Prospective RC Broadband Project Scenarios Report

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:  This is brainstorming on how a Roane broadband co-op could be a part of a larger project via a State Pilot Project, or independently organize a larger project with its neighbors. Outlines Roane’s broadband co-op project ~ backbones along five main roads, Fiber To The Home (FTTx) as far as feasibility & funding allows, and temporary wireless everywhere else until replaced by fiber, as a community centered bottom-up non-profit co-op.

Describes an ideal scenario, with the State Pilot Project organized as a non-profit super co-op, lead by Mid Ohio Valley Regional Council, starting with Roane plus two other counties, and federal funding. This would see gigabit fiber spread across the region, with extra co-op money (profit) moved around where needed. After the first three counties, BEC replicates the pilot in another region, then a third with co-op funds. May “inspire” incumbent providers to offer gigabit service too. Eventually West Virginia would have state-wide gigabit broadband.


Broadband Work Group:  Originated from the Roane County (“Roane”) Democratic Party in mid May, via a decision to present an earlier HB3093 Bill Report, including the original project idea, to the Roane Commission. Lisa Messineo and Jim Bostic volunteered to help Chris Dalzell with instigating the project. Matt Erb joined later.

Roane County Broadband Report and Prospective Project:  This much larger report replaced the original Bill Report, including: Overview of HB3093, bill analysis, report on broadband in Roane, broadband deployment scenarios, prospective Roane broadband project, basic technical summary, secondary projects, and case studies. This brainstorming work was intended to bring about project planning but the Roane Commission meeting didn’t go as hoped. Ongoing advocacy added a few more report revisions, r.6 on July 5th is final and was shared widely.

Appalachian Ohio-WV Connectivity Summit & Town Hall:  This event in Marietta, OH, on July 18th, was attended by Rick Atkinson and Chris Dalzell as the Roane delegation. This was a regional stop on FCC Commissioner Clyburn’s listening tour, and an advocacy event to encourage communities neglected by large broadband companies to solve their own broadband problems, such as the cooperatives created by HB3093. Featured talks by experts, panels of people with similar community project experience, short documentary movie with a speech covering a NC legislative fight over county broadband. During the hearing with FCC Commissioner Clyburn, Chris Dalzell described the problems the county faces (poor phone service, mostly unserved by broadband providers, noted project plan & state pilot project) and delivered letter from Roane Commission, Rick Atkinson provided support, and included our broadband report with the letter. Afterward a representative of Senator Capito handed over a business card and said to call when Roane’s project was ready for funding.

Disclosure:  Roane Democratic Party paid Connectivity Summit expenses for Chris Dalzell ($50 used, $50 to be returned), and a report will be presented in August. In relation to this, and concern raised by Rick Atkinson, the Broadband Work Group agreed to sever ties to the Party, but instead will probably end at the next Party meeting (pending outcome of next RCC meeting). It is understood by all, including the Party, this is a nonpartisan project.

Broadband Work Group July 19th Meeting:  Met to prepare for meeting on 28th, decided to register domains, for the project & later co-op homepage, and for a community portal sub-project. Registration, hosting, and placeholder websites completed by Chris Dalzell.

Roane County Commission & Mid Ohio Valley Regional Council, July 28th Broadband Meeting:  Our County Commission will vote on formation of a Broadband Committee at their next meeting, August 10th (1745), for the Broadband Work Group this will be mission accomplished, its members will transition to the Committee. Next a survey of all residents will be conducted to gauge initial interest, feasibility study planning begins, meetings with all county entities & community anchors, and planning on early broadband deployment to community centers. Meanwhile, the Broadband Work Group was cleared to discuss this project with other counties and express interest in the State Pilot Project at the next BEC meeting, August 10th (0900).

State Pilot Project:  HB3093 instructs the WV Broadband Enhancement Council (BEC) to recommend a state pilot project to the Legislature, consisting of up to 3 counties. At the Connectivity Summit in Marietta, OH on July 18th, we learned the state pilot project will be discussed at the next BEC meeting on August 10th. Roger Hanshaw said he plans to attend, and that he wants it to be our contiguous counties. Little else is known about such a project.


Broadband Project Scenarios

This section offers brainstorming on a variety of scenarios. First, the State Pilot Project is a competitive opportunity, if we can get it that will have a transformative effect on our broadband project, and hopefully Roane as a whole. After that is a choice of whether, and how, to make this a multi-county project ~ super co-op, single large co-op, or multiple county co-ops with mutual agreements. Then, a lone county project is discussed. Finally, a preferred scenario is recapped, along with ideas for how to make that happen.

Note, the sub-sections below are arranged from larger scenarios to smaller scenarios, but may be easier to understand if read from smaller to larger. In particular, State Pilot Project Scenarios introduces ideas not defined until later sub-sections, but this is necessary to reduce repetition and stress the point of starting larger then settling for smaller. References to “Roane’s Broadband Project” are to what was proposed in the RC Broadband Report & Prospective Project, now outlined in the Lone Roane County Broadband Cooperative Scenarios sub-section.


State Pilot Project Scenarios

With so little information its difficult to assess likely scenarios. General consensus is it will receive significant special support, including federal funding via grants, direct state loans, more state loan insurance, political support, extensive state technical support, and other similar “special case” benefits. Its elevated profile will similarly add performance demands, magnify some types of problems, and attract unwanted attention from incumbent providers.

Based on that, likely scenarios can be grouped into the following possibilities:

Super Co-ops:  The BEC defines several super co-op regions, starting with one which includes Roane plus two other counties. After the first three counties are complete, construction continues with one to three more counties in that region, ongoing until the entire region has broadband, then the region upgrades to fast (gigabit) broadband. After success of the first few counties, the BEC creates more super co-ops in other regions, eventually seeing fast broadband universal service deployed state wide. Super co-ops could also work jointly to further increase economy of scale and efficiency, mutual support disaster assistance, regional infrastructure, joint economic development on secondary projects, etc. BEC sits on top, regulating interaction between super co-ops, and amassing funds for state-wide projects. Note, this super co-op concept was shared with Roger Hanshaw and BEC.

Multi-County Single Co-op:  BEC creates a co-op to pragmatically cover as many residents as cost effectively as possible, top-down. This is likely to be a wireless project, not FTTx, due to the lower short term cost, faster deployment, and lower bandwidth requirements for use of existing state backbones plus those of partner companies. Anticipate meeting the minimum broadband bandwidth requirements for the service life of the network (roughly 5 years), with speed increased every generation. Fiber can be added slowly over time, but without the benefit of an economy of scale from a larger fiber project. In this case, Roane’s broadband project could transform into a members group within the state co-op, which supports accelerated fiber build out, such as by forming partnerships with any/all other counties with fiber projects.

Multi-County Backbone Co-op:  BEC creates a co-op to build a multi county backbone network, perhaps including existing state backbones, and partnered companies – this provides “wholesale” internet access. Counties are left to organize their own projects to utilize the backbone network. In this case, Roane’s broadband project would continue nearly as-is, with less backbone to build and lower operating costs, but expect less robust backbone infrastructure (e.g. 4 fiber strands, not 12 or 24), probably run on utility poles.

Supported County Projects:  BEC supports a group of counties to develop their own projects, provided they work together, and try to make it a success to showcase. This is perhaps most likely considering recent broadband history around the state, and that many BEC members also work on a county level with a predilection to county planning. In this case, a super co-op equivalent role among county co-ops could be fulfilled by a mix of contracts, joint work groups, and joint facilities, but no regional goals. Could include support entities, on a regional or state level, such as a bulk buying co-op and trenching equipment rental.

There are a variety of other possibilities to be concerned about, and oppose, such as:

Incumbent Providers:  Usual suspects organize a joint venture which via intensive lobbying becomes the State Pilot Project, to prevent the rise of, and displacement by, large non-profit co-ops.

Municipal Triangle:  A group of larger municipalities form a joint venture which becomes the state pilot project, creating a region between them which they attempt to service. Many rural users will be lost in this triangle. Economic development benefits to rural communities are less than county projects, especially with the central network infrastructure kept in the cities, along with the supporting tech jobs. However, cities can help county projects by demanding state wide backbone upgrades, and deploying municipal PON FTTx gigabit service as a utility, with mutual support from rural co-ops (e.g. joint bulk purchases).

As long as a group of rural counties gets into the pilot, and its non-profit, it should good for the state, and Roane.


Broadband Super Cooperative Scenarios

Super co-ops are non-profit entities made up of two or more county broadband co-ops, with the directors of each being voting members in the super co-op, and so on. Its responsibilities are, generally any overlapping or redundant portions of county broadband co-ops which can benefit from being merged together, or which the counties opt to externalize to simplify their local operations. It is what it needs to be. Such as the following:

Project Planning & Management:  Shares the cost of professional staff and consultants, for planning, management, surveying, analysis, network design & engineering, coordination of construction, and related needs for professional services.

Network Construction:  Functions as a subsidiary, with a fleet of vehicles, auto shop, material & equipment depots, personnel training & certification, and so on. Network construction is done by joint efforts of super co-op construction staff, county co-op maintenance staff, and local community volunteers.

Economy of Scale:  Purchases materials in bulk, or on sufficient scale to contract production. If possible, arranges bulk purchases with other super co-ops or projects in the state. If sufficient scale is available, may also start subsidiary manufacturing co-ops which locally produce the needed materials.

Funding:  Handles all grants, loans, and less conventional local micro investment mechanisms. Idle super co-op staff can be tasked on consulting work for area businesses, non-member counties, etc, as supplemental income for the co-op. Member co-ops would need to contribute to funding ongoing super co-op growth & development, either as percentage of revenue and/or an investment mechanism.

Long Term Responsibilities:  Maintains backbones, both between counties, and to the wider internet outside the region. Maintains a fund for network maintenance and upgrades. May operate any portion of county co-op operations for which the county declines or fails to operate. Coordinates disaster response and continuity of service. Could serve as an economic development engine for county co-op membership.

Broadband Super Co-op Scenarios:  This idea originated from earlier brainstorming on the State Pilot Project, but it could still be useful in working with other counties, without state support.

MOVRC Led Super Co-op:  Really two scenarios, with or without a state pilot project. Open opportunity.

Roane Led Super Co-op:  Product of necessity meets ambition, Roane partners with one or more neighboring counties and they mutually decide to form a super co-op, rather than a mix of contracts. From there other counties may join over time, including via super co-op efforts to organize county co-ops.

Technical Differences:  Instead of using large backbone rings around counties for network redundancy, the super co-op would build in extra capacity or dedicated fiber in neighboring county backbones for network redundancy. Super co-op may own and operate the network & data center facilities, depends on how strongly the county co-ops want them for economic development purposes. This could adopt a telco style topology with county central offices and super co-op regional data centers, but only if the counties want it setup that way.

Economic Development Considerations:  Cost efficiency gains by concentrating facilities in central locations can also be considered lost investments in local economies, which would have hosted such facilities if not for a super co-op. Some counties will not have the capability to maintain these facilities, but need them economically, basing secondary projects in these counties could fulfill these needs. County co-ops need to consider their long term economic development goals, and those of their neighbors, when making these decisions. Likewise, regional councils would have a difficult time figuring out what to put where for the best interests of their member counties.


Single Multi-County Broadband Cooperative Scenarios

This is essentially growing the co-op into a small regional broadband service provider.

Single Multi-County Broadband Co-op Scenarios:  In all cases Roane is alone, no state pilot project, no super co-op, no neighboring county-wide co-ops to work with. The county-wide mandate would not apply to other counties, but build out to unprofitable areas could be subsidized by those counties.

Planned Growth:  Co-op planners decide early to expand over the county line where profitable, mostly in higher-density areas along main roads. This could be included in the initial feasibility study.

Continual Construction:  Could arrive at this scenario with completion of county-wide network build out, co-op decides to expand rather than end construction, to preserve jobs and increase income.

Requested Expansion:  Neighboring communities request service and Roane agrees.

Scenario #1 is a major decision on project scope. Scenarios #2 and #3 should be anticipated in planning.


Multiple County Broadband Cooperatives Scenarios

Multiple County Broadband Cooperatives:  In this scenario a Roane co-op has neighboring county co-ops, but no state pilot project and no regional organization. Joint efforts between co-ops are handled by contracts and a friendly working relationship, not a formal entity. Maybe possible to link backbones to provide mutual redundancy.

Unsupported County Projects:  Broadband co-ops could emerge in neighboring areas without support of their county, such as municipal co-ops, local community co-ops, or larger publicly popularly organized co-ops. Roane should work with any nearby co-ops. Territory competition should be avoided.

Technical Note:  With network virtualization, one co-op can provide the physical connection to another co-op’s members – provided the two co-ops have linked backbones and some agreement to support the service.


Lone Roane County Broadband Cooperative Scenario (default)

Default Scenario:  Roane is alone, no state pilot project, no super co-op, no neighboring county-wide co-ops, is in competition with distant co-ops for external resources, and does not aspire to expand over the county line. It is critical to push to secure resources early and garner support from multiple agencies, to be ambitious to make the project “special”, to ask for a lot more to get a little more, and to be persistent. Focus on community volunteer efforts to stretch funding as far as possible, in the long tradition of making due with less. A feasibility study and available funding will determine how far fiber can be run, wireless deployment, etc. Prospective project overview:

Backbones:  Build county-wide backbones in a “Penta-Route”, from Spencer to the county line along 14N, 33W, 33E, 36S, and 119S – preferably build with higher fiber-strand (core) count cable in buried conduit. Connect the far ends to backbone providers, and neighboring county networks (if any), also lease fiber for through traffic. Eventually the far ends will be connected together in a ring for redundancy.

Network Facilities:  Setup a small network & data center in Spencer, with offices, etc. Setup Points Of Presence (POP’s) in community centers or co-op offices around the county. This prefers stretching local community investments in POP’s beyond a simple roadside metal cabinet, but those will be needed too.

Branch Lines:  Run fiber from every POP down every side road, as far as feasibility and funding allows. Beyond that point, switch to temporary wireless relays (or maybe surface run cheap armored cable), eventually replaced with good fiber in buried conduit. Cost of this is shared among the members connected to the individual branch lines, nearly as if it were a sub-project, with co-op subsidies and financing. Residents commit during their local planning stage, before the co-op commits any resources.

Member Broadband Service:  Member installation fees, including their share of the branch-line cost, are paid, or financed with branch-line installation. Later installations cost more. Ideally all members should have Fiber To The Home / Farm / Premises / Building (FTTx), with gigabit service. Very remote members might not be reached by a branch-line or might not be able to afford high install costs up long hollows, and may need to settle for temporary wireless (or surface run cheap armored cable), until the co-op has money to spend on larger installation subsidies several years later. Service level agreements (guarantees) would be available for business needs.

Govt Service:  A few fiber strands will be dedicated to a physically isolated govt network, with extra redundancy.

Network Services:  Modern FTTx PON platforms use network operating systems, dynamic virtual networks to provide a variety of services, including regular gateway service (internet, DNS, caching, etc). Multiple ISP’s can share the same physical network, in this case it would be telecommuters on business networks, students on school networks, etc (not ISP competitors). Robust hosting services, including dedicated & co-located servers, virtual private & cloud servers, and specialty applications will be added over time as a local tech economy develops.

Phone Services:  Regular phone service requires becoming a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC), with significant cost and regulatory overhead, this is being considered. Private Branch Exchange (PBX) extensions are planned to be included with basic broadband service, direct phone numbers can be added at additional cost. A large number of Voice over IP providers are available online.

TV Services:  Offering TV service requires becoming a cable operator, with significant cost and regulatory overhead, this is being considered. Multiple online streaming video content providers will be approached to co-locate video servers on the county network and sell service to members, this reduces backbone load while improving streaming video service quality. Our regional “local channels” may agree to this too.

Secondary Projects:  Several projects were suggested by the earlier Broadband Report, including...

Construction & Infrastructure:  Some based on sharing the cost of the broadband project, some on having the new broadband infrastructure, including: Joint County Survey & Expanded Feasibility Study, TV White-Space Wireless (fixed, mobile, internet of things), Community Centers & Co-op Houses, Vocational Tech Training, Smart Grid, Tech Service Shop & Community Value Retention (e-waste).

Economic Development:  Turn loan repayment cash flow after loans are paid off into a Cooperative Development Fund, including: Service Area Expansion, County Outer Backbone Ring, County Energy Cooperative, County Fuel Cooperative, and funding for member projects. Its an economic engine.

Community Focus:  Network construction has a dual approach, both top-down and bottom-up. Every local community will have a central role in determining their needs, planning & building their network, and maintaining it long term. Professional co-op staff guide this process and do the technical work, but rely on local volunteers for the bulk of the labor. Some amount of community organizing will be involved too, probably building some communities centers, holding local events, and more to facilitate community development. Its hoped this approach will allow the project to extend fiber further and faster, with less funding, than would be possible with a conventional for-profit top-down network build out.

Contrasting Perspective:  Cheap armored fiber cable is about $0.50 a meter or about $805 a mile, subscriber EPON boxes are under $50, with the lowest cost EPON platform the per household share of network hardware is under $100. If deployed on surface runs by volunteers it should cost under $1000 a mile. With financing, residents could collectively afford to connect every house in the county to such a crudely, haphazardly built fiber network. Conventional wisdom says such a network would have enormous maintenance costs on cable repairs and a short overall service life. Frontier’s lines don’t look that much better, with lines knocked off poles by trees, or bypasses around broken cable, left on the ground along side poles for a decade. So universal FTTH is possible if done poorly, now lets figure out how to make doing it properly work financially, so it’ll last upward of a century, with very little cable maintenance.


Preferred Project Scenario

A generalized “ideal case”, with a basic goal of providing the best county-wide service to Roane residents:

State Pilot Super Co-op:  BEC adopts the super co-op model, follows existing regional council structures, and designates a new Mid Ohio Valley Regional Broadband Super Co-op to be the State Pilot Project, starting with Calhoun, Roane, and maybe Clay (different regional council, is part of MOV region under other definitions). MOVRC organizes the super co-op in coordination with BEC and each county. County co-ops are formed throughout the region to begin organizing. BEC acquires enough federal funding from FCC, NTIA, USDA, HUD, and Senitor Capito to pay for county-wide portions of the projects in all three counties (~$30M), and direct state loans in a fund to finance residential installation (~$20M).

Network Construction:  The super co-op, after extensive planning, proceeds to deploy a few dozen crews which microtrench fiber (in conduit) on nearly every public road in all three counties. Larger fiber count on major roads, smaller on secondary roads, some loops, a few rings, drop lines to every home passed, and wireless nodes where needed. Within a few years every full-time residence has fiber gigabit broadband, on a network capable of being upgraded to 10Gbps PON as it becomes cost effective and needed.

Peering:  State fiber network peers to counties with a few 10+Gbps lines coming in from different directions. Counties peer to each other, and state fiber, with 100Gbps lines between core routers. Third party service providers are offered peer status ~ unmetered traffic in both directions.

Regional Growth:  County co-ops pay into the super co-op to fund expansion, combined with short term loans to accelerate construction. Once the first three counties are complete, the construction projects and few dozen experienced crews move on to regional backbones and county-wide fiber in two more counties every two to three years. As the co-ops prosper more money is returned to BEC for use elsewhere.

State Growth:  After completion of the State Pilot Project, BEC secures a second round of federal funding, and state loans, to create another super co-op. Both super co-ops begin to contribute funds used for a third super co-op. A decade later all regions have super co-ops, most counties have at least partial county-wide fiber gigabit broadband, all counties have full broadband coverage with wireless covering fiber gaps. Whole thing took less federal funds than were handed to Frontier to do a fraction as much work.

Vision:  What makes this ideal on a state level is the federal funding allows the co-ops to churn cash early on, instead of it being lost to loan repayment and network upgrades when the loans are paid of ~5 years later. Whereas for-profits that receive government grants keep any resulting profit, a non-profit co-op is prohibited from doing that, profit must be reinvested or granted to another non-profit (preferably with a similar mission). This dynamic allows money to essentially cascade across the co-ops fulfilling high priority project goals as it goes. Given enough time it would become possible to extend fiber to every residence in West Virginia, just as the accumulated profits of a big for-profit could do the same (e.g. Frontier). This can be maintained so long as service pricing is kept fairly high, as if the co-ops had loans to repay, and similar to services of competing for-profit internet providers.

Competition:  That “fairly high” service pricing is what allows for-profit incumbent internet providers to compete, and co-ops can bypass places where they are not needed. However, long term, for-profit internet providers would be better off changing to a focus on application and content services, delivered via non-profit co-op infrastructure.