Tag: "pilot project"

Posted August 12, 2022 by Karl Bode

Like countless U.S. communities, Duluth, Minnesota (pop. 86,000) got a crash course on the importance of affordable broadband during the Covid-19 crisis. Those struggles in telecommuting and home education helped fuel a dramatic new broadband expansion plan that, if approved by the city council, could revolutionize affordable access citywide.

Last April, the Duluth Economic Development Authority signed a $65,000 contract with Entrypoint LLC to examine the possibility of building a community-owned fiber network in Duluth. The result: a new Digital Access Master Plan that proposes the city spend $7-9 million to build a pilot open access fiber network in Lincoln Park next year. 

“Reliable high-speed internet is no longer a luxury,” Duluth Mayor Emily Larson proclaimed in a recent state of the city address. “It’s an essential utility no less important to our future success than our roads, water, and electricity.”

A Pilot Project, and Potentially More

Under the proposal, 75 percent of the new network would be buried fiber and 25 percent would be microtrenched along public roads. The $7 to $9 million estimated price tag is based on a 60% take rate, short-term interest at 5 percent, and a long-term interest rate of 3 percent for 20 years. The initial pilot project would bring fiber to an estimated 1,900 Duluth residents next year. 

“A 60% take-rate may seem aggressive given the strong market position of the incumbent cable operator,” the plan states. “However, the survey data suggests a strong desire among residents and businesses in Duluth to see competition, choice, better pricing, and the reliability of a fiber optic network.”

The Master Plan highlights how a majority of Duluth is served by either a duopoly or monopoly consisting of Charter Communications (Spectrum) and Centurylink. Centurylink sells $50 a month usage-capped DSL service that doesn’t qualify as broadband, according to the FCC. Charter requires users sign long-term contracts to lock in lower rates, while utilizing fees that can add 15-30 percent to the company’s...

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Posted April 21, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Over the past eighteen months, southeastern-Mississippi based Dixie Electric Power Association (Dixie EPA) has gone from presenting its initial buildout plans for a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, all the way to connecting its 5,000th subscriber. Because of electric cooperatives like Dixie that are getting organized and prioritizing connectivity for their members, Mississippi is likely to become one of the states with the best rural connectivity within the next five years.

Founded in 1938 in Laurel, Mississippi, Dixie EPA’s present-day coverage area stretches across southeastern Mississippi in parts of Covington, Jasper, Jones, Clarke, Wayne, Perry, and Forrest counties. The cooperative provides electric service to 30,000 premises. 

In September 2020, about six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Dixie began pre-registering subscribers for Internet service under the cooperative’s newly-created subsidiary, DE Fastlink. Dixie was part of a collective of electric cooperatives that had just received a recent state appropriation of $65 million in CARES Act funding for rural broadband deployment. The funding was administered under the Mississippi Electric Coop Broadband Covid Grant Program by Mississippi Public Utilities. Dixie planned to match in full its own $3.3 million award, which, according to the terms of the grant, had to be spent by the end of that year. 

The cooperative was one of fifteen in Mississippi to receive funding for a buildout. The state was a new leader in supporting cooperatively-run rural broadband; only a select few states decided to spend CARES funding on rural broadband, and Mississippi spent among the most. Of the $75 million in CARES funding it had designated for expanding connectivity, $65 million was awarded to electric cooperatives, while only $10 million was set aside for other types of providers. Of this $10 million, only $1.5 was actually used, because the state received very few grant applications...

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Posted April 1, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

A recently announced $610,000 grant award from the Tennessee Valley Authority to a partnership in Chattanooga, Tennessee will fund a pilot project to fund a set of holistic interventions in the Orchard Knob neighborhood to create healthier, more cost-efficient, better-connected homes for 1,000 residents.

The initiative, driven by a coalition made up of the Enterprise Center, EPB Fiber, Parkridge Health System, Habitat for Humanity, Tech Goes Home, and the Orchard Knob Neighborhood Association, aims to tackling an array of social determinants of health all at once. From The Chattanoogan:

Together, the partners plan to simultaneously invest in infrastructure and test new strategies for improving social determinants of health and quality of life of residents within a historically underserved neighborhood. Ultimately, the program in Orchard Knob will serve as a model for other communities across the Tennessee Valley.

It's happening as a result of funds contributed by the TVA's Connected Communities initiative, which aims to help "communities within the Valley leverage tech- and data-driven solutions to improve residents’ lives, deliver environmental benefits and scale economic opportunities." So far, these include projects like outfitting the Cheatham County School District with a solar array and battery backup, technology upgrades at more than a dozen Knoxville Recreation Centers, and improved connectivity at public housing sites in Murfreesboro.

Neighborhood-wide Wi-Fi will be installed, resident's homes will be retrofitted with upgraded HVAC systems and energy efficiency upgrades, EPB's fast and reliable Internet service will be extended, devices and digital literacy training will be given out, and 1,0000 telehealth visits will be scheduled all in the hopes of improving outcomes there. 

Orchard Knob is a predominantly Black community with a much higher population density, lower median household income, lower home ownership rates, and older homes. The TVA grant will be matched by more than $260,000 in local...

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Posted March 8, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week, we bring you a special field report from Maryland-based radio and podcast producer Matt Purdy. Through interviews with citizens, digital equity advocates, and the city's new Director of Broadband and Digital Equity, Purdy documents the connectivity struggles that have persisted in Baltimore's historically marginalized neighborhoods for decades.

Those challenges have only become more pronounced with the pandemic, prompting local officials to begin making moves in the direction of something we've not yet seen in a community the size of Baltimore: building a city-owned, open access fiber network.

This is a great story, so we won't give anything else a way. Listen below, or here.

Posted December 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

A year after a group of local broadband champions got together to see how they could improve Internet access in Missoula, Montana, the Missoula Valley Internet Cooperative has successfully raised funds and designed, deployed, and launched a wireless mesh network delivering 150 Megabit per second (Mbps) symmetrical service to more than 50 of 550 pre-registered households for, on average, $40-60/month. The community-owned option has injected some welcome competition to a stagnant local broadband market, with a second network already in the planning stages in a community to the north.

Both efforts are being driven by the Pacific Northwest Rural Broadband Alliance (PNWRBA), a Missoula, Montana-based nonprofit aiming to build resiliency, local capacity, and expand quality Internet access to the region by making use of a variety of community-oriented business models. The nonprofit serves not only to coordinate grassroots organizing efforts, but provide technical assistance and lead policy engagement with local leaders. It is running a dual mission. First, to bring faster and more affordable Internet access via a community-owned model to the area. And second, to prove out a series of models in the region with the hopes of generating additional community-based approaches to improving broadband in the region and beyond.

Grant Creek 

At present, the Missoula Valley Internet Cooperative covers Missoula’s (pop. 74,000) Grant Creek neighborhood, a roughly one and a half square-mile area (see right) of 400 households bounded by the Clark Fork River and Highway 90. But the eventual plan is to cover all of Missoula before expanding to cover East Missoula, Bonner, and Clinton, and then head south toward Lolo. The total proposed coverage area (see below) is reminiscent of the shape of the state of Florida, about 30 miles wide and 50 miles long, with the city of Missoula at the northeast corner and including the cities and towns along the T-shape made by Interstate 90 and State Highway 93. 

In its first service area the network provides Internet access...

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Posted August 5, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

If you're a community considering building or partnering to build publicly owned broadband infrastructure in the near future, we want to hear from you.

Connect Humanity - an organization focused on making sure everyone has fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access - may be able to help speed the financing of community networks, including with some capacity to offer non-traditional borrowing or below-market rates. What is their approach?

Over the past 25 years, traditional telecom operators have only managed to connect half the world — and that was the easy half. Universal access will require alternative infrastructure providers, new types of financing and business models, changes in policy, digital skill-building at scale, and an increase in locally relevant content. To meet the needs of this moment and prepare for the years to come, we will need to invest in a diverse set of actors dedicated to ending the digital divide. There are no silver bullets here.

Connect Humanity, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, is rallying philanthropic organizations, investors, industry, governments, civil society leaders, and international experts to build a community of practice around the shared goal of connecting the unconnected, supported by the capital to do so. With awareness about the plight of the unconnected at an all time high, this is the moment to substantially invest in bringing Internet access to all people.

This initiative is open to creative ideas, but the focus will come back to a key question: What are the long-term results in terms of improving Internet access for historically-marginalized groups?

Don't know if your project fits? Email us and ask!

Maybe you've got a coalition of communities in Maine but don't have experience in the capital markets, or your approach just doesn't quite pencil out for a conventional loan. Maybe you've got a particular project mapped out for a rural or urban area that will make a significant difference in people's lives. Consultants too - raise your hand and pitch us an idea. It doesn't have to be fully formed yet.

Email us at broadband@muninetworks.org.

Header image by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Posted April 22, 2021 by Maren Machles

Schools offer not only education, but nourishment, a place to form friendships and bonds, and a way to make sure youth are safe. When the pandemic hit, schools had to transition to distance learning and, as a result, many students disappeared because their family didn’t have access to or couldn’t afford a home Internet connection. It became immediately clear, all over the country, that a lack of broadband access and broadband affordability were no longer issues that could be ignored. 

Many cities throughout the U.S. have been working over the last year to address this issue, but one city in particular - Columbus, Ohio - has been taking a holistic approach to broadband access. 

The Franklin County Digital Equity Coalition was borne out of the emergency needs presented by the pandemic, but has shaped up to be a good model for how to address the broadband issues facing urban communities across the country. 

After 11 months of meeting and planning, the coalition released a framework in March outlining its five pillars of focus: broadband affordability, device access, digital life skills and technical support, community response and collaboration, and advocacy for broadband funding and policy. 

The coalition also developed two pilot programs to increase broadband access. 

The first, which was a quickly deployed and desperately needed response to the lack of broadband access, was the Central Ohio Broadband Access Pilot Program. Launched in September 2020 in anticipation of the upcoming school year, it offered hotspot devices with unlimited data plans to central Ohio households with k-12 students. The program, while still growing, has been deployed with about 2,300 hotspots distributed so far with the help of PCs for People. 

The second (the City of Columbus and Smart Columbus Pilot Projects) uses the city’s existing fiber backbone to bring affordable Internet service to the Near East and South Side neighborhoods in Columbus.

Both pilot programs are the result of nearly 30 organizations coming together to get affordable access to some of the city and county’s most vulnerable populations.

There’s Power in Numbers

...

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Posted March 30, 2021 by Maren Machles

This week on the podcast, Christopher talks with Belle Ryder, Orono, Maine Assistant Manager and President of the nonprofit OTO Fiber Corporation. The towns of Orono and nearby Old Town began their search for better broadband more than 10 years ago, and have overcome an array of challenges in bringing a pilot project to justify future-proof connectivity to the surrounding area.

Belle shares the origins of local efforts, and how the two communities kept finding themselves stuck with almost every solution too far out of reach. They were too small to entice private ISPs to commit to upgrading local infrastructure or invest in new construction that would bring fast connectivity to the region, but too small to finance a citywide network themselves. In looking for funding help, they found that existing options were considered too fast to qualify them for many opportunities to improve the technology in the ground. But residents were acutely aware that their broadband options were too slow to do more than the bare minimum to get online. 

Christopher and Belle talk about the process of issuing multiple RFPs, working through a challenge by local cable providers, and how allies and local officials worked together to come up with a plan for financial stability and success. OTO Fiber's story is a testament to local resilience and resourcefulness in the face of obstacles and the value of never giving up. 

This show is 47 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here.

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

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Posted March 24, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

Franklin, Kentucky’s (pop. 8,400) electric utility is gearing up for an expansion of its partnership with Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WRECC) with the help of $2.3 million from the recent FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The new partnership will allow Franklin EPB to add new service to roughly 250 locations adjacent to a current project in the area.

The expansion project will add subscribers in the northeast region of Simpson County and nearby parts of the city of Franklin in the south-central part of the state, where the two entities are operating a two-area fiber pilot.

It represents the growth of a collaboration between Franklin EPB and the electric cooperative. In 2019, the two partnered up to deploy service with Franklin EPB leasing dark fiber from the cooperative and acting as service provider to “350 of its customers in northeast Simpson County and in an area on the southeast side of Franklin.” The project brought symmetrical 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) options for $60 and $80/month to those locations and has brought service to a lot of happy members

 “Providing high-speed Internet [access] in rural areas has been and continues to be an important issue nationwide. Fortunately, we have been able to develop a successful model with Franklin EPB. We’re delighted to be able to expand our service in Simpson County immediately thanks to the RDOF funding,” said Dewayne McDonald, President and CEO of Warren RECC, at the announcement. He continued to emphasize that "part of our mission is to improve the quality of life for our members. This expansion represents a giant leap in progress for them, and we’re excited about the momentum. For the areas we didn’t win, we hope the companies that did win them will live up to their commitment to serve our...

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Posted March 18, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Born in Orono, Maine, the poet Frances Laughton Mace’s most notable verses were published in 1854 as a hymn entitled “Only Waiting.” Over a century and a half later, residents in her native town – and in the neighboring community of Old Town just four miles up the road – might be inclined to hum a line or two. Not because they are getting religion, but because of the wait in getting Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet connectivity.

After a decade of hopeful planning, disappointing setbacks, design work, and putting out multiple RFPs to move the project forward, the nonprofit OTO Fiber Corporation is on the verge of lighting up a six-mile fiber network this summer. With three miles of fiber deployed in Orono, a town of 11,000 residents and home to the University of Maine’s flagship campus, and the other half covering a portion of Old Town, the budding network will provide FTTH service to a limited number of residences and businesses in both towns. It’s a pilot project that, if successful, will serve as a core network which can eventually be extended to cover the entirety of both communities.

“It’s taken us forever to get to this point it seems. We started this process ten years ago and we are still slogging our way through while we’ve seen other communities zip ahead,” Belle Ryder, Orono Assistant Town Manager and President of OTO Fiber, told us this week. “It is really, really, really hard for communities relying on volunteers to pull off the feat of building and operating these networks.”

Ryder wasn’t complaining or exasperated. She was just being candid about the process she and her colleagues at OTO Fiber are committed to see through to the finish. The slog she is referring to goes back a decade when Orono was in the process of putting together a comprehensive development plan.

Families and Fiber, Fits and Starts

With just about half of the town’s population made up of college students living in off-campus apartments and the other half made up of residents 60 and older, “we really needed to draw families back,” Ryder explained. 

Old Town and Orono are right next to each other on the Penobscot River, 10 miles north of Bangor. Both communities...

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