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Cleveland, Tennessee’s City-Owned Utility Getting Into Broadband Business
The Cleveland, Tennessee city council has approved the creation of the Cleveland Utilities Authority, the first step in allowing the city-owned utility to get into the broadband business. The goal: improve utilities services and provide city residents with faster, cheaper, and more reliable fiber access after years of neglect by often-apathetic regional telecom monopolies.
The plan, approved by the city council with a 7-2 vote (see full video here), paves the way for Cleveland’s city-owned utility, Cleveland Utilities, to begin deployment of a $72 million fiber network. The city’s plan, documented in detail here, is heavily inspired by the successes seen by Chattanooga, Tennessee’s publicly-owned utility, EPB.
Of the initial $72 million investment, $64 million will be funded by public-issued debt, and go towards construction of the network, which Cleveland Utilities states should begin in March of 2024 and be completed in “roughly two to three years” barring complications.
An additional interdivisional loan of $8 Million will fund three years of operation for the new division. The utility’s plan is based on a 30 percent take rate, and aims to become cash flow positive between years 2-3, with all debt paid between years 10 and 12.
Once complete, the network will dramatically upgrade the utility’s energy monitoring and maintenance capabilities and deliver symmetrical fiber at speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) to local residents, and 10 Gbps to local area businesses.
South Carolina Grants Fund 56 New State Broadband Projects
The South Carolina Broadband Office (SCBBO) has announced 56 newly funded projects through its new broadband grant program, which state leaders say will dramatically improve resident access to affordable, next-generation broadband networks statewide.
South Carolina historically hasn’t been a hotbed of community broadband deployment, and is one of 17 states that have passed restrictions on municipal network creation, funding, and expansion. Still, there are numerous electric cooperatives in the state busy creatively bridging the digital divide that stand to benefit from an historic infusion of new grant funding.
The state’s latest round of funding comes courtesy of South Carolina’s American Rescue Plan Act, State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Priority 1.0 program (ARPA SLFRF 1.0).
All told, the SCBBO says it has doled out $129.6 million in broadband grand awards to 15 different Internet service providers (ISPs) across 34 different South Carolina counties.
“We are incredibly excited about this next chapter of broadband expansion in South Carolina,” Jim Stritzinger, Director of the SC Broadband Office said in a statement. “Across the state, most have probably noticed the ISP road crews working diligently to provide high-speed internet access to our homes and businesses. This set of investments will provide a substantial boost to the work that is already underway.”
According to state officials, All ARPA SLFRF 1.0 grants are required to be completed by December 31, 2024. Once completed, the state says these grants will have funded 5,000 additional miles of fiber statewide as well as last mile access to at least 38,995 locations.
Realizing Ambitions of Open Access in Marin County, California
Creative efforts are underway in Marin County, California to bring fiber connectivity to underserved pockets of the community and eventually the whole area. Digital Marin, currently housed within the county’s Information Services and Technology Department, is coordinating the project, and is leaning towards a municipally-owned, open-access solution modeled after Ammon’s standout network in Idaho.
Just across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco, Marin County is home to about 265,000 residents, as well as the Muir Woods National Monument, a County Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and nearly 73 miles of coastal trail. Despite largely being considered an urban county, Marin also includes suburban and rural areas with 40 percent of the county classified as protected park land.
When it comes to Internet connectivity, the area is peppered with what Marin County resident and Digital Marin Executive Steering Committee member, Bruce Vogen, calls “donut holes of high-quality Internet access.” An unknown provider built a DSL network in the region many years ago and then Comcast later bought and inherited the antiquated infrastructure. Soon after, AT&T entered the market but selected only the most profitable neighborhoods to serve. All 90,000 of the county’s urban households can access the Internet through Comcast, but just 20,000 of these homes have access to the archipelago of AT&T’s fiber network. In any case, Marin’s urban areas are either subject to monopoly or duopoly market control. It has long been apparent there is a digital divide in Marin County, but it wasn’t until the 2022 FCC maps were released that the contours of this divide came into focus.
Location Challenges Won't Impact BEAD, Gigi Sohn Renominated, AT&T's "Open Access" Fiber Deal, and What's New From CES | Episode 61 of the Connect This! Show
It's a new year, which means there's plenty to talk about in the broadband space. Join us live on Friday, January 6th, at 2:00pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by regular guests Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting) to talk about the recent renomination of Gigi Sohn to the FCC, why location challenges won't matter for state BEAD allocations (and why that's a big deal), and what the planning funds will do for states preparing for infrastructure money. Later, Dane Jasper (Sonic) joins the show to talk about the recent announcement by AT&T and BlackRock private equity of a joint venture to help the monopoly provider enter markets outside of states where it has traditionally operated. Finally, Roger Timmerman (UTOPIA Fiber) joins live from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to share the trends making household bandwidth demands continue to rise.
Email us at email@example.com with feedback and ideas for the show.
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Study: Low Income LA County Neighborhoods Pay More for Internet Service Than Wealthier Neighborhoods
While a racially-charged controversy swirls loudly around the Los Angeles City Council, a new study lays bare how low-income communities of color are impacted by the quiet business decisions of the region’s monopoly Internet service provider.
Slower and More Expensive/Sounding the Alarm: Disparities in Advertised Pricing for Fast, Reliable Broadband details how Charter Spectrum “shows a clear and consistent pattern of the provider reserving its best offers - high speed at low cost - for the wealthiest neighborhoods in LA County.”
Authored by Digital Equity LA, a coalition of more than 40 community-based organizations, not only highlights how economically vulnerable households in LA County pay more for slower service than those in wealthy neighborhoods, it also provides evidence for how financially-strapped households are also saddled with onerous contracts and are rarely targeted by advertisements for Charter Spectrum’s low cost plans.
A leading voice behind the Digital Equity LA initiative – Shayna Englin, Director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation (CCF) – notes that higher poverty neighborhoods (which tend to be mostly made up of people of color) pay anywhere from $10 to $40 more per month than mostly white, higher-income neighborhoods for the exact same service.
Digital Equity Legislation Continues to Make Gains in California
Two recent victories in digital equity work out of California give cause for celebration this week. AB 2748 Telecommunications: Digital Equity in Video Franchising Act and AB 2751 Affordable Internet and Net Equality Act both passed the Communications and Conveyance Committees this week; the former by a margin of 10-3 and the latter 7-3.
Sponsored by Assemblyman Chris Holden, AB 2748 would have a range of impacts if passed, including giving the state CPUC and local governments more power in negoitating with providers to ensure that there is no discimination based on neighborhood household income that leads to inequitable access to service. It also revises franchise fee agreements at the local level. Read the full bill analysis for more.
"Although DIVCA originally intended to address inequitable broadband access, it remains pronounced across California cities," says Shayna Englin, Director of the California Community Foundation Digital Equity Initiative. "AB 2748 modernizes DIVCA by establishing equal access requirements as policy, and makes them enforceable through a reasonable application process for franchise renewals. We are pleased to co-sponsor Assemblymember Holden's bill, as the legislation will bring us one step closer to ensuring every Californian has access to fast, reliable, and affordable Internet [access]."
AB 2751 would create a Net Equality Program which would require that most state agencies only do business with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that have a low-income plan offering of $40/month for 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps). Read the full bill analysis for more.
Public testimony for AB 2751 highlighted the significant disparity in service speeds and prices that disadvantage low-income Californians by the state's two monopoly providers: Charter Spectrum and AT&T:
Stock Buybacks Remind Us That Monopoly ISPs Work for Shareholders, Not Subscribers
Comcast announced at the end of January that it will be expanding its stock repurchasing program to $10 billion for 2022. It’s a reminder that local governments need to be wary about the huge cable and telephone monopolies stopping by their offices and offering generously to solve the digital divide once and for all, if only we give them more taxpayer money.
Doing so has largely been a failed policy, and does a better job of transforming public tax dollars into private wealth than it does in efficiently extending Internet infrastructure to communities that need it most. With all the federal funding on the horizon, and some states already looking like they’re going to listen to monopoly lobbyists rather than their constituents, cities and states would do well to follow along closely.
Business is Good
Stock buybacks by publicly traded companies like Comcast are a commonly used mechanism to transfer wealth from the cash a firm has on hand to the pockets of its shareholders, while also driving up its value. The program expansion from Comcast announces as clear as day that the company’s top priority isn’t connecting Americans; it’s to return the most money for the least investment for its shareholders.
Northeast Louisiana Power Co-op Reenergizes Cotton Country with Volt Broadband
North Louisiana has more premises unserved with high-speed Internet access than any other region of the state. In an effort to bring reliable Internet access to its members who have gone without service, directors of the Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative (NELPCO) recently agreed to pursue a $54 million fiber buildout.
During a special meeting called on June 29th, NELPCO’s Board of Directors voted 5-2 to begin providing high-speed Internet access across the seven rural parishes the cooperative serves through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Volt Broadband LLC.
The exact details of the project and how it will be funded are still being worked out. But, the cooperative is preparing to bond for $50 million to deploy fiber infrastructure across its 2,180-square-mile service territory, which runs from “south of Turkey Creek Lake in Franklin Parish north to the Arkansas line, and extends into Morehouse Parish,” according to the cooperative’s website.
Construction of the fiber network will be completed in segments, beginning in the most populated regions and extending to the most rural, to eventually serve all 11,000 co-op members.
Amidst Fire Season, Chico, California Devotes Relief Funds to Improve Citywide Communications
During fire season in Northern California - when the sky often turns dusky with smoke in the middle of the day and the air quality can get so bad that officials declare it unhealthy to be outdoors - access to high-speed Internet connectivity is all-important.
For local governments, fast, reliable, and resilient Internet service is crucial for public safety communications. When flames engulf the region, relaying critical emergency information with speed is paramount. Seconds matter. It’s equally important for citizens to get timely information on the course of wildfires, receive alert notifications or evacuation orders, and be able to connect with friends and family.
Living in that reality is one of the driving reasons the Chico City Council recently voted to earmark $5 million of the city’s $22 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to research and implement a plan to improve citywide Internet access.
City council members have already authorized spending $250,000 of the funds to develop a Broadband Master Plan in conjunction with EntryPoint Networks. The plan is projected to be completed by October, and once it is finished the City Council will decide where to go from there.
City officials are also in the process of surveying the city’s 115,000 residents to gauge community interest in building a municipally-owned open access fiber network. Responses to the survey so far have indicated residents are excited about the potential of a municipal broadband offering, the city’s Administrative Services Director, Scott Dowell, told ILSR in a recent interview. Dowell said he’s noticed three recurring themes in the survey responses to date: “They want it to be reliable, inexpensive, and fast.”
Although no plans have been finalized and the city is open to various approaches to improve Internet access, Dowell said the city’s lofty goal is to enable symmetrical gigabit Internet service to all premises in Chico for a monthly access fee of no more than $100.
Improving Emergency Communications in the Face of Forest Fires
Community Broadband Legislation Roundup – July 19, 2021
Maine broadband authority redefines statewide broadband as symmetrical 100/100 Mbps connection
California Legislature and Governor reach $5.25 billion agreement on statewide middle-mile network
New Hampshire matching grant initiative aiming to promote partnerships signed by Governor
The State Scene
The Maine Senate recently enrolled a bill (L.D. 1432) amending the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Access Fund to only allow communities, municipalities, and regional utilities access to grants through the program. The bill became law without State Governor Janet Mills’ signature on June 24.
The legislation removes limits placed on the number of grants able to be awarded per project, but limits the amount of funds that may be distributed per project to 50 percent of total costs. The bill, aiming to support the deployment of municipal gigabit fiber optic networks, also requires the ConnectMaine (ConnectME) Authority to establish minimum upload and download speed definitions to foster widespread availability of symmetric high-speed Internet access, beginning in 2025.