Progress Update: Pole Audit Begins

Contract signed to conduct pole audit moves broadband installation to next level

Following approval from the board of selectmen, Princeton has finalized and signed an agreement with Linx Associates to conduct the engineering study necessary to estimating costs to prepare the town’s utility poles for the installation of the proposed high-speed fiber optic network. Voters at the 2014 annual town meeting approved the funds to cover project expenses, estimated at $6970.

Fieldwork for the project will be conducted by a representative from Linx assisted by a representative of the Princeton Municipal Light Department. Work is expected to begin immediately with a final report due September 30.

Princeton Broadband, the newly formed municipal light plant (MLP), is currently determining an exact figure of all final costs to meet the installation requirements established by Matrix/Millennium, the company that has presented a proposal to bring Internet access into Princeton homes at no taxpayer expense.

While the contract to begin the network installation is still unsigned, the proposal has been reviewed and amended by legal counsel in preparation for an approval by the MLP. Final contract approval will occur after a special town meeting is held later this fall to approve borrowing funds to cover the town’s portion of “make ready’” costs.

Princeton is one of 47 Massachusetts towns eligible for a portion of $45 million allocated for ‘last mile’ network construction. Funding formulas are currently being reviewed and awaiting release pending the anticipated approval of Gov. Deval Patrick in late 2014.

Podcast Discusses the Town of Leverett’s Efforts to Build Fiber Network

As we have discussed before on this site, the town of Leverett, MA is in the middle of building out a fiber network to its entire community. Leverett’s experience can serve as a good reference for Princeton in terms of what is working and what could be improved as we plan and structure our network build out.  Episode 113 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast features an interview with Leverett Select Board member Peter d’Errico. In it, Peter discusses the town’s need for a fiber solution, the role of the “municipal light plant” law, and the structure of the financing and prices for subscribers. In addition to downloading the podcast, you can alternatively read the full transcript.

Click here for additional details »

What’s Up with Princeton Broadband? A Progress Report

keep-calm-and-check-progress-5The Princeton Broadband Committee kept on pace with several objectives during the summer months, meeting regularly to assure its aggressive agenda moves forward on several fronts. Here’s a brief update:

Matrix/Millennium Proposal

In June the committee voted to forward an amended version of the Memo of Understanding with Matrix/Millennium to the newly formed Princeton Broadband MLP whose members are now responsible for approving the contract. The MLP was successful in obtaining legal counsel to review specifics of the contract on behalf of the town of Princeton. As a result, the agreement was deemed satisfactory by our attorney who also reported to us that we are not required by law to solicit bids from other installers/contractors for the project. Building the actual network infrastructure as proposed would be done with private versus public funding. Use of public funding would have required the public bidding process and potentially added many months to the decision-making timetable. Note, Princeton Broadband MLP has taken no action on the Matrix/Millennium proposal to date – there are additional legal considerations being addressed.

Possible State Funding

The committee regularly monitored progress of a major technology bill (H.3770), which has passed legislative hurdles in August and was signed by Gov. Duvall Patrick. A portion of the bill allocates $45 million to Massachusetts Broadband Institute to cover “last mile” expenses to assist the state’s “unserved” communities, which includes Princeton. The committee is actively participating in lobbying activities currently underway to determine how those funds will be fairly distributed. In fact, we have recently began a strategy to better engage our elected officials in Boston and are pleased with the strong levels of support initially received from those who represent us in the State House.

Wired West Membership

We moved forward our application process with Wired West, which was officially approved and accepted at their September meeting. Membership with Wired West is a significant boost in our efforts to secure our share of funding when the MBI monies are distributed this fall.

ISP Pricing Models

The committee spent time exploring ISP pricing structures and continues work in that regard to assure that residents get the best value at the best service. As a source of comparison, the town of Leverett, MA (who is in the process of building their own network), recently released service and pricing information. You can view their pricing structure here.

Possible FCC Funding

We identified another source of potential financial assistance with the announcement of $100 million in grant money available from the FCC for their Experiments in Rural Broadband program. Our population density and lack of existing broadband make us eligible to apply for funds no greater than $750,000. An application is due in October.

* * * * *

The Fall months should bring us closer to our goal of bringing high-speed fiber optic Internet into Princeton homes. Several legal and regulatory hurdles are now behind us and news regarding state funding allocations is coming soon. We will continue to update you as we make more progress.


Fiber Optic is the Best Option in Meeting Princeton’s Broadband Needs

In an op-ed piece entitled “Better options for wireless than ‘faster horses” published in the July 17 Landmark, the writer, a concerned Princeton resident, makes the analogy that deploying a fiber optic network in town is like getting a faster horse and that a ‘wireless white space’ solution is like the innovation of Henry Ford’s first automobile. It should come as no news that the question of ‘wireless’ vs. ‘wired’ has been tried before in Princeton and the ‘wireless’ path has proven to have significant issues in both the performance and costs.

Using ‘white space’ is not the solution

Newly available ‘white space’ radio spectrum that has been relinquished by TV broadcasters, does not significantly address the bandwidth, geographical or political challenges that doomed our existing wireless network launched a few ago known by the municipal light department. The FCC estimates that there are between 12 and 32 ‘white space’ channels freed up in our region, each of which could provide up to 20Mbps of bandwidth. All of these channels are shared with our neighbors in Holden, Sterling and elsewhere. Assuming the unlikely case that we could abscond with all of these ‘white space’ channels, that would allow all 1250 premises in town a bit less than 2Mbps, which still does not mean the definition of high-speed broadband, and an increase of only 1Mbps over the existing wireless network. It means we will once again have a wireless network that is great for sending and receiving emails and little else.

Additionally, the FCC announced it plans to auction ‘white space’ wireless spectrum to existing cellular providers, indicating this spectrum would not at all be available for Princeton’s use.

An advantage of white space design is that it is not strictly line of sight wireless. There is some refraction over geological obstacles, but the severe hills and valleys in Princeton would require multiple sources to assure connectivity for all, a configuration not unlike that of those tall poles we see around town. Connecting each of these poles to a source sufficient to use the wireless bandwidth would require infrastructure of significant cost, probably fiber optic cable. And although Carlson Wireless, the company cited by the author of the letter, has an interesting and innovative product, it does not seem to solve the central problem Princeton is facing, and, according to its own website, is currently working on devices that “are far, far from ready” for prime time.

Why a single bidder?

The writer mentions that there is only one bidder in the plan to bring ‘wired’ Internet to Princeton. He is correct, there is only one corporate entity that came to the town unrequested with a proposal backed by $3.7 million of their corporate money to build a lease-to-own network. Yes, Matrix/Millenium will put up $3.7 million of material, engineering and labor in exchange for a construction royalty of $25/subscriber for 20 years. Subscribers will pay for the network over time as part of their monthly bill and the town will own it at the end of that term. The fixes to the town’s poles and licensing right of way will still need to be paid for by taxpayers, as would have been the case in the suggested white space deployment but to a lesser extent.

Concerned citizens who attend the 2014 town meeting will recall there was a discussion regarding the new municipal light plant (MLP) and its first order of business to better understand the state’s legal requirements particularly as they require a more formal bid selection process. Town Manager John Lebeaux addressed that issue by saying if the law requires a public bidding processes then the MLP will be legally required to solicit more bids.

The price quoted by Matrix/Millenium is certainly in line with similar projects that are ongoing elsewhere in the Commonwealth, particularly in the western region. Given the strong resistance in town to any increase in taxes, requesting a bond for the town of over $4 million has a non-zero probability of failing. If there was a better deal to be had, the town is not in a position fiscally or politically to take advantage of it.

Impact on real estate sales misunderstood

The writer incorrectly suggests that a ‘wired’ network is simply too expensive and will burden the town for generations and make our homes unsellable. The PBC, with input from area realtors, has always claimed that our homes are becoming less sellable by the year without the Internet connection people in our region need and expect. Moreover, ‘wiring’ the town with fiber could provide the town and Matrix/Millenium opportunities for revenue to help pay for the network from other than the subscribers. Sometimes the cost of doing nothing or of staying the course is much more expensive than acting, especially in a 21st century town that has no cable service and is ‘unserved’ for internet completely surrounded by towns that do. Let us not look a gift horse in the mouth, especially the one that is also the fastest.

Fiber is built for generations to come

According to the FCC’s technical paper entitled The Broadband Availability Gap, “As broadband needs continue to grow, fiber emerges as the only last-mile technology capable of meeting ultra high-speed needs. So, any solution that brings fiber closer to the home by pushing it deeper into the network puts into place an infrastructure that has long-term strategic benefits.”

Fiber optic in residential broadband applications is established and ubiquitous; running 90 percent of the entire Internet, including the technology that lets cable companies provide those blazing fast CATV services over their coaxial network. Bandwidth over fiber has improved continuously over time and researchers pushing the limits still see about one million times more data bandwidth capability than is currently being used.

The Princeton Broadband Committee welcomes all comments and suggestions relating to this issue, which we will address via this website.


Wireless Technology Not the Answer for Princeton

From the Speak Out section of the Landmark

In response to Edwin Carlson’s July 17 Speak Out about wireless and “faster horses,’’ sometimes engineers over think the solution and end up with a product that really doesn’t solve a problem.

Carlson refers to a quote attributed to Henry Ford implying that using fiber optic technology to deliver Internet service to Princeton is relying too much on the same old-style technology rather than embracing the newest fad technology.

If Henry Ford had really thought too hard, he might have designed a vehicle that ran underground (like a mole car) rather than on surface roads because the shortest route between two places is to tunnel through the ground instead of over the curvature of the Earth.

In 1984, Princeton embraced new, green technology and installed windmills to generate electricity. Maybe that was a good idea, maybe not. I wasn’t living here then. Then we replaced those windmills with much more expensive windmills. Maybe that was a really bad idea because the business model for wind is still not profitable (or in our case doesn’t even break even.)

In 2006, the Princeton Municipal Light Department installed a new-style wireless based Internet system. It never worked well. Many houses in town were too remote or out of the line of sight of the towers and the entire system was overloaded from the beginning. The system Carlson pins his hopes on has engineering specifications inferior even to the existing PMLD net system.

Wouldn’t it be nice to use a technology that is completely proven to be reliable and able to handle almost any future need rather than try another fad that is a bad fit for our needs?

A wireless solution is great for an area like a city where lots of different people are moving around, going between bars and restaurants and public transportation. Most of these people are walking around with tiny phone screens checking email or getting directions. That doesn’t require much bandwidth.

This is not Princeton. People are in their houses for the most part. In the house, the need for bandwidth is much greater. While

I work remotely, connected to the office computers, my wife could video chat with a cousin, kids connect with their friends over a gaming console or research and submit a school report using the greatest information repository ever available to humanity. Then when work is done, stream one, two or four movies, keeping everyone happy.

For the few open gathering spaces in town (i.e. Krashes field, the town common and the school ballfield) a small, reliable WiFi system installed at each location and connected to the town Internet would be a perfect, costeffective solution.

Fiber optic technology is the single most successful communication technology in the past 50 years. The same physical fibers have been in use for decades and researchers are still striving to find the limit of its capability. Verizon FIOS serves more than five million people. Other fiber optic systems service thousands of businesses, including large parts of the cable and phone systems. And fiber is how cell towers and other wireless systems are connected.

Someday electricity will be beamed into our houses too (Nikola Tesla even demonstrated it more than 100 years ago) but for now we still need wires for electricity and we need wires (or fiber) for the Internet. Please don’t make the same mistake again and hope that some newfangled solution will work. We’ve made that mistake too many times.

Finally, Mr. Carlson mentions there is only one bidder in the plan to bring wired Internet to Princeton. He is correct, there is only one proposal, but one that is backed by $4 million dollars of corporate money, relieving a significant taxpayer burden. Other proposals may indeed be forthcoming as the newly formed MLP works through the legal requirements regarding the bidding procedure.

Light up Princeton now.

Princeton Board Takes Steps Toward Setting Up Broadband

From Worcester Telegram, by Joshua Lyford

The Board of Selectmen took the necessary steps Monday night to establish a new Municipal Lighting Plant, which will serve as the legal managing entity for the town’s proposed broadband network. Voters authorized its creation at this year’s annual town meeting.

The vote at the annual town meeting also appropriated $17,000 to cover prep work. The MLP will serve as a telecommunications hub for town high-speed Internet and a yes vote to each was necessary in bringing high-speed Internet to Princeton.

The board voted on a number of broadband-related issues…

Read the rest of article at >

We Approved the MLP. So What’s Next?

What’s an MLP? 

Massachusetts law provides the opportunity for residents to form a Municipal Light Plants (MLP) to negotiate and manage residential telecommunications services, including construction of a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network and fiscal management when operational. The law was originally established to keep the cost of gas and electricity affordable for citizens, but grew in scope with the emergence of cable television companies. An MLP is an independent entity separate from all town government yet it may indeed interact with several other municipal offices. Like all other bodies and committees, the MLP is subject to open meeting laws and encourages residents to become involved in its discussions and decision-making process.

The MLP will be separate from but initially governed by the Princeton Board of Selectmen. The first order of business is to give the MLP a name and appoint a manager who will lead and direct the new entity. Once MLP leadership is established it is expected that a charter and governing bylaws will be drafted.

What Happens Next? 

Establishing an MLP creates a catalyst that puts many things into motion. As a legal entity, the Princeton MLP now meets the eligibility requirements of many potential sources for project funding, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative. Armed with an MLP, Princeton can now engage the services of Wired West, a consortium representing many other municipal networks in Massachusetts and benefit from its vital resources, which includes having a voice on Beacon Hill and a pipeline to potential funding sources.

With a name and manager, the immediate goal of the new MLP is to enter into negotiations with any private parties interested in funding the costs to build the FTTH network. To date, there is one such proposal in the final stages of preparation, which saves Princeton taxpayers between $3 and $5 million for a controlled installation. The current proposal also includes the stipulation that the vendor maintains the fiber network. The MLP, adhering to state procurement laws and bidding procedures, will engage the services of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) who will bill subscribers monthly for fees to cover the cost of building the network, maintenance, equipment depreciation, Internet connectivity, and other user costs. Eventually – perhaps within 15 years – the Princeton MLP will assume all ownership of the network and will be responsible for its financial and operational management.

Once the MLP approves the proposal, network installation would be completed in 12-15 months. Under this “best case” scenario, Princeton’s high-speed fiber optic network could be operational by the fall of 2015. Under the watchful management of an MLP, vendor delays can be managed far more skillfully than if they occurred during an unsupervised installation project.

Cutting the Cord 

Harvard Law professor and author Susan Crawford writes in her book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the Gilded Age: “Truly high-speed wired internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago, but a limited number of Americans have access to it, many can’t afford it, and the country has handed control of it over to Comcast and a few other companies.”

By voting for an MLP Princeton has made the bold decision not be held captive by the cable companies and incumbent carriers. We thank all who supported us at town meeting and for the ongoing words of encouragement to keep the momentum headed in the right direction.

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