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Colorado and Texas Municipal Broadband Networks Nab National Awards

From Colorado to Texas, municipal broadband providers continue to rack up industry accolades, not just for delivering fiber service–the gold standard of Internet connectivity–but for these networks’ ability to provide ubiquitous access across an entire community at affordable rates.

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) recently announced that its Community Broadband Projects of the Year Awards for 2023 will go to the Connexion network in Fort Collins, Colorado and TeamPharr.net in Pharr, Texas.

Awarding Community-Wide Access and Affordability

The Fort Collins award is in recognition for the city having established “a municipal broadband utility created by and for the community to improve the life of all 80,000 residential and commercial properties of Fort Collins through better, more affordable Internet,” NATOA said in announcing the award.

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Ft Collins NOC

But it wasn’t just because Fort Collins’ network provides city-wide access to fiber. The award also recognizes that “Connexion offers the fastest Internet speeds available at affordable prices (emphasis added) as well as competitive phone and TV services.”

Berthoud, Colorado Eyes Community Broadband Options

Berthoud, Colorado, population 11,717, is the latest Colorado community to explore community broadband alternatives to expand public access to affordable fiber. Currently in the process of crafting a request for quote (RFQ), the city tells ILSR it hopes to make its final determination by November and have a preliminary plan in place by the end of the year.

Originally, Berthoud had planned on forming a coalition with three neighboring Colorado towns (Johnstown, Mead and Milliken) in a bid to expand access. That plan involved striking a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Lincoln, Nebraska based Allo Communications, to deliver fiber to every address within three years.

But city leaders say the original plan wasn’t meant to be.

“The four communities did not strike a deal with Allo,” Berthoud Business Development Manager Walt Elish told ILSR. “We could not come to terms. Since then, we have looked at other options, including a town-owned network.”

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Berthoud Welcome Sign

As with many towns and counties, the high cost of a municipally owned broadband network has the city examining different options, including a potential public private partnership (PPP) with existing providers. PPPs are increasingly common but can have their downsides, including less municipal control over pricing or the potential trajectory of the finished network.

After Decades Of Talk, Palo Alto Drives Forward On Municipal Fiber Build

For over 20 years, the city of Palo Alto, the "Birthplace of Silicon Valley,” has flirted with the idea of building a city-owned municipal fiber network. Now after years of debate, numerous studies, several false starts, and many unfulfilled RFPs, city officials say they’re finally moving forward with a city-owned fiber network they hope will transform affordable broadband connectivity citywide.

Palo Alto officials tell ILSR that the project will be spearheaded by the city-utility, and deployed in coordination with a major upgrade of the city’s electrical systems. Phase One of the city’s planned fiber deployment should begin later this year, delivering fiber access to around 20 percent of the city–or 6,500 homes and businesses.

Phase One will be funded entirely from the utility’s existing cash reserves. Profits from that deployment will then be used to expand affordable, multi-gigabit fiber access to all of the city’s 63,210 residents. Though no shortage of challenges remain.

A Long Time Coming

That Palo Alto residents have been clamoring for better, more affordable alternatives to regional telecom monopolies for 25 straight years speaks for itself. The high costs, slow speeds, and abysmal customer service of regional telecom giants AT&T and Comcast have long driven the public’s unflagging interest in better, cheaper connectivity options.

Digital Equity Starts in Our Cities and Towns - Episode 565 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the show we're featuring an episode of our new Building for Digital Equity podcast, which looks at how organizations and individuals around the country do work at the intersections of broadband infrastructure, affordability, access, and skills. From frontline specialists helping households sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program to building small, digital equity-minded ISPs in Arizona, this series showcases the work and lessons from those helping folks get and stay connected in our communities and towns.

On this episode of the podcast, we talk with Brandon Forester - the National Organizer for Internet Rights at Media Justice. Christopher and Brandon talk about helping communities build more agency over how technology shows up in their neighborhoods and among the digital communities they create for themselves. He shares how Media Justice came to prioritize prison phone justice as one of its first issues, what organizing is and how local solutions may differ across communities, and the need to avoid purity politics in doing digital equity work.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.

Transcript below. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Joseph McDade for the music. The song is On the Verge and is used per his Free-Use terms.

Edison, New Jersey Nabs $2 Million For City-Owned Fiber Network

Edison, New Jersey is proceeding with the construction of an affordable, gigabit-capable fiber network after receiving $2 million cash infusion from state leaders. The resulting network will be built on the back of decades’ worth of local frustration with the high prices, spotty availability, and slow broadband speeds provided by regional monopolies. 

The city spent $36,750 on a feasibility study in 2022 to determine the plausibility of building a citywide fiber network. The resulting study by Matrix Design Group found that 87 percent of Edison locals would likely switch to a city-owned and operated fiber network if the option existed.

Edison’s network is in the early stages of planning, and city leaders are only just starting to field competing bids from consulting vendors who’ll then draft a more comprehensive business plan.

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Edison Survey Results

In the interim, the city has received $2 million as part of the New Jersey fiscal year 2024 budget to help get the proposal off the ground.

"Access to the Internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” State Senator Patrick Diegnan, Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak and Assemblyman Sterley Stanley said of the funding. “We commend Mayor Sam Joshi for making high-speed municipal broadband a priority for Edison."

In a post last year made to social media, Joshi detailed the city’s longstanding frustration with regional telecom monopoly Optimum, owned by French telecom giant Altice.  

Activists Say Time Is Right To Renew Fight For Community Broadband In Portland

Portland activists are renewing their calls to prioritize the construction of a municipally owned broadband network in the Oregon city of 635,000. With an historic infusion of federal subsidies and a looming shakeup of city politics, advocates for community-owned broadband say the time is right to finally revolutionize city telecom infrastructure with an eye on affordability.

“Ten years ago was a perfect time to embrace community broadband and nothing has changed,” Russell Senior, President of Personal Telco, a nonprofit wireless network, and Municipal Broadband PDX, a nonprofit advocating for publicly-owned fiber networks in Multnomah County, Oregon told ILSR.

“ISPs continue to exercise monopoly power and have their boot on the neck of subscribers,” he said. “The most practical and effective way to get out from under that boot, in light of persistent federal complicity, is local public ownership of the infrastructure that gives them that power.”

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Municipal Broadband PDX logo

Portland has historically been at the very center of the debate over monopoly power and competitive broadband access, and city officials have been contemplating a publicly-owned broadband network for more than 20 years. It’s a concept other Oregon cities, like nearby Hillsboro, adopted years earlier.  

Fort Pierce, Florida Making Progress On Utility-Backed Fiber Build

Fort Piece, Florida officials say the city continues to make steady progress with its plan to expand access to affordable fiber to all 45,000 Fort Pierce residents with the help of the city-owned utility. The network, inspired by similar utility-backed efforts in cities like Chattanooga, promises to deliver multi-gigabit speeds at prices notably lower than regional monopolies.

Since 1972, the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority (FPUA) has provided gas, electric, water, and natural gas services to city residents. Since the early 2000s, FPUA has deployed 110 miles of optical fiber via its FPUAnet Communications division. In 2018, the city, frustrated by limited broadband competition, decided to expand network access to the public.

“Our network is moving along well,” Jason Mittler, FPUAnet manager told ILSR. “We have passed about 1000 parcels and will pass another 1000 next year.”

The full deployment is expected to take somewhere between five to ten years to finish, and is funded by bonds held by FPUAnet. The network is utilizing GPON fiber technology capable of 2.5 Gigabits per second (Gbps) downstream and 1.25 Gbps upstream in some areas, and XGS-PON-based fiber capable of symmetrical 10 Gbps speeds in others.

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Fort Pierce FPUAnet logo

Mittler notes that the finished product should result in both last-mile speeds and pricing that regional telecom monopolies, predominantly AT&T and Comcast, are both unable and unwilling to offer. Especially on the upstream side of the equation.

Mittler says the plan remains to provide all locals with access to symmetrical 100 Mbps for $49 a month; symmetrical 200 Mbps for $69 a month; symmetrical 200 Mbps service for $69 a month, symmetrical 500 Mbps for $79 per month; and symmetrical gigabit for $99 a month.

Garden Spot of Utah Moves to Build Bountiful Fiber Network in Face of Dark Money Campaign

In the Salt Lake City suburb some call “the garden spot of Utah,” Bountiful, Utah officials have settled on a plan to bring Bountiful Fiber and affordable connectivity to its residents and businesses.

By unanimous vote of the city council, the issuance of $48 million in bonds was authorized on May 26 to fund construction of what will be a city-owned open access fiber network.

The city will own the network and lease it out to multiple private Internet service providers (ISPs) – a model that city manager Gary Hill described as a way to create “a competitive marketplace for Internet service providers."

In a letter to city councilors before the bond issuance was authorized, Hill wrote: "Resident requests and sentiment ... demonstrate a need for city involvement to provide adequate, competitive, reliable broadband services.”

After issuing an RFP in November of last year, the city contracted with the nation’s largest open access network – UTOPIA Fiber – to build, operate, and maintain the network. It is expected that construction will take about 2 to 3 years to complete, though some subscribers will likely be lit up for service within 18 months of the start of construction, scheduled to begin this month.

Dark Money Looks to Torpedo Project

A dark money campaign spearheaded by the Utah Taxpayers Association (UTA), however, is threatening to derail the project. The group, whose annual conference is sponsored by Comcast and CenturyLink/Lumen, is backing a “Gather Utah” initiative to obtain signatures for a petition that would stop the city from building the network.

Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative Should Light Up First Fiber Users By August

Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) has begun construction on an ambitious new fiber deployment that will soon bring affordable, multi-gigabit fiber access to all of the cooperative’s existing electrical customers in rural Northern Florida.

Cooperative officials tell ILSR its three-phase build out is well underway, with a beta anticipated this summer and the first commercial customers connected by August. SVEC Communications Director Jon Little says the cooperative’s goal remains to deliver affordable fiber to all 20,000 of the cooperative's current electric customers by the end of 2026.

“We’ve broken our territory into three phases based partly on population or possible customers,” Little said.

The cooperative’s recently created subsidiary, Rapid Fiber Internet, will interface directly with subscribers, while Conexon manages deployment of more than 4,100 miles of fiber. Electrical users won’t see price hikes; the projected $93 million deployment cost will be funded by a combination of grants and loans paid back exclusively through user subscriptions.

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Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative Rapid Fire Internet logo

Little told ISLR that make ready (preparing utility poles for fiber attachments) prep and engineering for phase one are complete, and make ready construction for phase one is roughly 40 percent complete. He added that primary fiber construction for phase one is roughly twenty percent complete.

“We’re hoping that we will have a group of beta customers starting next month,” Little said. “We want to go about a month to get their feedback, and so we’re still hoping sometime in August to offer hookups to our members on that first feeder.”

Brandon Forestor Puts Local in Local Internet Organizing - Building for Digital Equity Podcast Episode 13

Media Justice logo

Brandon Forester is the National Organizer for Internet Rights at Media Justice. We talk about organizing for digital equity and more specifically Brandon's vision for communities having agency over how technology shows up in their neighborhoods and digital communities. We discuss how Media Justice came to prioritize prison phone justice, what organizing is and how local solutions may differ in different communities, and the need to avoid purity politics in doing this work. 

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.

Transcript below. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Joseph McDade for the music. The song is On the Verge and is used per his Free-Use terms.