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By Craig Settles ■ Gigabit Nation A middle-mile fiber network, Alberta SuperNet, runs right past the town of O Canada, Land of Community Broadband? Olds – but to gain access to it, Olds had to build its own last-mile network. T he town of Olds in Alberta, Can- ada, is a broadband pioneer. Tis year, it completed an arduous, de- cade-long journey to build one of the few community-owned broadband networks in Canada. Its trailblazing offers several valuable lessons for other communities that want to follow in Olds's footsteps. In 2001, the Olds local economy was struggling. To help turn it around, com- munity stakeholders channeled the ef- forts of the local chamber of commerce, the town government, Olds College and the Olds Agricultural Society into the Olds Institute for Community and Re- gional Development (OICRD). Te in- stitute created 12 committees, including the Technology Committee, and struc- tured a long-term planning process that moved people's thinking beyond the three-year political election cycles that often influence local public planning. Te Technology Committee began in 2003 to explore broadband as a way to assist in improving economic con- ditions not only in Olds but in all of Mountain View County. Unfortunately, sticker shock led the committee to reca- librate its vision. "Te initial estimate to lay fiber optic cable throughout the county was approximately $80 million [Canadian dollars], well beyond OICRD's fund- ing ceiling," states Joe Gustafson, who was OICRD chairman at that time. "Te Tech Committee subsequently refocused on just the town of Olds and its population of just over 8,000, which brought the estimate down to $13.5 million, or about $3,140 per premises passed." With the experience gained over the intervening years, the com- mittee staff believes the buildout today would likely cost less than $3,000 per premises passed. NO LAST-MILE MIRACLE Some policymakers believe that once middle-mile networks encircle commu- nities with fiber and connect key institu- tions to the Internet, last-mile networks After the Technology Committee downsized its focus to Olds, it planned to build a dark fiber network and in- vite the incumbents to lease the fiber and provide enhanced services. One incumbent provider turned down the offer soon after it was made, but the other worked diligently with Olds for some 18 months before deciding against the initiative. Te institute developed a The Olds network grew out of a town revitalization project. In 2001, public and private community stakeholders formed a development institute and began long-term planning. are sure to follow as incumbents and smaller ISPs rush in to offer services. Te Alberta experience challenges this theory. Near the time the Tech Committee began its planning, the government of Alberta began constructing the Alberta SuperNet, an open-access, middle-mile network that connects 27 urban and 402 rural communities throughout Al- berta. Te network is complete, but to date, 142 rural communities still do not have an Internet service provider. About the Author Craig Settles is a consultant who helps organizations develop broadband strategies, host of the radio talk show Gigabit Nation and a broadband industry analyst. Fol- low him on Twitter (@cjsettles) or via his blog, http://roisforyou.wordpress.com. OCTOBER 2012 | www.broadbandcommunities.com | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | 69 network architecture and engineering design based on the provider's specifi- cations, but once the design was com- pleted, the provider withdrew, and Olds hit a dead end. Tis experience opened the insti- tute's eyes to a flaw in the open-access strategy. "To date, few incumbents see value in working with a community on a network such as this," states Craig Dob- son, currently the director of Olds Fibre Ltd. (OFL) and initially a consultant for the institute. "In essence, they believe