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6 University Towns Will Get Gigabit Broadband Through New Public-Private Partnership

Phillip Dampier May 24, 2012 Broadband Speed, Community Networks, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video Comments Off on 6 University Towns Will Get Gigabit Broadband Through New Public-Private Partnership

Six college towns will benefit from the nation’s first multi-community broadband gigabit deployment, thanks to $200 million in capital funding to get the broadband networks off the ground.

The Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program leverages local government, universities, private capital, and the public to jointly support and foster the development of new fiber optic networks.

The new program claims it will offer competitively-priced super-fast broadband through projects that will cover neighborhoods of 5,000-10,000 people and communities up to 100,000 in size.  Selection of the six winning communities will be announced between this fall and next spring.

“Gigabit Squared created the Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program to help select Gig.U communities build and test gigabit speed broadband networks with speeds from 100 to 1000 times faster than what Americans have today,” the company said in a statement.

“The United States is behind in the world for Internet speed,” said Mark Ansboury, Gigabit’s president and co-founder. “The goal is to help get us out front for a platform of innovation.”

That platform is certainly not forthcoming from the country’s largest broadband providers, who according to Ansboury have been pulling back on wired infrastructure upgrades in recent years, shifting focus to more profitable wireless networks.

Gigabit Squared defines the next generation of broadband Internet in terms of speed, declaring 2,000Mbps (2Gbps) as the target to achieve.

The winning projects will be sponsored by Gig.U members, which include:

  • Arizona State University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Colorado State University
  • Duke University
  • Florida State University
  • George Mason University
  • The Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Howard University
  • Indiana University
  • Michigan State University
  • North Carolina State University
  • Penn State University
  • University of Alaska – Fairbanks
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Colorado – Boulder
  • University of Florida
  • University of Hawaii
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Kentucky
  • University of Louisville
  • University of Maine
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Montana
  • University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • University of New Mexico
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Oklahoma
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Washington
  • Virginia Tech
  • Wake Forest University
  • West Virginia University

Blair Levin, executive director at Gig.U, believes private American telecom companies will always be constrained from delivering world class broadband comparable to South Korea or Japan because of Wall Street opposition to the investment required to construct them. In the eyes of investors, today’s slower networks, in their estimation, do just fine.

Gig.U believes that they have a solution, at least for towns with a sizable university system that can serve as host of the next generation broadband network:

First, any community that wants its residents to have access to a network that delivers world-leading bandwidth can do so. The barrier is not technology or economics. The barrier is organization; specifically, organizing demand and improved use of underutilized assets, such as rights of way, dark fiber, or in more rural areas, spectrum. The responses identified a multitude of ways local communities can improve the private investment case by lowering investment and risk, and increasing revenues for private players willing to upgrade or build new networks without budget outlays from the local government.

Second, the responses confirmed that university communities have the easiest organizing task and greatest upside. Their density, demographics and demand make the current economics more favorable for an upgrade than other communities. For example, the high percentage of the population in university communities living in multiple dwelling units makes the economics of an upgrade far more favorable than for communities composed largely of single-family homes. With the growing importance of Big Data for the economy and the society, university communities are the natural havens for such enterprises to be born and prosper. Through the Gig.U process, our communities are already exploring more than a half-dozen paths to achieve an upgrade; paths that will be replicable for others and will deliver a major step forward in providing America a strategic broadband advantage.

Outside of a handful of upstart private competitors like California-based Sonic.net, most fiber broadband expansion come from private companies like Google — building an experimental fiber-to-the-home network in Kansas City, community-owned broadband services coordinated by local town or city government, co-op telecommunications companies owned by their subscribers, or municipal utilities.

While those efforts are typically committed to the concept of “universal service” — wiring their entire communities — the Gig.U project targets funding only for networks in and around university campuses.

The New America Foundation builds on Gig.U’s premise in its own recent report, “Universities as Hubs for Next Generation Networks,” which argues affordable expansion of broadband can win community support when the public has the right to also benefit from those networks. While Gig.U’s approach suggests the project will target fiber broadband directly to the homes qualified to receive it, the New America Foundation supports the construction of mesh wireless Wi-Fi networks to keep construction costs low for neighborhoods targeted for service.

An earlier project in Orono and Old Town, Maine may afford a preview of Gig.U’s vision, as that collaboration between the University of Maine and private fiber provider GWI is already in its construction phase. For those lucky enough to live within range of the fiber project, broadband speeds will far exceed what incumbents Time Warner Cable and FairPoint Communications deliver. FairPoint has fought similar projects (and GWI specifically) for years.

Will private providers object to the Gig.U effort to win local governments’ favor in the six cities eventually chosen for service? History suggests the answer will be yes, at least to the extent local cable and phone companies demand the same concessions for easy pole access, reduced pole attachment fees, and easing of zoning restrictions and procedures Gig.U project coordinators expect.

Levin has stressed Gig.U projects are based on university and private funding sources, not taxpayer dollars. That may also limit how much objection commercial providers may be able to raise against the projects.

WABI in Bangor previews the new gigabit broadband network being constructed in Orono and Old Town, Maine.  (2 minutes)

FairPoint Dispute May Cost Maine-Based ISP Its Business And Good Paying Local Jobs With It

Phillip Dampier November 12, 2009 Competition, Data Caps, FairPoint, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

gwiFairPoint Communications’ performance in New England, finally leading to bankruptcy, harms not only itself but also smaller local Internet companies providing jobs and service across the region.  That’s the gist of a report in this morning’s Kennebec Journal outlining a dispute between FairPoint and Great Works Internet, a Biddeford, Maine Internet Service Provider caught between FairPoint’s fiber optic network and a billing dispute that demands GWI pay more than $3 million dollars by December 19th, or face service termination by FairPoint.

GWI leased fiber optic cables with FairPoint’s predecessor Verizon back in 2005.  As part of the Communications Act of 1996, designed to spur competition, GWI obtained access at special interconnection rates, lower than the prices charged for retail customers.  Verizon felt the price was too low, and went to court in 2005 to seek the right to charge “market rates” for access, but the issue was never settled before Verizon sold its landline network to FairPoint last year.  In March of this year, FairPoint stopped accepting new orders from GWI for fiber service, which has kept the company from growing beyond its current fiber network agreements, costing the company plenty in new business.  Then, in September, FairPoint back-billed GWI for $3,085,025, representing the price FairPoint felt GWI should have been paying since 2006.  If the Maine-owned ISP doesn’t pay up, it has been threatened with having its service cut off altogether.

Fletcher Kittredge, GWI’s founder and chief executive officer, has been around the ISP business a long time.  The company was founded in 1994, before Internet access became common, and he has grown the company into a locally owned business serving 18,000 customers with phone and Internet connections.  At risk are the loss of up to 75 local jobs and a significant part of $13 million in annual revenues earned by what the Journal calls one of Maine’s leading Internet providers.

“For us, it’s vital that this be settled soon,” Kittredge told the newspaper. “FairPoint has been threatening us with some pretty draconian action.”

FairPoint’s threat has already cost the company customers, Kittredge said, and the uncertainty makes it hard to go after new business accounts.

But growth has been trimmed by FairPoint’s actions, according to Kittredge. For instance: The company signed a contract with the Skowhegan school system for high-speed access and set up equipment. But the connections it needed from FairPoint were never made, Kittredge said, and he had to cancel the school contract. That has had a chilling effect on efforts to go after new accounts.

“We can’t go out and solicit new businesses,” he said. “We can’t say, ‘This is going to be great, but we may not be able to deliver it to you.’ ”

Great Works hasn’t wanted to make a big deal in public of its fight with FairPoint. It’s concerned that the news will cause existing customers to worry that they could lose their Internet connections.

“It’s a threat I’m going to watch,” said Mitch Davis, chief information officer at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

Bowdoin gets phone service from FairPoint, but most of its Internet access is from Great Works. Davis was aware of the initial court dispute, but didn’t realize FairPoint was threatening to cut line access. He hopes the bankruptcy judge will let the case go forward and get settled.

GWI told the Journal the company may just be trying to steal Great Works’ lucrative business customers.  That might come to pass if the circuits are cut.  Despite Davis believing FairPoint probably wouldn’t make good on their threat because of the bad publicity it would generate, he admits if they do, he might be forced to transfer the college account to FairPoint.

“I would do what I need to do to keep the college running,” Davis said.

One Journal reader characterized the dispute as just one more consequence of approving FairPoint Communications’ takeover of Verizon service in Maine.

“I would like to thank the governor of Maine for letting such a strong stable company like FairPoint in this state. You really did your homework.  I thought we had a Public Utilities Commission that watched out for public interest.  Boy are they on the ball.  I am glad to see […] they are not running my business.”

Broadband Stimulus Blockade – FairPoint Bankruptcy Doesn’t Stop Spending to Block Stimulus in Maine

Phillip Dampier February 16, 2010 Broadband Speed, Competition, Editorial & Site News, FairPoint, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Video Comments Off on Broadband Stimulus Blockade – FairPoint Bankruptcy Doesn’t Stop Spending to Block Stimulus in Maine

In Maine, bankrupt FairPoint Communications managed to scrape up enough cash to launch a lobbying effort to get a bill introduced, tailor-written to prohibit stimulus award winners from… helping provide improved broadband service to Maine residents.


Incredibly, Sen. Lisa Marrache, D-Waterville, the assistant Senate majority leader, has introduced a bill that would ban the system from using any tuition money to help pay for efforts to expand broadband access. Marrache mouthed FairPoint’s talking points as she suggested poor college students’ tuition money would be diverted for broadband projects. She claimed the bill was introduced because constituents FairPoint’s lobbyists and employees were calling her about it.

The fact Marrache so misunderstood a public-private partnership between the University of Maine, Great Works Internet, and two private investors to improve the Internet “backbone” in Maine should be of grave concern to her constituents. Unless some campaign contributions from FairPoint and its executives make their way to Marrache’s next campaign, voters must be wondering whether the majority leader has a grip on the technology matters before her.

Indeed, the University of Maine explained the “middle mile” improvement program was not going to steal students’ lunch money, but rather dramatically improve broadband capacity for all comers — something FairPoint couldn’t be bothered with while breaking promises to expand broadband service themselves.

Jeff Letourneau, associate director of information technology at UMS, told the Bangor Daily News, “as for tuition subsidizing our broadband efforts, that does not happen and will not happen.”

WABI-TV in Bangor reported on the announced funding of broadband projects in Maine designed to improve rural broadband service statewide (12-17-2009 — 2 minutes)

Ironically, the network that will be built with the help of the broadband stimulus program will be open to any and all providers, including FairPoint, on a wholesale cost basis. But of course FairPoint would not own and control it, so it’s bad for them, and they’re trying to convince Maine lawmakers it’s bad for Maine residents as well.

Great Works Internet has had a running dispute with FairPoint

But then, FairPoint has had a vendetta of sorts against Great Works Internet for months, trying to overcharge the independent ISP for connectivity it obtained under provisions established in the Communications Act of 1996.

Also running interference for FairPoint is Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, who serves on the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee. His bill prevents any “undue” competition by UMS with existing broadband providers. In other words, he has written the FairPoint Entrenched Provider of Mediocre Broadband Protection Act. Fitts said he has concerns that the university’s efforts could have unintended consequences on private companies (read that FairPoint) that “already provide access.” It will have directly intended consequences on GWI by further disadvantaging them and potentially sinking their efforts to provide better service in Maine.

“If the university is able to bypass some of the competitive markets, and cherry pick, it could affect the ability to deliver broadband to others,” he said.

Exactly how it affects the ability of FairPoint to deliver what it has failed to demonstrate it is capable of delivering is a question Fitts doesn’t answer.


“I know this will cause a lot of discussion in committee,” he told the newspaper. “But we need to have that discussion.”

Maine Public Radio covered the introduction of Rep. Fitts’ bill, and the debate swirling around it. (3 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Constituents need to have a discussion with him. Unless he wants to be known as the representative from FairPoint, he might want to get out of the way of a project that has a chance of improving broadband in his state, as opposed to the empty promises from a bankrupt provider. If he wants to tie himself to FairPoint’s record of failure, voters can choose someone else to represent them at the earliest possible opportunity.

Those with a need for high speed broadband have tried, and failed, to obtain better service from FairPoint. As Stop the Cap! has reported in exhaustive detail, FairPoint was preoccupied in delivering third world phone service at the time, finally collapsing on the courthouse steps under the weight of its bankruptcy filing.

Bills like these in Maine are further evidence that Congress needs to act on the federal level to pass the Community Broadband Act, which would overturn these kinds of bought-and-paid-for protectionist bills passed in several states. Communities must have the right to bypass companies in the broadband shortage business.

WLBZ-TV in Bangor showed what broadband brings to Maine’s health care system and other business.  (3 minutes)

MaineBiz Sunday spent nearly an hour going in-depth into broadband challenges in Maine, the problems with FairPoint Communications, the dispute with GWI, and more.  Appearing on the show, which originally aired last November: Fletcher Kittredge CEO of GWI, Phil Lindley of the ConnectMaine Authority, Steve Hand of Know Technology and Rep. Cynthia Dill of District 121 in Cape Elizabeth. (36 minutes)

Coming up…

Comcast Is Allergic to the Word “Free” Except When They Are the Recipient

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