Seattle, take note: Small town of Ellensburg approves plan to build publicly-owned fiber network

ellensburg12While Seattle struggles to set up a city-wide fiber-to-the-home Internet network, at least one Washington town is well on its way to doing so.

The Ellensburg City Council has approved plans to build a publicly-owned fiber network, agreeing to a $961,000 contract with Canon Construction to lay 13 miles of fiber above and below the town of 18,000 in central Washington.

Previously, Ellensburg was using Charter Communications’ network for free, but the company wanted to renegotiate and charge the city $10,000 per month. Ellensburg elected to instead create a city telecommunications utility for its own network, which could be ready by September 2014.

Outgoing Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is in favor of a publicly-owned broadband network.

Outgoing Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is in favor of a publicly-owned broadband network.

Using taxpayer money to build a public network is a strategy that outgoing Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn outlined for us during an interview earlier this month. McGinn said it would cost the city up to $700 million, but said he’s in favor of this option if the private sector can’t do the job.

“If it’s one big, big thing about broadband fiber to the home, it’s that we have been diligently working to figure out every pathway to get there, including partnering with private sector,” he said. “But if [that] doesn’t work, the natural next step is, in my opinion, it’s got to be treated like a utility — like we treat electricity or water — and not treat it like a private market good.”

McGinn’s comments come as Seattle’s ambitious high-speed Internet plans with a private company called Gigabit Squared appear to be in jeopardy.

  • Guest

    Like Grant County, Ellensburg can easily lay down fiber line. Seattle has dark fiber running in the underground systems (unmentionable areas we don’t want to smell) and we can utilize multiple resources to thread more lines around but we don’t. Unfortunately, Seattle has been under the rule of idiots for many moons now and they talk but don’t act.

    • That Guy

      It’s not a matter of fiber underground, it’s a matter of connections to the dwelling. That’s where the cost is.

  • Viet Nguyen

    It’s one thing to lay down fiber. it’s another thing to actually turn up service. Let’s remember that a few years ago our friendly neighbors to the south, Tacoma, implemented their Click! Network – a cable broadband system owned by Tacoma Power. Today, average broadband speeds in Tacoma are slower than Seattle’s, according to NetIndex.com.

    The truth is with very few exceptions, municipalities do not have the expertise to operate retail-based broadband networks. From a utility standpoint, the difference between broadband vs. electricity vs. water is that consumer demand for broadband speed is growing much much faster than for electricity or water. In fact, electricity usage has slowed in the US since the recession through the increasing amount of energy-efficient devices and appliances.

    • Guest

      Electrical usage is higher than ever, actually. Our grid system still has issues keeping up with demand and Cali can’t get enough of the cheap hydroelectric supplied power from the PNW. Not sure where you got your info from on usage.

      Grant County has had their fiber network for about 10 years now, it was and still is superior to fiber to home in the King County area. It’s also ridiculously cheap.

      • Viet Nguyen

        Here’s a reference for you: http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2022564182_electricityusagedropsxml.html

        Locally, similar downtrends for electricity usage were also reflected in a recent Seattle City Light presentation to the Seattle Chamber.

        You’re right that Grant County PUD does have a fine fiber network, which is administered by iFiber Communications Corp. However, I believe the initial buildout was in excess of $100M and still serves fewer than 10,000 customers. That’s a lot of moolah per customer.

        • Guest

          Your article link is regarding per household in home use of electricity. That’s a tiny fraction of the overall use of electricity. “The Energy Department predicts average residential electricity use per customer will fall again in 2014, by 1 percent.”

          Those with EV chargers at their home will use more power than other homes and even if they have solar and wind generators to pump back into the grid, it’s only enough to offset a portion of their in home use of power. Still a good idea to have, but it’s not a 100% offset.

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/aging-power-grid-on-overload-as-us-demands-more-electricity/2012/08/01/gJQAB5LDQX_story.html

          • That Guy

            EV power requirements are minor. I will illustrate this by giving you the numbers for the EV that I own. Since I am posting on a site called “Geek Wire,” I’ll be more thorough and exact than I’d be elsewhere.

            I drive my EV only 2,300 miles a year. The average EV is driven 8,000 miles a year. The average gas car is driven 13,000 miles a year. I’m retired, which accounts for my sparse driving. The average EV is a short-range vehicle, the uber-Teslas notwithstanding, which accounts for their lower average mileage.

            I charge my EV off of a 240v circuit that runs to my garage. I have all the records for each charge since I got the 240v circuit and the appliance meter that I use to measure my consumption. In the past 11 months (339 days, to be exact), I’ve used 741 kWh for the EV, an average of 2.19 kWh a day. This is 2.6% of my average daily use of 84.01 kWh a day, taken from my Seattle City Light records.

            If I re-did those numbers to make them equivalent to 8,000 miles of driving per year, my EV would use 7.6 kWh a day, or 8.5% of 89.4 kWh a day. Which is close enough to one-twelfth for horseshoes.

            There are those who’d demand that I use 13,000 miles of driving to fully represent what EVs would draw from the grid if the batteries were improved and people used them as they use gas cars today. In that event, my EV would use 12.35 kWh a day, or 13% of my new consumption of 94.1 kWh a day.

            That still wouldn’t be all that significant, especially seeing as how I’d be consuming the extra juice in the middle of the night — way off peak, when utilities often wind up running their turbines without actually hooking them up to generators, because the cost of shutdown is higher than keeping them running all night, even if they’re not actually producing electricity because it’s simply not in demand.

            The bottom line is that EV use is an utterly trivial factor for the electricity grid, and will likely never be particularly significant even if battery density and cost factors improve much faster than everyone expects, and EVs wind up being the dominant form of passenger vehicle motive power by, say, 2030 or 2035.

            I currently use about 5,000 kWh a month, 67 kWh of which is for the EV, or 1.34% of the total. If I drove the average mileage, my EV’s usage would be 4% of 5,150 kWh a month.

        • Guest

          iFiber is only one supplier, although it is the largest supplier, of service for Grant County PUD’s fiber network. iFiber installed their 5,000th Grant County PUD fiber customers service setup back in 2010.

  • Mark MacKay

    Did you read this article South Lake Unionistas? Take your iPhones and your Whole Foods and head to Ellensburg. That’s where it’s at. Take the trolley too. Return the affordable rents and the open space before you go.

  • That Guy

    Look at Tacoma. They have a municipal system. Their speeds aren’t any better than Comcast’s.

  • CAG

    This is interesting but there is no way that you can connect even a small-to-mid size town’s residents to fiber for less than $1 million. I assume this is only for the middle-mile fiber and not the actual fiber connections to the homes?