ITS Weekly - 3 March 2017

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Headline of the Week: Update from DMN and CUB

These have been busy weeks for the Decorah Metronet (DMN) Board and the Decorah Communication Utility Board (CUB). It seemed like an update would be in order.

One big project underway is extending the DMN network on behalf of the Winneshiek County 911 Board. A DMN fiber build has been funded to reach a site for a new 911 tower out in the direction of the John Deere dealership. Another network build is going out to the water tower in the area of the business park on top of which 911 equipment will be installed. The fiber is in the ground on both builds thanks to Luther alum Adam Ramseth who is managing the project. Adam’s company also did the design, fiber installation and splicing. Splicing work continues and the new tower construction may begin yet this month. The electronics enclosure at the water tower is in place. The goal of this project is to provide reliable fiber connectivity to those towers as an alternative to through the air microwave communications technology.

The other big focus has been on upgrading our DMN Internet service. Currently we have two 1Gbps connections to the Internet that we share across our Iowa Code 28E partners Winneshiek Medical Center, Decorah Public Schools, the City of Decorah, Winneshiek County, and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission. The growth in our collective bandwidth demand is just starting to hit the ceiling on this level of service. The timing is good because our three year contracts are coming to completion in March and June, with our providers Acentek and Mediacom, respectively.  

We have contracted with CenturyLink for a 10Gbps connection where we commit to pay for 2 Gbps Internet bandwidth. It is “burstable” meaning we can use all 10Gbps for incremental cost. This connection and bandwidth costs less than our current contract and provides two times the capacity but at an instant will behave more like we have ten times the capacity. Yesterday at our DMN meeting we decided on the routing equipment to purchase to connect this link up. If all goes well we anticipate that connection coming up by the end of this month. Exciting times if you are in the Internet providing business for a bandwidth hungry college!

We have been wrestling with what sort of second connection we need to have installed by June. Yesterday the DMN Board agreed to pursue the idea of purchasing a 10Gbps transport pipe to the 511 Building - Minnesota Technology Center. On top of that transport pipe and for additional fees, we may access and run all sorts of services starting with Internet purchased at the most competitive rates from Tier 1 providers. There we may also connect with Midwest Internet Cooperative Exchange to get “peering” services. What this means is some of the most used websites, such as Netflix, will send their traffic down our transport as a peer to us but not consume any of our Internet bandwidth. Additional services that might be useful in the future might be IP phone or IP based TV solutions. Having access to a number of providers positions Luther College for the future.

The CUB has also met a number of times recently. We put out an RFP for a feasibility study for starting a municipal communications FTTP (Fiber to the Premise) broadband utility in Decorah. We received nine 30-40 page responses which we have been studying and on which we have been debating. Our next step is to reach out and schedule conversations with those that look like they would provide the best feasibility work for our situation. After we have settled on a recommendation we will take this recommendation to the city council to vote to contract. Work would be underway in April. A critical piece to this work is getting an understanding of the Decorah market, what services and level of service the community wants, what they are willing to pay and how sensitive they are to price in a competitive market. This information feeds business model recommendations and financial planning to see what is feasible. The schedule for the feasibility study runs through July.

The other big topic on the CUB agenda is thinking about getting started with partners to provide services. With the DMN in existence one could imagine the CUB working with the DMN and other partners to provide access to services as a selling agent providing early adopter customer’s access. Early customers would need to fund the “last mile” fiber connectivity from the DMN to their premise and partners would have to connect to the DMN to make their services available for the Communication Utility to sell. This sell on commission idea is popular with those that want to get the learning process started and to develop experience with selling, billing and service. This is just a thought experiment at this point and is not an alternative to the feasibility work that might lead to bonding and building. It is something that might go on in parallel.

Broadband access seems to be transitioning from something that is a “nice to have” to essential function perhaps not unlike electricity, water and sewer and natural gas. I assure your our students put it and wifi access at the very foundation of their Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs!

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ITS Blog Highlights from the Week

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Notes from ITS Council

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ITS Council were unable to meet this week, no notes to share.

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ITS Weekly is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of Information Technology Services at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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