Tag Archives: broadband policy bank

ISPs and real estate developers should tango in public

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It’s more fun when people watch.

Installing modern broadband infrastructure in newly built housing developments often involves a dance between developers, who increasingly want reimbursement for what they believe to be the full cost, and service providers, who want it as cheap as possible and might not be very interested in the first place.

It’s usually a private negotiation, with the results becoming apparent only after people start moving in. In Gonzales, California for example (full disclosure: the City of Gonzales is a client of mine) new housing developments have been left with conduit installed for cable broadband service but never used. In more affluent, nearby communities, on the other hand, fiber is routinely run directly to new homes.

Cities (and counties in unincorporated areas) have some control over what gets built, but not necessarily how it’s eventually used. The City of Brentwood, in Contra Costa County, requires new homes to be connected to two separate conduit systems, one that’s intended for cable service and the other that’s deeded over to the city. Brentwood put its municipal conduit to good use by cutting a deal with an independent Internet service provider, Sonic.net, to install a fiber to the home system. But it had the advantage of a 15 year head start that resulted in the construction of a critical mass of fiber ready homes.

For smaller – and more typical – developments, it’s a different story. Local governments can’t require telecoms companies to disclose their intentions to prospective buyers.

When regulations are necessary, there are good arguments for uniformity: the Internet can’t operate on the basis of patchwork, local rules. But open access to information and published standards are also fundamental Internet principles. Service providers’ and developers’ terms and intentions should have the same level of public visibility as that required of construction plans.

City of Gonzales approves simple dig once policy

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A simple, one-page dig once/shadow conduit policy was adopted earlier this month by the Gonzales, California city council. The policy is a simple way to give public works staff the ability to include broadband conduit in road maintenance, utility digs and similar projects. It’s an adaptation of a staff-level policy that was implemented by the City of Salinas a few years ago, forming the basis for its recently launched commercial/industrial broadband network initiative.

Under the policy, the assumption is that conduit will be installed any time the city opens up a trench, subject to the public works director’s discretion…

Unless waived by the Public Works Director on the basis of undue burden, or an unfavorable cost-benefit analysis, or the consideration of other relevant factors, Gonzales will install or have installed communications conduit whenever the City undertakes or authorizes the following types of projects:

  1. New street, road, sidewalk, bike path, or other transportation infrastructure construction.
  2. Maintenance, repaving or other significant work on the above infrastructure.
  3. Excavations for the purpose of installing utilities, including but not limited to communications, electrical, gas, water, waste water, storm drainage.
  4. Other excavations, or work on public property on in the public right of way that provide a similar opportunity to install conduit for future use at a low
    additional cost.

The policy allows the cost of conduit and related work to be included in project budgets where appropriate. It also includes minimal, default specifications for conduit. Those specs are likely to be temporary, though. The Central Coast Broadband Consortium is working on a complete set of standard specifications for conduit installed on a prospective basis in conjunction with public works projects, i.e. shadow conduit.

City of Gonzales one page shadow conduit/dig once policy (.pdf)

City of Gonzales one page shadow conduit/dig once policy (.doc)

City of Gonzales staff report, one page shadow conduit/dig once policy (.pdf)

City of Gonzales staff report, one page shadow conduit/dig once policy (.doc)

Broadband development game revealed to U.K. home buyers and local councils

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British Telecom is putting its cards on the table for real estate developers (and prospective home buyers) to see. The company has been criticised for not providing fast broadband service to new housing developments. There’s been plenty of finger pointing and blame shifting along the way, with no easy way to tell why some homes get service and some don’t. That’s changing now.

If developers disclose their plans at least nine months (ideally, more) before the first residents are expected to move in, BT will provide

  • Confirmation of whether or not the site is covered by existing [fiber to the cabinet/node] infrastructure, which will be connected for free. New Infrastructure is required to serve new sites of 100 or more new homes in all cases as such these are deemed outside of existing coverage.
  • The option of new Fibre Broadband Infrastructure based on a Developer Contribution (if applicable and where there is no existing infrastructure)
  • Clarity and certainty of the costs to connect a site outside of existing Fibre coverage
  • The expected broadband speed range based on copper infrastructure, should the developer not wish to take up the option of FTTC infrastructure.

If a new development won’t be covered by existing infrastructure and BT won’t pay the full cost of building new facilities (the minimum for that is 250 units, according to a British broadband blog), developers will have the choice of paying the tab or settling for old school copper. Whether you think this approach is one-sided or not, at least everyone’s terms, intentions and responsibilities are open to public view.

Telecoms regulation in the U.K. is very different than what we have in California, particularly when BT is involved. It’s Britain’s legacy (and formerly government owned) monopoly telephone company and is more tightly regulated than U.S. carriers. But those are government-sanctioned monopolies/duopolies too. Requiring them to similarly post terms and conditions, and set clear and uniform procedures for developers and local governments to assess and follow, or not, at their discretion is just as necessary.

Brentwood FTTH ordinance posted on muni broadband policy bank

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A decision made in 1999 led to a fiber to the home system for Brentwood, California in 2015. Or at least the beginnings of one. Sonic.net is building an FTTH network using conduit installed by developers and deeded over to the City as they built new homes over the past 16 years, the result of an advanced technology systems ordinance that the Brentwood City Council added to its land development code in 1999…

The developer shall design, install, test, and dedicate to the City two advanced technology system conduits, size to be determined, within the public right of way. The developer shall install, in one of the conduits, a fiber optic system designed to serve the subject development for use by the City of Brentwood or one of its licensed franchisee…The second conduit shall remain empty and shall be reserved to serve the subject development for the use of a City licensed franchisee not wishing to utilize the City’s fiber optic system. Both conduits shall be installed to each lot line…

The developer shall design, install, test, and dedicate to the property owner two advanced technology system conduits, size to be determined, to connect the public advanced technology system to the individual home or building. The developer shall install, in one of the conduits, a fiber optic system designed to serve the subject property.

That was back when Brentwood was a sleepy little town surrounded by east Contra Costa County farmland. It boomed over the next few years, and with it came new, fiber ready homes.

I’ve posted the original ordinance, along with the accompanying staff report and council resolution from 9 February 1999, the enacting resolution approved two weeks later, a follow up report from next year, and the most current version of the City’s engineering procedures manual, which contains the referenced specifications. It’s very good work and far thinking: it’s as fresh and original today as it was in 1999.

Much thanks goes to Margaret Wimberly, Brentwood’s City Clerk, who dug the documents out of the archives. Sixteen years is too far back for the City’s online system, so she had to do some old fashioned leg work to find them. It’s an under-appreciated skill these days.

Both pdf and doc versions are now up on the Municipal Broadband Policy Bank page, except for the engineering manual, which is pdf only. I did the Word conversion from the pdf originals, any errors are strictly my own.

The municipal broadband policy bank is open

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Withdrawals are free, deposits are welcome.

Writing good broadband policy is a lot easier when you start with good examples. So thanks to a nudge from the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, I finally got around to doing something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: post a collection of the best local broadband development policies that I know.

The result is the new Policy Bank page on this website. It has several examples – in both pdf and source formats – of dig once policies, specifications for conduit, requirements for newly constructed (or significantly remodelled) homes and businesses, tools for managing broadband assets, permitting practices, master leases for telecoms facilities, broadband master plans and general plans. And staff reports that provide the factual and policy basis for city council and board of supervisors adoption.

The bank is heavily weighted toward examples from California, because that’s where I am. Top picks include the comprehensive package adopted and implemented by the City of Santa Cruz (and a generic version I ripped off adapted), as well as specific policies from Berkeley, San Francisco and Santa Cruz County. I had some input into a few of the policies, but what’s posted is primarily the work of creative, forward thinking staff.

In some cases, the source files will look a little funky. Where the originals weren’t available, I used PDF Pen Pro to do the conversion and then did some proofing and tidying up. The text should be clean but I won’t guarantee it at the 100% level, so please proof read anything you use. And if you spot a discrepancy, please let me know.

It’s definitely a work in progress. If you know about about additional examples or topics that should be included, please send them my way. All suggestions and contributions are welcome and appreciated.