access, we’ve created the new Open Access Networks resource page. We’ve gathered together some of our best reference material, including links to previous MuniNetworks.org stories, articles from other resources, relevant Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes, case studies, helpful illustrations, and more.

We cover: 

  • Open Access Arrangements
  • Financing Open Access Networks
  • Challenges for Open Access Networks
  • U.S. Open Access Networks
  • Planned Open Access Networks

Check it out and share the link. Bookmark it!

Digital Northwest: What's Working?

Next Century Cities recently hosted "Digital Northwest," a summit for regional broadband leaders. Leaders from member cities all over the country gathered together to learn from one another and discuss digital inclusion, models for success, partnerships, and much more. 

Chris led a panel of mayors and city council leaders from cities with well-known municipal networks in a discussion of their networks and how their communities have benefitted. 

The panel featured: 

  • Mayor Jill Boudreau, Mt. Vernon, WA
  • Mayor Wade Troxell, Fort Collins, CO
  • City Council President Jeremy Pietzold, , Sandy OR
  • Councilmember David Terrazas, Santa Cruz, CA


Island Community Builds Their Own Network: Coverage in Ars and Video From The Scene

Island living has its perks - the roar of the waves, the fresh breeze, the beauty of an ocean sunset - but good Internet access is usually not one of them.

A November Ars Technica article profiles Orcas Island, located in Washington state. Residents of the island's Doe Bay chose to enjoy the perks of island living and do what it took to get the Internet they needed. By using the natural and human resources on the island, the community created the nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA). The wireless network provides Internet access to a section of the island not served by incumbent CenturyLink. 

DBIUA receives its signal from StarTouch Broadband Services via microwave link from Mount Vernon on the mainland. Via a series of radios mounted on the community's water tower, houses, and tall trees, the network serves about 50 homes with speeds between 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 40 Mbps upload. Residents who had previously paid CenturyLink for DSL service were accustomed to 700 Kilobits per second (Kbps) download except during busy times when speeds would drop to 100 Kbps download and "almost nothing" upload.

Outages were also common. In 2013, after a 10-day loss of Internet access, residents got together to share food and ideas. At that meeting, software developer Chris Sutton, suggested the community "do it themselves." 

Island Self-Reliant

The talent to make the project successful came forward to join the team. In addition to Sutton's software expertise, the island is home to professionals in marketing, law and land use, and a former CenturyLink installer. The network went live in September 2014 and is slowly and carefully expanding to serve more people.

Doe Bay realized that they could solve the problem themselves. Ars quoted Sutton:

Just waiting around for corporate America to come save us, we realized no one is going to come out here and make the kind of investment that’s needed for 200 people max.

I think so many other communities could do this themselves...There does require a little bit of technical expertise but it's not something that people can't learn. I think relying on corporate America to come save us all is just not going to happen, but if we all get together and share our resources, communities can do this themselves and be more resilient.

In addition to the article that dives deep into how residents developed the network, take a look at this video for more on DBIUA from The Scene:

 

Another Washington Coastal City Considers Community Network

Out on the coast of the great state of Washington, community networks are making waves. Orcas Island residents recently made headlines with their homegrown wireless network, and Mount Vernon’s fiber network previously appeared in the New York Times. Now, the city of Anacortes is considering its options.

 

Anacortes: Fiber-to-the-Home?

The city is negotiating with an engineering firm to develop a fiber network that best provides connectivity for the 16,000 residents. The engineering firm is expected to present to the city council next on November 16th.

Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer estimates the cost of fiber optic installation at about $15 million. The city of Anacortes has applied for a $375,000 grant from Skagit County to help pay for the construction, but the city would likely need a take-rate (homes to subscribe to the network) of 35 - 40% to break even on the project. 

 

Mount Vernon: Open Access

Anacortes’ plan is rather distinct from that of its neighboring community Mount Vernon. The network in Mount Vernon is an open access fiber available to government and local businesses, not residents, in Mount Vernon, Burlington, and the Port of Skagit. 

Mount Vernon made the New York Times last year with the story of an information security firm relocating from Seattle to Mount Vernon thanks to the fiber connectivity available there. Currently, the network has 267 drops (locations with connections) throughout the three communities. In Mount Vernon alone, there are 185 drops with 37.3% being for government maintenance and the city of Mount Vernon. 9.7% are dark fiber leases, and all the rest are ISP service drops to businesses. 

 

What will Anacortes do?

We will have to wait to see the model laid out by the engineering firm next week in Anacortes. If the plans are approved, the city could start laying cable as early as next year. Bruce McDougall, an Anacortes resident who volunteered to lead the feasibility study, expressed hope that the project will be approved, saying: “small cities are good places for things like this.”

Municipal Networks and Economic Development

Economic Development and Community Networks

When a community invests in a municipal broadband network, it often does so because it hopes to reap economic benefits from the network. Much has been written about the positive relationship between municipal Internet networks and economic development, including a White House report published in January 2015. Municipal networks create jobs by serving existing businesses and attracting new businesses to local communities, increase productivity by allowing individuals to telecommute and work from home, support advanced healthcare and security systems, strengthen local housing markets, and represent long term social investments in the form of better-connected schools and libraries. They also create millions of dollars in savings that can be reinvested into local communities. 

When municipalities choose to deploy fiber networks, they introduce Internet services into the community that are not only significantly faster than Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and cable, but more reliable. With fiber connections, businesses and individuals are far less likely to experience temporary blackouts that can harm their ability to provide services to customers. And because these networks are locally-owned and operated, business owners do not have to spend hours on the phone with an absentee Internet Service Provider like AT&T in the (albeit unlikely) event of a problem. 

Community Broadband Networks and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have catalogued numerous examples of economic development achievements that have occurred as a result of cities and counties deploying a municipal broadband network. Below, you can find a wide range of articles, studies, blog posts, and other resources that speak to the economic successes enabled by municipal networks, organized by topic:

* Job Creation

* Attraction of New Businesses

* Expansion of Existing Businesses

* Home-based Productivity 

* Healthcare, Education, and Research

* High Tech Industries and Entrepreneurship

* Savings 

* Property Values 

* General Resources

Mount Vernon Mayor: Local Authority Has Been Good For Our City

As the time approached for FCC Commissioners to choose to allow Wilson and Chattanooga to serve surrounding communities, leaders from municipalities with publicly owned networks shared their experiences. Jill Boudreau, Mayor of Mount Vernon, Washington, published her community's experience with their muni in GoSkagit.com. 

As in the recent testimonial from Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller, Mayor Boudreau described how Mount Vernon's network has created a quality of life where high-tech has enhanced local medicine, encouraged new businesses, and created and environment rich with competition.

Mount Vernon's open access network provides infrastructure for nine service providers. Some of these providers offer services only to businesses, while others also serve government, retail providers, and specific industries such as the medical community. Hundreds of public and private customers receive fast, affordable, reliable connectivity through these providers and the city's publicly owned network.

We first introduced you to Mount Vernon in 2013. The community began deployment in 1995 and have added incrementally to the network to serve nearby Burlington and the Port of Skagit. Government facilities, schools, hospitals, and businesses save millions while utilizing top-notch technology. Businesses have relocated to the area to take advantage of the network and enjoy the high quality of life in the relatively affordable area with its abundance of outdoor recreation.

Mayor Boudreau recognizes that Mount Vernon's success may not be easy to come by for every community but believes each should have the ability to decide that for themselves. She writes:

When it comes to community growth and prosperity, next-generation Internet is vital infrastructure just like a road or sewer pipe. Though what we’ve built in Mount Vernon may not work in every city, each community should have the choice to pursue fast, affordable and reliable broadband in the way that works for them.

Municipal Networks and Small ISP Partners to FCC: Title II Not a Problem

A group of municipal leaders and their private sector small ISP partners submitted an ex parte filing with the FCC today stating that they see no reason to fear Title II reclassification of Internet access. The statement, signed by a variety of towns and providers from different areas of the country is reproduced in full:

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

As a group of local governments and small ISPs that have been working to expand the highest quality Internet access to our communities, we commend you for your efforts to improve Internet access across the country. We are committed to a free and open Internet without blocking, throttling, or discriminating by ISPs.

As local governments and small ISPs, we wanted to ensure you are aware that not all local governments and ISPs think alike on matters like reclassification. For instance, on July 18, 2014, the mayors of New York City; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco called on you to issue the strongest possible rules to guarantee Net Neutrality. Each of these communities is also taking steps to expand and improve high quality Internet access to their businesses and residents.

Our approaches vary but are already resulting in the highest level of service available because we are committed to expanding high quality Internet access to supercharge local economies and improve quality of life. We have no interest in simply replicating older triple play model approaches. We want to build the infrastructure of the future and we see nothing in the proposed Title II reclassification of Internet access that would hinder our ability to do that. As Sonic CEO Dane Jasper has strongly argued, ISPs that don’t want to interfere with their subscribers’ traffic should expect a light regulatory touch.

We thank you for your leadership during this difficult period of transition. We understand that many of our colleagues have trouble trusting the FCC given a history that has, in many cases, ignored the challenges small entities face in this industry. But whether it has been increasing the speed definition of broadband, or calling for the removal of barriers to community networks, we have been impressed with your willingness to take on powerful interest groups to ensure the Internet remains a vibrant, open platform.

We look forward to working with you to ensure that future rules recognize the unique challenges of small providers and innovative approaches to expanding access.

Sincerely,

  • Peter d'Errico, Town of Leverett MA, Municipal Light Plant, Town of Leverett MA Select Board
  • Fletcher Kittredge, President and CEO, GWI, Maine
  • Rick Bates, Town Manager, Town of Rockport, Maine
  • Kevin Utz, Mayor, Westminster, Maryland
  • Dr Robert Wack, Council Member, Westminster, Maryland 
  • R. Brough Turner, Founder and CTO, netBlazr Inc., Boston, MA
  • Pete Ashdown, Founder and CEO of XMission, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Elliot Noss, CEO, Tucows / Ting
  • Kim Kleppe, Information Systems Director, City of Mount Vernon, Washington
  • Dana Kirkham, Mayor, City of Ammon, ID
  • Levi C. Maaia, President, Full Channel Labs, Warren, Rhode Island

You can also view the PDF of the filing at the FCC website.

For more on Title II and how it may or may not affect municipal networks and their private partners, listen to Chris interview Chris Lewis from Public Knowledge in Episode #138 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Chris in Mount Vernon, Washington: Video Now Available

Over the past few months, Chris has been globe trotting to communities giving presentations and learning more about municipal networks across the country. After spending some time in Seattle, he headed to Mount Vernon, Washington to present at the Connect with the World conference on October 9th.

The event took place at Skagit College and included other speakers such as Craig Settles, Susannah Malarkey, and Mark Anderson. The video of his presentation is now archived and available to view.

Mount Vernon has operated its open access fiber network since 1995, serving public facilities and local businesses. We spoke with Kim Kleppe, Information Systems Director, and Jana Hansen, Community & Economic Development Director, in episode 38 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

For Chris's presentation, watch the video below.

Video: 
See video