Highland, IL -- First Municipally Owned Telecommunications Company in Illinois

Highland, Illinois is a dynamic and innovative community of 9,433 residents that has earned a reputation as a municipal leader in promoting economic growth and support to companies located within the city as well as companies relocating or expanding to the city.  In the wake of the Telecommunications Act, Highland saw a decline in the quality of services offered, accompanied by an increase in price.  Realizing that they need cost-effective, high-speed broadband to compete in a global marketplace, citizens developed a grassroots committee to address the situation.  The city was committed to reaching all critical community institutions, including all libraries, schools, businesses, municipal buildings, as well as the county government.
 
In April 2008, approval was granted by the City to proceed with the analysis and feasibility of building a telecommunications network that would serve as an enhancement to potential businesses and homeowners and to provide an incentive for commuters who would take advantage of the short travel time from Highland into downtown St. Louis.
 
Municipal FTTP Strategic Business Plan
Spectrum Engineering developed a business plan based on the City directly providing all infrastructure services.  The report identified viability, legal and regulatory issues, potential business structure, services, anticipated take rates, cash flows, method of deployment, market strategy, and capital requirements.  The overall Feasibility Assessment contained six components:
  • Market Analysis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Legal Considerations
  • Technology Review
  • Financial Analysis
  • Pro Forma Business Plan
Business Planning and Negotiations
In response to overwhelming support from citizens to create a fiber-to-the-premises system, the City of Highland decided to move forward with its telecommunications network under the name of Connect Highland, which was later updated to Highland Communications Services (HCS).HCS logo  Spectrum was commissioned to provide professional assistance in each facet of the total broadband network as necessary to offer complete voice, video and data services to the targeted customer base.
 
Given the substantial community support and Highland's desire to "plan ahead and built it once," Spectrum worked closely with HCS on the development of the business based on the incorporation of future potential services.  Negotiations with specific private sector service providers were facilitated and procedures to obtain the regulatory right to offer voice services were undertaken.  Spectrum assisted HCS in determining the services to offer, develop pricing for "standard services" and prepare cost/pricing methodology relative to the new offerings to support pricing list development, timing of service delivery, and establishment of metrics to track operating success.  In deciding whether to provide services in house or outsource, Spectrum helped HCS determine what additional equipment was required to offer and manage the operation of established services, evaluate and specify customer provision/billing software, and facilitate standards policy for installation and customer service.  Additionally, Spectrum served, when requested, as HCS' liaison/support in addressing initial and ongoing customer and connectivity questions and developed marketing pieces for distribution to potential clients.
 
Engineering Planning & Grant Writing
Spectrum provided grant writing services needed to author a competitive grant for the NTIA and Rural Utility Service Grant applications in accordance with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  The required services included completing a phone survey to determine underserved status in the census area, developing detailed maps for the census area included in the grant, and establishing eligibility.  Developing the Executive Summary, including community description and goals, documenting a general overview of the telecom system, equipment and technologies, and writing a description of participating community organizations and partners and collecting letters of support were important components of the grant.  The online grant application also included uploading financial data and budgets for all capital and operating expenditures, and a project schedule.

Engineering Design of Phase 1 Trunk Routes and Business Loop
In anticipation of a 20-30% cost increase for labor and materials needed in the construction of Outside Plant (OSP) broadband networks after the expected infusion of broadband stimulus money in 2010, Highland developed a Phase I trunk route and business loop prior to the receipt of outside financing.  Bonds were issued by the City of Highland Electric Department to fund the FTTP project and Phase 1 construction immediately followed.  Spectrum Engineering provided professional services to HCS for preliminary and detailed Engineering Design including field walkout data collection, FTTP design specifications, an engineered bill of material estimate, an engineered OSP cost estimate for labor and materials, assistance with permit applications, and assistance with bidding and award.  The first phase of construction passed 400 businesses and 200 residents.
 
Phase II 2011-2012 FTTP Construction
Spectrum Engineering again provided professional services to HCS including Engineering Design of the OSP and Construction Management for Phase II of their FTTP deployment, which is expected to pass 1,800 additional residents.  To date, HCS has an overall penetration of 17.8 percent, with 30 percent penetration in the critical business areas.  While the system currently offers about 1,000 megabits to every subscriber, future plans budget an increase to 10,000 -- and eventually 100,000.
 
Video Headend Design
HCS deployed a new state-of-the-art video headend in the first quarter of 2011.  Spectrum Engineering was instrumental in designing the building and specifying the equipment needed.  Currently HCS has four satellite dishes to capture video streams, a 100-foot antenna to capture off-air channels, and a $3.5 million headend building.  The components in this building include the electronics to support voice, data and video services (primarily MPEG-4 utilizing Harmonic and Cisco technologies), heating and cooling units, a fire protection system, electricity feeds including UPS backup and a backup generator, all of which are able to be virtually monitored.
 
Open House
On April 21, 2011, HCS' Open House and ribbon cutting ceremony marked a milestone for those who helped make the City's fiber to the premise vision become a reality.  Not only does the development of HCS provide Highland ribbon cuttingeconomic growth opportunity, but it allows residents and businesses to have more options in telecommunication and services.  Most importantly, HCS ensures community ownership, which means that system revenues are reinvested back into the community, providing for a stronger economic foundation for all. 
 
One of the most advantageous aspects of HCS creating their own municipally owned fiber optic network is that it truly promotes innovation, efficiency, and greater effectiveness.  The use of fiber optics and the technology associated with it allows  implementation of progressive Smart Grid technology, allowing the City's electric meters to be read by the click of a button in an office and not by having an employee drive from meter to meter.  In addition, it will provide options for the remote control of electric use and supporting the city's electric linemen in determining the cause and exact location of outages instead of trying to manually locate the problem.