Loma Linda’s FTTP initiative earns award
The city of Loma Linda, CA, passed an ordinance last fall that requires developers to wire new homes for high-speed broadband services, both inside and outside of the building. The requirements include FTTH connected to a city-owned optical backbone. W. James Hettrick, director of information services for the city, recently received the second annual FTTXcellence Award from Corning Inc. (Corning, NY) and Lightwave in recognition of his efforts in support of this initiative. He says that if the Loma Linda Connected Community Program (LLCCP) offers a model for other communities, then it’s because the city has made a decision about how it wants to participate in the development of next generation communications infrastructure.
Corning and Lightwave established the FTTXcellence Award to recognize an individual who has made a significant contribution to the development of optical access networks in North America. George Bell of Verizon won the inaugural award last year.
This year’s winner has worked for the city of Loma Linda since 1996, first as a consultant before becoming a full-time employee in 1997. Hettrick cites current city manager Dennis Holloway as the driving force behind the program. “He had a vision where he wanted to see people have fast Internet at home, and he wanted to enable homes for smart-home technology,” Hettrick recalls. This vision began to spread among the city council when a developer presented a plan for a new subdivision that included wiring for smart homes. The benefits the developer described sounded so good, the council began to wonder whether such infrastructure should be made mandatory for all new homes in the city.
Over a three-month period from the end of August to the beginning of December 2003, Hettrick worked with a team to determine the specifications such a change in the building codes would require, including an optical backbone network to support the services enjoyed within the home. While several people helped with the planning, Hettrick cites his assistant, Kathy Sorrells, Roy Willcutt of Anixter, and Michael Houska of John Griffin Construction as key players in the enterprise.
The result was an approximately 70-page document that described specifications for the types of wiring, cable, and associated hardware the city would require as well as how this infrastructure should be installed. The document was incorporated as part of the municipal building code in December 2003 and was further established as a city ordinance in October 2004.
Of course, proposing a change to the building code to promote broadband is one thing, convincing local politicians and onlookers that it makes fiscal sense-particularly when the city would be asked to foot the bill for an optical backbone and the electronics necessary to support the services-is another. Hettrick says his approach was to keep things as simple as possible, including putting together the business model in-house. He developed a strategy in which the cabling would be treated much like other forms of infrastructure. The developer would install the fiber to the home as well as the indoor copper infrastructure, assuming all the costs, then deed the fiber cabling to the city the way they would the water and sewer pipes, roads, and other forms of infrastructure they install to connect the development to other city services. The city picks up the cost of the backbone and the active electronics on the side of the house.
The value of the FTTH infrastructure, particularly considering how much the city might have to pay to go back and install it later, can be as much as five times the cost of installing the optical backbone to support services to the development, Hettrick says. Meanwhile, he computed that by providing data services over that infrastructure, the city could recoup its investment in the active electronics in 18-24 months.
Hettrick also divided the project into pieces to ease implementation and minimize risk. The LLCCP implementation plan divides the city into quadrants, with the first optical backbone installations targeted for the section of the city where residential development was most expected. John Griffin Construction recently completed the backbone installation in this quadrant, and Hettrick reports that funding for half of the second quadrant has been approved; operations in the third and fourth quadrants also should begin within the next year.
Part of making the initiative a success includes easing the burden for the home developers. The LLCCP specifications document includes an approved list of vendors for the cabling equipment, with Corning Cable Systems (for the optical cable), Berk-Tek/Ortronics (for much of the indoor and cable management hardware), and Anixter (as a hardware source) at the top of the list. If their equipment is installed according to the LLCCP plan, Corning will honor a 10-year warranty on the outside plant cabling and Berk-Tek will offer a 25-year warranty on the inside wiring. The developers also benefit from volume discounts.
For the active electronics, the city chose Allied Telesyn as its end-to-end supplier.
Hettrick’s office also works closely with the real estate developers to create cost-effective ways of installing the communications infrastructure, including using trenches that they already planned to dig. “We go through an education process with them and help them figure out how they’re going to do this in a cost-effective way,” Hettrick explains. “That takes a little bit more of my time, but I think once they’ve got it, they value it.” Once a developer establishes an installation process, Hettrick reports that most find conforming to the LLCCP specifications isn’t particularly difficult. Paired with the increased sales price that a smart-home residence can command in the housing market, that factor has contributed to a general acceptance of the new code among the developers building within the city limits.
After the network is installed and hooked to the optical backbone, residents can receive 5-, 10-, or 15-Mbit/sec data services from the city through LLCCP.net. Herrick is investigating the addition of enhanced video and voice to the service mix. However, he sees the city’s service-provider role as short-lived.
“We’ve been very clear that we would like to jump back into a wholesale model,” Hettrick asserts. “We’re going to own the fiber and we’re going to own the active gear. And at that point, we’d be more than happy to let somebody else come in and ride the network.” The city has installed collocation facilities to facilitate this evolution.
In the meantime, Loma Linda has not run into as much opposition from the incumbent service providers as other communities have. That doesn’t mean Verizon and Adelphia, the respective local ILEC and cable multiple systems operator, ignored them. Verizon in particular worried that the city might deny it access or permits to serve the new homes or put logistical impediments in its path, such as filling all the conduit space. “Once we explained to them, one, how the structured wiring piece in the house is useful to them and, two, that they’re more than welcome to use our fiber to get to those homes, they really didn’t have any further problem with it,” Hettrick reports.
Hettrick has several pieces of advice for cities that wish to emulate Loma Linda. Establishing a relationship with local homebuilders, particularly making it very clear what the city requires and showing them how to implement those requirements economically and efficiently, is an important step. Another is recognizing the amount of coordination among municipal departments-including public works, code enforcement, public safety, city administration, and financing-such an endeavor would require.
Hettrick acknowledges that every municipality will have its own political climate. However, he believes Loma Linda’s organic “keep it simple” approach that includes breaking the project into manageable pieces can work well for many communities. “The problem we’ve seen when I’ve gone to other places is that they’ll make decisions based on a third-party disconnected group that gives them a business plan or a feasibility study. The problem is that they give them numbers [for cabling the entire city], and those numbers get pretty scary, pretty quick,” he relates. “There is nothing that says that when you do fiber to the home that you have to write it off all at once.”
But whatever a community decides to do, it should at least examine the issue. “The next generation of infrastructure is here. It’s fiber-it’s obviously not copper, it’s not coax. And cities are going to have to make a decision as to what role they want to play in that infrastructure,” says Hettrick. “Policymakers need to understand that if they choose to allow somebody else to own that infrastructure, then they will forever have a dependent relationship with whoever owns that infrastructure. If they choose to own their own infrastructure, then they get to have a say in how their infrastructure is used as well as how the relationship is defined with the people who use it. So my passion is to let cities know that they do have some options.”