Monday night, Holland’s candidates for mayor spoke at the League of Women Voter’s Mayoral Candidate Forum. I was happy to hear a question about fiber come from the audience (no, it wasn’t from me). Here’s the full exchange:
Moderator: Can you explain the journey of fiber optics in Holland and its future as you see it?
Nathan Bocks: It’s been a slow but deliberate journey in my mind. I think it’s great that we’re starting to put that system in place but I think that it needs to expand quite a bit. It’s been great for businesses in the downtown area. I was on the Tulip Time board for several years and one of the issues that we had was having enough bandwidth on our internet to be able to deal with- especially during Tulip Time week, being able to handle all of the traffic that we had.
When Tulip Time moved its offices and suddenly had fiber available to it, it was like a door opened up for us. It was absolutely fantastic. We need to expand it to the general public. I think that the first place that we ought to expand it into is the core city area. We have families in this community that do not have internet access in their homes. I have kids in school, every single homework assignment they have involves some interaction with the internet.
If you don’t have internet in your home, if you can’t afford to have the cellular internet on your iPad or on your phone, you’ve really only got one option, and that’s to go to the public library. When I was on the library board, we had the same kind of tax cuts that the mayor was talking about in the city. The library board’s budget was completely from tax revenue. When the property values in Holland dropped, so did the library’s budget.
The way the system works is that your property tax revenues drop exactly the same way your property values do, but they’ve climbed back very, very slowly. We took a huge hit and that was a hit in hours, we lost weekend hours, we lost nighttime hours. Guess which hours kids do homework. We need to make sure that our core city kids have the tools they need to get the grades that they need in school to be able to be good citizens.
Moderator: Thank you. Mayor DeBoer, can you explain the journey of fiber optics in Holland and its future?
Nancy DeBoer: Holland was way ahead of the curve. We put in fiber optics in order for the BPW to talk to itself. We had a big system and then we connected with the schools and the hospital and all of that came in before the state started regulating. That was wonderful for us. Now, we have this great skeleton, but we’d like to fill it out further and now we tried downtown with a pilot project and everybody loves it.
Once you get screaming fast fiber you want nothing else, the way everything downloads so quickly and that is something that everybody is loving downtown. We’ve been working with the BPW on how can we get this out further, how can we connect with neighborhoods with fiber and so many people have said, if you get fiber in Holland, I am there. I don’t care about anything else. Since we’ve been four years as a very best place to start a small business in the whole country, it’s time to add fiber to that.
Yes, we had a presentation from the BPW a few weeks ago, and I think they figured it out because they found a little city in Idaho that didn’t have good connections. They actually as a government put in this fiber optic system and then all the companies for content competed for the business and the families got the price of– I think was fifty-something per month that they could have fiber along with the assessment to connect with fiber.
That sounded great and the BPW loves the idea of doing infrastructure, not content. Before we have been talking about both. Now they found their lane in infrastructure and really loving that. We also have the possibility of companies competing because they won’t have to deal with the infrastructure. It is sounding really good. We want to start a big community conversation just like we did with the waterfront and with the power plant and with the Civic Center, with bringing a whole group of people together and figuring out how we want to launch this in the city.
Watch the video, with the question starting at 1:11:22.
Let us know what you think in the comments!
Last night’s presentation was a good update. BPW gave an update on the Downtown project and then talked about expansion to the rest of the city.
The big barrier to fiber is that the bulk of the cost is up-front. For-profit companies have trouble footing the bill, because it takes too long to turn a profit. That’s why we want our public utility to do it.
BPW proposed “ubiquitous” expansion, meaning they’d run fiber to every house in a neighborhood. That is cheaper and more efficient to build. Installers come to a block one time, not every time someone signs up.
To pay for it, BPW modeled three options:
A group of customers in an area (likely multiple blocks) commit to signing up for service at $85/month. Once enough houses (~23%) have commited, the project gets built. This is very similar to the downtown project, and the same monthly rate.
Like BPW would do with a water line to a new subdivision, assess all properties for the build cost. You’d pay $13/month on your tax bill for 20 years, and $41/month for internet service.
The bottom line: Gigabit service for $54/month!
Rather than special assessment, use a millage to cover the entire city. BPW suggested a 20-year millage of 1.9 mills.
The meeting’s outcome was to move toward a Task Force. Both City Council and the BPW Board were encouraging. They suggested staff should move quickly. Logistically, putting together a Task Force will likely take a couple months. That feels slow, but is fast for government.
For any of these pricing models to work, we need to engage the community. Either to get enough neighbors to sign up, or to support an assessment or millage.
So what do you think? Is there enough interest in the city? Is it politically feasible to do special assessments or a city-wide millage?
This Wednesday, August 14, we get to hear some exciting news we’ve been waiting over 18 months for: How we could expand fiber to neighborhoods.
The 2011 study estimated that it would cost $58 million to bring fiber to the entire BPW service area. At a November 2017 study session, City Council asked BPW to return with a report of current costs and a neighborhood rollout plan. While we expected that in early 2018, we’re finally on the agenda to hear this update.
We hope Wednesday’s meeting shines light on how costs have changed in the last eight years, and potential ways to pay for network expansion. We won’t get an immediate green light. Instead, we’ll need to use this as a catalyst for community discussion on how we expand this utility to bring gigabit broadband to everyone in Holland.
While it has taken longer than we wanted to get here, we’ll focus on moving forward.
Our goal remains the same: To provide fast, affordable broadband to Holland, operated as a not-for-profit utility.
Come to the Joint City Council/BPW Study Session this Wednesday. If you have opinions of how this infrastructure will benefit us, feel free to say so at the public comment period. If you’ve benefited from the existing fiber network, share your story.
After the meeting, be ready to join the conversation. This will only happen if we grab the baton.
See you Wednesday!
What’s happened since our last update of Downtown Holland progress?
As of this week, 96 customers have connected. That’s up from 84 in March, still shy of BPW’s goal of 113 by the end of 2018. BPW has done zero marketing to get these new customers. They plan a small marketing push this fall.
As the Sentinel reports, BPW has “completed” the downtown build. This doesn’t mean they’re stopping. It means they’re closing out the initial contracts with their construction partner. New customers can still sign up anytime.
The project came in over 30% under budget. Total cost was $811,563 and estimates were around $1.2 million. Their 10-year rate of return is 4.4%.
We still want new customers. I personally know one who just signed up, and we expect more to come. There’s also a lot of new development coming in the service area.
Next, we’re still waiting to get the service area expanded. We’re working on getting more information, and will share more as soon as we can.
Phase 1 build-out is in full swing in Hudsonville with a goal of lighting up customers in October. Phase 2 will get built this fall, assuming enough customers sign up. If not, it will wait until spring.
We’re excited to see BPW continue to expand their network. Next up: Holland neighborhoods!
We’ve been following Laketown Township for a while now, most recently when Comcast volunteered to provide service to everyone.
Our contacts have seen signs of activity: Spools of cable, measurements being taken, but we’re still waiting to see.
The Sentinel reported recently that Comcast is reporting some delays, but still expects to have most customers signed up by the end of the year. We’ll keep checking in as we hear more.
The Michigan Governor’s race is in full swing, and candidates are starting to talk about broadband.
Tonight, Democratic candidate Abdul El-Sayed released his “Internet for All” plan. It is a pretty detailed plan to get all Michigan residents high-speed broadband, with a large emphasis on publicly-owned networks like we’re building in Holland.
The Holland Fiber team doesn’t endorse candidates (we come from the full spectrum of political backgrounds) but we’re interested to see if this will become an issue in the race for Governor.
On the Republican side, I haven’t yet seen any plans that address broadband. I hope this is a bipartisan issue, and we can start to discuss the merits of competing plans.
I look forward to seeing more, from more candidates. Broadband access is still something that doesn’t exist in many parts of Michigan. Choice is lacking in others. I’m happy to see it start to be an issue in 2018.
Know of other plans? Want to discuss this one? That’s why we have a comments section.
Last week, we learned that our friends to the south of Holland in Laketown Township are getting broadband. We previously covered their failed attempt to wire the entire Township via a millage in 2016.
The new announcement is that Comcast is committing to bring broadband to the entire Township. Many residents have no options today, and rely on expensive wireless options.
The Holland Sentinel reports that Comcast plans to build fiber to every home, and have the project mostly complete by the end of 2018. Speeds will range from 25 Mbps to 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps). Pricing has not been announced.
While I’m hopeful that Laketown residents will finally have options, I must say I’m skeptical. Much of Laketown is rural and Comcast doesn’t have any presence there today. The timeline sounds very aggressive from what I’ve learned about the industry. Finally I worry about price. Running fiber along the road (passings) is one thing, but getting it to homes (drops) is another. Will they pass on large install costs to customers?
But let’s not be negative. Here’s what we’re hoping for today, and let’s check back at the end of the year:
Friday, Holland BPW opened up fiber signups to customers in downtown Hudsonville.
Their new site mimics the Holland signup page, with the same services and pricing.
Why Hudsonville? As part of their downtown redevelopment they approached Holland BPW to provide gigabit internet service. They want it for local businesses and their new Terra Square coworking space. Thanks to the downtown Holland project, BPW is set up as an ISP and has everything ready to provide great service.
Hudsonville won’t have to pay BPW to hook up customers. BPW will use a Demand Aggregation model (as we described previously) to build only when enough customers sign up to cover the costs. Hudsonville did a lot of smart work to lay conduit to buildings, making fiber cheaper & easier to install. BPW is only asking for 12 customer commitments before beginning construction.
BPW’s fiber already goes right through Hudsonville (map). Unlike power & water, which are highly regulated, broadband service can expand anywhere that makes financial sense.
I was initially tempted to complain, “why Hudsonville before my home?” but we should see this a good thing. It further solidifies that Holland BPW is an ISP. It shows their intent to go into new areas. We expect to hear a plan for going into Holland neighborhoods soon. We’ll be working to push that forward as soon as we can.
Customers who sign up now (and 6 already on the list) will be part of a “phase 2” build, which will take place late spring or early summer.
BPW has done zero promotion of the project since November, as they focus on built-out. We expect to see a new push once they identify a wider area that can also be in “phase 2.”
Customer hookups have taken longer than planned. We expect demand to increase once more people experience gigabit fiber.
The downtown installation has had some delays, but new customers are being hooked up. Here’s a bit of what’s going on behind the scenes.
At the end of January, Holland BPW switched pilot sites over to their new ISP network. The new network uses their dedicated IP address range (18.104.22.168/22 for you network nerds1), and has two routes to the internet.
Both connections to the internet are 1 Gbps and utilize partner ISPs already connected to BPW’s network. One is through US Signal which goes through Grand Rapids, and then to Chicago (network map). The other is through 123.net and goes through Detroit (network map). Traffic is routed over the best route using BGP.
The downtown network will connect through a new hut located behind the 7th Street parking deck, on the northeast side. The hut was installed late in the fall, and is now coming online.
The pilot network connected through the James De Young power plant. Moving to the new hut ensures that this network won’t be impacted by the plant’s decommissioning. This downtown node would be just the first as the project expands. The 2016 study estimated 4 nodes to cover the entire BPW electric service area.
We’re hoping to know more about possible future expansion plans in the coming weeks.
1 Their IPv6 range, 2604:7840::/32, has not been enabled on the network yet, but we’re pushing to get it soon.
Comcast recently announced that they’re bringing gigabit speeds to Holland. After some construction this summer we’ve been expecting them to make a move in response to Holland BPW’s offering.
On the surface, it looks good, but as Gizmodo reported a year ago, it “Isn’t the Internet of the Future You’ve Been Waiting For.”
They offer 1 Gbps down, same as BPW, but merely ~40 Mbps up. If you’re trying a big upload, you’re not going to feel any speedup. BPW’s offering is a full 1 Gbps up too.
One of our supporters in Holland signed up, and reported this initial speed test:
This is certainly much better than anything Comcast (or anyone else) has offered in Holland. But it comes at at cost: $139.99/month (may be slightly cheaper in a bundle). Then don’t forget data caps. Comcast currently only lets you download 1 TB/month, before their data cap kicks in ($10 per 50 GB with a monthly max of $200).
BPW still wins on having a superior product, lower pricing ($85/month) and no data caps.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Comcast moved to release this faster in Holland because of pressure from BPW. That’s great, because BPW isn’t city-wide yet. If you want faster speeds today, this is a good option. We’ll keep pushing to get better, cheaper service all over town.
At a City Council & BPW Board joint study session Wednesday, after giving an update on the downtown project, BPW staff presented possible ways to expand fiber to other parts of the city! I know this is what many of you are waiting to hear about, so let’s dig in.
They showed four models for capital cost recovery (how to pay for it). The single biggest hurdle to fiber is the initial installation cost. These models are different ways BPW can cover the initial costs either up-front or over time.
In this model, a neighborhood association (or similar entity) would pay construction costs and BPW would build to the neighborhood. After the initial construction, BPW would cover all maintenance and upgrade costs.
Similar to Model 1, but with less money up-front and the addition of a credit instrument in case revenues (and customers) are below expectations. If customer numbers are high enough, the credit isn’t used. This would most likely be used by housing developers in a new development.
BPW would define a geographic area and try to get commitments from residents. When enough customers signed up, they’d build to that area. This would likely be the model used in the City.
This is effectively the model used for downtown. They defined an area and got customer commitments. For downtown, they started building before customer commitments because the risk was low.
In this model, a taxing or special assessment authority would commit to paying for construction over time. This could be used by a township to build to all residents, or a special assessment district could be created (like we have for the library or airport).
This model could be used to cover the entire city too, but Model 3 seems more likely at this point.
BPW staff plan to use any of these models where they make sense, and as demand arises.
Additionally, they plan two specific next steps:
BPW will divide up the city into geographic region. They’ll pick one and calculate construction costs. Then, evaluate models 3 and 4 for that area. They’ll bring their findings back to City Council and BPW’s Board in 2-3 months (by end of February) to consider next steps.
I have no inside scoop on which area of the city they’ll use to run the numbers, but if I were them, I’d look closely at people who have expressed interest on their downtown signup page. Even if you’re not in the downtown area, you can enter your address and BPW will keep track (see last slide of the presentation). They already had 325 people outside of downtown express interest. Let’s add some more!
BPW plans to take advantage of opportunities to use any model where it makes sense. I know through the grapevine that some housing developments have already expressed interest in getting BPW fiber, so BPW will be willing and able to move forward if it makes sense.
After many months of hoping, we’re now seeing real signs that BPW fiber can expand outside of downtown Holland. We’ll keep pushing to make it happen!
Holland BPW’s downtown project is in the middle of it’s construction phase. If you’re downtown you may have seen Western Tel-Com trucks with BPW “Fiber is Here” stickers. Both AT&T and Comcast have been laying a bit of fiber downtown this fall too, so there have been some of their crews around.
Here are some project stats so far:
We expect more customers will sign up. We’ve heard from some people that they’re waiting for existing contracts to expire. Others can’t make the required 3-year commitment due to their lease being shorter (if that’s your concern, talk to BPW as they may be able to shorten it in some cases). At some businesses, the decision-makers are at a corporate office elsewhere. Others need to figure out how to migrate their phone systems before they take the plunge.
Thankfully this bill is dead, but don’t expect it to stay that way. There’s always a chance a similar bill could seek to stop Holland from moving forward. We’ll let you know if anything comes up.
I’ve updated the original post with various links to coverage of the original bill.
A new bill in the state house is trying to limit Holland’s ability to provide fiber internet service.
Specifically, it seeks to prevent cities from using “any federal, state, or local funds or loans to pay for the cost of providing qualified Internet service.”
The bill was introduced by Michele Hoitenga of Manton who believes government shouldn’t compete with private ISPs, telling Michigan Radio “I feel strongly that this needs to either be stopped or it needs to, at least at the very minimum, go to the vote of the people within the area.”
Rep. Hoitenga is obviously unaware of a couple key facts:
All of the money for Holland BPW’s project comes from their operating budget. No tax money is used. Also, the BPW runs their broadband services sustainably, reinvesting profits into the network. They have been providing broadband services to businesses for 25 years.
Maybe Holland would want to use tax money somewhere in the future (maybe to provide free access to low-income residents for example).
Rep. Hoitenga seems to believe we have 37 ISPs serving the City. Anyone who lives here knows we effectively have two: Comcast and AT&T. Neither provide gigabit fiber to residents, and where they can offer fiber, it is not affordable. BPW’s gigabit fiber will be 10x faster than these providers at a lower price. Plus, BPW is building an open-access system that other ISPs can use.
We know what Holland residents and businesses are clamoring for BPW to provide better service. We see that in the signups downtown, and in the amount of interest from the rest of the area.
This bill threatens to derail Holland’s project, and will hurt other Michigan cities. BPW staff members met with Rep. Hoitenga last week, and plan to testify before the committee, which could be next week.
If you are interested in helping, reach out to state representatives and senators. Give them the facts and let them know that this bill is bad for broadband. Need some facts? Here are a few quick ones:
Other coverage that goes more in-depth:
Remember to join us and Holland BPW at an Open House tomorrow (Wednesday, August 23).
Drop in to learn more and get all your questions answered.
There’s a new opportunity to work for Holland BPW on their fiber projects
They have a position open for an Outside Plant Engineer
This position is responsible for all aspects of Outside Plant Engineering for HBPW fiber projects including building and maintaining HBPW’s regional fiber optic plant, developing OSP planning/design procedures, specifications and documentation. This position will also Coordinate project activities with contractors, developers, municipalities and consultants along with responding to network outages, coordinating necessary resources and activities for prompt and appropriate restoration.
Our Outside Plant Engineer position requires an Associate’s degree or equivalent education and experience in a technical discipline along with at least 4 years’ experience in Aerial and Buried Outside Engineering and design and documentation of fiber optic cable (Aerial and underground), vault and conduit infrastructure.
Is that you? Do you know someone? Let’s help them get some great candidates!
Join us and Holland BPW at an Open House to learn more about the new Gigabit Fiber Broadband service coming to downtown.
Join us for appetizers and conversation. Broadband advocates and Holland BPW there to answer all your questions.
We’re meeting at Collective Idea (44 E 8th Street, Suite 400) next Wednesday, August 23, from 4:30–6:30. Collective idea is a pilot site, and we’d love you to try out gigabit service. Want to do a big upload/download? This is your chance.
Downtowners, today is the day you can (finally) sign up for BPW gigabit fiber internet!
Holland BPW has a new website where you can sign up.
The sign up form is a little confusing. You put your street number in the first box, and street name in the second. And street names have the direction (east/west) last.
For example, 44 E. 8th Street gets “44” in the first box, and “8th St E” in the second box:
If you’re inside the initial service zone, you’ll get a form to actually sign up for service! Please fill it out and help us make this a success.
Read our explanation of the two pricing tiers if you need help deciding.
If you’re outside the zone, that’s ok. Fill out the form anyway! This helps us tell BPW that there’s demand.
You can also sign up to become a “Champion” in your neighborhood. To find the signup form, click on the shaded downtown region of the map, and you’ll see a “Become a Champion” link appear.
Holland BPW is offering two pricing tiers for their gigabit service, $85/month & $220/month. Let’s discuss the difference.
Both plans offer the exact same gigabit internet service. This is important. The “Enhanced” plan is the same internet service, but with extras. You don’t get faster speeds on the Enhanced plan. Neither plan has a data cap*.
Both plans have free standard installation. This typically means BPW brings service into the basement of a building. Depending on the wiring inside the building, you may have to pay extra to get it from that entry location to your office/apartment (or have someone else do it).
Both plans require a 3-year commitment. This helps BPW recoup their costs. They may reduce to 1 year if you already have fiber in your building. If this is a sticking point for you, please contact BPW.
So what does the higher-priced plan offer? A few things that may be of interest to some businesses.
Static IP Address. Static IP addresses are sometimes needed for phone systems or VPNs. Contact your IT person to ask if you need it.
Service Level Agreement (SLA). An SLA gives guarantees about the reliability of the service, and credits your account if they don’t meet that level of service. It is a commitment by BPW of what you can expect. You can read their SLA and see if it is valuable to you.
Priority Restoration and Enhanced Reliability. BPW will restore Enhanced customers first in the event of an outage. BPW will monitor these customers closely to ensure they’re getting the best service possible and avoid downtime.
Proactive Communication. BPW is committed to communicating before issues arise as much as possible. We hope they do this for all customers, but they are only guaranteeing it for Enhanced customers to start.
If you want a great connection and top speed, both are great. If you can live without static IP and the service guarantees (SLA) from the higher tier, then stick with the lower one. Otherwise, spring for the higher one. Either way, this should be much better and cheaper than anything you have today.
Last night’s City Council meeting approved Holland BPW becoming an Internet service provider (ISP)!
Holland BPW can now provide Internet service as a new utility.
They will offer 1 gigabit (1,000 Mbps) fiber service downtown in November starting at $85/month.
The initial plan is for a small service area in downtown Holland. This is a dense area with a mix of businesses and residences. The area is from 7th Street to 9th Street, Pine Avenue to Garretson Road.
The big question is, “when can I get it outside of downtown?” Simple answer: we don’t know.
The are currently no plans past downtown. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, just that there’s no concrete rollout plan. Everything depends on the success of this project, and demand.
Going beyond downtown doesn’t require all the procedural steps it took to get here. It does require money. Installation is the primary cost of fiber. We’ll need to identify money to pay for the initial investment, and/or make a strong business case that it is a solid investment for BPW to make.
If we help make this phase a success and show strong demand beyond downtown, we can make the case for expansion.
BPW’s business plan expects downtown to be making a profit in 6-11 years. Meaning it has paid for itself and is now making money.
Their numbers are based on a minimum “take rate” of 28%. That means they need 28% of everyone downtown to sign up in 2018 (126 customers) and ideally growing to 42% (189 customers) in 2021.
The more successful we are at increasing those numbers, the easier the case is for expansion.
This is a time to celebrate, but also to prepare for making this project a success. We’ll have concrete ways you can help, so stay tuned!
This is the final procedural hurdle to providing service downtown. If that goes well, expanding wider is possible too.
If you can, please attend tonight’s meeting at 7:00, which serves as a Public Hearing on the new ordinance. There is time for public comment too, if you have words of support or thanks.
Tonight’s presentation gives a lot of the details. I’ll highlight a few here.
August - After tonight’s approval, the BPW can approve the construction contract on Monday, August 7.
September–October - Actual installation. The contractor will be running fiber to customers, and BPW will be setting up their back office equipment.
November - New customers come online.
Downtown businesses and residents will be able to officially “get on the list” for service next week.
The price for both business and residences is $85/month for 1 Gbps service (1,000 Mbps). Additional features (static IP, priority support) are available for $220/month.
We hope to see some supporters at the meeting tonight. I (Daniel) personally can’t be there, but will be following along closely.
Ottawa County is beginning a Broadband Initiative to look at the current state of broadband availability and plan for the future.
You can help by filling out this survey to help the county collect data.
This project in Ottawa County is mainly focused on research, with some possible future planning to happen at a later date. This is not the County ensuring everyone will have broadband. It is merely the start of a process to better understand the lay of the land.
Here in the City of Holland, we are still working to get Holland BPW to bring fiber to every home and business. In other parts of Ottawa County, there’s a mix of cable, DSL, other fiber providers, and wireless providers where none of these others go.
This is your chance to let broadband developers really know how you feel about your current broadband service, or lack thereof. Filling out this survey will inform the broadband development community in greater detail, allowing them to identify needs and (hopefully) respond accordingly.
As Holland Hospital celebrates 100 years, it is fun to point out a little-known fact about their early history:
officials approved a plan for the Board of Public Works to donate its utility profits to fund a new hospital — Holland City Hospital — which opened Jan. 9, 1928.
As we encourage the City and BPW to invest in fiber (BPW gives profits to the City each year and maintaines a very large reserve fund), we’re encouraged that there’s precident for investing in our community.
We’re not the only group that wants the City to use BPW’s funds for strategic investments. At a recent City Council meeting, a letter encouraging “A Concept for Funding Transformational Opportunities” was shared:
For example, in the immediate past fiscal year (FY16), the Net Operating Income (after other Costs but Before Appropriation) was approximately $21.2 million. The City of Holland received a Contribution of $5.5 million of this amount, compared to approximately $10.6 million that could be appropriated by the City. In essense, and theoretically, the City could have appropriated up to approximately $5.1 million additional funds (Appropriation) to its coffers. Instead, those “additional funds” are simply added to BPW Reserve Funds. For the current/forecast Fiscal Year FY17 and proposed FY18, the expected Net Operating Income (after other Costs but before Appropriation) are $24.5 and $17.9 million, respectively.
Unlike a private ISPs, Holland BPW can think long-term and build fiber which takes multiple years to pay for itself. Like building a Hospital, we think fiber broadband is a great community investment and hope that it is seen as the transformational opportunity is is.
This week is the week we’ve been waiting for for Downtown progress! Don’t get too excited, though, we still have some waiting to do.
Two important meetings are today’s BPW Special Meeting and Wednesday’s City Council/BPW Joint Study Session. Both meetings will move the Downtown project forward, but we also get lots of new, finalized information.
We now know BPW’s planned rates for service for businesses and residences downtown:
$85/month for 1,000 Mbps (1 Gigabit)
$220/month for 1,000 Mbps (1 Gigabit)
The higher tier is the same speed, but has additional features:
Businesses will be able to use whichever tier is better for them.
An exciting additional rate is for Multi-Dewlling Units (MDUs). A building will be able to hook up 10 additional tenants for $10/month/tenant.
BPW is creating an open access network. That means, while they will be an ISP, other ISPs could use this new GPON network too (just like their to today for their more expensive Active Ethernet services).
Wholesale rates (transit only) come in two speed tiers: 100 Mbps and 1,000 Mpbs (1 Gigabit):
$40/month for 100 Mpbs
$60/month for 1,000 Mpbs (1 Gigabit)
$140/month for 1,000 Mpbs (1 Gigabit) plus the enhanced features above
So any ISP can offer internet service, TV, phone, etc. over that same connection and they pay a lower wholesale rate. As a customer, you’d only deal with your ISP, not BPW.
This week’s meetings sets wheels in motion for hooking up all of Downtown. By setting rates for this new ISP service, there’s pontential for going wider. However, we still have to get Downtown complete.
The City needs to pass a new ordinance to allow BPW to become an ISP. This process requires a public hearing which (to give time for proper notice) will be July 9. Downtown will happen, but to get through the municiple hurdles takes time. I expect new downtown installations to begin in Sepetember.
The board packet for tonight’s BPW meeting has all the info including the proposed ordinance.
Even though the process takes time, this is an exciting time, and it seems like things are finally moving. When can you have BPW fiber at your house? We still don’t know that, but keep telling them and City leaders you want it!
Fiber in downtown Holland keeps getting closer. Holland BPW is in the final days of the engineering phase and should initial schematics this week. The next step is to put out a bid packet to actually run fiber to each downtown building. We expect to see that released at the end of March and be open for around 4 weeks.
After the bids come back, there are additional steps such as BPW Board and City Council approval. BPW is targeting a summer install and having an operational network in the fall.
Our team continues to talk with BPW, the City, and stakeholders to help make this a reality. We don’t want to stop with downtown; we want this to be the start of a much larger project.
If you’d like to hear more about the downtown project, BPW is hosting a public meeting Monday, March 13, from 7:00-8:30 PM at the Herrick District Library on River Ave. Come talk to BPW, hear what’s happening, and get your questions answered.
Holland Young Professionals will be talking fiber at their Breakfast of Champions event Thursday, March 16th. Free registration is required.
For the technical geeks out there, there are a couple things BPW has been doing recently that hint at things to come.
Holland BPW is now registered with ARIN which is a step needed to become an ISP and sell internet service. Each internet customer needs and IP address to connect to the internet, assigned by their ISP (ok, I’m simplifying this a bit, but if you knew that much you probalby stopped reading a while ago). BPW needs to be registered in order to get a block of IP addresses to assign to customers.
On Monday (March 6) the BPW Board approved membership in Merit Network. Merit is a membership organization made up of Michigan’s state universities, education, healthcare, and government entities and they run an extensive fiber network across the state.
Merit membership has a lot of benefits from training to services, but to quote BPW, “of specific interested to HBPW is Merit’s IPv4 address space. By becoming a Merit member, HBPW will gain access to this space, allowing for enhanced internet connectivity…”. IPv4 addresses are a scarce resource, but still needed for an ISP. It is good to see BPW making plans to gain access to that address space.
Last week, City staff presented City Council with a draft of a new Master Plan. There’s a lot in it, but page 70 talks about broadband. Specifically, it lists two relevant Action Steps:
Sounds good to me! Broadband continues to be City Council’s #1 priority, yet progress happens slower than many of us would hope.
Holland BPW continues to work towards wiring downtown, however summer 2017 is probably the earliest we could see that completed. The good news is that the work is continuing and soon we’ll know exactly what is needed to finish downtown.
Holland BPW has a new map that shows where all of their fiber is today.
This existing infrastructure is one of the big reasons why Holland is a great place for fiber broadband. Let’s leverage what we already have!
We’re making progress toward lighting up fiber in Downtown Holland. Last night, the Holland BPW Board of Directors voted to approve a contract with Vantage Point for engineering and construction management to bring fiber to all of downtown.
Vantage Point will do all the work to figure out exactly where fiber should go to each building, use those detailed plans to solicit bids for doing the actual construction, and manage the construction.
This is a great step forward in getting great fiber internet service in Holland.
Vantage Point provided an example schedule. We’re already behind their starting point, but ideally we could be getting construction bids in early 2017 and building in late winter or early spring.
The biggest unanswered question is: “What will internet service cost?” BPW is actively working on a business plan for this purpose.
We also don’t know how much construction will cost. This contract involves getting bids based on detailed engineering work, so those bids will have the total cost. At that point, BPW and the City will have to decide how to pay for construction. Ideally, they can amortize the construction cost through service bills, but we don’t know for sure yet.
This is a great step forward toward getting broadband in Holland. We’re farther away from fiber to the home than I’d like, but we’re getting closer all the time.
Looking for an internship working with fiber broadband? Holland BPW> has an opening for a Network Intern/co-op.
Responsibilities: Assists the Broadband Services team with the implementation, installation, configuration and technical support of network systems that use Ethernet and other technologies. This is an excellent internship opportunity to learn and gain real world experience in network documentation using GIS software, spreadsheets and drawings along with quoting customer costs and VOIP phone systems, WAN, LAN and WLAN networks; including routing and switching.
Sounds like a great opportunity to work on the ground floor of a municipal fiber deployment!
It has been months since we’ve had much to report. Good things are happening, but they take time. September is here and I have a little bit to share.
First, Holland BPW created a position for Manager of Broadband Services and hired local resident Pete Hoffswell. If Pete sounds familiar, it might be because he’s on our homepage as a long-time advocate of broadband. He’s been working to connect Holland people since the days of modems and ISDN. Needless to say, we’re excited both for this new position and that Pete took the job.
Next, the BPW is reviewing engineering proposals to bring internet to all of Downtown Holland. This involves getting detailed schematics and construction bids to hook everyone up. Nothing is certain yet, but BPW could be hooking up people early in 2017 if everything goes well.
This means we still don’t have a definitive plan for city-wide rollout (or wider). We’ll continue pushing for that. We hope a successful Downtown project will help spur action.
Finally, BPW shared with us that their fiber network continues to grow:
Right now, we are averaging about 6 new connections to the HBPW fiber network monthly. These connections are to various buildings throughout the service area, and built to support our current connectivity options - Dark Fiber lease (Point to Point) and Active Ethernet (IP Transport) offerings. As we build these new fiber paths, we also consider future use for them. We consider neighboring premises connectivity opportunities as well as possible future GPON (Internet) service.
These connections represent larger businesses that can afford expensive connections. We still want to provide high-speed bandwidth to every home and business. BPW’s network is a great investment, and we want to see it used to benefit the entire community.
Laketown Township votes today to build a fiber optic network to every house in the township. This is an amazing project, and promises to bring great internet service to everyone.
If you haven’t been following along, here are some recent news stories:
The Sentinel also published a handful of letters for and against.
Early reports indicate high voter turnout. I’ve talked a lot with the Yes! campaign and they’ve done a lot of great work going door-to-door and educating residents about the plan. We’ll wait and see!
Tonight, as part of their annual budget planning, City Council discussed allocating $25,000 to put together an engineering study and comprehensive budget to bring fiber broadband to all of 8th Street.
The final budget will be presented at the regular City Council meeting on May 4th.
The money will be used for detailed planning, and actual rollout would happen later (probably summer at the earliest).
While this is not the fast, bold action we were hoping for, it is progress. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.
Among the possible scenarios were two main ones to bring fiber to the full BPW service area, or just to the City of Holland. The BPW would become an ISP to sell retail internet service.
To bring it to the full BPW service area requires a build out cost of $63,239,000. Limiting to just the City is $29,756,000.
The study suggested financing with a combination of bonds and loans, though other options are possible. The utility would be net income positive in year 7.
For 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps) service, the cost to consumers would be:
The biggest assumption in the plan is the “take rate”. This simply means the number of subscribers. To make these numbers work, they need 39.6% take rate, meaning 39.6% of the possible homes need to sign up for service.
Since no immediate action was taken at the meeting, we will be discussing with the City and BPW to move this forward. Look for many more updates in the coming weeks. We need to keep up the momentum, and will need your help.
Finally, join us Tomorrow (Tuesday, April 12) at the Early Bird Breakfast where we’ll be discussing broadband with BPW.
Laketown Township’s Fiber Optic YES! campaign is kicking into high gear. Yard signs are popping up all over the township, and informational flyers are going out to residents. They’re also collecting a lot of great stories from residents on their Facebook page.
We helped out by building a calculator for residents to calculate their savings with fiber. Because their plan involves a millage plus a monthly fee for service, it may sound expensive but most residents will end up saving significant money for much better service.
Here’s an animation of it in action. Click to try it for yourself!
We’ve received some great media coverage lately. Here are some of the articles we’ve collected:
Fiber optic internet service provides new opportunities to lakeshore communities
MiBiz - April 10, 2016
My Take: Fiber optic Internet will transform Holland
Holland Sentinel - April 10, 2016
Study: Holland BPW’s fiber Internet utility would cost $63.2M
Holland Sentinel - April 2, 2016
Michigan city looking at $47M fiber optics network
MLive - April 2, 2016
Fastest Internet in Michigan? Holland Fiber one step closer thanks to new report
Jeremy Gonsior - March 29, 2016
Holland BPW considers starting fiber optic Internet utility
Holland Sentinel - March 28, 2016
Tonight City Council and Holland BPW met and had a presentation from CTC Technology and Energy about a possible business plan to run fiber to the entire BPW service area.
The consultants talked through a presentation based on the study that we’ve been reading over since it became public Friday.
Nothing specific was voted on tonight, but this sets the groundwork for real progress. We will have much more to say in the coming days as our group determines how to best move forward.
In the meantime, some quick facts from the presentation:
Building out fiber to everyone in the current BPW service area would cost $63 million. If that was only the City, it shrinks to just under $30 million. Assuming a 39.6% “take rate” (percentage of homes connected), service could cost $80/month for 1 Gbps. No setup costs or equipment rental.
It would most likely be paid for with bonds, but there are multiple options on the table.
These are conservative estimates, and we hope they could get that monthly price down. The more people sign up, the easier that is.
Again, this is all preliminary. We’ll have much more, and ways for you to get involved, coming soon.
Thursday: Look for the Press Release from BPW and hopefully some more press coverage.
On Friday, we got our first peek at Holland BPW’s newest study of Fiber to the Home. The 118-page document will be officially presented to the BPW Board and Holland City Council this Wednesday (March 30th) during a joint Study Session.
The document has a lot of information (especially on the engineering side) but doesn’t make clear exactly what path forward the Holland BPW is proposing. We hope to get clarification in the days ahead.
If you’d like to attend the Study Session, it is Wednesday 5:30 PM and the report is scheduled to be presented at 6:05 PM. This is a study session for the BPW Board and City Council, so there won’t be time for public comment (that would happen at a later meeting).
I had the pleasure tonight of meeting with Laketown Township residents who are supporting the May 3 millage to build a fiber optic network.
This millage will cover running a great fiber network to each and every home in the township. They’ll then contract with an ISP to provide high-speed service at low prices.
Many Laketown residents don’t have any access to high-speed internet. Some use slow satellite connections, and others try cellular cards (with terrible data caps), while others aren’t reached by cell service either. This is a great opportunity for Laketown to leapfrog most of the nation in speed and reliability.
Catching me by surprise this morning was front-page news that Laketown Township will vote on a fiber broadband project in May. Laketown Township is just southwest of Holland.
The meeting minutes (see Article IX on Page 2) has the details. The township will raise a millage of 1.6572 mills ($1.6572 per $1,000 of taxable value) to pay for the project’s estimated $8.6 million cost. The network will be available to all township residents, but prioritize those without access to broadband today.
The proposal will be on the May 3rd ballot for residents to vote on. Pending approval, it could take 8 months for availability. They’re targeting a price of $50-60/month.
While this is unrelated to our discussion with Holland BPW, it sounds good and complimentary. We support Laketown Township’s effort to bring better broadband to their citizens! Hopefully as more fiber is built, the governments involved can work together to make access better and even more affordable.
Holland BPW has spent tens of millions of dollars into their fiber network in the last couple decades. It goes well beyond the city limit into the surrounding townshps.
This is a key reason we want the Holland BPW to become a broadband utility.
In their 2015 Annual Report they have a great graphic showing how much fiber is already in place.
This is great public infrastructure, and will make rolling fiber out to everyone much easier than in other cities.
Holland BPW is emailing residential customers a link to a survey.
For a subset of respondents, they ask questions at the very end (if you opt-in) about broadband.
Please fill it out and make your voice heard!
City Council had their annual retreat this weekend and made broadband a top priority.
Top among the elected leaders was bringing fiber optic Internet to Holland’s neighborhoods.
“I wasn’t surprised that fiber was No. 1,” Mayor Nancy DeBoer said. “Everyone feels strongly about trying to make that happen.”
This is great news, but we still have work to do. Tell your council members that we want this today!
This week Holland BPW connected Gigabit fiber broadband to three pilot sites. This is a big milestone toward getting broadband for everyone.
ZOMG! I just downloaded a 6GB film from iTunes in fewer than five minutes on #HollandFiber.— Brian Burch (@brianburch) January 26, 2016
Initial speed tests are looking good; we’re getting 800 Mbps speeds down and 600-700 Mbps up!
As the final few pilot sites come online, speed tests might go down a bit (we’re all sharing 1 Gbps or 1,000 Mbps). But this is 10-100 times faster than what we had before, so it feels extremely fast.
Both have public Wi-Fi into BPW’s fiber broadband. I recommend starting your day at Lemonjello’s with coffee and a muffin straight from the oven. Then move to Butch’s for soup and sandwich lunch and a microbrew in the pub.
The Wi-FI network names are HBPWHighSpeed5G (best) and HBPWHighSpeed24.
These are 5 GHz & 2.4 GHz networks respectively.
Read our What to Expect tips to get the best speeds from these Wi-Fi network. Per-user speeds may be limited from time to time.
The pilot runs for three months. During that time, we hope to hear about pricing and wider rollout plans from BPW.
How can you help? Tell BPW and City Council you want this soon! Spread the word, and have your friends sign up to show their support.
Gigabit fiber broadband is impressive, but when you go to a pilot site and run a speed test, you might be surprised to see lower (yet still impressive) speeds.
Wi-Fi is capable of gigabit speeds, but there are many factors that will determine your actual speed, including:
Distance from the access point
Here’s what you can do to improve your speed.
This one is easy. Move closer. In the Collective Idea office we initially saw a 100-300 Mbps drop when moving 20 feet from our Wi-Fi access point.
Not all devices can handle gigabit speed. Your Wi-Fi must be 802.11ac to get full speeds. Computers and phones also have different antenna configurations, which can limit your speed. 802.11ac came out in late 2011. The Wikipedia page has a list of capable devices.
Your device negotiates a speed with the access point. On a Mac, you can see your current negotiated speed by Option-clicking the Wi-Fi menu in the menu bar.
Finally, Wi-Fi networks broadcast at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. You’ll get the highest speeds from the 5 GHz networks.
We have many many Wi-Fi networks downtown and there’s only so many channels for Wi-Fi to use. It is best to keep nearby networks off the same channels, but as new networks come and go, this is a constant challenge.
This is another reason to pick a 5 GHz network: they’re less crowded.
As more people try to use the network, the speed allocated to each individual is less. This is easy to see with a speed test. Run one on your own, then run one the same time a friend does.
All the pilot sites are sharing a single gigabit connection (1,000 Mbps). A benefit of fiber, however, is that since downloads are quicker, you get out of the way of the next person quicker. So your speed test might not be the best, but you’ll be loading YouTube videos faster than you ever have.
I’m confident you will. Load YouTube and play a video, download a Software Update, host a video chat, or something equally bandwidth intensive. You’ll feel the difference immediately. If you’re a gamer, you’ll notice fiber provides the lowest latency possible. If you have anything to upload you’ll notice a huge difference.
Holland BPW is almost ready to kick of a 3-month pilot program in Downtown Holland.
Fiber installation happened a couple weeks ago, and BPW is waiting on trial equipment to hook it up. We hope to have everything up and running in early January.
The three buildings are:
The first two are multi-tenant buildings, so the pilot will simulate a neighborhood. BPW will lease a 1 Gigabit line to the Internet, and all pilot participants will share.
So what are the goals of a trial? For BPW, they get to test equipment from 2 different vendors in real-world situations. It also gives time while BPW finalizes their business plan and pricing.
The public will have opportunities to test the system too. We’ll keep you posted!
The Holland Sentinel reported Sunday about BPW’s progress to roll out fiber.
This Wednesday (October 21st), Holland City Council will take action to make fiber to the home a reality!
They’ll vote to authorize a contractor to conduct an engineering survey and formalize a business plan. This is a big next step into Holland BPW becoming an ISP. By January, we should have the results which will allow for community rollout to be planned during the Spring.
BPW met yesterday with three downtown Holland buildings about running a fiber pilot project. The goal is to test equipment that could be use in homes or small businesses, and get some real-world usage.
Each multi-tenant building will be set up like a small neighborhood, with the same equipment that you’d get in your home. That way, BPW doesn’t merely test that they can do fiber to the building, but tests the real equipment in a contained area (easier to tweak inside a building than atop a pole).
All three sites will share a 1 Gbps connection to the internet, similar to how a residential block might be set up.
The project will kick off around late November and run for 90 days. We’ll be sure to have public events when it is up and running, and have spaces where you can try BPW Fiber on your own time.
Hello Holland Fiber supporters. We have some great news to share.
In meetings with Holland BPW this week, we learned that they are working on a business plan to bring fiber to the home! This is a huge first step in the process of providing affordable high speed internet.
This means in the future, we could call the BPW to get a high-speed fiber optic internet connection instead of Comcast, Charter, or AT&T! The goal is much faster speeds at competitive prices with great customer service.
There are a handful of steps that have to happen, and the BPW Board still has to approve the plan, but we have confirmation from BPW General Manager Dave Koster that his staff is actively working on this.
The BPW is also working on a pilot project to test equipment and usage in a few downtown buildings (and hopefully a few neighborhoods). We’ll definitely post more information as this gets closer. We hope to have access in public places so you can experience what Holland Fiber could be.
The business plan will take at least a couple months. Concurrently, planning for the pilot project can happen with implementation in early 2016. If everything goes well, by spring they could be planning wider rollouts for implementation later in 2016.