Tag Archives: community networks

Salinas City Council approves contract to build municipal fiber network

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Salinas fiber

A contract to build the first phase of a municipal dark fiber network was approved by the Salinas City Council earlier this month. This initial leg is a mile and a half long, and will run west along Alisal Street, a main thoroughfare through the downtown business district, beginning at the new Salinas Police station that’s under construction on the east side of downtown and ending at Central Park on the west side. A lateral will also connect City Hall to the network.

The route intersects several independent fiber networks, as well as infrastructure owned by major incumbent operators. The City plans to use the network to support its own operations – besides providing a direct, high capacity link between City Hall and the police station, it will interconnect traffic signals – but that’s just the beginning. According to the City’s press release

The installation of the fiber may also mean faster internet speeds for residents and businesses. The City intends to offer the fiber for use by private companies to provide affordable high-speed internet along the fiber route. The fiber can also be used by third parties to connect small cell antennas, which are necessary to increase current internet speeds and will ultimately be used to support a 5G network in Salinas.

Construction is expected to be completed by next Spring. Plans also call for another phase, which will extend the Salinas Municipal Network along Main Street, and for an extension through the Ag Tech Corridor in the southeast corner of the city.

The City’s Dig Once policy underpins the fiber build, which is just one element of a Downtown Complete Streets Project. The network will be supplemented by roughly three miles of empty conduit that was installed in earlier street projects.

The beginning of construction represents a major milestone in the implementation of a broadband development plan approved by the Salinas City Council in 2015, and supports the City’s policy of encouraging broadband infrastructure deployment, including expanded mobile network coverage and service.

I’m a consultant to the City of Salinas and assisted with the development of its broadband policy, plans and contracts. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

City of Salinas Preliminary Broadband Plan, final version, 1 September 2015

City of Salinas, City Council Resolution, Policy Reducing Underground Excavation for Communications Infrastructure within the City Right Of Way, 15 November 2016
City of Salinas, Staff Report, Reducing Underground Excavation for Communications Infrastructure within the City Right Of Way, 15 November 2016

City of Salinas, City Council Resolution, Small Wireless Facility Regulations, 2 April 2019
City of Salinas, City Council Resolution, Small Wireless Facility Fees, 2 April 2019
City of Salinas, Staff Report, Small Wireless Facility Regulations and Fees, 2 April 2019

City of Salinas, City Council Resolution, Wireless Telecommunications Facility Lease Policy, 17 April 2018
City of Salinas, City Council Staff Report, Wireless Telecom Leasing Policy, 17 April 2018

Master License Agreement for Wireless Installations on Public Structures, by and between the City of Salinas and AT&T, 13 August 2019
City of Salinas, City Council Resolution, Authorising Mayor to Sign AT&T Master License Agreement, 13 August 2019
City of Salinas, Staff Report, License of City Facilities for Small Cell Sites, 13 August 2019

Study spots “third wave” of community broadband enthusiasm, but no swell of cash

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Wipeout

A “third wave” of community broadband initiatives is developing in the United States, but before it’s surfable, state and federal policy changes are needed. That’s the conclusion of a paper written by Sharon Strover, Martin Riedl and Selena Dickey, of the University of Texas at Austin.

They identify barriers deliberately created by lobbyists working for major incumbents and their capture of policy making machinery – such as the Federal Communication Commission’s industry-dominated broadband deployment advisory committee which offered legislative recommendations that would “eliminate municipal broadband”. But they also see community and corporate trends that are pushing against monopoly business models…

We see potential for community network development in the United States, acknowledging existing projects but also an abundance of obstacles. Their presence and growth testifies to the need for alternative regulatory arrangements…

New connectivity models in the space of community networks, innovation in terms of open source hardware, newly opened spectrum such as TV white spaces, as well as investments through private corporations into connectivity efforts such as terragraph (Facebook) and satellite internet (Facebook, Google, others), all foment this third wave of community networking efforts, but can only succeed in the long run if they are simultaneously accompanied by supportive federal and state policies. In the broad scheme of things, this calls for an end to protectionist legislation curtailing the opportunities to experiment and to offer services that communities themselves believe are more efficient, less costly and more attuned to their needs.

Strover, Riedl and Dickey are correct in calling for open and creative use of public money earmarked for educational and medical networks, greater flexibility in federal programs and more widely available state and local subsidies “to various types of providers”.

That’s a good start toward solving the critical problem that community, and particularly municipal, initiatives face: paying for building a network and for operating deficits that might last far longer than advocates generally care to contemplate. But it’s only a partial solution. Consumers and businesses also have to embrace the reality that better infrastructure and service comes at a price, and universal infrastructure and service comes at a universal price. There’s a point where someone else’s money becomes everyone’s money.

TANSTAAFL.

Scoping New Policy Frameworks for Local Broadband Networks, Strover, Riedl and Dickey.

The eternal why not WiFi question has an eternal answer

by Steve Blum • , , ,


The retro look.

Every so often someone asks me something like why can’t we just use WiFi to deliver broadband service? For those of us who’ve been working in the community broadband sector for a decade or more, the question was settled with the collapse of the Great Muni WiFi Bubble more than ten years ago. But for most, that’s a relic of the distant and dim pre-iPhone past, when rocking good service was measured in kilobits and the fastest way to download a movie was to drive to a store and rent a video.

The answer is that WiFi technology was originally designed as an indoor substitute for short distance ethernet cables, and not for outdoor or wide area service. It uses unlicensed spectrum with power determined by federal regulations and propagation characteristics set by the laws of physics.

The primary factors that determine the practical service radius of a WiFi-based network are transmit power (again, limited by law) and antenna design and position. Other factors, such as foliage, interference/noise level and the limitations of the WiFi protocol, come into play, but raw power and antenna capabilities are the big ones.

So if you have a top of the line WiFi access point bolted to a light pole, using maximised omni-directional antenna design and transmit power, it can communicate at reasonably high speeds with a similar access point over something like 400 meters, assuming there are no major obstructions.

But if that access point is communicating through clear air with a laptop or mobile phone or similar mass market device, that effective distance drops to 100 meters or less. If there’s a wall between the device and the access point – i.e. the user is inside a home or business – the distance is considerably, maybe impossibly, less. The transmit power and antenna design of the user’s equipment counts, too. If the user has a special gizmo – a WiFi bridge with higher power and a better antenna – the effective range might go up as high as 200 meters, and it might be useable indoors. Might be.

But while might be is good enough for an occasional free connection to a hotspot, it isn’t an acceptable standard for mainstream, consumer grade broadband service. That’s why we need something better: appropriately designed, professionally engineered and sufficiently provisioned copper, fiber or wireless infrastructure.

Urban or rural, the need for broadband speed is the same for all in the Monterey Bay region

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

MBEP regional broadband speed survey results

To run a business, do homework and enjoy the benefits of our digital economy, broadband service that runs at 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload speeds is a necessity for everyone. That’s the conclusion of a year-long study by the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) and the Central Coast Broadband Consortium.

The report was presented last Friday at MBEP’s 2018 State of the Region event in Seaside. It was based on the work of the broadband leadership team recommended by participants at the 2017 conference and recruited by MBEP earlier this year. The team conducted a survey of residents and businesses in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.

The key finding is that broadband needs are the same whether people live or work in a well-served urban area or a poorly – or even unserved – rural community.

The result was unexpected. The study’s underlying hypothesis was that the region’s diverse economy and communities would have an equally diverse range of broadband needs. As it turned out, there was little difference in the responses from high tech, agricultural or home-based business sectors, or from consumers anywhere.

In retrospect, the findings made perfect sense: a rancher in Bitterwater uses the same cloud-based business tools as a game developer in Santa Cruz, their families watch the same video programs, and their kids do the same homework and take the same online tests.

Federal and state broadband standards do not meet that need. Broadband subsidy programs run by the federal government set 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps speeds up as a minimum, although providers who deliver significantly slower service in rural areas can still receive funding. California’s primary broadband subsidy program, the California Advanced Services Fund, considers speeds as low as 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up to be sufficient for urban and rural communities alike.

Businesses and households in the Monterey Bay region are also willing to pay for better service…

When asked about ideal download and upload speeds, 63% of business respondents stated they would like to have 100 Mbps or higher download and 61% stated they would like to have 25 Mbps or higher upload. 69% of these businesses said they would be willing to pay $70 or more per month.

50% of respondents in the consumer survey stated that they would like to have download speeds of 100 Mbps or more. 66% of consumers said they were willing to pay $40 to $99 a month for their ideal speeds.

The MBEP survey data was backed up by a separate broadband needs survey run by the County of Santa Cruz and quarterbacked by broadband leadership team member Zach Friend, who is a Santa Cruz County supervisor.

The question addressed at this year’s conference was how do we achieve the goal of making 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up broadband service ubiquitous in the region? Participants, who represented local governments, Internet service providers, businesses and non-profit organisations, identified better access to capital, greater public-private cooperation and proactive local broadband development policies as the team’s 2019 objectives.

Achieving Ubiquitous Broadband Coverage in the Monterey Bay Region, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership and Central Coast Broadband Consortium, November 2018.

Monterey Bay Region Broadband Leadership Team

  • Ray Corpuz, City of Salinas
  • Peggy Dolgenos, Cruzio
  • John Freeman, City of San Juan Bautista
  • Zach Friend, County of Santa Cruz
  • Chris Frost, Cruzio
  • James Hackett, Cruzio
  • Matt Huffaker, City of Watsonville
  • Mary Ann Leffel, MCBC
  • Chip Lenno, CSUMB
  • Maureen McCarty, Assemblymember Mark Stone’s office
  • René Mendez, City of Gonzales
  • Andy Myrick, City of Salinas
  • Larry Samuels, CSUMB
  • Brad Smith, UCSC
  • Jim Warner, UCSC
  • Steve Blum, Tellus Venture Associates
  • Freny Cooper, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership
  • Kate Roberts, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership

San Francisco muni FTTP project hits the rocks

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

San Francisco’s $1.9 billion plan to build a citywide fiber to the premise system is dead. At least for now. According to a story by Joshua Sabatini in the San Francisco Examiner, temporary mayor Mark Ferrell didn’t intend to file the paperwork needed to put a tax measure on the November ballot by yesterday’s deadline (h/t to everyone who sent me the link – much appreciated). There’s no indication he changed his mind and, according to the Examiner, would-be private sector partners were told to stand down…

The Office of Contract Administration sent a June 13 letter to the three bid teams informing them of the delay. “The City and County of San Francisco has decided to further consider factors essential to the success of the project prior to issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP),” the letter said. “Given the groundbreaking nature, complexity, and cost of this project, it is important that we reduce uncertainties to the extent possible prior to issuing an RFP.”

The letter continued, “In the coming months, the City intends to research a number of factors, including how market conditions and the construction environment would affect the project.”

Ferrell iced the project because a poll showed that voter approval of a tax increase “was just short of the two-thirds needed to pass”, according to the Examiner. Perhaps. It’s also relevant that Ferrell will soon hand over the mayor’s job to London Breed, who won the job in a special election earlier this month. She hasn’t said yet what she plans to do and all Ferrell can say is that he’s leaving behind a “briefing binder”. Translation: they’re not besties.

Three teams were in the running to manage, operate and, perhaps, partly fund the project. At least two were led by local Internet service providers, Monkey Brains (with the assistance of Black and Veatch, Nokia and Zayo) and Sonic.net. The third contender is list only as “FiberGateway”. There’s no obvious broadband company that goes by that, but for what it’s worth, Altice, a mid sized cable operator with a relative handful of systems in California, uses it as a product name.

San Francisco muni FTTP short list is down to three choices

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The City and County of San Francisco is still tight-lipped regarding details of its $2 billion fiber-to-the-premise project, but its latest cryptic update indicates that the scheduled one-on-one interviews with potential bidders are complete and the first cut was made.

Thanks to a tip from a kind reader, I checked the City’s purchasing website and found this notice, dated yesterday, 19 April 2018…

Notice of Pre-Qualified Bidders for Citywide Fiber to the Premises Network, Lit Fiber and Wi-Fi Services RFQ

The City has completed its evaluation of Citywide Fiber to the Premises Network, Lit Fiber and Wi-Fi Services RFQ. Respondent Teams that are selected and placed on the pre-qualified bidders list are not guaranteed a contract. The following Respondent Teams have been selected:

Bay City Broadband Partners
FiberGateway
Sonic Plenary SF Fiber

Protests of the Pre-Qualified Bidders for this RFQ must be received…no later than 12:00 P.M. (PST) on April 26, 2018.

Before the interviews, the City acknowledged that four groups were in the hunt. This latest list is missing Golden Gate Broadband Partners, of which no public information or even basis for speculation exists. Same story with FiberGateway, unless you count the fact that a cable operator, Altice, uses it as a brand name.

Bay City Broadband Partners is claimed by a local wireless Internet service provider, Monkey Brains, and is said to include Nokia, Zayo and Black and Veatch. As far as I know, Sonic.net hasn’t said anything publicly but it isn’t a stretch to suspect they’re leading Sonic Plenary SF Fiber.

The three remaining contenders are still a long way from getting any kind of a contract. Later this year, the City will issue a formal request for proposals, and only the three blessed “respondent teams” will be eligible to bid. Although the City indicated it would be contributing money to the project, it hasn’t said how much.

A little more light shed on San Francisco muni FTTP contenders

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The City and County of San Francisco has released a little bit of information about the companies that are vying for a $2 billion municipal fiber to the premise (FTTP) project. (Okay, they say it’s $1.9 billion, but at this early stage in the game, the rounder and higher $2 billion figure probably describes it better).

A cryptic post buried on the City’s purchasing website says…

Notice of Shortlist of Respondent Teams selected for Oral Interviews for the Citywide Fiber to Premises Network, Lit Fiber & Wi-fi Services RFQ

The written proposal evaluation for the Citywide Fiber to Premises Network, Lit Fiber & Wi-fi Services RFQ is now complete. The following firms will be invited to the Oral Interviews: Bay City Broadband Partners, FiberGateway, Golden Gate Broadband Partners, and Sonic Plenary SF Fiber.

And that’s it. So in the absence of hard information, we can try to read the tea leaves. The only statements about the written responses to the City’s request for qualifications submitted on or before 26 March 2017 have come from Monkey Brains, a San Francisco wireless Internet service provider. In a tweet and a subsequent newspaper interview, Monkey Brains owner Rudy Rucker said that five groups submitted proposals. One of those groups – Bay City Broadband Partners – includes Monkey Brains and, according to Rucker, Black and Veatch, Zayo and Nokia.

It’s a fair guess – but only a guess – that Sonic Plenary SF Fiber is led by Sonic.net, which is already in the business of building out its own FTTP system in San Francisco. No word yet from Sonic.net, though.

I don’t have any idea at all who’s behind Golden Gate Broadband Partners. A google search didn’t turn up any company that operates under that name, and it’s generic enough that it could be anybody. Same with FiberGateway – no company by that name – but tantalisingly, Altice, a mid-sized U.S. (and huge-sized European) cable company uses that brand name for its router and associated management app. At this point, though, it would be an egregious stretch to infer a connection.

Presumably, one of the written proposals was rejected out of hand. So only four groups are moving on to the oral interview round of the competition, which is scheduled to happen next week. After that, the City will finalise a list of qualified bidders who will be allowed to submit firm responses to a request for proposals that’ll be released later this year.

Handful of hopefuls chase contract to light San Francisco FTTP

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Five groups are in the hunt for San Francisco’s citywide fiber to the premise (FTTP) project, at least according to one of the bidders. Monkeybrains, a San Francisco-based wireless Internet service provider, tweeted that they’re on one of the five teams that submitted proposals.

The deadline for filing responses to the City and County of San Francisco’s request for qualifications (RFQ) was last week. According to the San Francisco Examiner, Monkeybrains is talking, but no one else is saying much of anything about it…

Rudy Rucker, who founded Monkeybrains in 1998 with Alex Menendez…that they are part of one team of companies that submitted by last week’s deadline…

“Monkeybrains has teamed up with Black and Veatch, Zayo and Nokia,” Rucker said in an email. “I don’t know all the other teams … but I think we have a very strong team"…

“The City received several bids and we are impressed by the seriousness of the bid teams and their submissions,” [San Francisco mayor Mark Farrell] told the Examiner last week. “We look forward to reviewing the bids in detail and moving full-steam ahead with our procurement process.”

San Francisco voters will have the final say as to whether the City backs an FTTP project financially. The nominal business model calls for a private company to build and operate an open access, citywide FTTP system that would be run according to policies and practices laid down by the City. The total $1.9 billion cost works out to $51 per residence per month and $73 per business, and the City says it – or rather, taxpayers – will pick up some of the tab. It’s not saying how much, but it won’t be chump change and some kind of new, voter-approved tax is the only clear path to paying it.

At this stage, everything is still theoretical. The RFQ is only aimed at developing a short list of qualified bidders who will, presumably, submit hard proposals later this year. We might get a clue as to who’s in the running on Monday, when the City is scheduled to notify bid teams that they’re moving on to the next step of the process, which is one on one interviews.

San Francisco willing to pay for citywide FTTP, but not saying how much

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The City and County of San Francisco wants a short list of companies willing to build an open access, wholesale fiber-to-the-premise system that reaches all homes and businesses. It posted a request for qualifications (RFQ) yesterday, asking potential partners to make their pitches, with the idea of winnowing the responses down to a handful that will go on to a second and final round of proposals later this year.

Unlike Los Angeles, San Francisco is making an upfront offer to subsidise at least some of the costs. In return, it wants a big say in how the system is run, including setting terms to sell capacity on the system to third party “retail service providers” (RSPs) that will, in turn, serve end users…

The City desires a state-of-the-art FTTP network capable of delivering a minimum of a gigabit to consumer premises, and scalable to higher speeds over time as the market develops. The network should include fully fiber connections to the premises that provides ubiquitous data, voice, video services to all communities in San Francisco and offers a choice of competitive private RSPs. The City also seeks to achieve construction and operations efficiencies wherever possible and to build and operate the network at the lowest possible cost.

A study released last October estimated the total construction tab at $1.9 billion or, put another way, a “connection fee” of $51 per home per month and $73 per business per month, which would also cover some operating costs.

The RFQ doesn’t put it on the table, though. The City is offering undefined lump sum payments based on construction milestones and ongoing service fees, but the wholesale partner will also have to depend on income from RSPs and other telecoms companies that want to lease capacity. It’ll share that revenue with the City and, according to the RFQ, is “expected to assume the full performance risk” of the project and “share in City’s financial risk including revenue risk, market risk and uptake risk”.

Responses are due 26 March 2018.

City and County of San Francisco request for qualifications for citywide fiber to the premises network, lit fiber and wi-fi services, 31 January 2018.

The potential for ubiquitous, open fiber-to-the-premises in San Francisco, CTC Technology & Energy and IMG Rebel, 17 October 2017.

City and County of San Francisco, financial analysis of options for a municipal fiber optic network for citywide Internet access, 15 March 2016.

Link to the City’s web page, which provides access to all documents and updates.

Gonzales universal broadband service RFQ deadline extended

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Internet service providers have four extra working weeks to respond to a request for quotes to provide universal broadband access to residents of the City of Gonzales, in California’s Salinas Valley. Following requests from potential respondents for extra time to submit quotes, and an inadvertent glitch that delayed answers to some of the questions they submitted, the City extended the deadline for responses to 22 December 2017.

That means the offers won’t be due on Cyber Monday, 27 November 2017, but that was a coincidental, albeit cool, deadline to begin with.

Several companies submitted questions, mostly looking for market data or information about the City of Gonzales’ expectations, assets and permit processes. Links to the two sets of questions and answers are below.

The City’s objective is to deliver a baseline of Internet access to everyone who lives in Gonzales. In return for a bulk monthly fee paid by the City, the selected ISP will deliver a specified level of service to every home in town. The RFQ specs that baseline level at 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds, but companies can structure their responses as they choose. And offer higher levels of service on a commercial basis, if they want.

The new timeline calls for a decision and a contract in February.

Addendum #1 to Request for Quotes for Bulk Residential Broadband Internet Access Services In the City of Gonzales, California, November 20, 2017.
Addendum #2 to Request for Quotes for Bulk Residential Broadband Internet Access Services In the City of Gonzales, California, November 22, 2017.
Request for Quotes for Bulk Residential Broadband Internet Access Services In the City of Gonzales, California, 7 November 2017 (Word version).
Request for Quotes for Bulk Residential Broadband Internet Access Services In the City of Gonzales, California, 7 November 2017 (PDF version).

I’m assisting the City of Gonzales with its broadband initiative. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.