Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "referendum"Displaying 1 - 10 of 146
As voters went to the polls yesterday, broadband-focused initiatives and candidates could be found up and down the ballot all across the country.
Alabama voters cast their ballots to decide on a state Constitutional amendment known as the Broadband Internet Infrastructure Funding Amendment. The measure sought to amend the state's constitution "to allow local governments to use funding provided for broadband internet infrastructure under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and award such funds to public or private entities."
That measure passed, garnering a “Yes” vote from nearly 80 percent of Alabama voters. With 73 percent of the vote counted late last night, 922,145 “Yes” votes had been tallied with 251,441 “No” votes.
Also in Alabama, Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell won her re-election bid to represent Alabama’s 7th congressional district. Sewell, whose district covers a large swath of the Alabama Black Belt, “spent much of her past two years in office bringing American Rescue Plan Act funds to rural Alabama, dedicated to healthcare, broadband access and infrastructure building,” as noted by The Montgomery Advertiser.
The Centennial State is not listed as one of 17 states in the nation with preemption laws that erect barriers to municipal broadband because nearly every community that had a vote has passed it to nullify it. But more communities had to go through that unnecessary process yesterday due to the law known as SB-152 that bans local governments in the state from establishing municipal broadband service absent a referendum.
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.”
Broadband was on the ballot as voters went to the polls for Election Day in many areas. Here’s a quick run-down of what happened.
The Colorado state law (SB-152) that bans local governments in the Centennial State from establishing municipal broadband service suffered another defeat at the ballot box. Since the law was passed nearly two decades ago, more than 150 Colorado communities have opted out. That number continues to grow and we can now add the town of Windsor to the list of municipalities in the state who have voted to restore local Internet choice.
At the polls yesterday, 77 percent of Windsor voters said yes to Ballot Question 3A, which asked “shall the Town of Windsor, without increasing taxes by this measure, be authorized to provide high-speed Internet services (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services … either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners?”
Vinton, Iowa’s municipal communications utility, iVinton, connected its 1,000th subscriber with high-speed fiber optic Internet service this week.
Demand for fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity across the 4.74-square-mile Iowa community (est. pop. 5,100) is so substantial that iVinton, governed by the Vinton Municipal Electric Utility (VMEU), is having to schedule installations a month out as requests for residential service have surpassed the manpower available to complete them as quickly as they had hoped.
As the telecommunications utility transitions out of its start-up phase – from working with external consultants to bringing all operations in house and limiting outside vendors – the biggest challenge iVinton has had to overcome is not having enough employees to take on the necessary roles, Matt Storm, iVinton’s Municipal Communications Manager, told ILSR in a recent interview.
Still, the utility is plugging away to keep up with requests for residential installations as iVinton is eager to meet the surge in demand. “We’re supplying a service that’s needed for the community, and the community has responded,” Storm told ILSR.
Just over a year into the municipal fiber network being operational, 1,000 of 2,450 residential and business premises, or 41 percent of the available premises in Vinton have made the switch. They've been lured by increased bandwidth, a higher quality of service, and the benefit of iVinton being a local provider with service technicians in town. Today, iVinton offers three symmetrical speed tiers to residents: 100 Megabit per second (Mbps), 250 Mbps, and 1000 Mbps connections for $70, $90, and $120 per month respectively.
Fort Dodge City Council is moving forward with a plan for a long-awaited municipal telecommunications utility project, adopting several resolutions Monday night that will allow the city to enter into a future loan agreement of up to $40 million for a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project.
“We need to get this up and running as fast as possible,” Councilman Dave Flattery said at the meeting.
The city currently depends largely on Mediacom and Frontier for broadband Internet access, both of which are among the lowest rated service providers by the American Consumer Satisfaction Survey.
Along with the future loan agreement, the council passed a resolution setting a timeline for bids on its Request for Quotes for the fiber network procurement materials. Proposals are due August 13th.
The council agreed to continue working with HR Green - an engineering firm that helps both private and public entities with a variety of engineering projects, including broadband, across the country - on the design and construction plans for the network.
The city will pay HRGreen $1.7 million spread over three phases of the project for its services, with hopes to start construction on the fiber-to-the-home project by the summer of 2022.
The meeting also included the proposed rates for potential services, starting at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical for $75/month and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) symmetrical for $95/month for residential services. Businesses that sign up for symmetrical service from one of three tiers: 100 Mbps for $100/month, 250 Mbps for $250/month, and 1 Gbps for $500/month.
The Centennial State has been a leader over the last fifteen years in showcasing how communities can take back local authority from restrictive state laws which place barriers in front of municipal broadband efforts. More than 150 communities in the state have done so since the 2005 law went into effect, and cities like Longmont, Loveland, and Fort Collins continue to show the value of investing in local broadband infrastructure and bringing the service residents, businesses, and community anchor institutions need.
Cortez, Colorado (pop. 8,700) is the latest municipality to join the club. In a referendum last month, residents raised their hands to opt out of SB 152, with 78 percent in favor.
Afterwards, former Mayor Karen Sheek remarked that “To move forward on finding solutions to improve Internet service for our community, we need the exemption. It is the next natural step." Cortez General Services Director Rick Smith said that broadband service remains weak outside the "downtown corridor, in schools, libraries and government offices."
The city already operates an I-Net for public facilities, businesses, and anchor institutions (listen to Christopher talk with General Services Director Rick Smith on the podcast about it).
What's next for the city remains to be seen, but others in the state are forging ahead. Four other communities - Berthoud (pop. 7,200), Mead (4,600), Johnstown (15,000), and Milliken (7,200) - have banded together together to perform a survey of residents as a prelude to taking next steps. Berthoud opted out of the preemption law last November (along with Denver and Englewood) while Johnstown did so in April 2020 and Mead opted out in the fall of 2019.
Cortez is the latest community in the state of Colorado to decide whether to opt out of SB 152, which has since passage in 2005 has preempted local authority and prevented communities from building publicly owned telecommunications infrastructure and offering retail service.
The community (pop. 8,500) is located in Montezuma County in the southwest part of the state, just north of Mesa Verde National Park. As first reported in The Journal at the end of January and subsequently approved unanimously by the City Council in the middle of February, a ballot measure later this spring will give city residents the option to restore the municipality’s ability to offer retail Internet service to business and households themselves.
From the ballot flyer provided to residents by the city:
A voter-approved exemption from SB 152 would restore local independence and ability to evaluate all possibilities for next generation broadband services in the City of Cortez and our communities. An exemption supports local choice and options, allowing citizens to make the best decisions based on the needs of our own individual communities, without raising taxes.
It further explains the realities of the limitations imposed by SB 152:
Without such approval, the law limits the ability of Colorado local governments to provide a wide spectrum of services, including: free Internet service in city libraries, parks and community centers; leveraging government infrastructure and partnering with private businesses to provide affordable and high-speed Internet service throughout the entire community; [and] direct provision of broadband services by municipal governments where needed.
A Chance to Build on Past Success
This week’s community broadband state legislative roundup revisits and provides updates on important bills moving through the state legislatures in Washington, Oklahoma, and California.
The State Scene
We’ve been closely covering S.B. 5383 and H.B. 1336, two bills in Washington state that would give Public Utilities Districts (PUDs) and port districts the authority to offer retail telecommunications services.
Our initial coverage pointed out shortcomings in S.B. 5383. The bill originally contained a preemption clause that gave private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to reject PUDs’ and ports’ project proposals in areas where incumbent ISPs claim they plan to expand service within six months.
Since our last reporting on this piece of legislation, the bill was amended by the State House Community and Economic Development Committee, removing the veto authority initially given to existing ISPs. However, a new provision favoring incumbent cable ISPs was also added, which would prohibit a PUD or port from providing retail Internet services in an area where an existing provider offers service at a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed. The minimum speed requirements of this provision would be increased to stay consistent with Washington’s state definition of broadband.
The Committee also amended the bill to allow PUDs and ports to provide retail services in served areas, but only when building to reach an unserved region.
Three northern Indiana county electric cooperatives have announced construction of brand new Fiber-to-the-Home networks which will bring more competition and high-quality Internet access to almost 25,000 homes and businesses in the state once complete.
Jasper County REMC announced its intentions at the beginning of December last year. Incorporated in 1938, its service territory sits in the northwest part of the state and provides electric service to more than 8,500 members over 1,100 miles of line in Jasper County as well as parts of White, Starke, Pulaski, Porter and Newton counties.
Construction will take five or so years to complete, but initial connections can be brought online as early as the first part of next year. Jasper REMC is beginning with a smart grid ring that will be done at the end of 2021, and is working with Wabash Valley Power and National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative during this first stage. They just hired a broadband manager at the end of 2020, who said of the endeavor:
Employees from a variety of businesses have proven that highly-skilled work can be done anywhere — as long as the tools are in place. Our cooperative realizes that advanced Internet infrastructure shouldn’t be a luxury. It is just as important as electricity.
Bar Harbor, Maine (pop. 5,500) has been trying to get a municipal fiber network off (and into) the ground for more than half a decade. If local officials throw weight behind the most recent move, we may see momentum continue to build for faster, more reliable, affordable, and universally available Internet access for government use, commercial development, and maybe, down the road, residents as well.
We last checked in with the town in 2016, when its franchise agreement with Charter had expired and negotiations for a new agreement had stalled. At the time, Bar Harbor was considering a $100,000 engineering study to flesh out the possibility of a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network or a $50,000 study to do so for a government-only network, but at the last minute the town’s Warrant Committee and Council decided not to move ahead on either at the last minute. Since then, the situation has remained more or less in stasis.
But with recent changes, Charter has signaled that it will begin to charge Bar Harbor $45,000 a year for access via – a ten-fold increase over the $4,500/year the town currently pays. With the company refusing to negotiate, on December 15 the Town Council, at the recommendation of the Communication and Technologies Committee (CTC), voted unanimously to place a $750,000 proposal to build their own institutional network onto the 2022 budget draft review. The general public will have the chance to vote on the measure in June.
Locally Owned Infrastructure at a Fraction of the Price