Smart City Broadband Initiatives Part 2

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This is part two of a three-part series. This has been taken from my upcoming book, Smart City Use Cases, with Smart City Development Notes.

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Where the city supports the rollout, maybe offers some rules and regulations that make it easier to get started and deploy, but otherwise, it hands off. Cities can still play a part in broadband Tower Safety for all your safety training!development if they have companies in their area willing to take charge and make things happen.

East Lansing, Mi, has created the “Gigabit Ready” project which pulled in many groups like Michigan State University, Lansing Economic Act Partnership, various nonprofits, commercial property managers, and anyone else who would sign up. The goal was to roll out gigabit broadband, rather obvious, right? What did they do? They looked at the LEED program and thought, let’s do that for gigabit access. This lead to the creation of the Gigabit Certified Building Program, http://statenews.com/index.php/article/2012/07/msu_lansing_on_track_for_high_speed_internet, to set guidelines and requirements for buildings to add gigabit broadband. This helped Spartan-Net, (taken from the Michigan State Spartans I assume), to partner with DTN Management Co so they could roll out broadband across East Lansing and beyond!Tower Safety for all your safety training!

Louisville, KY, worked with Louisville Fiber to create a website that allowed people to request gigabit service across Louisville. Why? So that lawmakers could see the need for speed, and it worked! Using the addresses they gathered, they built a layout of where the heaviest concentration was showing local officials the need. Louisville gave 20-year franchise agreements to BGN Networks, SiFi, and FiberTech. It also helped Louisville to be chosen as a potential Google Fiber City, (which means very little now).

College Station, TX, took a different approach. They put out an RFP to test the market. I personally hate this because when you’re on the other side, you do a lot of work that goes nowhere, but it served the city well because they got what they wanted. Suddenlink responded by promising to put in $250,000,000 into upgrading their network to make it gigabit capable, http://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/GigaSpeed-Internet-Soon-to-be-Offered-in-BCS-276059641.html. Suddenlink got scared of having the government compete, so they got off their lazy ass and did something. College Station could motivate these guys into

action! It all worked out for the residents.

In North Carolina, the NCNGN, North Carolina Next Generation Network, formed a group of universities and cities. Wake Forest, University of North Carolina, Duke, and North Carolina State got together to work with Carrboro, Cary, Winston-Salem, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh to make this happen. This is a large group and has deep resources in knowledge, data, and money. Who saw this as an opportunity? AT&T moved in and started deploying fiber. Then, not to be left behind, Frontier Communications started their deployment. Finally, RST Fiber got rolling as well. Then Google started to deploy. Now you have all the competition to make it happen and affordable.

Connecticut did something similar where 46 communities all got together to host a gigabit conference to share their vision to become the first Gigabit state, https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/01/16/connecticut-could-be-first-gigabit-state2/.

Who buys broadband, really?

If we look at how broadband, gigabit especially is distributed, then what would we see? It takes a community. If one person wants it, too bad. If a community wants it and they want it bad, then it’s going to happen, eventually. That is something that the cable companies missed. They were so hell-bent on selling what they had that they could have missed this opportunity. They eventually were forced to upgrade and listen. Not they see the benefits of rolling out an all internet access system. They are going to save money on tariffs to run throughout the city. They are going to start scaling back their reliance on networks. They are going to let other providers deal with paying for network access and TV show. They are not stupid.  They turned sour grapes into fine wine. Give them credit. They started looking at the big picture. At least Comcast did, and the others followed suit.

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Pricing matters!

Yes, it does! Gigabit broadband went from $7,000 a month to $70 a month in a matter of a few years. Good for consumers, tough on the 5g-deployment-plan-front-cover-3k-pixelsprovider. When we get gigabit out to the masses, it will eventually become a commodity, but you still need to get it to the people. It could be fiber or wireless. People are willing to pay, but the providers will need to offer more than just access. Years ago, it was video like TV shows and on-demand movies. Now it’s internet access, wired and wireless, and let the people choose what they want from there.

The thing was, we had to start, businesses needed broadband, and they got it. Then everyone else wanted it, and it is soon going to be everywhere. We need to be connected. The next question is how? Wired or wireless? While the smartphones are a part of our everyday lives, do they really need gigabit? Does our laptop or tablet need more than Wi-Fi? Ask yourself; my opinion changes too often.

What about Wi-Fi?

Well, we all love Wi-Fi. It is a value-add, right? Does it add value?

Well, Philadelphia and Seattle had failed Wi-Fi rollouts, highly publicized and ugly. Should we let this discourage is or should we learn from these disasters? I say we learn!

While I am a fan of what’s coming out soon, like the CBRS and expanded Wi-Fi, several cities have successful programs. Philly just didn’t have the commitment to do something like this. Luckily, they had Comcast who picked up the slack. Comcast did a great job in Philly, especially since the city had no intention of putting any money into it.

San Francisco and San Jose, Ca did a great job with their Hotspot 2.0, https://www.pcworld.com/article/2449160/free-wifi-networks-in-sf-san-jose-join-hands-through-hotspot-20.html, and Passpoint, https://www.wi-fi.org/discover-wi-fi/wi-fi-certified-passpoint, programs, really the same program. This was a big win for Ruckus, but the cities new the residents needed connectivity, so they acted and provided what people can use in both cities by registering once.

Boston rolled out the “Wicked Free Wi-Fi” covering specific neighborhoods in an effort to increase downtown broadband usage. The city already has a fiber backbone, so why not extend it to the citizens via Wi-Fi?

Blacksburg Va has an amazing Wi-Fi system that was rolled out with Get the Wireless Deployment Handbook today!crowdfunding by Techpad. Techpad is a local coworking and hacking community that raised $90,000 to make this happen.

Let’s not forget NYC, the city that rolled out Wi-Fi where the old telephone booths used to be. They put access points in every kiosk they put out. They give it away for free for tourists and residents to use to save on data usage on their smartphones. The LinkNYC project is the same as London’s LinkUK project. They both roll out the kiosks, which are really cool, have internet access and emergency call buttons, as well as Wi-Fi hotspots. Both cities rolled out hundreds of these units throughout the cities to create an amazing Wi-Fi system and an attractive kiosk that elevate it into the elite, smart city status. They look great! They make money through advertising and services. They are a win-win for any city.

Then there are all the cities, communities, and states that do nothing. Too many to mention. You know who you are. Yet, people continue to live in cities that have no initiative to improve. Why is that? I intend to move because, in my city, they do little, poor planning for the most part. In these areas is an opportunity for private companies to step up and try to get something rolling. Each city has different rules, so it may be too much effort and money to deploy in these cities. If that is the case, then you need to find a city that will work with you on economic development and build there. Don’t’ waste your time on areas that can’t or won’t work with you.

Not all Deployments are a Success!

In Seattle, it would have been city owned. The idea was to get gigabit rolled out across the city to improve internet connectivity anywhere. I don’t know what the agreement was between the city and Gigabit Squared, but it seems it fell apart. Maybe the company was too small or didn’t understand what the deployment would need or lacked commitment. It’s not clear to me what happened, but you can read more about it at https://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/techflash/2014/01/seattles-fiber-deal-with-gigabit.html?page=all. The article hints that it could be more about the private company getting financing. It also hints that neither party worked on the local buy-in.

In Utah, there was a rollout y Utopia that was failing. So, Macquarie Financial took them over. This is a financial company, not an ISP or fiber company. Macquarie offered to cover the costs of the build out. However, the plan included a utility fee of $18 to $20 per household to continue. While this doesn’t sound like a lot, it is more money out-of-pocket to continue. They had opposition called, wait for it……… Unopia! How funny is that name? UNOPIA! I must admit, I like that name, but all the same, is there an alternative?  Unopia wanted to stop unnecessary fees. I get that. Why should they pay for a rollout when they don’t want the service? The lesson here is that the community didn’t want broadband bad enough, so it stalled. Learn more by looking at http://www.centervilleut.net/downloads/administration/ulct_-_utopia-macppp_faqs.april2014.pdf for this older deal.

When Incumbents fight Back!

Yes, the incumbents fight back. Not always in a way that makes sense. It would make more sense if they would just build out a network, but many go to court first. Many whine or say no one wants it. Most just criticize.

Look at Monticello, MN, and the city-owned Fibernet. The city did it to spark competition. This really ticked off the local Telco, TDS, which first took Fibernet to court, and lost! Then they decided to build their own network, which if they would have done that in the first place none of this would have happened. TDS had to get off its butt and move! Then Charter, another incumbent, slashed their prices to $60 a month for access. The moral of this example is that the city’s plan worked perfectly, they increased competition and forced the incumbents to do something, which is what they would not do before. Before Fibernet, they did nothing. Lesson learned!

Then there was Lafayette, LA, who built the network through LUS Fiber, (Lafayette Utility Service), only to be criticized by Reason.org in a statement, http://reason.org/files/municipal_broadband_lafayette.pdf, showing that they fell short of predictions and have debt. Welcome to the world of business, it takes money and patience. However, did LUS overlook the business principles when planning? Did they get a commitment from the community to purchase it? Apparently not. LUS says they are cash positive, Reason.org says they are not. To be honest, I am not sure what the real deal is here.

Let’s be honest here. Cable companies didn’t’ care about internet access, even when the customers were begging for it. They didn’t care until they had competition. They saw AT&T and Verizon offer broadband and realized that there is a market for it. Now they are becoming ISPs. I mean true ISPs are offering more and more bandwidth. Comcast rolled out Wi-Fi successfully. Now that they know there is a need and people will pay for it, they are rolling it out. That’s because they are no longer a monopoly in many areas.

Google Fiber put some fear into them. So much so that they started becoming a thorn in the side of Google. In Nashville, I talked to a friend who saw the local cable company and AT&T do all that they could to block Google from attaching the fiber to their poles. Do you blame them? NO! It’s the name of the game. While you may think this would not stop Google, it did. They began to see the realities of competition, petty fights, permitting, and pole acquisition. It costs money before you make a dime. A completely different model than what they’re used to. So, what we see now is Google Fiber on hold hoping wireless is cost-effective. They will see that site acquisition is a killer there as well. When the site acquisition costs are more than all other expenses together, you see why small cells did not roll out by the masses.

Some States Prohibit Public Networks!

What about the states, they certainly would not stop the city from building a network, would they? Oh yes, they would! As incredible as this sounds, it is a real thing. Some states, in fact, many states have laws in that stop city ownership or control broadband roll networks. Our friends at BroadbandNow has a website at https://broadbandnow.com/report/municipal-broadband-roadblocks-by-state/ that covers states with laws about broadband.

Colorado is a great example of control. The state that allows marijuana sales would not allow their cities to partner with Google Fiber to roll out broadband. It took an election to overturn the law.

It doesn’t always work out like that. In North Carolina and Tennessee, the FCC tried to have those state broadband regulations overturned, but the FCC lost. The laws remained.

The states with these laws are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. The laws are geared towards cities that want to own or partially own broadband networks. I think the idea is that broadband should be competitive.

This parallels what many states are doing with small cell deployments for the carriers. They have been passing state laws that allow the carriers to roll out their small cells without the local municipality slowing them down. The CTIA has done a great job lobbying the states to make life easier for the carriers at the expense of the local cities.

To be continued! 

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

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