Creating a Vibrant Community – Ammon’s Story

This post by Bruce Patterson, Technology Services Director for the City of Ammon, Idaho, is written as part of our “Spotlight City” feature. For more information on Ammon, check out this case study and this video.

A Resolution recognizing broadband as a ‘basic and essential service’ which could be cared for by a municipal utility was unanimously adopted by the Ammon City Council in 2008.  Since that time the City has been developing a model that focuses on the installation and operation of next generation fiber optic infrastructure that is as ‘open to the public’ as our public road system.  Today, the City owns and operates a system which includes some 30 miles of fiber in support of its own operations and for the benefit of the local community.

FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, has emphasized that “our economic future is inexorably tied to the continued expansion of the Internet” and the challenge of industry and government “is to do everything in [its] power to ensure that the United States has the world’s most dynamic and competitive broadband ecosystem with a virtuous cycle of new investment, new innovations, and new services.” The FCC Chairman’s vision includes three pillars for America’s broadband future: these networks must be fast, fair, and open.

Broadband infrastructure is essential for a community’s well-being and economic vitality.  It is no less important than our electric, sewer, water, and highway infrastructure.  For these reasons, the City of Ammon is working to combine a number of important developments to build a fiber optic system that is “a dynamic and competitive broadband ecosystem that enables new innovations and new services.”

In pursuit of this ecosystem Ammon maintains the following:

  • Enabling Citizen Choice: Enabling consumer choice will be key to the success of modern municipal Open Access networks.  In the Ammon model, that choice includes the right of property owners to choose whether or not to participate in the municipal fiber system.  The City is currently operating a fiber to the home (FTTH) pilot project to demonstrate just such an economic and technological model.
  • Dynamic Open Access: Open Access has been pursued with mixed reviews.  One of the greatest barriers to their success is the increasing level of complication associated with supporting multiple service providers.  Historically, the more open the system is, the greater the overhead.  Today, by leveraging advances in Software Defined Networking (SDN), Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), and network programmability to create an automated ecosystem where any service provider can apply for admission and run their service over the shared infrastructure, we can support truly ‘Dynamic Open Access’. This invites competition, bringing market forces to prices for production services while at the same time providing a trusted platform to incubate new service concepts. In this Dynamic Open Access environment, each service provider can receive their own virtual network over the City’s wired and wireless infrastructure.
  • Separating Infrastructure from Service: In a February 9, 2015 speech, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler noted: “The terms Internet and “broadband” are too often used synonymously – but they are not the same.”  It is important to recognize that ‘Internet’ is a service which is separate and distinct from the ‘broadband’ infrastructure.  The better an open access operator maintains this separation in his network design and architecture, the more open and accessible the infrastructure becomes. Properly implemented, this separation of infrastructure from services provides the following benefits: 1) The costs associated with the infrastructure are separate from the cost for service, 2) This allows the infrastructure to be treated as a public utility, while at the same time supporting multiple competing services simultaneously on the same infrastructure, 3) A solution to the Net Neutrality problem is provided because Internet Service Providers remain independent of other services which could require greater security or quality of service, 4) A rich development environment for the “Internet of Things” is supported, as there may be some “Things” that function better when not communicating over the Internet. For example, communications controlling utility infrastructure can be more secure, controllable and reliable in a dedicated local virtualized network when compared to the public Internet.
  • Universal Access to Fiber Infrastructure: Today’s common DSL and Cable broadband offerings are asymmetrical with limited upload speeds and download speeds typically ranging from 5 mbps to 50 mbps while a fiber optic Gigabit capable network running over fiber is 1,000 mbps in both directions combined with the ability to support any number of individual networks. It is this ability to support multiple services combined with the high upfront costs associated with the installation of fiber optic infrastructure that make moving competition from the infrastructure to the services the logical path forward.  This is commonly referred to as ‘unbundling’ or ‘Open Access’.  The potential success for this type of open infrastructure model can be illustrated by our public roads system where multiple providers compete across a common public infrastructure.  Ammon and many other network operators are anticipating the inevitability that fiber will emerge as this type of ubiquitous infrastructure.

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