Tag Archives: Oakland

New dark fiber networks may soon light up Oakland

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Shining a little brighter.

The city council in Oakland, California voted last week to negotiate an agreement with a local group to build an interconnected dark fiber system, beginning in two areas at opposite ends of town.

The plan as presented is to start at the San Leandro border, tie into the Lit San Leandro network, and extend connectivity to the nearby commercial and industrial areas around the Oakland Airport. From there, the network would connect to existing fiber that runs along the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail line, bridging to a second dark fiber network to be built in downtown Oakland that’ll light up businesses as well as city facilities. Fiber would also be extended to an important community center and police station that serves East Oakland, opening up the possibility of stimulating economic growth in an area that sorely needs it.

The project was initiated by a group called Light Up Oakland, which proposes to carry most of the financial responsibility and own the private side of the business.

Although nothing has been agreed yet, conceptually the city could own some portion of the network’s capacity, and use it for public sector purposes, including pursuing policy objectives such as economic development, similar to the deal struck in San Leandro. In return, the city could contribute access to conduit and other facilities to support a dark fiber system.

The council also authorised contracts with an engineering company for technical design work and with Tellus Venture Associates to assist with negotiating the contract with Light Up Oakland. It’s a follow on to an earlier broadband master plan I did for Oakland and to the negotiations and planning work I did for the City of San Leandro as the Lit San Leandro project was developed and implemented.

Bay Area cities offer FCC chair a glimpse of the future

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FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski sees a gigabit city in San Leandro.

Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) visited San Leandro today, taking a look at the economic progress kindled by the Lit San Leandro project and delivering a keynote speech to local leaders, business people, city staff and proud residents. I’ll have more on his remarks later.

I was fortunate enough to be invited as one of the opening speakers. My assignment was to give some background on efforts in the Bay Area and around California to develop our economy by developing broadband infrastructure:

Here in the Bay Area, we are surrounded by the fattest Internet pipes on the planet. We have the world’s greatest concentration of innovative, high technology – revolutionary – talent, companies and jobs.

But we’re just getting started.

Most communities in the Bay Area, most companies and people, can’t touch those fat broadband pipes yet. That’s how it was here, in San Leandro, when the Lit San Leandro project began two years ago. The main lines of the Internet run right through the middle of town. But there was no local access, no onramp here.

Businesses struggled to get any kind of Internet access, affordable or not. Upgrading broadband infrastructure in older commercial and industrial districts is not a priority for incumbent service providers.

One of those businesses was OSIsoft. They’re here today to tell their own story, so I won’t spoil it. But Pat Kennedy saw a solution and worked with the City of San Leandro to implement it. Pat and the Lit San Leandro team made it happen. The City, though, deserves a lot of credit too. The business development team recognized the opportunity and worked across departments and with the City Council to find ways to say yes to it.

That’s the key. Recognizing the opportunity and embracing it. Part of that job is making sure that everyone’s interests are acknowledged and protected. It’s also to move ahead without getting bogged down in the process and move ahead with a clear view of the benefits for all. And that’s what the City of San Leandro did.

Thanks to some far-sighted work by legislators in Sacramento – more of that gets done than commonly recognized – the California Public Utilities Commission created a network of regional broadband consortia across the state. In just a year, those community based groups, groups that pull together public agencies, educational institutions, non-profits and private companies with capital to invest, those groups have generated dozens of new broadband projects.

The East Bay Broadband Consortium is one example. I recently worked with them to assess connectivity in this region. We developed a grading system and came up with a city by city and county by county report card. Two things stood out.

First, in most communities, businesses need help to get the broadband speed and quality at the affordable prices that our centers of high tech excellence take for granted. Whether it’s finding incentives for incumbent carriers to upgrade existing facilities, or partnering with entrepreneurs to build new gigabit fiber networks, or even dipping a toe into the municipal broadband business, cities have a vital role to play and valuable resources to offer. Not the least of which is leadership. As we have here in San Leandro.

Second, the cities with the highest grades are the ones with the deepest history of competition between telecommunications service providers. Central Contra Costa County cities scored A’s and B’s because they have three carriers that compete with each other in a number of ways, including investing in new fiber optic lines, putting private capital into upgraded broadband infrastructure.

Here in Alameda County, the cities with the highest grades are Berkeley and the City of Alameda. A private company, Sonic, has invested in building competitive broadband facilities in Berkeley. In Alameda, the city took the lead, built its own system, spurred fierce competition and stepped out of the business when the time was ripe. The infrastructure that was built by the city and its competitors is still there, still serving the residents of Alameda, still providing homes and businesses with some of the best Internet service available in the East Bay.

Other cities have followed their lead. The City of Benicia is working to turn what was a major twentieth century industrial park into a twenty first century job engine by bringing in better broadband infrastructure. In Oakland, there’s an ongoing effort to bridge the divide between businesses and homes that have superior Internet access and those that don’t.

It’s no coincidence that the best and cheapest broadband access in the Bay Area is in Palo Alto and Santa Clara. As new industries – a new economy – grew, those cities built municipal fiber optic networks. As businesses have grown and created jobs, local fiber optic networks have grown to serve them. Resulting in even more business and more jobs. We’re starting to see the same here in San Leandro. And that’s just the beginning.

Chairman Genachowski, for gigabit cities, the future is right here.

Best Practices Highlight Wireless Broadband Feasibility Study for the City of Oakland

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Download the Oakland Wireless Feasibility Study

Like nearly every government agency in California, the City of Oakland was faced with increasing demand for public services and a decreasing budget. An evaluation was needed of the potential for wireless technology to make municipal staff more efficient and allow them to stay in the field longer, and to provide Internet service to residents, either directly in their homes and businesses or indirectly through community anchor institutions. This evaluation needed to focus specifically on Oakland’s diverse population, needs and terrain.

The City’s goals were:

  • Enhance economic development by enabling businesses to operate more effectively and by making Oakland a more attractive place to live, work, and visit.
  • Improve public safety by putting more police officers, fire fighters, inspectors and public works staff into the field, keeping them there longer and letting them work more efficiently.
  • Increase the effectiveness of public, private, and nonprofit organizations through improved access to state of the art broadband wireless technology.
  • Help overcome the digital divide.
  • Improve the quality of life for all Oaklanders.

Tellus Venture Associates was brought in to do a comprehensive feasibility study that would include public focus groups, workshops and a town hall meeting, close coordination with City departments and outside agencies, and a technical survey that included radio frequency modeling over the hills, canyons, flatlands and waterways within the city limits.

When we analysed the research data, the trends that emerged tracked closely with the best practices we’ve developed during seven years of municipal and community broadband experience. The result was a more refined list of those principles:

  1. No matter what the manufacturer says, the laws of physics still apply. No matter what the special interests say, sound business principles still apply. Don’t underestimate the public’s appreciation of physics and sound business principles, or overestimate its regard for manufacturers and special interests.
  2. City-owned and operated metropolitan area networks are a cost effective means of extending information technology infrastructure and resources to local government facilities and employees.
  3. Providing broadband connectivity to targeted community anchor institutions can be financially and technically feasible for cities, and is supported by public opinion.
  4. Providing universal, consumer-grade wireless Interet access is not financially or technically feasible for cities, and is not supported by public opinion.
  5. Cities can better promote digital inclusion by enabling and supporting a competitive broadband environment.
  6. Widespread public awareness and support precedes deployment of a successful municipal broadband system.
  7. Fiber optic and wireless technologies can be effective choices for network backbone segments, depending on capital and operating cost, timing, right-of-way, capacity and other considerations.
  8. Fiber optic and other landline technologies provide orders of magnitude more bandwidth and many more years of useful service life, with lower operating costs.
  9. Wireless technologies can be deployed faster and at much lower capital expense, and provide greater flexibility to change network topologies and service models to meet future needs.
  10. Wireless technologies have the unique ability to support municipal staff in the field, particularly public safety personnel, but should only be deployed after an independent evaluation of technology, terrain and available spectrum.

With these principles in mind, we assessed the Oakland public’s needs and priorities, designed a reference architecture that could meet those needs, and developed a business model that quantified the benefits, demonstrated the value proposition and identified the money to pay for it all.

Our findings were:

  • A point-to-point wireless broadband system serving specific community and institutional needs is financially and technically sustainable for the City of Oakland.
  • The cost of building and operating such a system can be met through identifiable cost savings, efficiency gains and budgetary choices based on the economic value of the benefits produced.
  • Public Internet access by way of community anchor institutions is financially and technically feasible, and universally supported by a diverse range of Oakland residents, organizations, agencies and businesses if it is implemented in a fiscally sound manner.
  • Enabling entrepreneurial opportunities for local businesses on a pay-as-you-go, public-private partnership basis is also backed by Oakland stakeholders and supported by the financial and technical analysis conducted for this study.
  • Providing wireless Internet service to residences or individual consumers is not financially sustainable or technically feasible for the City of Oakland, and is opposed by nearly all stakeholders, who cite the widespread technical and financial failure of such systems in other cities.

The next step was to secure the funding. Some of it came from the cost savings created by replacing a large number of low capacity, leased land lines with a comprehensive wireless backbone, comprised of high capacity point-to-point links using licensed spectrum. Some of it came from money budgeted for expensive cellular data service. In other cases, savings in man-hours and increased productivity, including more and better field audits by tax officers, offset operating costs.

Finding the money to pay for the capital expense was a different problem. Bonds were not an option, given the uncertainty of future budgets. Some of the funding could be raised locally, through public-private partnerships, but not all of it.

Fortunately, the conclusion of the study coincided with the establishment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the federal economic stimulus program, which included $7.2 billion for broadband projects. With its emphasis on public safety, community anchor institutions and economic development, the broadband infrastructure plan created by Tellus Venture Associates for the City of Oakland was ideally suited to meet the program’s requirements.

The stimulus grant application had to wait until the second round of funding, because the first round emphasized rural projects and all but excluded urban areas from eligibility for broadband infrastructure funding. At the same time Google announced its own broadband grant program, which likewise tracked with the best practices we incorporated into the study. Both applications are now pending.

The final step will be to move ahead with construction of the system. Tellus Venture Associates prepared a draft Request for Proposal, which sets out the specifications for a municipal broadband system that would serve the City of Oakland. In some cases, such as providing broadband connectivity to public safety personnel in the field, the technology that would be employed is necessarily wireless. But in other cases, for example the core network backbone, wireless, fiber optic or other technologies are all possibilities. Those determinations, as well as any decision to release an RFP, will be made by City staff, once funding is secured.

Oakland Wireless Feasibility Study

Printable, high resolution version

City of Oakland staff report

Study presentation to Oakland City Council

City of Oakland wireless reference architecture

Oakland townhall meeting presentation