Broadband Communities

OCT 2017

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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40 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | | OCTOBER 2017 COMMUNITY BROADBAND Huntsville Becomes a Gig City Huntsville Utilities in Alabama is pioneering a new model for community broadband. So far, all the signs look good. By Masha Zager / Broadband Communities H untsville, Alabama, long called "Rocket City" for its association with the space program, is on its way to becoming "Gig City," thanks to its municipal fiber network. With a population of about 195,000, Huntsville wasn't overlooked by broadband providers, as some smaller towns and cities were. But private broadband offerings weren't robust enough to support the city's tech sector, which now includes a burgeoning biotech industry in addition to the traditional space industry. And with the highest concentration of engineers in the United States, Huntsville has a sophisticated and demanding broadband market. Mayor Tommy Battle, announcing a Gig City initiative, said conversations with the city's Economic Development Advisory Council convinced him of the increased need for ultra-high-speed connectivity and big data portals. He noted, "If Huntsville is to remain a technological leader in this hyperconnected global world, we must be able to offer broadband access that can accommodate the growing demands of business, research institutions, entrepreneurs, residents and public safety." At the same time, Huntsville's municipal utility, which had maintained a fiber network since 1999, was planning a major network expansion to better manage its electric grid. e expanded network would support energy information services, real-time pricing, SCADA, substation control and other fiber- centric requirements. Adding extra fiber strands would not add significantly to its cost, so the city decided to leverage this asset for the benefit of residents and businesses. According to a 2016 presentation by Jay Stowe, former president and CEO of Huntsville Utilities, the utility concluded that providing fiber to the home directly would be too expensive and, more important, too risky because "it was not a business that we are in." So in December 2014, the city issued a request for information seeking one or more partners to provide high-speed internet services through the utility's fiber network. In February 2016, the city and Google Fiber announced that Google Fiber had signed a 20-year lease on Huntsville's dark fiber and would offer triple-play services to all Huntsville residents and small businesses – about 105,000 addresses altogether. e news made a splash, not because Huntsville was the first city to use a wholesale model – at least 100 other municipal networks do – but because Google Fiber was the first high-profile provider to sign on with a municipal network. Typically, retail providers that deliver services on municipal networks are small and have little or no infrastructure of their own. Large incumbent U.S. providers, which are vertically integrated, have declined to use networks they don't own, expressing concern about being blamed for service glitches they can't control. Google Fiber, a competitive provider that now offers services in parts of 18 metropolitan areas, has substantial fiber assets and began as a vertically integrated provider. (It does use existing fiber to deliver services to some MDUs in Atlanta and San Francisco.) Huntsville was the first city in which it committed to provide services over fiber owned by a public entity.

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