Economic development

Danville: Open access quietly working, attracting jobs, lowering costs

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/17/2011 - 09:44

Here is an article about the City of Danville open access network (called nDanville). nDanville started as an open access network in late 2007, so it is in its fourth year. It was the first municipal open access effort in the United States, and has been quietly cutting costs for Internet and VoIP phone service by as much 80% for businesses and institutions using providers on the nDanville fiber network. It has also been bringing jobs and businesses to the community. One of the major economic developments in which nDanville played a key role was the re-purposing of the "White Mill" building. Just a couple of blocks from downtown, the White Mill building was once one of the largest textile plants in the country. But it was closed years ago, and the multi-story building sat empty until it was purchased last year. It is undergoing a complete renovation as a high tech data center, and access to nDanville fiber was crucial to closing the deal. nDanville has also helped attract a specialty PC manufacturer to the community, and more broadly, just about every business using providers on the nDanville network have enjoyed substantially lower costs for VPNs, Internet access, and voice services. The local hospital recently switched to an IP TV provider on nDanville and is enjoying substantial monthly savings from the switch.

nDanville is operated with a staff of two people as part of the City Utilities department. All services to businesses and residents are provided by private sector providers that use nDanville to transport those services over a high performance active Ethernet fiber network. nDanville offers standard 100 megabit, Gigabit, and 10Gigabit connections. Design Nine provided the City with the original business, financial, and technical planning with the network, and continues to assist the City with the project.

Daily Yonder: The tragedy of rural "broadband"

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:24

The Daily Yonder has an excellent first person description of the awful state of "broadband" in rural Kentucky. Living just twenty minutes from the state capitol, Frank Povah is stuck with expensive, very slow satellite "little broadband." And as Povah rightly points out, no one seems to car--that is, no one that could have some positive effect on the problem.

WiredWest: Big Broadband is "...single most important driver of economic development"

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/08/2011 - 12:34

WiredWest, the consortium of 47 towns in western Massachusetts that has been developing an ambitious plan to take fiber to every home and business that requests service in the WiredWest region, has released a powerful and superbly produced and edited video that makes a strong case that "little broadband" is not adequate today and will not be adequate in the future, and that the lack of big broadband is already affecting the region's ability to attract jobs and maintain adequate levels of economic growth. Watch the whole thing, and the entire North Carolina legislature should be locked in a room and made to watch it. Disclosure: WiredWest is a client of Design Nine.

Manufacturing: The next big thing in rural America

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/29/2011 - 10:59

Every economic developer in rural America should print out this article from Wired magazine. Read, highlight it, make paper copies, and distribute it to everyone they talk to, especially local elected leaders (who unfortunately, are probably not reading Wired in any form, paper or Web). Every region that thought they were going to win big on biotech ought to toss that old plan out in the trash and starting asking, "Do we have what we need to bring manufacturing back?"

It's not the big, old nineteen-sixties manufacturing that is coming back. It is the new, small, lean, technology-enabled start ups that are going to bring good paying manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. And they need a few things, with one of them being good, inexpensive broadband. Without it, they can't take orders, send out CAD drawings, upload CNC programs, provide customer support, and do everything else that broadband supports in the modern manufacturing business. Rural America has the best workers in the world, hands down. But without the infrastructure needed by these new companies, rural regions in the U.S. don't have a chance to play.

Wired towns shove cities out of the way

Submitted by acohill on Sat, 02/26/2011 - 15:44

Here is a study that indicates that smaller communities with the right broadband infrastructure are "...emerging as major economic centers." What about your community? Does it have the infrastructure to attract new businesses?

"This is like electricity was....This is a critical utility"

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/18/2011 - 15:15

That quote is from Brian Depew with the Center for Rural Affairs, in Nebraska. The New York Times has an article today about how rural areas of the U.S. are being left behind with respect to broadband. Depew goes on to say:

“You often hear people talk about broadband from a business development perspective, but it’s much more significant than that,” Mr. Depew added. “This is about whether rural communities are going to participate in our democratic society. If you don’t have effective broadband, you are cut out of things that are really core to who we are as a country.”

North Carolina is still trying to outlaw community control of economic development

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/18/2011 - 10:49

Via Stop the Cap!, a bill has been introduced in the North Carolina legislature to make it extremely difficult for communities to invest in broadband infrastructure. The article is excellent, with a detailed analysis of the issues, so I'm not going to try to summarize it here--just read the whole thing.

The bill is sponsored by a Republican legislator, but the ability of communities to decide their own economic future should not be a partisan issue, and I think both parties have a faulty perspective. Democrats tend to be friendlier towards community broadband, but too often, Democratic proposals focus on more regulation, which often has the unintended consequence of making it more difficult to get local projects started. Republicans, while they ought to be supporting free markets and competition, too often listen only to the incumbents, and get sucked into supporting things like this new NC legislation, which looks more like crony capitalism than free markets.

Banning communities from investing in broadband would be like banning water and sewer. Water, sewer, and broadband are and have become basic economic development infrastructure, and putting roadblocks up that keeps communities from attracting new jobs and retaining existing businesses makes no sense.

Chattanooga Fiber and a city that gets it

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/15/2011 - 15:10

The City of Chattanooga, Tennessee was recently selected by the Intelligent Community Forum as one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities worldwide for 2011. This article by Robert Bell of ICF provides some of the back story and the amazing success of Chattanooga over the past couple of decades.

By the late sixties, Chattanooga, once a thriving manufacturing town, had the dirtiest air in America and was beginning to lose jobs. Despite heavy investments in urban renewal in the eighties and nineties, the city was not attracting jobs. But over the past ten years, as the City-owned electric utility began to invest in fiber, companies and jobs started to follow, and the pay off has been huge. Chattanooga won a Volkswagen manufacturing plant in part because of the city's investment in fiber. The city fiber is also being used to provide Smart Grid electric metering, which will lower utility costs for businesses and residents.

The next business park amenity: Videoconferencing

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/16/2010 - 13:45

Design Nine has its corporate headquarters at the Corporate Research Center here in Blacksburg. The CRC recently added a new amenity for its tenants: a state of the art videoconferencing meeting room. We've used the room to save money on travel, and it is something every business park should have. The system the CRC installed is very high quality, with a high quality remote control camera and a very large, wall-mounted flat panel TV. The combination of the high quality camera and large screen gives you a "you are there" experience that is well beyond the typical Skype or iChat software. And the CRC has excellent bandwidth out to the Internet, meaning a clean, crisp image. In a recent meeting, the party on the other side had very limited upstream bandwidth, and it was obvious--what we saw on our end was a very poor image with heavy pixelation.

Want more information? Download our attached handout on the technology business parks need to be competitive in a tough economic climate.

nDanville community fiber expands health care, creates jobs

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/16/2010 - 11:40

The nDanville fiber network, owned and operated by the City of Danville as an open access network, has helped a local dentist practice expand services to new locations, and has created jobs doing so. The affordable, high performance fiber has allowed the four office practice to have all dental records available at all four locations, reducing costs and making it easier for patients and the dentists.

Danville, Virginia a 2011 Smart21 Intelligent Community

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/21/2010 - 15:52

The Intelligent Community Forum announced the Smart21 cities for 2010 today. Danville, Virginia was among those cities chosen, and one of only six U.S. cities selected for the honor. Design Nine has assisted with the planning and development of nDanville since the project started in 2006. nDanville is an open access network owned and operated by the City of Danville, but residential and business services are provided by private sector companies.

Facebook security problems

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/19/2010 - 15:55

The Wall Street Journal has an article about issues with the way third party Facebook apps (e.g. FarmVille, HoldEm Poker, others) are grabbing personal information even though they are not supposed to be doing so. Facebook officials said they are clamping down to ensure that the 500 million Facebook users are protected.

Broadband: "...facilitating economic exchange and the general welfare"

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/23/2010 - 13:26

Pete Ashdown, writing in The Salt Lake Tribune, discusses the reasoning behind community-owned broadband, in the context of the Utopia project, one of the country's biggest community broadband efforts. Here is a key portion of the article:

These interests go against broad long-term goals that infrastructure serves — facilitating economic exchange and the general welfare. If every airline was required to build their own airport and every shipping company needed their own road, America would be on par with Somalia as an economic force.

Fiber optics technology has vast capacity that allows multiple service providers of Internet, television and telephone to provide service to homes and businesses. UTOPIA and other open fiber optic networks throughout the world have demonstrated that this model provides a level playing field for competition, which in turn drives down prices for the customer and motivates quality service.

If your home is connected with UTOPIA fiber, you can choose from a variety of providers. If you are connected with Qwest ADSL2, you can choose from Qwest. If you are connected with Comcast cable, you can choose from Comcast. If either of these two companies raises its rates unexpectedly or gives you lousy service, your options are slim to nil for switching.

Utopia and other open access projects like (e.g. nDanville, The Wired Road, Palm Coast FiberNET, and others) are driving down the cost of telecom for residents, businesses, and institutions in their service areas, and service providers--especially smaller ones--are signing up to offer services. Some pundits insist that the open access model is "unproven," but their recommendation is to stick with what has NOT worked--the traditional retail triple play model. Community-owned retail triple play creates a one time decrease in telecom costs but lacks the choice and competition among providers that provides steady decreases in the cost of services and a steady increase in the kind and type of services that go far beyond the triple play of voice, TV, and Internet.

Broadband equals economic development

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/11/2010 - 09:28

Here is a short note from an entrepreneur and venture capitalist in Florida who really gets the importance of broadband. He lists four critical reasons why broadband is important.

Here is a question for community leaders and planners: Look at the four categories listed above and ask this question: "Do we want a large telephone or cable company making the decision about what kind of infrastructure is available in our community for business, health care, education, and the environment?"

Fiber brings the data centers

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/22/2010 - 10:20

I had a conversation earlier this week with a well-connected business person who is in the business of building data centers. The two top criteria his firm uses to identify communities in which to locate data centers is power and fiber. What he told me is that for the size of data center he typically builds (50,000 to 100,000 square feet) they are looking for power from two separate sub-stations, and that power from two separate grids is even better. Few communities get fed from two grids, but it is more likely to be able to get power to some industrial/commercial sites from two different sub-stations. Even though these data centers have backup generators on-site, the 15 to 30 megawatts these facility use make dual feeds desirable.

Power is something all communities have, and if extra capacity is needed, it can usually be added easily if the funds are available to support new transmission lines and/or new transformers. Note that the lead time on large power transformers is one year or more, so a strategy of "If someone wants extra power, we'll just build it," may not be leading with your best foot forward, as they may move your community off the short list in favor of communities that have already addressed power.

So that leaves fiber as a key discriminator in relocation decisions. Planning and building local fiber infrastructure can take six to 12 months at a minimum, so if you want to attract data centers, you want open access fiber assets already in place and ready to use.

Some data points: the massive Google data center in rural Washington state was placed there because fiber assets were already in place. The fact that cheap power was available was a secondary consideration. Danville, Virginia won a new, large data center recently because they had both fiber in place and reliable power. Fiber gives communities a competitive edge for business attraction.

Why broadband matters: It's the jobs

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/22/2010 - 15:14

I just left a meeting in which a frustrated local business owner talked about the problems he is having purchasing adequate bandwidth to support a new service his company has developed in the past six months. Bottom line: He's faced with packing up the business and moving the the 100+ employees to northern Virginia if he can't solve his bandwidth problem. The fundamental issue is that because of a lack of open access infrastructure to his building, he has to buy bandwidth at extremely high prices from one of two incumbent providers.

nDanville generating jobs

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/11/2010 - 15:43

The nDanville fiber network is almost three years old, and is beginning to get national recognition here. Design Nine has been working with the City of Danville on this effort since 2006. We did the early business and financial planning, vendor selection, and open access network design. More about nDanville is available on their Web site.

Work from home opportunities continue to increase

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 05/09/2010 - 11:01

DirecTV recently announced it was bringing more jobs to southwest Virginia, but these are not traditional jobs. Instead, these are work from home jobs. The company is establishing a virtual call center. Congressman Rick Boucher made a sweep through the region last month to announce the new job opportunities, which amount to 100 new jobs. DirecTV already employs more than 1100 home-based workers, and other major firms like Apple have been making heavy use of home-based workers for several years.

What does this mean for economic development? Several things jump out:

Fiber brings a textile mill back to life

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/05/2010 - 09:23

I was in Danville, Virginia last week, and was reminded of the changes that fiber is bringing to that community, which has experienced some of the highest unemployment in the state over the last decade. The White Mill building had been considered a white elephant for years--once a showpiece textile manufacturing plant--but closed for years and a visible sign of Danville's proud past and uncertain future. The White Mill building is being converted into a massive commercial data center with 500,000 square feet of server space.

What I saw last week is still a work in progress, but what a difference a few months make. The formerly forlorn industrial site has been cleaned up, the interior renovations are well under way, and the property values of empty downtown storefronts has probably been quietly soaring. The White Mill building is walking distance from Danville's Main Street, and the 400 high tech jobs the project is bringing will bring Main Street back to life, as those workers will be getting coffee in the mornings, buying lunch every day, doing a little shopping, and meeting after work for a beverage.

What was it that brought a data center to Danville. It's simple, and takes just two words.

Community fiber.

Not a promise of fiber if a company shows up, not a plan for fiber, not a feasibility study, but fiber--in the ground and on poles, owned by the community, ready to use, and open access. Danville bet big back in 2006 when it made the decision to invest scarce community resources on open fiber, but now it's looking like one of the best decisions the city ever made.

Disclosure: Design Nine has been advising the City since 2006 on broadband.

Intelligent Community Smart 7 awards announced

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/21/2010 - 16:08

The Intelligent Community Forum announced their Smart Seven communities for 2010 yesterday.

One of Design Nine's projects, nDanville, was one of the ICF's Smart 21 communities this year, and got a mention for its success in attracting new jobs by building community fiber.

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Designed by Design Nine, the nDanville fiber network has won the Intelligent Community Forum's Smart 21 award for 2010.

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