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Watch Video From Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit

July 20, 2017

If you weren’t able to make it to the Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit in Marietta, Ohio, on July 18th or if you’re just interested in learning more about improving connectivity in rural areas, you can still almost be there. Video of Christopher’s keynote address is available to view.

The event occurred on July 18th at Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to Christopher’s presentation, there was a panel discussion about community ownership models. Other experts offering information included Marty Newell from the Center for Rural Strategies, Kate Forscey from Public Knowledge, and former chairwoman of the FCC Mignon L. Clyburn, who also spoke at a Town Hall that evening.

For more information on connecting rural America, including the Appalachian regions, check out these resources:

More Resources:

Access Appalachia page - Our page includes federal statistics on broadband availability and federal subsidies for large Internet Service Providers. Find toolkits and detailed maps of 150 counties in Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia.

Central Appalachia Broadband Policy Recommendations from the Central Appalachia Regional Network

The Fiber Broadband Association's Community Toolkit from the Fiber Broadband Association

Broadband Planning Primer and Toolkit from the Appalachian Regional Commission

 

Get more information from:

Appalshop of Whitesburg, Kentucky

Blandin Foundation

Common Cause

Center for Rural Strategies

Public Knowledge

Generation West Virginia

 

Tags: eventvideochristopher mitchellappalachiansappalshopohiokentuckywest virginiamignon clyburntoolkitblandin foundation

Talbot County, Maryland, RFI: Due Date September 1st

July 20, 2017

Talbot County, Maryland, has issued a Request for Information for Partnership for Deployment of High-Speed Broadband (RFI). Submissions are due no later than September 1st.

Looking For Ideas From Potential Partners

The RFI describes the county’s desire to work with a private sector partner who can bring gigabit capacity (1,000 Megabits per second) to the community. While county leaders prefer Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) they note that the rural character and geography of the region may require a hybrid fiber/wireless solution.

The county plans on offering assistance in obtaining grant funding, providing access to rights-of-way and existing public assets, and easing any partner through the permitting process. The county encourages all types of entities to submit responses, including incumbents, cooperatives, and nonprofit organizations.

This Is Talbot County

Approximately 38,000 people live in Talbot County, which is located on the state’s eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. Both Baltimore and Washington D.C. are 90 minutes away; Easton (pop. approx. 16,000) is the county seat.

Agriculture has been an important part of the county’s economy since European settlers landed there in 1630 and it continues today with corn, soybeans, and poultry. Healthcare is also an economic driver in part due to the high number of retirees in Talbot County. Tourism that centers on the community’s proximity to the ocean also employs many residents.

The Connectivity Situation

Fiber-coaxial networks exist in Talbot County, including a municipal network in Easton and areas in the county where private provider Atlantic Broadband offers Internet access. Many of Atlantic Broadband subscribers are in the bay communities in the western areas.

The RFI states that incumbent Verizon supplies DSL via its copper infrastructure to more populated areas. There is also fixed wireless available in some areas.

The other side of the county is underserved and contains almost 2,800 households and commercial premises. Population density is low but many of the properties have high home values. County leaders want the results of the RFI to address connectivity in this area. An electric cooperative and a larger power company provide electricity in the underserved section of the county, but neither offer broadband.

Multiple sectors of Talbot County have expressed concern over the future unless Internet access improves in the region. School officials are worried about availability and cost, as are people working in tourism. Real estate professionals have described loss of home value and farmers are increasingly depending on connectivity for day-to-day operations.

Open Minds

From the RFI:

The County may also consider models which could include, but are not limited to, the following scenarios:

  • Private construction, operation, and maintenance of privately-owned fiber optic infrastructure;
  • Publicly or privately constructed open-access infrastructure that allows other qualified providers to offer service over the network;
  • Private provisioning of services over infrastructure that is constructed, owned, operated, and maintained by the Partner.

The County will also consider any combination of these models as well as alternative suggestions proposed by respondents.

Important Dates:

July 28, 2017 – Deadline for submitting letter of intent to respond to RFI

August 4, 2017 – Deadline for submitting questions about RFI 

August 18, 2017 – Responses to questions issued 

September 1, 2017 – RFI responses due

Read the full RFI here. You can also access the county's website for more information.

Request for Information for Partnership for Deployment of High-Speed BroadbandTags: talbot county mdmarylandrfiruralunderservedverizondslFTTHpartnership

More FTTH Projects In Massachusetts Hilltowns

July 19, 2017

Two more western Massachusetts towns are ready to move forward with their municipal networks. Ashfield and Shutesbury both plan on working with Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to their communities.

Funding Release Allows Projects To Move

Earlier this year, state officials at the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) decided to release state funds to local communities so they could finally begin their last-mile projects. Ashfield, population approximately 1,750, received $1.4 million and Shutesbury, population about 1,800, received $870,000; each town’s award should cover about one-third of the cost to deploy their planned municipal FTTH networks.

Shutesbury hopes to connect every premise for an estimate of $2.5 million and expects the project to be complete by 2019. Ashfield also intends to include every property; its Municipal Light Plant (MLP) will operate the infrastructure and partner with a private form for network operations and ISPs for service to the community. WG+E will provide support to Ashfield for design, engineering, and construction. Shutesbury plans to work with WG+E during planning and construction.

Westfield Showing The Way

The two communities join nearby Otis, a town of 1,687 premises, which also hired WG+E to help them deploy their fiber optic network. In June, WG+E trucks started to roll into Otis and begin work on the new project. Towns in western Massachusetts that qualify for the funding have looked to Westfield for guidance ever since the community deployed its WhipCity FTTH network. Westfield has expanded within its own borders and is now embracing its role as a mentor and agent.

Learn more about WG+E’s WhipCity Fiber from Christopher’s conversation with Operations Manager Aaron Bean and Key Accounts & Customer Service Manager Sean Fitzgerald for episode 205 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: massachusettsashfield mashutesbury mawestfield maFTTHmassachusetts broadband institutefundingotis ma

Microsoft Supercharges TV White Spaces - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 262

July 18, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 262 - Harold Feld of Public Knowledge Explaining Microsoft's TV White Spaces Announcement

After a recent announcement from Microsoft committing to building rural networks using TV white spaces [NYT, Ars Technica stories], we asked Public Knowledge Senior Vice President and long-time TVWS enthusiast Harold Feld to explain the significance. 

We discuss what TVWS are and why this announcement is such a big deal given that we have previously covered multiple deployments of TVWS over the years. In short, Microsoft's commitment can drive TVWS from niche to mainstream. 

We also discuss why some TV Broadcasters are very opposed to this development and are trying to smear Microsoft. And finally, we explore what kind of bandwidth TVWS may be delivering soon and how the technology could mature. 

Don't miss Harold's wonderfully sci-fi-reference-packed blog posts at Tales From the Sausage Factory

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 18 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: Wirelesswhite spacesbroadcastWi-Fiharold feldruralpoint to pointtelevisionfccpolicyregulationaudiobroadband bitspodcast

RS Fiber Upgrades: Gigabit Speeds With No Price Increase

July 18, 2017

As if bringing high-quality connectivity to rural central Minnesota wasn’t enough, RS Fiber Cooperative has recently established the “Cornerstone Member” program. Now that gigabit connectivity is available, existing residential customers can upgrade from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) with no price increase. As long as they continue service uninterrupted through 2017, they offer stands.

General Manager Toby Brummer:

“We wanted to do something for those customers who made that early commitment to RS Fiber. We thought they should be recognized in some special way for their loyalty and support of the cooperative. Future Internet applications will likely require higher speeds and this will set our customers up for broadband success for the foreseeable future.”

It's What They Do

The upgrade to gigabit connectivity for existing subscribers with no increase in price follows the same pattern we’ve seen from other publicly owned networks. Recently, we presented detailed data from municipal networks in Tennessee that showed how rates have changed very little over decades, even though speeds have consistently increased.

Vermont’s ECFiber also recently announced a speed increase at no extra charged for subscribers. They also plan another increase in 2018.

RS Fiber Cooperative has been connecting towns and rural areas in Sibley and Renville County. For more about the cooperative, check out our 2016 case study, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative. The last four communities to receive services will be connected later in 2017.

Tags: rs fiber coopminnesotacooperativegigabitFTTHrates

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 17

July 17, 2017

Alabama

Why did Alabama stop pursuing rural Internet access? by Christopher Harress, AL.com

 

California

Telecom bill would hurt California's poorer, inland cities: Guest commentary by Sandra Armenta, San Bernardino County Sun

Senate Bill 649, by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista, is a give-away to the world’s largest telecom companies at the expense of local control, local public services and citizen voice in the future of our neighborhoods. The bill is crafted to pit California communities against each other and benefit those who are already at the top.

San Leandro, Calif., Chief Innovation Officer Deborah Acosta on creating a 'tech and innovation ecosystem' by Noelle Knell, Government Technology

 

Colorado

Superior urges slow approach to pursuit of faster, cheaper broadband by Anthony Hahn, Boulder Daily Camera

A future Superior, one connected by a plexus of sophisticated, townwide fiber that provides a growing number of homes and businesses faster internet at prices competing with the likes of Comcast, could be realized sooner than expected.

 

Connecticut

Internet gap puts Hartford's North End students behind by Elin Swanson Katz, Hartford Courant

 

Tennessee

Editorial: Buildling broadband access tough, necessary by Memphis News Staff, Memphis Daily News

 

Virginia

Virginia first to join public safety broadband network by Associated Press, idaho Statesman

Broadband project aims to connect Buchanan County residents to high-speed Internet service by Charles Boothe, Bluefield Daily Telegraph

Residents forming Internet cooperative by Laura McFarland, Richmond Times-Dispatch

 

Wisconsin

The digital divide between urban and rural areas remains, and some question government grants aimed at addressing it by Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

When the service providers focus on short-term profit, rather than building the best possible network, it’s not good for rural America, said Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a Minneapolis nonprofit that helps communities with internet access issues.

 

General

Why the Internet fast lane has bypassed rural America by 1A, WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Analysis: How will Microsoft's investment affect rural communities? by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

What’s really at issue here is that if communities are not holding the driving wheel on broadband projects and they don’t own or at least rent the vehicle, they are ultimately a passenger in someone else’s ride. At some point, the needs of the network owner could trump the needs of the community.

50 million US homes can't get 25 Mbps from more than one ISP by Karl Bode, TechDirt

 

Image of the cow in the pasture courtesy of DominikSchraudolf via pixaby.

Tags: media roundup

Resource Page on Cooperatives and Building Community Networks

July 17, 2017

Throughout the country, telephone and electric cooperatives have found ways to bring affordable, high-speed Internet service to rural residents. This resource page is a one-stop shop for facts and figures on cooperatives and thier role in offering high-speed Internet service. 

From Alabama to Oregon, cooperatives have taken on the challenge of bringing fast, affordable, reliable, connectivity to rural America. This page highlights model projects and discusses what state governments can do to support cooperatives' efforts to connect rural America.

We feature electric cooperative fiber optic projects, cooperatives offering gigabit (1,000 Mbps) service, and the first Internet cooperative - RS Fiber in Minnesota. As of July 2017, almost 90 cooperatives offer gigabit service to their members, and more than 50 electric cooperatives have programs or projects to improve connectivity.

Check out all the information, including several of our podcasts and videos, on our cooperatives resource page.

Suggestions, comments, or questions? Drop H. Trostle an email at htrostle@ilsr.org.

 

Image of the barn courtesy of backituptech on pixaby.

Tags: cooperativeresourcerural electric coopruralgigabit

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 261

July 14, 2017

This is the transcript for episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Dane Jasper of Sonic joins the show to discuss how the company, publicly-owned infrastructure, and public-private partnerships. Listen to this episode here.

Dane Jasper: I think a city that adopts an open access, dark fiber model creates the greatest opportunity for a diversity in choices for the consumer and a diversity in the performance and price of services. That's the model that I think would be the most interesting.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is Episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Dane Jasper from the internet service provider Sonic visits with Christopher this week. We've written about Sonic on MuniNetworks.org and how the company has used publicly-owned infrastructure to bring better connectivity to Brentwood in California. In this interview, Dane offers his perspective on different types of publicly-owned community networks, and how those networks affect a potential partnership with a company like Sonic. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this is a commercial-free podcast, but it isn't free to produce. Take a minute to contribute to ilsr.org. If you're already a contributor, thanks. Now here's Christopher with Dane Japer from Sonic.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with Dane Jasper, the CEO and Co-founder at Sonic. Welcome to the show.

Dane Jasper: Thanks, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Dane, I suspect most of our listeners are familiar with Sonic. Although you serve three cities in California, your reputation is much wider and deeper than that. Maybe you can just enlighten those who haven't heard of Sonic. What is Sonic?

Dane Jasper: Sonic is an alternative access provider, so we're a regional, competitive, local exchange carrier and internet provider. Today, we offer broadband services in 125 California cities using copper technologies, VDSL, pair bonding, ADSL2+, and three cities, as you noted, with gigabit fiber to the home. We have a little over 400 employees and about 100,000 customers.

Christopher Mitchell: Dane, one of the things I'm always curious about for a company like you is that there was, what, 8,500 ISP CLECs at one point. You're one of the ones that has flourished. Many of the people that you grew up with, I think, have gone on to close their businesses down and search out other avenues for entrepreneurialism. What did you right I guess is the question?

Dane Jasper: I'm not sure I know the answer to that. It's hard to self-diagnose when you're in it, but as you note, we founded the company in 1994. We were a dial-up ISP, an early user of Linux, and deploying modems, and terminal service to provide dial-up access. We were successful at that. As you noted, that was a time when there was thousands of dial-up providers. We moved on to DSL and we provided DSL both to our own retail customers and also to smaller, regional ISPs around the state of California. We became a competitive local exchange carrier in 2006, which is sort of late as a CLEC. A lot of CLECs, they all were founded in the late '90's. The 1996 Telecommunications Act created the opportunity for a competitive, last-mile access. Most of those competitive carriers went out of business in the early 2000s. We did not become a CLEC until 2006. Again, we deployed competitive services in 200 local serving offices around California. It's a large footprint. We provide wholesale access to a lot of other smaller service providers that are regional. We provide backhaul and middle-mile service to rural, wireless ISPs, and alternative access providers, and small cable companies. Then the latest, and really it's the fourth big thing, from dial-up, to DSL, to CLEC, and now fiber, and that's where our focus is today.

Christopher Mitchell: How much do you charge for you gigabit fiber access?

Dane Jasper: Our gigabit fiber to the home service is $40 monthly. That is an introductory price for the first 12 months. After that, it goes up to $50 per month.

Christopher Mitchell: $50. Sorry.

Dane Jasper: It's a great product. I should also mention that also includes a home phone line with not only all the voice features like caller ID and voicemail, but unlimited calling nationwide, and unlimited calls to fixed lines in over 60 countries around the world. It's a global calling for free, unlimited use phone line, plus gigabit, symmetric fiber internet for $40 a month for the first year, and then $50.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I want to just mention before we get on to the main topic, which is really how you would like to see cities doing dark fiber to encourage businesses like yours to flourish. One of the things that I find interesting is that you are a strong advocate for network neutrality, which seems to fly in the face of the common theory within the D.C. Beltway, which is that you need to be able to charge higher prices, and have fewer consumer protections in order to be able to invest in high-quality networks. I'm just curious how you respond to that.

Dane Jasper: You're right in noting that the majority of cable companies, telecommunications carriers, providers of internet access, even wireless ISPs, have by and large aligned themselves against network neutrality protections, and even privacy protections. Sonic is amongst a smaller group of, I would say, strongly-principled internet access providers who think that regulating privacy and neutrality is important. I think the reasons to regulate privacy are obvious, but network neutrality bears some discussion. There's two sides to this. One is I feel like we're in a really privileged position to be able to sell people a subscription where they pay us every month to gain access to the internet. We don't own the internet. We didn't make it. We didn't create all the amazing applications, and services, and websites that exist there. There is a risk to that innovation ecosystem. If large monopoly/duopoly internet access providers across the country have the ability to pick and choose winners and losers, particularly amongst the emerging sector of services that require low latency, things like gaming, and augmented reality, and virtual reality, or which use a lot of bandwidth, replacing pay TV basically with streaming video services, network neutrality is critical to protect the internet in the future of innovation on the internet. The second reason that network neutrality is important for a competitive service provider is that whether it's a small municipality building a network, or a competitive alternative access provider like Sonic, both of those kinds of entities are too small to have the market power to extract rents out of the web services that might seek high bandwidth or low latency. In other words, if I dash off a note to Netflix and say, "Please send me a dime every month for every single one of my customers," I don't think that they'll respond to that. But when a large, nationwide cable carrier does the same, and in fact congests the interconnection in order to compel that payment, they successfully extract that. That creates an unlevel playing field where a large provider has the ability to create this other source of revenue.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about what we can do locally within communities. One of the things that I've come to believe is that we can't just wait around for 50 new Sonics. I wish that we could. I like to see that you're growing. I like to see that Ting is growing, many of these companies. My concern is they're not growing, or new firms are not being created, fast enough. As you know, I'm a strong proponent of municipal networks for a variety of reasons. Why don't you just tell me, first off, what you think about local governments involved in this before we talk about a prescriptive approach for how they might want to?

Dane Jasper: I think you're right in noting that there aren't enough Sonics, and Tings, and Google Fiber type entities. We have to recognize that a lot of the issues that we have in the U.S., whether it's issues around privacy, or neutrality, or customer service, or pricing, or speed, or other innovations, they're all symptoms of what is effectively a failed competitive market. The majority of American consumers, if they want a decent amount of bandwidth, have one choice. That is resulting in many, many of the issues that we see here. If there were literally hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of companies like ours building innovative new networks across the country, maybe a lot of these problems wouldn't exist. To the point of municipalities building networks, I think that there are a lot of opportunities for good there. I particularly rail against the idea of state laws, legislation, that would disempower communities from taking local control if they're being neglected by the service providers that own infrastructure. On the other side, we're uncomfortable, I think obviously, with the idea of competing with our own government. I think it is important to find a way to meet in the middle there, to engage in public/private partnerships, with neutral open networks that allow municipalities to take control and drive the infrastructure forward where necessary, but which don't completely eliminate the idea of commercial service providers serving those cities.

Christopher Mitchell: How do you feel about a Chattanooga, for instance, where one could still come in and build alternative infrastructure, but you would be competing against the city in that case?

Dane Jasper: Chattanooga is an interesting example. They've had a lot of success. They have successfully leveraged federal funding for, as I understand, the energy system modernization to create a fiber network that has benefited their community. The concern I have with a model like that is that they've created a vertically-integrated triple play service provider, plus the power system. What they've traded is a crummy duopoly for a new city monopoly. I think while that solves the near-term problem, I think it creates in the long-term real limits in what occur in innovation. It leaves consumers with they had two choices that were poor, now they have a third choice. There's no telling whether or not that choice will be any good in the future. An open infrastructure model allows for future-proofing, whether it's around customer service, or technology innovation. Obviously, as a company that seeks to provide customer service and reliable technology, we'd like to continue to serve consumers.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I'm not going to argue with you about it. I respect your viewpoint and I wanted to make sure people understood where you were coming from. I certainly think that Chattanooga is an outlier in that. I think if any municipal network is going to do well in the future, it will probably be Chattanooga, but I take your point about the concern about creating a vertically-integrated entity, particularly when we're talking about the internet, which has such potential for overlapping networks and all the benefits that come from that. I want to get a little technical. You're much more technical than I am, so I'll do my best to try and keep up and maybe ask clarifying questions. We don't have to use San Francisco as an example. It's worth noting that San Francisco is considering some kind of open network, but I'm curious, hypothetically, if you were advising a mayor on how to invest in infrastructure that would enable your business model, and that of your rivals even, to thrive and create this platform, what should they do?

Dane Jasper: There's a spectrum of deployment. At one end, a municipality can have a dig-once policy, allow carriers to join trenches. Moving a step further, a municipality can put in conduit, lots of conduit, and then let carriers put fiber in that conduit. Moving further, a municipality can build fiber to premises, but not light it, and leave that to carriers. Moving towards the vertical integration, while still remaining open, a municipality can light the fiber, but have it be an open network. The UTOPIA network in the cities in Utah is an example of an open network which is lit fiber. Then, finally, you have that vertically-integrated, the city is the retail service provider. The challenge is cities think that they need to go all the way to the far end of that spectrum and provide retail services, or there's a decision to do open access, but for the city to manage the network, to light it. I think that misses an opportunity because the management of conduit or fiber infrastructure is relatively easy once it's constructed, and a city that adopts an open, dark fiber infrastructure model can drive that network wherever they would like to see it delivered, can build the amount of capacity that they'd like to see. For example, a city might build two or three strands of fiber to every parcel, premise, or apartment. Then consumers could choose from one service provider for their television, if they wanted it, another for their internet. They might have a roommate who chooses a different provider for some reason. I think a city that chooses to invest in infrastructure, but that adopts an open access, dark fiber model, creates the greatest opportunity for a diversity in choices for the consumer, and a diversity in the performance and price of services. That's the model that I think would be the most interesting.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that there is a challenge with these models in terms of financing in that many people expect the network to pay for itself. I think that is what leads cities to go vertically integrated, whereas the open access may pay for a part of itself, but is unlikely to pay for its full costs. When you talk about building infrastructure, one of the things I would like to see is cities to recognize that we massively subsidize roads. I think that's been good for the economy overall. It has had negative consequences. I just got back from L.A., but nonetheless, the benefits of that have been tremendous because we didn't have user fees paying for everything. I'm just curious if you would agree with me on that, that this dark fiber model may be more difficult to pay for itself, and therefore requires some subsidization that we should not even shy away from, but embrace.

Dane Jasper: The interesting about it to me is you think about city utilities like water or if you have a municipal electric power. In that case, they have both an infrastructure component, the pipes or wires, and then a consumption component, the water or the power. Those consumables have substantial cost. This is an infrastructure component that the pipes are part of it, but the usage is extremely relevant to the long-term costs. Whereas, setting aside for a moment maintenance, which is applicable both to a fiber network or a system of roads, once you build a road, cars can drive down that road and the cars consume fuel, but the city doesn't have an ongoing cost to keep the road fueled up or something like that. It's a bad analogy, but the point is that a dark fiber network is just a conduit of glass from one point to another, a strand of fiber. It doesn't have an operational expense for a city until such time if somebody breaks it, someone puts a backhoe through it, or knocks down a utility pole. There's a repair issue. That needs to be dealt with when those incidents occur, but the infrastructure itself doesn't actually have an ongoing cost. To your point about investing, or subsidizing, the concept of home owners paying for the infrastructure over time, or the city paying for the infrastructure over time, is an interesting one. If you get rid of the idea of user fees, and you instead just say, "Every home is going to have a couple strands of fiber back to a central point," then offer that fiber to carriers or, rather, allow consumers who control and own the fiber to their home to decide what to plug it into, this is this "Homes With Tails" concept that Derek Slater and Tim Wu published around 2008. The idea is if a homeowner has this stub, this tail of fiber that might go miles away to the central point, and if they own that, maybe they've paid for that over 20 years as part of property tax, if that's a funding mechanism that voters want to opt into. The idea is that you've then got this infrastructure component that goes to the central point and service providers don't need to pay to use it because the homeowner has bought it. It goes to the central point. This is like a centralized data center, a carrier hotel, where there might be many service providers. The consumer simply says, "Plug me into Service Provider A, B, or C." The service provider doesn't have to pay for the infrastructure back to the home and can instead focus on the services, lighting that fiber, and delivering the lowest cost, fastest speed, customer service, et cetera. I think we haven't seen any municipalities take up a concept quite like this. Instead, there's always, "We're going to buy this network. How much of it is going to get used? Who are we going to rent it to? How are we going to pay for it?" There's a lot of question in that. If instead you simply say, "We're going to make an investment infrastructure, we're going to buy this network," whether that's paid for by the municipality or paid for by the homeowner, I think it's an interesting concept.

Christopher Mitchell: I agree. I think it's quite similar to what Ammon, Idaho, is doing, although in that case they are using software to find networking, and one fiber to each home, in order to slice it up among multiple service providers. I think that's the one that comes to the closest to what you're describing.

Dane Jasper: As soon as you light the fiber, you eliminate the potential for innovation by the service providers, and you add a lot of complexity to the operations of the network. If a municipality wants to build a dark fiber network that goes from every home back to a central point, that can be engineered and constructed, and then it just sits there. There's no operational cost. It doesn't use any power. It doesn't require any network engineers. It doesn't require an equipment refresh every five to seven years.

Christopher Mitchell: Although, there are decisions that have to be made. Now, I would guess that given your description of the kind of network you'd like to see, you would not consider the dark fiber approach of Huntsville, Alabama, using a passive optical network in working with Google among others to fit your criteria, I'm guessing.

Dane Jasper: No, that doesn't meet the criteria because it is a passive optical network, a PON, which is split and, therefore, shared. The idea there, as I understand, and the way they've configured that is that service providers would buy a feeder into a neighborhood, and then buy a splitter, which could then serve 32 homes, say, or 64 homes, and then construct a connection to the individual home, a drop to the home. That doesn't allow for consumers to simply make a plug-in decision. The consumer doesn't really own the fiber to their house. Google is going to pay something per splitter, per backbone segment, per drop, per month. The model that I'm suggesting is end-to-end dark fiber, one or more strands to every premise, which goes to a central point, which is owned and controlled by the homeowner. The homeowner can say, "Well, plug this into that." This allows for the simplest network management. In fact, if the consumer gets to direct what this is plugged into, there's really no need for any billing relationships between cities and carries, so there's no billing staff. There's no billing system. There's no bad debt. The consumer defines what gets plugged into which carrier. There's really no recordkeeping even. The network is completely flat and simple. As a municipality thinks about, "Well, how do we take this on," on the far end of the spectrum, a vertically-integrated, triple-play provider has to build an IPTD platform, a head-end, internet access, backhaul, the central optical line terminals, the consumer side equipment, Wi-Fi in the home, routers, Internet of Things, home security, this unlimited plethora of challenges and tasks that you can take on. That means a lot of staffing commitment for a municipality in the long-term. If a city instead builds two or three strands to every home, or even just one, they've built that physical infrastructure, and then it just sits there until it gets broken by a catastrophic event. You have to have a break/fix task, which is just like a water line breaks, somebody goes out with a backhoe, digs it up, and fixes it. The capability that a city needs to have either in-house or outsourced is repairing conduit and fiber. It's not running a network, let alone negotiating with content providers for, "How much does it cost to get MTV for the next three years?" The complexity of running a dark fiber network, I think, is clearly much, much lower, and it presents the opportunity for innovation. You mentioned Ammon, Idaho, and software-defined network, and light the network. Well, now you've got a full-time network engineer who's dealing with that and running that. Then what if that person's on vacation? How do you back him or her up? You've added all this complexity and then you have a service provider who says, "Well, I want to deliver television using RF over glass." Or you have a television provider who can't put the content over someone else's IP network for security and rights reasons. You have a service provider who wants to deploy very low-cost, one gigabit EPON, while another service provider wants to deploy 10 gigabit, NG-PON2, or a 10-gigabit active ethernet, or even a faster service. Once you light the network, you take on the management complexity, and you eliminate all the potential for differentiation and innovation in the network layer.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I've come to believe is that there's not necessarily one best model. It's more that cities need to find the model that works for them. I just wanted to note that one of the things that we've seen is that cities have moved progressively through your list of the different options cities have to take on more responsibility, in part because they were unable to identify ISPs that were willing to work with them. I think what you're describing would be attractive to a majority of cities that might consider building a municipal network, or this dark-fiber approach that would let them focus on the long-term investment.

Dane Jasper: Yeah, the challenge is is the city large enough to attract an ecosystem of service providers to use it? If the city is 300 households, if it's isolated, and if backhaul to the city from major population centers is expensive, it will be challenging to find a service provider who wants to have space in that carrier hotel and light that fiber. If the city has thousands or tens of thousands of households, I think it's much more viable to see an open dark infrastructure be competitively viable. I think the other side, and this is a temptation, I think that city leadership needs to resist the temptation to add complexity to the tasks that they're doing in choosing to build a network. If you're going to build a network and just have dark fiber available to an array of service providers, and that could be incumbent operators who say, "Well, gosh, this fiber is bought and paid for by the homeowner, so let's just use it and stop maintaining our old coax system, or our old twisted-pair system, or a new market entrant," but the temptation for a city, and you see this sort of nation-building thing occur in organizations, both commercial and municipal, is everybody wants more responsibility, and a bigger team, and more challenges, and more tasks. A city will say, "Let's build a fiber network. Okay, well, let's light the fiber network. Well, let's deliver services over the fiber network." Pretty soon you have a team of 12 people, the ongoing payroll of a city staff of a growing, growing team. I would certainly encourage leadership in communities to consider the idea instead of building a dark-fiber infrastructure, which requires no operations over the top of it, this concept of a "Home With a Tail," which is owned and directed by the consumer, creates no billing overheads, no carrier relationships on a per-circuit basis, and doesn't require a small team to manage. In fact, when the fiber is broken via some catastrophe, the way that that occurs is somebody drives their car into a pole and knocks it down, or they're digging and they dig up the fiber. You hire a third-party contractor to engage in an emergency response, come in and fix that, and then the person who hit the pole, or the excavator who dug it up, gets the bill for that. This can be a very simple, simplified approach. It can eliminate any, I think, long-term cost risks that exist for a city that spools up a bunch of staff to run a network.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't feel comfortable that I've never run into this empire-builder that you've run into, but in my experience, the cities that I've worked with have often been reluctantly thrust into taking on greater responsibilities. I just want to defend some of the cities that might be listening. But I think the final question I'd like to ask is to get a sense of you mentioned cities that have tens of thousands of households. Do you have a sense that a lot of those cities already have ISPs, or are you expecting that as this infrastructure becomes available, we'll see new companies learning from you and Ting in order to try and copy what you've done?

Dane Jasper: You know, I think that there are more internet access providers still in the market than folks are really aware of. Certainly, companies like Google Fiber, and Ting, and Sonic, people have taken notice, but there are smaller companies, and wireless, and ISPs, resellers, a variety of internet access providers scattered across the country. I think if there isn't one in that city, I think one will arise, or one will come there. The other possibility is that the incumbent cable and telephone companies stop choosing to maintain their own infrastructure and just use the city-owned, or homeowner-owned, infrastructure. Then as a result, deliver faster or more reliable service. I definitely take your point that it isn't necessarily nation-building that's under way. It's the perception of the necessity. I would agree that in a very small community, it may be challenging to find a service provider who will come there. I think key to that is that if the city's building a fiber network and then saying, "Please come in, service providers, and for $10 or $20 a month, we'll sell you fiber to a home," it's challenging to prove that there's a business model there. If instead communities, members of the public, voters, can make a leap of faith and say, "We want to build an infrastructure; We want to buy and pay for a piece of infrastructure that we're going to own," but then the homeowner has this connection to this carrier hotel, the idea there is that you're saying to service providers, "Come have some space in this data center, in this carrier hotel, pay for your power usage there, and gain access to fiber that goes to thousands of homes and homeowners may want to connect to you." I think that flips the script a bit and it creates, I think, an environment where you might see a lot more adoption and a lot more innovation.

Christopher Mitchell: I'd really like to see that somewhere. I think it would work well. I hope that perhaps next time we talk it will be about the lessons we're learning from it. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Dane.

Dane Jasper: Of course. Thanks for the time, Chris.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Dane Jasper from the internet service provider Sonic, talking with Christopher about different publicly-owned network models. Learn more about Sonic's network in Brentwood at muninetworks.org, and learn more about the company at sonic.com.

Christopher Mitchell: Hey, folks. This is Chris Mitchell, the host of Community Broadband Bits. I just wanted to ask you if you could do us a real big favor to help us spread this show around and that's to jump on iTunes, or Stitcher, wherever you found this show, and to give us a rating, give us a little review. Particularly if you like it, if you're enjoying the show, please give us a rating and help us to build the audience a bit. Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: We have transcripts for this and other Community Broadband Bits podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and all the other podcasts ILSR podcasts, including Building Local Power, and the Local Energy Rules podcasts. You can access them on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by subscribing to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle," licensed through Creative Commons. Thanks for listening to Episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Tags: transcriptsonicsan franciscodark fiberpublic v privateinfrastructure

"Can You Hear Me Now?" Free Webinar On Rural Connectivity, July 26th

July 14, 2017

Just like cities around the county, rural communities are all unique. Nevertheless, there are some common steps they can take to improve the likelihood of achieving better local connectivity. The Arizona Rural Development Council and the Local First Arizona Foundation are hosting a free webinar series and on July 26th, the topic will be “Can You Hear Me Now? Strategies for Rural Broadband Access.”

The webinar is scheduled for Wednesday, July 26th, at 10:00 AM Pacific.

The webinar description:

As we progress into a world driven by technology the need for broadband access is hardly an option, it is a necessity. During this month's webinar, we will hear from four highly experienced professionals advocating for broadband access in rural communities around the state and the nation. 

Attendees of this webinar will learn:

  • Steps communities can make to ensure they are fiber ready
  • Alternative solutions to broadband access
  • How to work regionally or within a county
  • How to leverage any and all existing resources
  • Unique factors of costs to broadband deployment on tribal lands

On July 26th, presenters will include:

Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities

Blake Mobley, Rio Blanco County, Colorado’s IT Director

Belinda Nelson, Gila River Telecommunications and member of the Gila River Pima tribe

Bruce Holdridge, Gila River Telecommunications

 

You can register for the free event online.

 

Tags: webinarruraldeb sociaarizonatribal landsregionalrio blanco countyevent

WAMU's 1A Show Covers Rural Connectivity With Christopher

July 13, 2017

For an in-depth discussion about connectivity in rural America, Public Rado WAMU called our own Christopher Mitchell who joined host Joshua Johnson on the 1A show. The conversation covered a variety of topics from technical points to policy. If you missed it, you can listen now and get caught up.

Other guests included journalist Jennifer Levits, who often reports on tech matters, and Matt Larsen who is the founder and CEO of a fixed wireless ISP, Vistabeam. His company serves subscribers in rural areas.

Examining Rural Connectivity

What is the best way to get high-quality connectivity to rural America? In addition to discussing the challenges of bringing Internet access to America’s less populated regions, the panel touched on a recent proposal by Microsoft to use TV white spaces to bring Internet access to rural areas. Libraries and schools have experimented with white space technology in recent years. The low-frequency spectrum used to be reserved for television prior to digitization; now that it’s not being used for TV, it’s been freed up. White space spectrum, or TVWS, is less likely to be interrupted by trees or walls then traditional fixed wireless signals.

Microsoft announced this spring that it would partner with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC), a Virginia broadband cooperative, on a pilot project using white spaces in Halifax and Charlotte Counties. The project will allow households with school kids to access their school's network from home by using TVWS.

During the interview, listeners emailed and tweeted questions to the show. In addition to the audio of the show, check out some of the comments at the 1A website. Worth the time!

Link: Why The Internet Fast Lane Has Bypassed Rural AmericaTags: christopher mitchellradiointerviewnational public broadbandruralfixed wirelesswhite spaces

"Muni Fiber Models" Fact Sheet

July 12, 2017

When local communities look for ways to improve connectivity, they may consider investing in a municipal fiber optic network. As they begin to review possible options, local officials, their staff, and community groups will realize that there are a number of potential models. We’ve put together the Muni Fiber Models fact sheet that takes a brief look at those models and provides some examples.

From “Retail” to “Tubes In The Ground”

Chattanooga is the most well known municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network and is offered by the community’s Electric Power Board (EPB). EPB’s service offers telephone, Internet access, and video service directly to subscribers. The fact sheet provides more examples of communities that have decided that full retail service is right for them. On the other end of the spectrum, places like Lincoln, Nebraska, provide only the infrastructure and lease it to private sector providers who then offer retail services to businesses and residents. The other approaches we find most commonly used include open accessI-Nets, and Partnerships between local government and the private sector.

We’ve included short explanations for each model and provide some examples for a starting point. We encourage you to share the fact sheet with others who are interested in learning about different paths to better connectivity through publicly owned networks.

Download the Muni Fiber Models fact sheet here.

Review our other fact sheets and check back periodically for new additions. Fact sheets are a great way to quickly and easily share information and cultivate interest in learning more.

 

Muni Fiber Models Fact SheetTags: fact sheetmuniretaildark fiberopen accessFTTHI-Netconduitpartnershiplincoln ne

Day Of Action To Save Network Neutrality: Submit Your Comments To FCC

July 12, 2017

During the Obama administration, the FCC under Chairman Tom Wheeler made bold steps to protect innovation and competition on the Internet by passing network neutrality rules. With new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, network neutrality is in danger. In order to prevent the backward slide - or worse - we all need to comment to the FCC and tell them to preserve network neutrality protections.

Stepping Back In Time

Under Chairman Wheeler, regulations were put into place that prevented ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from slowing down specific websites or charging extra fees to certain sites, who then must pass along those fees to customers. Rather then turning the Internet into just another version of Cable TV, the FCC has preserved its neutrality - now those actions are at risk.

Chairman Pai announced soon after he was appointed that he wants to roll back the rules implemented during the Obama administration, which includes eliminating “Title II” of the Communications Act protections for broadband. Title II provides the legal basis that prevents blocking and throttling.

Let's Act

On May 18th, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM); comments are due July 17th. What does the mean? It means it’s time for you to contact the FCC here (Proceeding 17-108) and let them know that you want in network neutrality and that you believe existing rules should stay in place.

If you’ve never commented on an FCC proceeding, here’s an article from Gigi Sohn, former Counselor to Tom Wheeler, who can offer some tips on an effective comment. You can also read some of the other comments submitted by others.

Tags: network neutralityfccpaid prioritizationajit paipublic commentgigi sohn

Sonic Suggests Dark Fiber for Munis - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 261

July 11, 2017
Community Broadband Bits Episode 261 - CEO and Co-Founder of Sonic, Dane Jasper

Sonic is one of the best ISPs in the nation - well beloved by its California subscribers and policy geeks like us in part because of its CEO and Co-Founder, Dane Jasper. Dane combines a tremendous amount of technical and business knowledge in a thoughtful and friendly personality. And while we don't always agree, we are always interested in what he is thinking about. 

Dane joins us for Community Broadband Bits episode 261, where we focus on how cities can invest in infrastructure that will both allow firms like Sonic to thrive and permanently break any concerns about a monopoly over Internet access. Dane encourages cities to focus on dark infrastructure -- conduits or dark fiber that allow ISPs more freedom to pick and perhaps change the technologies they want to deploy services.

We also talk about network neutrality and a very brief history of Sonic. 

Additionally worth noting, Sonic gets five stars from the "Who Has Your Back" evaluation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Read the transcript of the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Tags: soniccompetitionwispdark fibercaliforniaaudiopodcastbroadband bitsdane jasperopen accessopen trenchdig onceammontechnicalsoftware defined networksnetwork neutrality

Freedom FIBER, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative in Alabama

July 11, 2017

Huntsville, Alabama, already has high-speed Internet service through Google Fiber, but the surrounding rural areas must look to their local cooperative for better connectivity. Tombigbee Electric Cooperative has started an ambitious Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project to eventually cover its entire service area over four counties in northwestern Alabama.

In a press release, Tombigbee Electric announced that their Freedom FIBER network will start providing Internet service in the towns of Hamilton and Winfield in September 2017. It’ll take about a year to get the new network to everyone in the designated build out area.

Much Needed Connectivity

Hamilton is the seat of Marion county with about 7,000 residents; 20 miles to the south, Winfield has a population of 5,000. As of June 2016, about 75 percent of the population in Marion County does not currently have access to FCC-defined 25 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) download speeds.

With Freedom FIBER, residents will have a choice between two tiers of Internet service: 100 Mbps for $49.95 per month or 1 gigabit (1,000 Mbps) for $79.95 per month. The co-op will also offer phone service for an additional $29.95 each month. The fiber network will be much more reliable than CenturyLink’s DSL network, which is currently the only choice in the towns.

An Incremental Plan

Tombigbee Electric’s plan will eventually cover much of Marion, Fayette, Lamar, and Winston counties. That’s about 1,600 miles across northwest Alabama, and the co-op has set a goal of covering this area in only 5 years. The expected cost is $38 million in total. The project will also include a smart grid for better management of the electric system, saving time and money.

The electric co-op’s General Manager Steve Foshee is looking beyond the numbers. In another press release, Foshee explained how this project is about more than access to Netflix:  

“This is not just about Internet. This is going to transform education, our medical community, the lives of our young people, and so much more.”

Cooperatives Provide Rural Connectivity

This project is part of a growing movement of electric and telephone cooperatives building next-generation networks for Internet service. Large corporations, such as CenturyLink and AT&T, have focused on building networks in urban areas, leaving the rural communities behind.

About 50 electric cooperatives have fiber projects to improve connectivity in their communities. Even more telephone cooperatives have built FTTH networks, and many offer gigabit service. Several communities in Minnesota even created the first Internet cooperative, RS Fiber. For many rural communities, cooperatives are the way to a more connected future.

Tags: rural electric coopalabamaruralgigabitFTTHincrementaldslcenturylinksmart-grid

Community Broadband Media Roundup - July 10

July 10, 2017

 California

Addressing the digital divide in California by Jake Abbott, Government Technology

San Franciscos's Hunters Point gets free gigabit Internet, more to follow by Seung Lee, Silicon Beat

 

Colorado

Longmont is Colorado's first gig city by Longmont Observer Staff

 

Massachusetts

Ashfield moves ahead on broadband by The Greenfield Recorder Staff

 

Ohio

Public Knowledge joins Center for Rural Strategies in Appalachian Connectivity Summit by Shiva Stella, Public Knowledge

Speakers include Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner; Kate Forscey, Government Affairs Associate Counsel at Public Knowledge; Christopher Mitchell, international community broadband expert; and Marty Newell, Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Center for Rural Strategies.

 

Virginia

Rappahannock broadband still buffering by Hannah Galeone, Rappahannock News

In a rural area such as Rappahannock, residents experience difficulty receiving improved services from large corporations such as Comcast or Verizon. The cost of installing broadband equipment in an area like ours is just not worth it to them. Digging trenches for underground wiring is taxing on time, money, and energy — resources that corporate service providers simply are not willing to part with.

 

General

AT&T: Forced arbitration isn't "forced" because no one has to buy service by Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica

Imagining more from broadband: High-speed access delivers impact, not just data by Craig Settles, The Daily Yonder

Combine broadband with a 3-D printer, and you transform data into objects that can fix a tractor or help a child thrive. Rural communities are showing that high-speed access isn’t just a theoretical benefit – it has measurable results in the physical world.

New NRRI Report probes state broadband initiatives in California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, and New York by Drew Clark, Broadband Breakfast

Tags: media roundup

"Speed Networking" At Gigabit Summit In August

July 10, 2017

Are you planning to attend the Gigabit City Summit August 1st - 3rd? If you’ll be at the event in Kansas City, you might want to check out the new City-Vendor Connect event on Thursday, August 3rd. The daylong opportunity gives cities and vendors a chance to touch base and make connections.

Next Century Cities in partnership with the Summit will host the event. Next Century Cities describes the event as:

City-Vendor Connect will primarily function as a series of “speed networking” sessions to provide cities and vendors the opportunity to speak one-on-one to build relationships, discuss assets and needs, and create potential partnerships. The networking event will also feature discussions from local leaders and vendors who have developed successful broadband partnerships to offer models and lessons learned to attendees.

The event runs from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM Central on Thursday, August 3rd in the Westport Commons. You can register online and get more details by checking out the Next Century Cities website announcement about the event

Tags: eventconferencenext century citieskansas citypartnership

Frontier Is A No-Show: Rural Wisconsinites Looking For Promised Connectivity

July 10, 2017

It’s been about two years since the people of Lincoln County, Wisconsin, learned that Frontier Communications received federal funding to expand Internet access in their region. Now, they’re wondering why Frontier has still not started construction of promised infrastructure.

A Long Road To Nowhere

The community has been seeking ways to improve local connectivity for years. Back in 2013, they held a series of local listening sessions and workshops with officials from the University of Wisconsin-Extension Center for Community Technology Solutions. The goals of the workshops were to educate community members about the importance of connectivity and to learn more about the availability of Internet access at the local level. The meetings addressed both residential and business needs

In the summer of 2015, county officials announced that they had been working on an initiative to find a way to improve connectivity throughout Lincoln County. By engaging members of the public in town hall forums they had learned that the general consensus was:

“For the most part, people are disappointed with their current service.”

“Generally speaking, their current Internet service is not fast enough and there just isn’t enough capacity to do what they want to do.”

Community leaders were also learning that a fair number of home-based businesses were popping up in the county.

As part of their initiative, the board had worked with the UW Extension Office, County Economic Development Corporation and County Information Technology Department. They also passed a resolution stating that they would do everything they could to expand broadband to every resident in the county. County officials began having meetings to develop a plan to meet their goal. Shortly after, they learned that Frontier had accepted Connect America Funding Phase II (CAF II), federal funding designed specifically to expand connectivity in rural areas considered unserved and underserved.

Frontier would use part of the CAF II to expand its services in Lincoln County. Frontier assured the county that the build-out would likely begin in the spring of 2016 and be completed by late 2020. Did this mean they would finally get high-quality connectivity?

But Is It An Improvement?

At the time, many in the community were excited. A majority of the county is rural and considered underserved or unserved; a survey developed by the UW Extension Office and one of the Lincoln County towns that was conducted at the time suggested almost half of respondents didn’t have any Internet access. More than 80 percent of those responding who lived in towns said they were unhappy with the service they received.

The results weren’t unusual for rural areas or for towns in rural regions. Unfortunately, Frontier and other telephone companies that receive CAF II funding are not using the federal subsidies to invest in fiber optic networks - they're using it to expand DSL. In other words, when Frontier finally builds out in Lincoln County, it will be to provide more Internet access akin to that which leaves 80 percent of survey respondents unhappy with the service they now receive.

The FCC defines “broadband” as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload but DSL service usually tops out at around 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. For businesses in Lincoln County and elsewhere, 10/1 isn’t useful; proprietors need to be able to send information as well as receive it and upload speeds are just as important as download speeds. The same applies for students who need to submit homework online or patients who attempt to Skype with their healthcare practitioners. DSL doesn’t offer the capacity to meet today’s demands.

In rural communities connecting online makes sense for a variety of reasons. It's more efficient than traveling long distances to accomplish the same tasks that people in urban areas can finish with less travel. Fast, affordable, reliable connectivity - not DSL - is just as or even more critical in rural America.

Check out our short video on the realities of CAF and CAF II funding, what it pays for in rural communities, and how local folks are choosing other solutions.

Local Officials Also Waiting...And Waiting...And Waiting

How has Frontier’s CAF II funded expansion progressed? It hasn’t. The MerrillFotoNews reports that Lincoln County officials are wondering where are the “plows in the ground” that they expected to see in 2016?

According to Lincoln County Administrative Coordinator Randy Scholz, the county is seeking answers. Why has Frontier been a no-show?

“It appears as if Frontier went back on what they told the county board. For whatever reason they never showed up and made no effort to communicate with us regarding the project,” he explained. “We are in the same boat as our residents who want answers, we want answers too. We expected them to keep their promise of having service for our rural residents by this summer or at least getting started this past spring, but we really have no idea now.”

Local Government Investing in Fiber

While residents in Lincoln County continue to wait for DSL from the incumbent, local leaders are seeking fiber for municipal and local government connectivity. They’ve issued an RFP for fiber optic construction to connect City Hall, the County Service Center, the County Safety Building, and three other public locations. Proposals are due July 14th.

The Lincoln County community has proven that high-quality Internet access is a priority in order to bring residents online and to spur economic development. Another 2015 survey that focused on local economic development revealed that many vacationers with second homes in the local five county area would remain an average of 37 more days per year if they had better connectivity. Those extended visits would generate an estimated $41 million.

Lincoln County's population has started to decline in recent years and now stands at approximately 28,000 people. At 907 square miles, that leaves the population density at around 34 people per square mile. Merrill's population is around 9,700; the other town considered sizeable is Tomahawk, where about 3,400 live. Both towns are close to the main highway that runs north and south through the middle of the county.

There’s no indication Lincoln County plans to use its fiber infrastructure for future expansion, but many communities that start with I-Nets later find themselves dedicating excess capacity to needs of local businesses. Sometimes those resources establish a foundation for an even wider network.

What Fate Awaits?

Whether or not Frontier will keep their promise to deliver DSL connectivity remains to be seen. The company and county representatives are set to meet some time in July to discuss the matter. 

Image of the Center Avenue Historic District in Merrill, Wisconsin by Royalbroil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Lincoln County RFP for Fiber InfrastructureTags: wisconsinconnect america fundruralfederal fundingfrontierdslincumbenteconomic development

Two Maine Communities Joining Forces For Dark Fiber

July 8, 2017

The communities of Calais and Baileyville in Maine are joining forces and investing in fiber optic infrastructure. Recently, the city councils in both communities along with the local economic development corporation decided to construct a publicly owned dark fiber network. They’ve also chosen a local firm to construct it.

Dark Fiber

The idea for the project started in 2015 when the Downeast Economic Development Corporation (DEDC) contacted local Pioneer Broadband to discuss ways to improve connectivity. DEDC is a non-profit entity engaged in improving economic development in the region. Calais’s choices for Internet access were limited and some areas out of the city had no Internet access at all. DECD hired Pioneer to develop a feasibility study which would provide suggestions to improve access for both businesses and residents, with symmetrical connectivity a priority.

Pioneer’s study suggested a dark fiber municipal network with connectivity to all premises in Calais and adjoining Baileyville. ISPs will they have the opportunity to offer services to the community via the publicly owned infrastructure. Julie Jordan, director of Downeast Economic Development Corporation said: 

“I’m pleased to say that the Baileyville Town Council, Calais City Council and Downeast Economic Development board of directors have all endorsed this exciting project. We look forward to working with Pioneer and developing results that can dramatically improve service in our towns. With the construction of the fiber optic infrastructure, Calais and Baileyville businesses and residents will have access to state of the art, high speed, reliable internet and these communities will be poised for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Telecommuting options, telemedicine, online education, and media streaming will all be greatly enhanced.”

Along The Border

Calais has three ports of entry into Canada and is located on its southeastern border in Washington County. There are approximately 3,100 people in Calais and another 1,500 in Baileyville, which is just north. Retail, construction, and service industries lead the economy in the area.

Tags: mainedark fiberfeasibilityeconomic developmentcalais mebaileyville mepartnershipregionalmuni

Saving Public Safety Dollars With Public Utility In Greeneville

July 7, 2017

When Greeneville Light & Power System (GLPS) started bringing better connectivity to the local school system, it improved educational opportunities for kids in the Tennessee community. Now, the municipal utility plans to use the same approach to save lives by connecting emergency responders across the county.

Sparsely Populated

Rural Greene County, Tennessee, can’t attract national providers to invest in high-quality connectivity because it doesn’t have the population density ISPs look for to justify investment. According to GLPS General Manager Bill Carroll, the utility serves an average of 17 or 18 customers per mile. Greene County is approximately 650 square miles. Without a reason to bring better infrastructure to serve residential customers, national ISPs aren’t there to provide services to the police or sheriff facilities either.

GLPS will bring connectivity to Greene County 911, the Greenville Police Department, and the Greene County Sheriff’s Department. Each entity will pay for the construction of the fiber network to their facilities and pay a monthly fee to GLPS. The rate for their connectivity is based on a “per-mile” calculation, which allows GLPS to cover their costs; GLPS charges the school system the same way. Greeneville City Schools are saving approximately $50,000 per year, a significant savings in a town of 15,000 people.

GLPS will not act as an Internet Service Provider, but will allow public safety departments to cut down on expenses by eliminating leased lines. More importantly, the new network will be creating reliable connections. Greenville Police Department Captain Mike Crum said, “This partnership will truly save lives. That is a very difficult aspect to quantify when conducting a cost analysis.”

What The Future Holds

GLPS has no plans to expand their approach to serve residents and businesses throughout the county, but they haven’t ruled it out:

Carroll and his staff are assessing to determine if a project of that magnitude could be feasible and said they will bring that information to the Power Board as it becomes available.

“Will we ever?” he asked. “We probably will at some point do something with data for the community. We are learning how to do that with the schools. We are learning how to do that with the 911, the police department. We’re going very slowly, very deliberately.”

He stressed that what “something” will look like remains to be determined.

Tags: greeneville tntennesseeutilityruralelectricpublic safetylease

Video To Share: Rural America, Broadband Help is Not on the Way

July 6, 2017

If you live in rural America, chances are you know what it’s like to have inadequate Internet access. If you've heard about the Connect America Fund, however, you probably think help is on the way and your problems will soon be over; you'll get the kind of speeds available in large cities, right? Wrong.

Our short video on rural connectivity and CAF explains how big companies are taking federal subsidies to build networks that provide the same old slow DSL service to rural areas. So, what can people in rural communities do? The video describes how local communities are becoming more self-reliant through publicly owned infrastructure and offers some starting points if you're interested in learning more.

More Of The Same? No Way!

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is offering billions of dollars to build out networks in rural areas, but the companies receiving the subsidies are the same ones that already offer terrible connectivity in most rural communities. Are they using those subsidies to invest in high-speed connectivity for rural areas? No. The DSL connections that those companies are deploying for your home or business with CAF funding is already considered obsolete.

Rather than accepting these substandard solutions, an increasing number of communities have decided to act so they can have the same or better quality of connectivity as urban areas. Rural cooperatives and municipal networks are taking charge of their own telecommunications infrastructure needs. Unless you live in one of these communities, you may have never heard about the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity available from a community network or a cooperative. They’re just doing it and not bragging about it.

YOU Make It Happen

How does a community or a cooperative start offering better connectivity? We’ve created this short video that explains the basics and we invite you to share it with others. It all starts with YOU.

Be sure to check out our other videos, too!

Tags: videoruraldslconnect america fundmonopolysubsidiesfederal fundingfederal grantincumbentgrassroots