Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Clarksville, TN votes in Fiber; 72% vote Yes!

The Leaf Chronicle of Clarksville, Tennessee reports that the voters there voted in fiber by a 72 to 28 percent margin.

Clarksville voters overwhelmingly approved Clarksville Department of Electricity's bid to provide telecommunication services over a new fiber-optic network.

With the blessing of almost three-quarters of city voters, CDE in about six months will begin offering cable television and broadband Internet access over more than 700 miles of fiber-optic cable.

Interestingly apparently the city-owned electrical utility there, CDE, heavily emphasized the benefits to electricity customers of having a grid monitored by fiber. Those benefits were barely mentioned during the Lafayette fiber fight and certainly played no role in the eventual vote.

Clarksville's cable incumbent Charter and phone incumbent BellSouth did not impose an extensive battle on the community in the way they did in Lafayette. Charter is in real financial difficulties and BellSouth had its merger with AT&T on the table as this proposal spun up. That might have something to do with the relative lack of opposition. It might also be that BellSouth and the cableco's learned a lesson in Lafayette. I was contacted early in the campaign about helping with a battle there--but that battle apparently never really happened.

To my recollection this is the first fiber referendum to pass since Lafayette's -- recent muni broadband referenda have focused on wireless systems. But this should demonstrate that the appetite for real municipal broadband has not passed.

Welcome Aboard Clarksville!

Update 11:16--While noodling around the internet looking for info the Clarksville fiber network I ran into an interesting fact about Clarksville's plan: they're gonna run fiber to every home. Period. Wow.

The deal here is that they will be installing new "meters" to monitor electricity, eliminate meter readers, and provide the possibility of new services. These meters are also set up to provide phone, cable, and internet should the customer want to purchase those too. So their upfront costs will be greater but will presumably be borne at least in part by the electrical side of the utility--some part of the maintenance cost for the fiber will be borne by the electrical utility as well. For the record: more sophisticated monitoring and maintenance devices has long been a big issue with electrical utilities and the day of their arrival has been delayed often. The desire for such capacities has not been invented for the purposes of Clarksville--this was the idea behind the initial development of BPL--Broadband over Powerline, a perennial wannbe in the broadband races.

Clarksville's utility is so committed to the monitoring aspects that it is going to go ahead and build a fiber-optic monitoring system at a cost of about 72% of the total for a full telecom system even if the referendum fails. So the referendum becomes an issue of whether or not to put the system to use for the benefit of the citizens or or just use it monitor electricity--not whether or not the system will be built. The choice is between an 88 mill system with benefits and 73 mill (with interest) system without. Here's the way an article in the Leaf puts it:
Voters, then, technically will be making a $25 million decision as to whether CDE can offer telecommunication services in lieu of raising rates an estimated 3.5 percent to cover construction costs.
The political and fiscal advantages to taking this route are pretty obvious.

I'd think the downside aside from upfront costs would be that replacement costs and eventual telecom system upgrades would be more expensive than they would be otherwise. (If you've got a combo fax/printer/scanner you have to replace it all if the scanner goes down or if you decide that you need higher printer resolution.) But if the incremental cost of the monitoring module were small (and I expect it would be) and if it could be hung cheaply in a widely available commercial box that might not be a noticeable issue.

Well worth thinking on. Louisiana law does allow for shared costs.....and future muni fiber designers and their politcal backers might well want to consider the idea.

2 comments:

Hank Ballew said...

Thanks for bringing attention to Clarksville's endeavor to get FTTH. I started a forum to track the progress - i hope you'll cruise by. http://www.clarksvillefiberoptic.com

John said...

Thanks Hank, I took a look at the forum and it strikes me as a very good way to keep track of the build and any emerging issues.