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West Virginia jumps to the head of the nation

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/25/2005 - 11:49

West Virginia, just a few miles away from Blacksburg, has jumped to first in the nation with respect to intelligent, pro-community thinking about broadband.

The state legislature, unlike more than a dozen other states trying to cripple the ability of communities to promote economic development and to support existing businesses, is saying, "We don't want to do that."

Not only that, the state seems ready to give communities the tools they need to chart their own future. This article [link no longer available] has the details.

Here is evidence of West Virginia's sophisticated thinking:

David Levine, director of technology and transformation with the West Virginia Development Office, said creating a cohesive fiber optic network could create a competitive advantage and could help keep technologically inclined West Virginians from leaving the state to find work. "People will be able to work where they live," he said."

The bill would explicitly give communities the right to issue bonds to pay for telecommunications infrastructure--just as communities have done safely and securely for decades for other improvements like water, sewer, and schools. It would also explicitly give communities the right to act as a service provider.

A Verizon representative expressed skepticism over the bill. What a surprise--a phone company opposes competition. It's almost funny to see Verizon on the short end of the stick. I don't think they have expressed dismay in other states when last minute bills popped up that opposed community telecom projects. This second article notes that Ireland went from 18% unemployment to 3% unemployment because of an intense focus on telecom investments to support communities and open access networks. Ireland, which is about the size of West Virginia, has constructed a fiber ring connecting 123 towns and cities. Any service provider can use the network to deliver services.

Here's another quote that shows West Virginia legislators "get it."

Committee Chairman John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he and others did consult with Verizon, Adelphia and other companies, but he made no apologies for not releasing the bill to them before it came out of his committee.

"The special interest groups think they ought to see the legislation before the legislators see it," he said. "That's where everybody's got it backwards around here. They've got it backwards, because they think that the special interest group ought to draft the legislation and then show it to the Legislature, and that's not the way it should be."

The bigger question is why are so many legislators in other states falling for the contorted and misleading information being provided by the telcos and cable companies? And if Ireland has been successful in promoting economic development by building open access networks, why are our legislators seemingly dead set against it (except in West Virginia)?

So here's a slogan for you: "Our state--almost as good as Ireland and West Virginia."

A fight brews in Texas

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 03/20/2005 - 17:42

Save Muni Wireless is a Texas Web site set up to provide information about the fight brewing in the Texas legislature over municipal broadband. Like many other states, Texas has been targeted by the telcos--they want laws that take control of community futures away from the community and give it to the telcos.

Note that this is not really a true public sector vs. private sector fight. It's really about several large monopoly telecom providers that want to lock out both public sector investments as well as other competitors. How so? Many communities want to provision open access networks that would let local and regional private sector service providers come in and offer services in competition with the telcos and cable companies.

What's unfortunate is that there are so many legislators unwilling to do any due diligence on the topic. Among the myths be propogated by the phone companies is that "tax dollars" are going to be used for these projects. In twelve years of community telecom work, I've yet to see the first community suggest using tax dollars for any of these efforts, large or small. These projects would be funded with grants, bonds, and other non-tax sources, and the operation of the network would be funded by fees, not tax dollars.

Kentucky gets connected

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 03/20/2005 - 16:03

The state of Kentucky has set a bold goal to get broadband to every business and resident by 2007. This news article discusses ConnectKentucky, the statewide initiative. The governor sees it as an economic development issue, worth as many as 14,000 new jobs statewide.

How about your state? Has the governor made broadband a strategic priority?

Community fiber works

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/11/2005 - 10:34

Princeton, Illinois provides some helpful data on a successful community fiber project. So why did the community decide to install 15 miles of fiber cable? Here's what the head of the municipal project said:

"Our primary goal was economic stability and some hope for economic growth," Baird said, noting that one of the largest companies in town moved out, taking with it more than 300 jobs. "We had some concerns from our customers that they were in the same boat because of a lack of telecom services."

Like a lot of other municipal fiber projects, Princeton has its own electric utility, meaning they already have much of the technical expertise to take on this kind of project. But Princeton did not create another city utility. Instead, they partnered with a local ISP to light up the fiber, and the private company handles billing and service. The ISP pays a fee to obtain access to the network, and the city expects to recoup its $350,000 investment in 18 to 24 months.

This is the right way to do it. The community builds the infrastructure, and provides it on a cost recovery basis to the private sector, which provides the service to customers, creates jobs, and pays taxes. Everybody wins.

Chicago fights Illinois

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/11/2005 - 09:24

Worried that state legislators are going to write the best laws that money can buy and pass an anti-muni telecom bill purportedly authored by the phone company, officials in the City of Chicago are trying to speed approval of a citywide plan to offer public WiFi throughout the city. The Register has a story on it, and here's another. [link no longer available]

Chicago is considering what I recommend, which is a public/private partnership. Chicago will provide access to light poles and other public property for antennas, but a private company will manage the network and sell services. The City will get a franchise fee based on revenue. It's a win/win/win. Consumers get an alternative to DSL (and in many parts of the city, neither DSL nor cable modem service is available), poor neighborhoods get broadband access for the first time, jobs are created in the private sector, and the City gets some income.

The only possible glitch: local governments can't get greedy and turn franchise fees into "revenue enhancement" opportunities. The franchise fee should be based on the real cost to the government of providing right of way, plus a small amount for network expansion. If local government tries to use it instead as a hidden tax (no taxation without representation, right?), it will only hurt the effort.

Whatever happened to the common good?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/04/2005 - 10:47

Add Texas to the list of states that has some legislators who want to keep communities from managing their own economic future. This article documents the very successful WiFi project led by technology visionary Will Reed, and the legislators who apparently think "free" broadband somehow subverts capitalism.

But as others have pointed out, "free" street lights did not put light bulb manufacturers out of business, and "free" books at the public library did not put book publishers out of business. The notion that communities can not do anything that someone in the private sector might want to do is, at bottom, just nonsense. This kind of thinking turns the centuries old notion of the common good (as more important at times than individual needs) on its head, and if it prevails, it is the death of communities--communities will be "owned" by private sector special interests.

My comments are not meant to be a blanket indictment of business--this whole discussion is being whipsawed and controlled by a few giant companies that refuse to play fair. All most businesses want is an opportunity to compete, and most businesses understand the concept of the common good and recognize that common good investments like roads actually CREATE business opportunities, not take them away.

New Hampshire does it right

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/01/2005 - 10:15

A bill under consideration by the New Hampshire legislature would give municipalities and regions the statutory authority to use bonds to build out telecom infrastructure. This is exactly the right approach. For one, it's a familiar and successful model that has been used for decades to finance other kinds of public facilities (e.g. roads, water, sewer, industrial parks, etc.). More importantly, it recognizes that there is an issue of the common good here, and that community investments are important to the future of communities.

Let's hope this gets passed. We need some good models for the rest of the country.

The Empire strikes back

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/01/2005 - 08:13

Costa Rica's countrywide telephone monopoly is trying to make it a crime to make a Voice over IP telephone call. From the article:

"One Costa Rican official of an agency seeking to promote the Central American country's software industry said last week that ICE's proposal would be "disastrous" to the country's efforts to grow its software development and outsourcing businesses."

That's exactly right, and applies equally to any region of the U.S. trying to encourage the growth of Knowledge Economy businesses. The telecoms really need to face up to the fact that they are no longer in the telephony business--they are in the data transport business, and they need to start acting that way. If they accepted the notion that they are selling bandwidth, not dialtone (or TV programming, for that matter), and upgraded their systems to support the demand for bandwidth, they would find that they could make pretty good money doing that.

But pigs may fly first.

VoIP works just fine at 80 mph

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/23/2005 - 07:52

Esme Vos at MuniWireless reports that Arizona has been testing VoIP via wireless on highways, and that telephone calls have been made successfully at speeds of 80 MPH. The effort uses equipment from a company called RoamAD. The mesh network system is able to hand off the signal from one cell to another without losing the telephone call.

I've been following mesh networks for some time, and I think the technology, which is inexpensive and ideal for covering large areas with a WiFi blanket, is poised to catch on.

One of the weak points in the incumbent opposition to municipal wireless networks is the fact that a WiFi blanket is likely to emerge as a key public safety technology. On top of that, community-regional WiFi blankets are going to save taxpayer dollars. Laptops are already common in patrol cars. But imagine if a police officer, at the scene of an accident, could not only videotape the scene, but transmit it in realtime to a server back at the police station, where it could be archived, along with all the paperwork, which would also be transmitted in realtime from the scene.

Drunk driving enforcement could use the same systems, archiving roadside sobriety tests as evidence for a court trial. Fire, rescue, and paramedic teams could also use 24/7 realtime network access to improve response times and save lives.

And if a community is provisioning a wireless network, why not design it so citizens can use it as well?

As always, I think that communities ought to be making the infrastructure investments (duct, towers, tower sites, colocation facilities) and issue RFPs to the private sector to provision and manage the network. That way communities get what they need while creating private sector jobs. Why would you want to do it any other way?

Florida bill would stop muni telecom systems

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/23/2005 - 07:20

Add Florida to the list of states with bills pending to stop municipal and local government investments in telecom.

Across the country, legislators, prodded by the phone and cable companies, are trying to outlaw community investments in telecom. One of the problems is that the discussion is one-sided. There are few consumer and local government advocates getting involved in educating legislators about the benefits of local telecom investments.

Barry Moline, head of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, summed up the debate from the community perspective.

"Why should our communities' needs be based" on whether private companies will provide services?"

One of the red herring arguments being tossed around by the incumbents is the notion that tax money is being used to support these projects. I've been invovled in designing business models for community telecom projects for years, and I've yet to see one that counted on one cent of tax dollars. I've never even heard anyone suggest, even casually, that tax dollars ought to be used. And finally, these simply can't be financed with tax dollars. It doesn't work, and elected leaders know that.

Community telecom projects have to be designed from the ground up to be self-supporting, or they will fail. Services fees have to balance out with the cost of managing and maintaining the network. It's a complete fiction that tax dollars are being used to support these projects, and the incumbents know it. What's really sad is that these companies, instead of choosing to compete honestly and offer their customers the services they want, are instead refusing to provide those services and simultaneously trying to cut off the options of communities to get needed services.

New York Times comes out against communities

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 02/20/2005 - 10:13

The New York Times (registration required) has a very biased article about Philadelphia's plan for citywide wireless broadband. The paper interviewed mainly opponents of the plan, and seemed to go to great lengths to interview those opponents, while trivializing successful community projects. Worth a read just to understand the anti-community sentiment out there.

It's unfortunate that the MSM (MainStream Media) is unwilling to make the effort to report both sides of the issue. I'm not arguing that the Times should be in favor of community technology projects, but rather that their reporting should strive to present both sides of the issue fairly.

Indiana update

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/17/2005 - 08:37

The Indiana bill that would have restricted the rights of communities to invest in telecom has died in committee.

The Internet is providing an alternate channel for citizens and community leaders to deal with these issues. In the past, bills like this often got passed into law quietly before anyone even knew about them. Today, most legislatures post proposed legislation on the Internet, open to all to see, and lots of people have the opportunity to review this stuff before it is too late. It's a useful counterbalance to lobbyists.

Colorado steps on community rights

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/14/2005 - 15:42

Add Colorado to a growing list of states that have bills pending in the legislature that would take the right to determine their own future away from communities.

Like other states (are you starting to see a pattern here?), the Colorado bill would require communities that want to invest in broadband to ask the private sector first. That permission is not likely to be forthcoming, and according to the report, even if the private sector declines to offer broadband service, the community is still stuck.

There are some issues here that are worth reviewing.

First, the article talks about (some) broadband initiatives as a way to raise revenue. Some communities are seeing it this way, but they are crazy. It makes no sense at all to invest in public infrastructure as a hidden tax scheme. Why on earth would you spend money that way when using it as a tax collection mechanism makes the community less competitive from an economic development perspective? This is an education problem--community leaders need help understanding telecom is not a way to balance the local budget, but a way to create jobs and create an economic development engine.

Second, it is important to keep our eye on the ball. Hong Kong just announced it is rolling out Gigabit Ethernet to more than a million homes, beginning later this year. Meanwhile, I just got a flyer from Verizon touting DSL. The flyer explains how fast their 1.5 megabit service is because it actually permits 384 kilobit upload speeds. That's is Verizon's math:

384,000 bits/second = 1.5 million bits/second

Huh? Meanwhile, in places like South Korea and Hong Kong, they are getting broadband service hundreds of times faster than we are getting here while our own legislators are trying as hard as they can to hold their own citizens and businesses back.

Hands off WiFi

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/11/2005 - 15:39

Dianah Neff, the CIO of the City of Philadelphia, has written an interesting article on municipalities and WiFi for CNet.

Philadelphia had ambitious plans to provide WiFi citywide until Verizon jumped into the discussion and got the Pennsylvania legislature to pass a law requiring municipalities to ask Verizon's permission before going into the service business (Philadelphia was exempted, but the whole debacle put the brakes on Philadelphia's effort).

Neff puts her finger on what I think is an essential truth in this whole dust up:

For all the money they've spent lobbying against municipal participation, they could have built the network themselves. The truth, of course, is that the incumbent local exchange carriers want unregulated monopolies over all telecommunications.

Bingo! The article is worth a careful read.

Great Plains communities are starting to "get it"

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/09/2005 - 09:00

Run, don't walk, to the nearest store and pick up a copy of USA Today. If you live in a rural community and are involved with economic and community development issues, you need to read the cover story today.

Small towns in the Great Plains are finally starting to give up "elephant hunting" and instead are using an "economic gardening" strategy. This is exactly what I have been saying in our Knowledge Economy Roadshow for the past several years.

Elephant hunting refers to traditional industrial recruitment....trying to bag a big company with lots of jobs. But small rural communities are finally starting to realize that if that is the only strategy they have, it does not work any more.

What is working? Just what I've been recommending: recruit entrepreneurs and families, not businesses. In Kansas, they are giving away free land to families that move to town, and even making cash payments to help with down payments on mortgages. They are helping the head of the household to find a job. It is still economic development, but cast in an entirely different way.

You really need to read the entire article. These communities are getting results, and are beginning to turn things around.

ConnectMaine set ambitious and sensible goals

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/02/2005 - 10:52

A quote from the Governor of Maine's State of the State address:

...Tonight I am announcing 'Connect Maine,' a broad and aggressive telecommunications strategy for this state. Connect Maine will give nearly every Mainer the opportunity to plug into the global economy from their community. It will ensure that 90 percent of Maine communities have broadband access by 2010; 100 percent of Maine communities have quality wireless service by 2008; and Maine's education system has the technology infrastructure that leads the nation.

Efforts like this, and a similarly named effort in Kentucky (Connect Kentucky) are raising the bar for other states and regions with no plans and no long range goals.

Indiana turning its back on communities

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/31/2005 - 08:42

Add Indiana to a growing list of states that have legislatures turning their backs on communities. Legislations is being considered there that would prohibit communities from providing telecom services.

Even though I think that communities ought to stay out of the service business and limit their investments to telecom infrastructure, I think that decision ought to be left to the community, and not be pre-empted by the state legislature.

This is a serious issue that is being co-opted by the incumbents, who are lobbying legislators vigorously. It's not that the legislators are necessarily bad people, it's just that they are only getting one side of the story, and are being unduly influenced.

The answer is education. Local communities and regions need to spend more time with their legislators explaining the issues, and in particular, explaining that there is more than one way for communities to invest. Taking the infrastructure only route is pro-competition, not anti-competition. Unfortunately, few lawmakers understand that. Only by preparing talking points and having local leaders take them out to lunch, or meeting them in their offices at the state capitol, is that situation likely to change.

Open access fiber project signs up everybody in town

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/27/2005 - 07:56

Take rate is an industry term for the number of customers that agree to buy a service. Take rates are notoriously hard to predict, and historically, take rates for services like telephone and cable service have been very low (e.g. 10%, 15%), meaning it takes years to get most households connected to a new service.

The town of Nuenen, Holland recently installed a blown fiber to the home, open access network, and had a remarkable 96% take rate. This means that essentially, every household that is likely to be a customer became one as soon as the service became available.

This is the global competition.

While U.S. incumbents are gingerly sticking their toes in the waters of *real* high performance broadband by grandly promoting one or two trial projects, overseas, communities are just going ahead and doing what needs to be done. Nuenen's open access network means customers have a choice of providers for their services. Nuenen is proof that not only can it be done, but that there will be customers waiting when the duct goes by the house.

Emtelle, which provided the microduct for the project, has a short video and a four page description of the project. There is some sales stuff in both, but I believe microduct is an excellent approach to implementing community broadband networks.

Quicktime movie

PDF file

Southside Virginia builds high capacity regional network

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/25/2005 - 13:54

Here is an excerpt from a brochure about a project in Southside Virginia, a rural area that has traditionally relied on tobacco as a primary engine of its economy. Furniture and textile manufacturing were also mainstays for jobs and development, but over the past twenty years, all three have declined sharply.

The low cost of living, combined with the proximity to Greensboro and the North Carolina Research Triangle, may make Southside one of the best places to work in America, once this infrastructure is in place.

Also included as a service will be MSAPs in some locations, which create very high performance community intranets that support next generation multimedia services. The MSAP concept was pioneered by me while I was Director of the Blacksburg Electronic Village. Blacksburg has had an MSAP in operation since 1999, and Danville, Virginia also has an MSAP.

Note the emphasis on leasing capacity to "all interested providers," which includes incumbents, who, if they are smart, will realize they can lower their costs by leasing instead of overbuilding.

The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC), a non-profit cooperative with funding from the Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the Virginia Tobacco Commission (VTC), has contracted to deploy an advanced open-access wholesale broadband network in Southside Virginia. The RBI is a 700-mile fiber-optic network with 48 strands of dedicated fiber backbone, Synchronous Optical Network (SONET) architecture, dual rings with 13 OC-192 backbone sites and 65 satellite locations providing low speed & high speed interconnect facilities (OC-3, OC-12, OC-48, STS, VT). In addition to the turn-key implementation of the RBI, MBC has invested in building a new state of the art Network Operations Control Center (NOCC) in South Boston, Virginia.

The RBI network will connect four cities, 20 counties and 56 industrial parks providing access to nearly 700,000 citizens and more than 19,000 businesses throughout Southside Virginia. The goal of this project is to promote economic development opportunities for the region, attracting technologybased business and industry. Network construction begins in January 2005 and will be turned-up in phases. MBC plans to have the entire network fully operational by December 2006. MBC will be selling/leasing fiber and services on a wholesale basis to all interested providers.

Northern Illinois grabs hold of the future

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/25/2005 - 13:47

Northern Illinois, which is surprisingly rural in nature despite being a relatively easy drive to Chicago, has grabbed hold of the future. Below is a press release announcing an ambitious regional project to get affordable, high capacity broadband throughout that area. In announcing the effort, an official connected with the effort said, "The communication infrastructure we're talking about will be as important as electricity, water."

Northern Illinois Technology Triangle Unlocks New Opportunities for Northern Illinois Communities

Rochelle Municipal Utilities announces plans for a multi-gigabit capacity fiber optic ring to serve local rural communities

Rochelle, IL - Today, Rochelle Mayor Chet Olson unveiled plans for a superior fiber-optic telecommunications network labeled the Northern Illinois Technology Triangle (NITT). The network will provide multi-gigabit capacity to the Northern Illinois region, connecting communities across Northern Illinois and opening new opportunities for growth in education, research and business.

The NITT is a joint venture between Rochelle Municipal Utilities (RMU) and the Illinois Municipal Broadband Communications Association (IMBCA). It will provide a looped broadband fiber network in a triangle along I-88 from Rock Falls to Naperville, with a section north to St. Charles, and from St. Charles along I-90 to Rockford, and then along I-39 from Rockford to Rochelle. The physical infrastructure will be implemented in three parts. IMBCA has already leased existing fiber along I-88 from Naperville west to Rock Falls and is now negotiating leases for existing fiber on I-90. Rochelle Municipal Utilities plans on installing the remaining leg of the triangle, from Rochelle to Rockford, where no fiber exits. The NITT is the first municipal utility fiber optic network consortium in Illinois.

Chet Olson, Rochelle's Mayor, said, "We're pleased to play a part in bringing about the Northern Illinois Technology Triangle. NITT is the beginning of a new era, not only for Rochelle, but for all communities in this region that choose to access this network. For my community, it means an opportunity to expand our economic base from manufacturing and rail service to technology services and support." The network ring is based upon fiber optic cable and will offer 33 (or more) wavelengths, each with the capacity to carry data at a rate up to 40 Gigabits per second. With just one Gigabit connection, a family can download their favorite DVD movie in less than one (1) minute, something which would normally take 13 days to download using a telephone dial-up connection.

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