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Idaho Falls City Council Votes to Extend High Speed Fiber Network to Entire City, in Partnership With UTOPIA FIber

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Screenshot from the Idaho Falls City Council meeting on October 17, 2019

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho, October 17, 2019 — In a unanimous vote at a special City Council meeting Thursday evening, the Idaho Falls City Council moved to continue the expansion the city’s fiber network to provide high speed broadband access throughout the entire City of Idaho Falls.

In September of 2018, the Idaho Falls City Council directed Idaho Fall Fiber to test the economic feasibility of leveraging the existing conduits and infrastructure of Idaho Falls Power to install fiber optic lines to residential areas. The resulting pilot project connected its first customers in March of 2019 with the final phase of construction completed in early September. This pilot encompassed approximately 1,250 residential homes.

Since that time, Idaho Falls Fiber officials have been gathering data and evaluating the costs and feasibility of expanding the high-speed fiber network through the rest of the Idaho Falls community. That information was presented to the City Council at Thursday’s meeting. Council members also heard from the residents who have taken part in the pilot program.

At the outset of the program, city leadership had expressed excitement for the opportunity to work with local internet providers to bring this cutting-edge broadband internet access to the community.

“This kind of a public-private partnership is exciting. It allows the city to focus on infrastructure—something we excel at,” said Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. “And, it allows local Internet providers to offer their internet services to residents where they previously could not get this type of infrastructure to deliver a reliable high speed internet product. It captures the best of both worlds.”

During the pilot program, Idaho Falls Fiber worked with four local Internet providers, Direct Communications, Qwk.net, Silver Star, and SUMO Fiber, to offer residents a variety of services and pricing. Idaho Falls Fiber also partnered with UTOPIA Fiber, which owns and operates open access fiber networks in Utah. UTOPIA provided consulting, network design and is Idaho Falls technology provider for the open access system software.

“Designing a system like this is a complicated operational and engineering function,” said Idaho Falls Fiber General Manager Bear Prairie. “That’s why the Council approved the agreement for us to partner with UTOPIA Fiber, a not-for profit entity like Idaho Falls Fiber that has the experience in operating successful networks similar to our design. We are excited to have successfully demonstrated that utilizing our existing power utility infrastructure to install fiber lines coupled with UTOPIA’s software that opens the network to local internet providers to use has proven to be an economic success for our city.”

The build out of the city wide network is projected to take place over the next four years starting with the areas that can built the soonest to cover the most customers who are requesting the fiber utility. The network will be built in areas that are served by Idaho Falls Power, which is also a not-for-profit electric utility that is owned by the city and its residents.

“UTOPIA Fiber is looking forward to continuing our operational partnership with Idaho Falls,” said Roger Timmerman, Executive Director of UTOPIA Fiber. “As an open-access network, UTOPIA Fiber is excited to support and see additional growth of municipally-owned, net neutral networks.”

For more information on the network and the areas of future expansion, community residents can visit www.idahofallsfiber.com or stop by Idaho Falls Fiber’s office at 140 S. Capital in Idaho Falls. Customers can pre-sign up for the high speed fiber network service online or in person which will help direct Idaho Falls Fiber to the most underserved areas first.

Idaho Falls Power was formed in 1900 to provide limited street lighting in downtown with a canal hydro project and today has one of the lowest electric rates in the United States. Idaho Falls Fiber was formed in 1998 with the construction of a limited fiber network for the power utility that was later expanded in 2002 in order to provide service to other city and county buildings, educational institutions and commercial businesses.

The preceding item was originally posted by the City of Idaho Falls.

About UTOPIA Fiber

The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) is a community-owned fiber optic network utilizing light to transfer information, making it the fastest communication and data transfer technology in use today. Created by a group of Utah cities, UTOPIA Fiber supports open-access and promotes competition in all telecommunication services. For more information, contact Kim McKinley, Chief Marketing Officer, UTOPIA Fiber.

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Funding

Anticipating Launch, Yellowstone Fiber to Seek Federal Funds for Rural Broadband

With service beginning in late September, non-profit fiber ISP aims to serve rural Gallatin County

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Photo of Greg Metzger in July 2022 from Yellowstone Fiber

BOZEMAN, Montana, July 27, 2022 – Officials at the non-profit internet entity Yellowstone Fiber announced Thursday that they would pursue federal broadband funding to expand network construction in rural areas of its footprint in Montana.

Because every state is poised to receive a minimum of $100 million to expand broadband infrastructure under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, officials at Yellowstone Fiber believe they are well-suited to obtain funding to connect homes, businesses, farms, and ranches to high-speed fiber internet in the sections of the Montana’s Gallatin County north of Bozeman.

Although Yellowstone Fiber is just going live with its first customers in September – and began offering pre-sales in late July – the new fiber entity believes that the availability of funding through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program of IIJA offers a unique opportunity.

As with all states, Montana will receive a minimum of $100 million to expand high-speed broadband infrastructure to the nearly one-third of state residents who currently lack access.

Speaking about the impending launch of services on Yellowstone Fiber, CEO Greg Metzger said, “This is an important milestone for Yellowstone Fiber and we’re enormously excited to announce we’ll have the network live in a matter of weeks.”

“For decades, people in rural Montana have been limited by slow and expensive internet service and empty promises by cable providers. Today’s announcement signals we’re serious about connecting rural Gallatin County to high-speed fiber and the limitless possibilities that it brings,” he said.

Yellowstone Fiber is building an open access network, which means that Yellowstone builds, owns, and operates the fiber infrastructure, then leases space on its high-speed fiber to service providers, including Blackfoot Communications, Skynet Communications, Global Net, TCT and XMission.

In an interview, Metzger touted the role that open access networks play in enabling free market competition, including better prices, service, and reliability.

Metzger, an entrepreneur who previously manufactured plastic deposit bags for banks, sold that business and bought a furniture company in Montana.

Although he said he would rather be playing golf, when he stumbled across a new funding mechanism, he decided to create a non-profit entity designed to serve his community with fiber optic network services.

Yellowstone Fiber was formerly Bozeman Fiber, and was created in 2015 as an economic development initiative to address the lack of true high-speed broadband in Gallatin County, Montana.

A group was formed including the City of Bozeman, Gallatin County, the Bozeman School District and business leaders and funded by eight banks with a Community Reinvestment Act-designated loan.

This $4,000,000 was used to create a fiber ring connecting anchor tenants including the city, county and the school district, and also servicing the Cannery district and downtown Bozeman.

Anchor operations began in the fall of 2016, and commercial operations in February 2017. In 2020, the network formed an operational partnership with Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber to bring fiber-to-the-home services to every address in Gallatin County.

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Open Access

UTOPIA’s Projects Proceeding in California and Montana, CEO Says

Both the GSCA and Yellowstone Fiber are using UTOPIA’s techniques to provide open access broadband over fiber.

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Barbara Hayes (left) and Roger Timmerman (right) speaking at Broadband Communities Summit 2022 on May 4

HOUSTON, May 4, 2022 — UTOPIA Fiber’s open access model has found success in California, Montana, and Idaho as it continues to deploy across Utah, the company’s CEO said Wednesday.

“Right now, we are working with [Golden State Connect Authority] to identify various pilot areas for the project and have started preliminary engineering work to determine the initial project area,” Roger Timmerman said at the Broadband Communities Summit 2022.

During the press conference, Timmerman also pointed to UTOPIA’s expansion into Santa Clara, Utah, and its completion of its original 11 Utah cities by the end of 2022.

Timmerman was joined by partners Barbara Hayes of the Golden State Authority and Yellowstone Fiber CEO Greg Metzger as they delivered remarks on their joint ventures. The partnership will create the largest publicly owned fiber network in the US, and as it stands now, would span 38 of California’s 58 counties.

“California may be the world’s fifth-largest economy, but our state’s connectivity is decades behind,” Hayes said. “Investing in open access fiber will be transformative for California.”

Both Metzger and Hayes emphasized that their decision to partner with UTOPIA was largely informed by the company’s track record.

“We needed to have a partner who was successful and had done it before,” Metzger said. “For Montana, this is going to be a breath of fresh air.”

Yellowstone Fiber, formerly known as Bozeman Fiber, is a not-for-profit that will replicate UTOPIA’s open access model to provide broadband to the greater Bozeman region; it will own and operate the fiber but will rely on UTOPIA for assistance on the backend.

UTOPIA’s model of open access has long been a point of interest in the telecom industry. While some claim it will be a solution to the digital divide, other assert that it has merely created a “race to the bottom” where internet service providers are constantly pushed to undercut their completion. Timmerman and others have pushed back against the “race to the bottom” assertion, claiming that providers can find ways other than price to distinguish themselves from their competition, such as superior customer service. Additionally, they point to their recent track record as evidence that critics’ concerns that they can maintain a positive cash flow are unfounded.

Though UTOPIA, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, now has positive revenue and has served as a model for open access projects around the country, critics still point toward its more than $300 million in outstanding debt it accrued in its early days, before Timmerman was at the helm.

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Open Access

‘Worst Broadband City’ Brownsville Approves Open Access Fiber Project with Lit Communities

Lit Communities will operate the network, with subsidiary BTX Fiber as the last-mile provider. HMI Utilities is prime contractor.

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Photo of Elizabeth Walker and Andres Carvallo at the city council meeting.

BROWNSVILLE, Texas, April 1, 2022 — During a special city commission meeting on Wednesday, council members voted to approve a fiber project that will bring high-speed broadband to 100% of its citizens.

Elizabeth Walker, Brownsville assistant city manager, and Andres Carvallo, CEO and founder of CMG Consulting LLC, recommended that the council authorize two respondents, HMI Utilities with Lit Communities, for a combined proposal to maximize technical and financial capacity.

Brownsville, Texas, is a city of more than 182,000 people and is one of the cities with some have called the worst broadband city in the country.  The National Digital Inclusion Alliance in 2018 listed Brownsville and a neighboring community as one of the top two worst connected cities in the country with a population of more than 65,000. For Brownsville, 47.1% of households do not have broadband of any type, NDIA found

Lit Communities, a fiber-builder that partners with municipal, county and other government entities, will operate the network, with HMI Utilities as the prime contractor. Lit Communities subsidiary BTX Fiber will be the last-mile provider on the network. However, the project will be an open network with multiple internet service providers.

Standard service on the network will be at least 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical.

The research for this project began nearly a year ago in April 2021 when Walker and Carvallo looked at different business models, like public policy only, public services, open access, infrastructure, municipal retail (business only and residential). They looked at these models in similar projects in Texas and across the country, including in places like Knoxville and Santa Cruz County. Eventually, they decided on an open access model.

Specifics of the Brownsville network

All citizens will have access to this broadband. “It is eight middle-mile fiber rings to address the full geography of Brownsville,” said Walker.

The city will own 100% of the middle mile and will be able to license it out in private-public partnerships to create revenue, as well as revenue from the last mile connectivity. To ensure affordability, there will be a cap on what providers can charge.

Affordability “is very important,” said Walker. “The crux of the consideration is just to not deliver access, but to make it affordable.”

This infrastructure will have a life expectancy of 50 to 100 years, said Walker.

Walker said that “evidence suggests that broadband services have a net positive economic and social impact to communities by enhancing key functions such as economic competitiveness, workforce development, training, educational capabilities, municipal operations, and smart city developments.”

This is part of the private-public partnership model of Lit Communities. The company recently partnered with Ohio’s Lorain-Medina Rural Electric Cooperative to install fiber on existing utility poles. In these projects, the municipality in question provides the capital necessary to build a middle mile or backbone network.

“We are not stopping with these initial groups of towns that we are looking at and working into right now,” said Rene Gonzalez, Lit Communities’ chief strategy officer. “It is just the beginning.”

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