Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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Lancaster, Pennsylvania has revitalized the city’s long percolating plan for a municipal broadband network, this time via a public-private partnership (PPP) with Shenandoah Telecommunications Company (Shentel). The city’s quest for more affordable, reliable broadband is a quest that’s taken the better part of a decade to finally come to fruition.
Lancaster city officials recently announced that they’d selected Shentel with an eye on ensuring uniform broadband availability to the city of 57,000.
“In 2022, the City issued an RFP for a partner to achieve stated goals, which received five responses, and led to the selection of Shentel,” the city said. “The contract will result in Shentel installing fiber at its sole cost to provide service to 100% of the city’s residents. Shentel plans to commence design and construction immediately upon execution of the final agreement.”
According to Lancaster officials, the city hired CTC Technology & Energy Engineering & Business Consulting to evaluate the city’s needs. The determination to proceed with a PPP with Shental was driven, in part, by the historic broadband grant opportunities being created thanks to the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and the American Rescue Plan Act, the latter of which provided $39.5 million to the city.
In an economy where inflation seems to be everywhere, Fairlawn, Ohio residents are getting a bit of welcome news.
Subscribers to FairlawnGig – Fairlawn, Ohio’s municipal broadband network – are being upgraded to new service levels as the city-owned network bumps up speeds and slashes prices to make its fiber Internet service faster, and even more affordable.
Earlier this week, FairlawnGig announced that subscribers who had been getting Fairlawn’s basic service tier of symmetrical 300 Megabits per second (Mbps) were being upgraded to symmetrical gig speed service – for the exact same price of $55/month.
FairlawnGig also announced that subscribers who had previously been getting gig speed service will see their bills drop down to $55/month instead of the $75/month they had been paying. Meanwhile, subscribers who were getting 2.5 Gigabits per second (Gbps) for $150/month will now be upgraded to a symmetrical 5 Gbps tier, and see their price drop to $100/month.
“That was always the plan from the very beginning,” the City of Fairlawn’s Public Service Director Ernie Staten told ILSR this week.
We have been striving at all times to bring the greatest speeds and to bring prices down. We have made it where we have done well enough financially to start lowering prices and providing greater speeds.
Local Businesses Threatened to Leave – Unless Better Internet Comes to Town
Fairlawn, a small city of approximately 7,500 Ohioans about 10 miles northeast of Akron, created a telecommunications utility in 2015 to bring city-wide access to high-speed Internet service after years of dealing with subpar broadband offerings from the incumbent providers.
In the summer of 2021, Lakeland city commissioners voted 5-to-1 to strike a private-public partnership (P3) with Summit Broadband, part of a 10 year plan to expand broadband availability within city limits. But officials in this central Florida city of 112,000 have expressed growing consternation that the planned broadband expansion is behind schedule and more selective than expected.
“I think this is the right move for the City of Lakeland as it will accomplish what was my goal: to make it a smart city without the burden of bonding out our debt,” Lakeland Commissioner Bill Read said shortly after the project was announced. “The private sector can do a job much better than any public entity, better than our city.”
A year later and several city leaders don’t seem entirely sure.
Local news outlet LkldNow indicated last month that most Lakeland residents have yet to see service, and that Summit appears to have shifted its deployment priorities away from uniform house-by-house coverage, and toward select businesses and housing development developments.
Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said of the revelations:
I am not satisfied with the speed with which Summit is rolling out service to consumers in Lakeland and concerned that they may have de-emphasized that express concurrent desire of the commission. Whereas it has been our goal to provide commercial business with improved Internet service, the consumer emphasis was originally and consistently one of our highest expressed priorities and motivations.
City Officials Question Partners’ Apparent Shift in Strategy
Under the city’s 10 year agreement with Summit, the provider pledged to spend $20 million over the next five years expanding the city’s existing 350-mile dark fiber network. Under the deal, Summit will pay the city $144,000 per year initially, ultimately switching to paying the city 10 percent of gross revenue on Internet services.
For the past four consecutive years, community owned and/or operated broadband infrastructure has proven to be a key ingredient in the makings of some of the fastest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the nation.
As was the case last year, PCMag’s recently released Top 10 list of “The Fastest ISPs of 2022” feature operators that are either municipal broadband networks or use city-owned fiber or conduit to deliver service across whole or parts of their footprint (with the exception of this year’s ninth-place finisher). Another way of saying that is: not one of 10 fastest networks in the nation are owned or operated by the major national ISPs, many of whom have embarked on an aggressive lobbying campaign to misinform public officials in particular and the public in general on the viability and successes of municipal broadband and local partnerships.
After ranking the major ISPs in their own slower category, PCMag turns to “talk about real speed.”
For that, you don’t go to the big guys … Higher speeds are found in smaller, localized ISPs.
Need for Speed? Look to Local ISPs and Munis
After PCMag compiled a year’s worth of speed tests to analyze which ISPs offer the fastest download and upload speeds, Sonic – a California-based independent ISP – came out on top this year, having “posted the highest number we have ever seen in our test results. Because the uploads this company offers are, on average, eclipsing download speeds—by a lot.”
Catapulting to the top of this year’s list (from 10th place last year), Sonic is a privately-owned company that uses publicly owned conduit in Brentwood, California.
Join Us Thursday, March 3rd at 5pm ET, To Talk Definition of Broadband, MDUs, Redlining and More - Episode 35 of the Connect This! Show
It’s been one long year since Chris took a bet with Travis over the FCC updating the definition of broadband, and this week we’ll find out who won (not looking good, Chris). In this episode of the Connect This! Show, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by regular guests Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) to talk about current events in broadband.
The panel will talk about the FCC definition of broadband, MDUs, other recent news and will continue their conversation about redlining and digital discrimination.
Email us firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback and ideas for the show.
Because its downtown buildings were made to resemble Windy City architecture, Fort Dodge was once nicknamed “Little Chicago.” But now, this north-central Iowa city with a population of just under 25,000 is building something the real Chicago, 360 miles east of Fort Dodge, does not have: a municipal fiber-to-the-home (ftth) network.
Having secured up to $36.8 million in loans from a consortium of local banks, the Cedar Rapids-based engineering firm HR Green has been hired by the city to put together a final engineering and design plan for a city-wide fiber network.
The RFP to do the construction work will go out to bid in late spring 2022, with actual network construction slated to begin in the summer of 2022. City officials say the new utility will likely begin offering high-speed Internet service to Fort Dodgers as soon as the summer of 2023, though the network won’t be fully built-out city-wide until 2024.
Unserved, Underserved and Poorly Served
In many rural communities, local governments, cooperatives, public entities, or nonprofit organizations will sometimes build the infrastructure necessary to deliver high-speed Internet service to the unserved and underserved because incumbent providers don’t see enough short-term ROI to justify the expense. But in more densely populated locales, municipal broadband is often pursued because the existing service from private providers simply isn’t up to par. The market has failed rural, suburban, and urban communities - just in different ways.
And that’s why in cities like Fort Dodge, the feasibility study commissioned by the city hits on a familiar refrain found in feasibility studies across the nation:
“Despite being the largest city in the region and key commercial hub, Fort Dodge telecommunications infrastructure is less advanced than in surrounding rural areas and small towns like Lehigh, Dayton, and Badger.”
After working over a year to obtain licenses to deploy fiber across town, by this time next week the central Connecticut town of Plainville, home to approximately 17,500 residents, will begin construction of a municipal fiber network. When finished, the network will connect all town offices, public education facilities, public safety services, and wastewater treatment facilities.
Over a decade after high-speed fiber connections linking the town’s municipal center and a local high school to the statewide Nutmeg Network were first established in Plainville, multiple municipal buildings throughout town still lacked reliable broadband connections, and some had not been connected to the Internet at all.
With locally-based construction firm Sertex set to begin laying fiber for the townwide institutional network (I-Net) next week, which will include “12.5 miles of aerial cabling and three underground spans running beneath major highways,” that’s all about to change for the relatively dense, 10-square-mile community, reports Sertex.
Municipal networks in the United States have proven that when dollars are invested in publicly owned information infrastructure, they often return value back to the community several times over. This new fact sheet [pdf] highlights municipal broadband success stories from across the country and some of the many benefits the networks have brought to the communities they serve.
These networks are directly accountable to the community and have proved themselves for more than 20 years in some cases, bringing lower prices to households than the large private providers. Municipal networks and partnerships account for 9 of the top 10 fastest broadband networks in the nation.
For timely updates, follow Christopher Mitchell or MuniNetworks on Twitter and sign up to get the Community Broadband weekly update.
Fed up with poor speeds and no service, a handful of residents in Washington County, Ohio have teamed up to form a broadband cooperative to pursue better connectivity for themselves and their neighbors.
The Southeast Ohio Broadband Cooperative (SEOBC), created last May, is the result of work led by David Brown. “Electric cooperatives worked,” he said of the founding impulse. “Why can’t we do the same thing for broadband?”
After organizing, the first step the group took was to set up a speed test and map to both show how poorly connected many residents of Washington County are, and to plan for the future. That test is still ongoing, and the results are not terribly encouraging so far. Out of 4,662 run, almost 800 premises have no service (17%). Suddenlink and Charter are the only providers returning averages above the FCC’s threshold for basic broadband (25/3 Mbps (Megabits per second)), but together they represent just over 10% of those taking tests — though admittedly this is the result of sample bias, the map shows that outside of Marietta, Lovell, Beverly, Vincent, and the few other concentrated areas there are few providers returning adequate speeds. Subscribers to Frontier, Windstream, and ViaSat across the county see average connections of around 8/2 Mbps (Megabits per second). Those on HughesNet even worse off, at 3/2.5 Mbps.
Asa Boring, a Belpre Township trustee, told the Marietta Times:
We have people in our area who have sort of Internet, but it’s kind of a hit and miss thing. But when you get a mile out of Little Hocking it’s over with, you just don’t get it . . . unless you sign up with Windstream and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Along the banks of the Columbia River, Multnomah County (pop. 813,000), Oregon is considering a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network after being handed a study more than a year in the making. The report estimates that a countywide network reaching every home, business, and farm in a five-city area would cost just shy of $970 million, and bring with it a wealth of savings and other benefits to the community it serves.
The study has its origins in a 2017 push initiated by an advocacy group called Municipal Broadband PDX which has sought more affordable and equitable Internet access in the region. In 2018, the County Board of Commissioners agreed that it should be explored and approved the funding of a study, with the city of Portland and Multnomah County each contributing $100,000 and the remaining towns of Fairview, Gresham, Troutdale, and Wood Village joining the effort to collectively contribute an additional $50,000 for funding. Over the next year, CTC Technology and Energy conducted a comprehensive survey, analysis, and evaluation, and the results were delivered at the end of September.