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Municipal Fiber Network Will Let Customers Switch ISPs In Seconds (arstechnica.com) 184

An anonymous reader shares an Ars Technica report: Most cities and towns that build their own broadband networks do so to solve a single problem: that residents and businesses aren't being adequately served by private cable companies and telcos. But there's more than one way to create a network and offer service, and the city of Ammon, Idaho, is deploying a model that's worth examining. Ammon has built an open access network that lets multiple private ISPs offer service to customers over city-owned fiber. The wholesale model in itself isn't unprecedented, but Ammon has also built a system in which residents will be able to sign up for an ISP -- or switch ISPs if they are dissatisfied -- almost instantly, just by visiting a city-operated website and without changing any equipment. Ammon has completed a pilot project involving 12 homes and is getting ready for construction to another 200 homes. Eventually, the city wants to wire up all of its 4,500 homes and apartment buildings, city Technology Director Bruce Patterson told Ars. Ammon has already deployed fiber to businesses in the city, and it did so without raising everybody's taxes.
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Municipal Fiber Network Will Let Customers Switch ISPs In Seconds

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  • Canada (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is desperately needed in Canada. We pay the highest internet rates in the world and changing ISP's can be a nightmare.

    • Re:Canada (Score:5, Funny)

      by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @02:15PM (#52330587) Homepage Journal

      Wait, what? We can change ISP's?

    • While I agree that we need to do something about the high prices, I've never had any issues with switching providers.
      Of course, I only have two choices, so its not exactly crowded with options. I choose soley based on price. Customer service isn't exactly an issue for me. I'm enough of a power user, I guess.
      I have flip flopped 3 or 4 times in the last 10 years. My current ISP is Fiber Optic at 100Mbps Up, and 20Mbps Down for, and no data caps for $99/mo. It's pretty reasonable. Even moreso because I use it

    • Canadian municipalities have started to take notice. The Ammon model involves the municipality building its own fiber network for facilitating access to competing gateway providers. It's an interesting model for addressing the last-mile problem, but doesn't go far enough for communities with too few ISP's in town. Unfortunately, this is far too often the situation in smaller Canadian communities.

      I think Ammon is doing great things for their citizens and businesses, but it won't be a panacea for every small

      • This is exactly what I've been proposing for YEARS. Finally, someone with the guts to actually try it. HELL YEAH !

  • I don't really see the purpose of this. If you have the physical network, then all you need is a connection to the rest of the public Internet. Otherwise you get email service from whoever you want; aren't there companies that provide POP3/SMTP service to whoever needs it? Also many people are perfectly happy with web-based email. What else does the average Internet user actually need? Streaming services for audio and video are available all over the place. Of course isn't this what ISPs are afraid of: Muni
    • by PPH ( 736903 )


    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Tech support isn't free?

      • by jon3k ( 691256 )
        Tech support for what? They don't manage the outside plant [wikipedia.org]. That's all handled by the municipality. Basically anyone can come along and buy bandwidth from a Tier 1/2 provider, interconnect into the city MAN [wikipedia.org] and "become an ISP". All they would do is handle the sales/billing services and the one or two interconnects to the upstream providers.
        • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

          Tech support for clients who are having problems and want to call tech support? Do you think the municipality will have a phone line when the ISPs are the one making the money?

          • by jon3k ( 691256 )
            Why would you think the "ISP" would do repairs on the infrastructure owned by the city? Who would be responsible for a pole shared by 10 ISPs?
            • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

              Who said anything about repairs or infrastructure? We're talking about over-the-phone tech support here.

              Have you ever seen normal people trying to setup their computers to connect to the Internet, send email, etc? They need tech support.

              • by jon3k ( 691256 )
                Anything related to installation and connectivity would be handled by the municipality. Those are the people who operate the outside plant. Just like if you buy telephone service from an CLEC and if you have problems they dispatch the ILEC.

                Sending e-mail? Sure, if you wanted to also offer e-mail services. Not a requirement. For that matter, who uses ISP email these days? I can count on one hand the number of @isp email addresses I've seen in the last decade.
            • source to cite : NJ & NY power companies...
              pole / line maintenance is shared and billed equally to all, lot's of fighting about it, but it works
              consumers have a choice of whom to buy the electric from, and consumers pay a line charge.
              at least that was how it was back up to 2003 ( I no longer have power from NJ )

              so in your case, the 10 isp's would be in a meet-me room somewhere that belongs to the city,
              the switches, pole, and fiber would be the cities issue.

    • by zero_out ( 1705074 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @02:17PM (#52330599)
      I have to admit ignorance in this as well. I know of 3 things which are required to connect a home to the internet.

      1. Last mile, connecting the users to the network
      2. Edge interconnect, which routes traffic to/from end users and the backbone
      3. Backbone, which connects all the ISPs

      1 and 2 constitute what we colloquially refer to as the ISP. If 1 is a municipal fiber network, then that means an ISP is just an interconnect between the fiber network and the backbone?
      • by Pascoea ( 968200 )
        ISPs traditionally offer "features" such as: free webmail, a DNS service that will helpfully redirect you to their ad-serving page when you type in www.googel.com, tech support (including, and limited to: Did you reboot the modem? Is it plugged in? Did you reboot the computer?), and a billing service that is second-to-satan.
      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        1 and 2 constitute what we colloquially refer to as the ISP.

        And in many cases, local caching servers for services like Netflix and YouTube and Akamai and so on, designed to keep the ISP's bandwidth bill under control. And in some cases, they may own big chunks of the backbone. For example, Comcast owns pipes that reach various parts of the U.S., so connections from Comcast customers might travel within the ISP's own network for a large portion of its route.

        Either way, a good chunk of your monthly bill go

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          You don't need caching servers for Netflix and YouTube, transit bandwidth is already amazingly cheap. My ISP refuses to get any service specific CDN because it runs against their ideals of net neutrality to favor one company over another. All residential(technically they only sell business lines, but they cover all residential in the city and surrounding rural, including some way out farms) lines are dedicated fiber(one unshared fiber line all the way back to the CO) with dedicated bandwidth, with prices st
    • by Ichijo ( 607641 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @02:25PM (#52330679) Journal

      I don't really see the purpose of this. If you have the physical network, then all you need is a connection to the rest of the public Internet.

      That's correct. This is just last-mile infrastructure, like back in the day when you had to dial into the ISP over telephone wires not owned by the ISP. In both cases, the ISP still has to physically connect to the upstream provider miles away (this isn't cheap), configure and maintain the routing protocol (this requires technical knowledge and coordination with the upstream provider who isn't interested in talking to the end user), and pay by the gigabyte for data.

      Services like e-mail and personal web space are just extras that an ISP might provide if they feel like it.

    • Short answer: Dealing with customers.

      If the city is only providing infrastructure then they do not need to deal with issues like billing, collections, etc. While the infrastructure costs money it is mostly an upfront cost. Sure, squirrels will do their damage and there will be money spent here or there on maintaining it, but the real headaches for offering Internet access in an ongoing fashion are the customers.

    • It's important because building out last-mile infrastructure is expensive and risky compared to any other capital investment an ISP has to make. Furnishing bandwidth to a decent-sized community is cake for an ISP, and so having a municipality like Ammon bring the customer's fiber connection to the ISP's door is really gift-wrapping it.

      And it makes a lot of sense, too. We've seen that ISPs are loathe to spend significant time and money building out the last-mile infrastructure, only to have to face competiti

    • by Wycliffe ( 116160 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @02:34PM (#52330763) Homepage

      An internet connection consists of the following:
          1) The router in your home
          2) The physical wire to the ISP
          3) The router/hub/switch at the other end.
          4) The connections, peering agreements, bandwidth purchases, etc.. the ISP has to the outside world.
          5) The person you call when you have a problem.

      Honestly, most of the problems I have ever had with my internet is either with #4 or #5, so this seems like a step in the right direction.
      When I get ping times of 1000ms, dropped packets, slow download speeds, jitter, blocked ports, etc... it's almost always #4 and I have to call #5 to deal with it.
      We have something similar in my town where a local ISP piggybacks their DSL on the local phone carrier's wire. I've heard that their connection is better but unfortunately you have to pay them AND the local phone carrier so your bill is significantly higher.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      IP management? Technical support? Secondary services, like email, or storage/backup, web hosting, voice? There's an endless list of ancillary businesses ISPs can be in besides IP dialtone.

      Yes, you could buy that stuff elsewhere, but people have demonstrated a tendency to like bundles and some services (like backup or storage) may just work better when they are basically on the same wire.

      The IP address part is increasingly important with static IPs becoming scarcer -- a budget ISP could be the dynamic non

    • An IP address? DNS? Gateway?

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Not all providers have the same quality access to the rest of the nation or peering options to the rest of the world.
      Packing too many users into shared, virtual best effort peering deals per state or city is one reason to select a better provider.
      A better provider might actually have invested in their own real backhaul deals to offer much needed fast accessed other parts of the nation to totally avoid shared slow local commercial networks.
      Capitalism and freedom to pay for and select a provider can be a g
    • Here's my observations, as an experienced ISP CST and admin.

      In the scenario of muni backbone + private provider, the ISP you choose will primarily be your BILLING SERVICE. Also, they take responsibility for customer service and technical support, they're an intermediary between you and the municipality who won't talk with you directly. A concierge. And they're likely to provide "value added" services which the other ISPs don't, and which you can't get for free. I can't think of a single thing this last coul

  • by lazarus ( 2879 )

    Good luck with the Multi-Dwelling Units. You can run fiber to the building (an Optical Network Terminator (ONT)), but running it to the unit is pretty damn difficult. Most MDUs don't have conduit suitable for fiber, most just have old telephone cable (no CAT5/e/6/etc), and the cable companies just run their cable up the outside of the building and drill a hole through the walls (which is unsightly and may not be allowed by the building owner). Wireless seems to be crap in terms of delivering services to

    • Good luck with the Multi-Dwelling Units. You can run fiber to the building (an Optical Network Terminator (ONT)), but running it to the unit is pretty damn difficult. Most MDUs don't have conduit suitable for fiber, most just have old telephone cable (no CAT5/e/6/etc), .

      Speaking from personal experience (I wired my new house as it was being built with CAT3), you don't need CAT5 for short runs. 100BASET runs just fine over CAT3 at my house (100ft or so)

    • Live in an MDU. 8 townhouses, 4 on the north side, 4 on the south side, we each have our own yards and such, with a common hallway down the middle (with security doors on each end, and a door into each unit.

      My ISP ran Fiber in 2 years ago. It took 1 day to get it into all of the units. They were pretty good about it, and did need access to each unit. They simply drilled a hole through the exterior of one of the end units (closest to the alley), then drilled a small hole and placed conduit through the connec

      • * Stupid Touchscreen *
        From what I gather each unit is wired from there to have RJ45 receptacles on each floor. So when a user signs up all they need to do is bring in a modem and hook it all up.

        My last apartment I don't know how they would do it, though. 32 unit, 4 floor, apartment building. We had a single copper twisted pair coming into each unit. That would be a nightmare to wire with fiber optics.

    • Good luck with the Multi-Dwelling Units. You can run fiber to the building (an Optical Network Terminator (ONT)), but running it to the unit is pretty damn difficult. Most MDUs don't have conduit suitable for fiber, most just have old telephone cable (no CAT5/e/6/etc), and the cable companies just run their cable up the outside of the building and drill a hole through the walls (which is unsightly and may not be allowed by the building owner). Wireless seems to be crap in terms of delivering services to them as well.

      MDUs are hard unless they are properly wired when they are built. If someone has figured out the right approach, I'd love to know what it is. The payback on running fiber to an MDU is "Never".

      Throw in a DSLAM in the building. The newer DSL gives you perfectly adequate speeds within the building unless you're moving massive datasets or non-incremental hard drive backups every day, for example. I have about 60/75 MBps and the limiting factor is probably the wireless, not the DSL connection over the POTS line. Sure, it's not giving you high-speed fiber, but it's fine for most stuff.

    • Re:MDUs (Score:4, Informative)

      by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @02:41PM (#52330793)

      Running Cat-5e or Cat-6 to each individual unit is no problem, it's the standard approach for MDUs etc here in Sweden, with one or more RJ-45's inside each unit.

      • Running Cat-5e or Cat-6 to each individual unit is no problem

        So how do they do it? Rip out the walls of each unit and run the fiber manually? Sounds expensive but maybe they can swing it.

        Or do they run the fiber outside of the building? Or something else?

        I'm very interested to hear how they do it so easily.

        • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

          Depends on the structure. Sometimes, it's external conduits, sometimes they use existing conduits for telephone or TV. And sometimes, they do it the way you suggested. It's often up to the owner to decide. In rental apartment complexes etc, the local network can often belong to the entity that owns the buildings, and the ISP's just provide administration, tech support and external connectivity.

          Where I live, they use the same conduit that the cable TV proiver uses, and then break out to a RJ-45 port.

          • by jwdb ( 526327 )

            Unfortunately, as GP implies, there's a good number of MDUs with no conduits whatsoever (caveat: anecdotal experience). I live in one, for instance, and you can see the TV coax cable stapled to the side of the building going to the different rooms of each apartment. No idea how the phone is routed - I assume they just strung it inside the wall like an electrical cable when the building was built in the 50s.

            In that situation, bashing holes in the walls is about the only choice.

            • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

              It's not as if we don't have that problem either, plenty of buildings built before the 50's, a fair amount of 19th century buildings, and still some even older buildings.

    • I service a small apartment building using VDSL2 bridges. I have a vlan switch mounted in the phone room, with a single-port VDSL2 bridge for each customer attached to the switch. Another bridge goes in the suite, providing ethernet access to the subscriber via the existing phone jack. Larger deployments can take advantage of a DSLAM in the phone room and a bridge in the suite.
    • just a quick round up to help the discussion with fibre installs
      http://www.thefoa.org/tech/ref... [thefoa.org]

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @02:24PM (#52330669)

    You can't just pit ISP against each other like this! How do expect companies to overcharge for services if they have to compete for customers?! Clearly these cities don't understand the nuances of capitalism! ;)

  • This is skirting the real story here -- which is that such public infrastructure could be managed by a public entity (or a private entity charged with providing the highest quality bandwidth) with no incentive for excess profit or attempts to limit the bandwidth / quality because they want to increase profits. And by the way, fiber is a public infrastructure generally, because most towns grant the franchise to dig up streets / string cable to one company only.

    So, if an ISP is only a retailer of services on the dumb pipe that everyone has access to, what is the ISP's purpose, other than billing and helping users get access to the pipe? Why not take the fiber into the city's hands to begin with?

    The story here isn't that a town has made it easy for customers to switch providers with the click of a button -- it's that a city has taken the role of ISPs completely out of providing the infrastructure and removed the excuses that ISPs that their quality of delivered bandwidth per $ differs for unjustifiable reasons.

    They are saying that customers don't actually want to be differentiating their choice on artificial limitations on their bandwidth quality (which should be the same for everyone). If ISPs are really competing based on other value that they add (customer service?) and not their monopoly over a public infrastructure, let them do so and see what customers actually start to choose based on.
    • by kav2k ( 1545689 )

      This also adds a single point of failure to all ISP offerings.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        This also adds a single point of failure to all ISP offerings.

        True, but most areas with fiber effectively become single-supply since there's very, very little incentive to lay down a second fiber grid. At least here in Norway they'll usually get 70-90% to sign up and the other fixed offers go away since mobile broadband usually works as a temporary solution. And they certainly could do redundant connections and data centers for everything but the last leg, so one guy with a backhoe can't take out more than a small neighborhood. In practice though peering points tend t

      • Presumably the city has phone lines, so the phone company can offer DSL. Satellite is an option. And there are wireless ISPs.
      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        As oppose to the single point of failure for all one cable offering most places have?

      • It doesn't "add" anything to the situation at all. It's extraordinarily rare that a municipality allows more than one ISP to lay fiber. Even assuming they had the foresight to require the ISP allow competitors to have access to the fiber at reasonable rates, you'd still have a single point of failure. The only difference is that in this particular municipality's case, the single point is in the control of a public entity charged with keeping it running, rather than in the private hands of a private ISP with

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      highly innovative! Like how most cities deal with Water and Sewer...

    • "because most towns grant the franchise to dig up streets / string cable to one company only"

      This hasn't been true since the early 1990s. There may not be an _economic_ incentive for a new provider to enter a market, but exclusive franchises have been banned for well over 20 years.

    • And by the way, fiber is a public infrastructure generally, because most towns grant the franchise to dig up streets / string cable to one company only.

      Also, (and I know I'm about to oversimplify a little, but...) there's not much point in having multiple fiber runs all throughout town, even if the town allows it. It's sort of like if you had a few different "road providers" who each had to run their roads into your neighborhood, creating separate driveways for each road. It's inefficient.

      Or if you are going to run redundant lines, make it part of the same system, and design it all to provide real redundancy. Right now, businesses frequently get multip

      • That's the irony of the current situation. i'm in a city where there's municipal fiber going in, and consequently comcast beat them to the punch and have 2gig service available nearly everywhere. Now ever centurytel is realizing that they need fiber if they want to compete.

        In theory by the end of this year I'll have three fiber choices, each offering at least 1 gig symmetric (and i actually spotted in a locate that AT&T have fiber less than 50' from my house so that's another potential option).

        Of course

    • The market is really great at finding an optimal solution (or solutions) to a broad, unexplored solution space. That was the state Cable TV was in when it was first implemented. Nobody knew what was the best way to connect houses, what was the best way to branch nodes, how best to allocate frequencies to transmit channels, and (once on-demand TV and Internet service began) how best to allocate bandwidth between downloads and uploads. The choice back then was to waste a bunch of tax dollars on funded rese
    • Why not take the fiber into the city's hands to begin with?

      This gets around the "unfair competition" drum that the monopolistic ISP's beat on relentlessly, as well as removing the "natural monopoly" drum beat at the same time.

      If the city owns the infrastructure, then the natural monopoly problem is solved: only one set of wires is run. But then there is the second solved "problem": private companies cannot argue that the city is "unfairly" competing against privately owned companies. The city is letting private companies manage and operate the service, but withou

    • I have been whipping this horse for the better part of a decade as the only real way to stop the abuse of the customer by the ISPs and provide service to all. Of course the ISPs cry that it is unfair. In fact it takes the power of monopoly out of their pocket and puts them in the position of having to compete with other companies that they didn't have to compete with due to paying bribes to the counsels and utility commissions. This is great but you will never see it in medium and large cities as the inc
  • ... it's changing an email address that you've had for nearly 2 decades.
  • I'm a resident of Ammon, and I can't wait for this rollout. The two options we have are both terrible (one cable and one DSL provider). Spotty service, ever increasing prices, and horribly restrictive data caps. I can't wait for the ability to shop for exactly what I need (which is fairly low speeds, but high data caps. If they offered something 1/3 my current speed but with 3 times the data, I could do anything I want and still never notice network lag). Here's hoping this model keeps this municipal fiber
  • This is a thick last mile with the muni building a L2 backbone. That effectively means you're stuck going through their switchgear regardless of ISP. CWDM is a far better option let the ISP's run their own switch and CPE gear and the muni deals with the cross connects and frequency assignments. Bonus points for requiring MACsec by the ISP's.

    Mind you a muni might still run a L2 network it makes a lot of sense to allow ipv6 connections to schools 911 etc as well as offering lifeline internet and the like.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      What's the value of varying CPE?

      I would think you would benefit from some standardization on CPE.

      • If it's a requirement for the muni system you're locked into whatever the muni feels like. Great they support 1gb today but what if you want jumbo frames even QinQ(inQ) tagging? What happens when a provider wants to offer 10ge? Ethernet is currently ubiquitous and looks to stay that way what if something better comes along? An all optical L1 network can deal with any of that it does not care light within this frequency range (well defined ITU standard) with all passive devices in the muni network. You'

  • by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @03:10PM (#52331003)
    Later that day, Technology Director Bruce Patterson was found garroted by a piece of coaxial cable.

    Judging by the poor quality of the cable, Comcast, Time-Warner, and AT&T have fallen under suspicion.

    When questioned of their whereabouts, they could not provide any solid proof of their activities during the hours of 9 AM to 5 PM.
  • Mainly because it reflects the same model that cities have been in forever for the physical road network. They build the roads and everyone has equal access to them. The services provided over the road network depend on who you want to buy them from.

    An open-access fiber network would be great because there's all kinds of creative uses for it, most of which stall as independent business ideas because they start or end with "Step N. Build municipal fiber network."

    Such a network could get used for lots of t

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @03:38PM (#52331213) Homepage

    This is how internet service used to be! The current generation growing up just naively assumes that your local telecom company is your ISP, and can't even wrap their head around this idea that you could choose an ISP separately from the company that shows up to your front door to wire it.

    This is the market solution to Network Neutrality. The "golden age" of the internet was back when the telephone companies just provided the wires, and people could sign-up for whatever ISP they wanted. Then, when telecom companies bought out the ISPs, and the two markets combined into a single vertical slice, is when the problems started. With monopoly came DNS servers that redirect you to ads, paid prioritization of traffic, no more static IP addresses, no more allowing people to run servers, etc. Network Neutrality is so much a battle about restoring the internet to the way it was. I fear it won't be successful unless we restore competition to the ISP market again.

  • A town in which I once lived built a cable TV system somewhat similarly. They contracted the building of the infrastructure and granted the builder the first year of service. After that, potential service providers (only one per year for all users; programming service plus hardware maintenance for the system) competed for the annual contract. Annual competitions meant that that town's cable TV system offered far more at significantly lower prices than any other municipality around. The infrastructure belong

  • Basically, WOW operates in same way, except that the private company runs fiber to the home, rather than the city.
    Regardless, they have multiple ISP, TV,and Phone providers that end users can pick from.
  • So I have fiber broadband provided by my city. Via traceroute I can tell the city uses L-3 to talk to the rest of the world. Is this proposal simply about being able to change the L-3 part of the link? So L-3, AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, Google, etc. would then contact my city to arrange a 10gbps (or 40, or 1, or whatever) pipe to the rest of the 'net then charge us users individually, with the city getting a cut to cover the last-mile costs, and somehow know that my traffic which goes over the same fib
  • Switch ISPs in SECONDS? Too slow! I want hyper-switching technology!
  • Yes, that's how it works here in Sweden, and has for the last decade or so.

    Of course an open network allows you to switch ISP just by calling them (or indeed using a web page), and of course no equipment needs to be changed, what would be the point of an open fiber network if it did?

    The fibre company (used to be city owned, but is now private) run the fiber network including end-points (CPE) and the ISPs deliver service. I can currently choose between eight different ISPs.

    But yes, it takes several hours to

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