Broadband Communities

NOV-DEC 2018

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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COMMUNITY BROADBAND 3 4 | B R O A D B A N D C O M M U N I T I E S | w w w. b r o a d b a n d c o m m u n i t i e s . c o m | N O V E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8 Municipal Broadband Pioneer Keeps Innovating Ocala, Florida, was a gigabit city before gigabit was 'a thing.' After connecting anchor institutions and businesses to its fiber network, the city is gradually building out to residents. By Lisa Gonzalez / Institute for Local Self-Reliance T he county seat of Marion County and home to approximately 59,000 people, Ocala is located in the north central area of Florida. In the 1940s, the city became known for thoroughbred horse breeding, and the industry still flourishes there. Victorian architecture fills the city's historic district. e College of Central Florida is one of several campuses in Ocala, and the Marion County Library System has three libraries in the city. e county public school system, Florida Hospital Ocala and the State of Florida – all entities that require high-capacity connections – employ large segments of the population. Ocala has offered gigabit connectivity to local businesses and some residential areas since the early 2000s. When residents started seeing news reports celebrating the virtues of gigabit communities, they were a little surprised to learn that what they had been doing for years had become "a thing." Ocala began in 1995 by laying fiber to replace copper between municipal utility facilities, including electric substations and water and wastewater locations, to improve interfacility communications. As it finished deploying fiber that year, it brought Arnie Hersch to the telecommunications utility to find ways to maximize the city's use of the fiber. e first step was connecting the city's 52 municipal facilities to improve connectivity and save public dollars. e move eliminated the costly, slow dial-up connections that Ocala still used for internet access. Within two years, the city switched to asynchronous transfer mode, a networking standard that allowed it to use the new infrastructure for computing and voice applications, reducing costs even further. It's difficult to know how much the community has saved by self-provisioning because for years, no comparable services were available from incumbents. Hersch estimates that Ocala saved up to $1 million per year, or 30 percent, on telecommunications. Over the years, his estimate adds up to a minimum of $23 million savings on telecommunications costs, without factoring in the possibility that a private provider would have raised rates over the years. To remain transparent and avoid accusations of unfair advantages, when the Ocala Fiber Network (OFN) was ready to serve municipal facilities, Ocala leadership established competitive rates. It decided the telecommunications utility should charge the city the same rates that the local telephone company charged for a T1 line, even though the OFN offered a much higher capacity than the 1.5 Mbps of a T1. OFN also pays a pole attachment fee to the city, which owns utility poles in Ocala.

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