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Earlier this year in March, the Biden Administration signed the American Rescue Plan Act, which included, among many other things, multiple sources of funds for broadband infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Treasury was tasked with writing the rules of how local governments can spend the various funds. The Interim Rule has been published and it appears to significantly limit local ability to invest in needed networks.
The rules say that communities are expected to focus on areas that do not have 25/3 Mbps service reliably available. But there is no measure of what “reliably” means (in federal statute or otherwise). More than 90 percent of Americans have 25/3 “available” to them by best estimates. The result is considerable confusion for urban areas across the nation who no longer qualify for broadband investments under a strict reading of the proposed rules. This is not what the Biden Administration had suggested we should expect in its many press communications about its broadband approach.
This discussion is about Section 602, which details the direct payments to local governments under the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund. The aid offered to local governments has numerous authorized expenditures, including broadband infrastructure.
How Broadband Became a Municipal Utility in Conway, Arkansas - Episode 457 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by two representatives from Conway Corp, a municipal utility in Conway, Arkansas to hear about their commitment to providing high quality Internet access to residents over the last four decades. CEO Bret Carroll and Chief Technology Officer Jason Hansen dive into the rich history of Conway Corp, starting with how the utility got into the telecommunications industry in the early 1980s, by acquiring an exclusive city-wide cable franchise agreement and bringing the first city residents online. They describe two upgrade cycles the network has since undergone: one to a hybrid fiber co-ax system in the late 1990s, and another, starting in 2010, to drive fiber deeper into parts of the network to bring gigabit download service to residents.
With the legislative landscape in Arkansas having changed dramatically earlier this year with the passage of S.B. 74, which significantly reduced state barriers to municipal broadband, Carroll and Hansen share the value the Conway Corp network has brought to the community and what they see next on the horizon.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
This afternoon we hosted a YouTube Live event to talk about a model for financing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks with the potential to dramatically expand ultrafast Internet access at affordable rates with no large upfront costs to homeowners. Christopher was joined by Deborah Simpier, CEO of Althea Networks, to talk with NetEquity Networks Founder and CEO Isfandiyar Shaheen (Asfi) about how it works, and dig into practical questions about its potential to fiberize rural America. This “fiber condominium” approach pairs collectively owned network infrastructure with the equity boost that comes with bringing symmetrical gigabit access to residential housing.
Watch the recording below, and read more about the approach.
Join Us to Discuss Expanding High-Speed Internet Access in America Through Fiber Condominiums on November 19th
Join us for a special livestream next week on Thursday, November 19th, from 3-4pm (CST). We’ll be talking about a model for financing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks with the potential to dramatically expand ultrafast Internet access at affordable rates with no large upfront costs to homeowners. This “fiber condominium” approach pairs collectively owned network infrastructure with the equity boost that comes with bringing symmetrical gigabit access to residential housing.
In this Community Broadband Networks special livestream from ILSR, Christopher will be joined by Deborah Simpier, CEO of Althea Networks, to talk with NetEquity Networks Founder and CEO Isfandiyar Shaheen about how it works, and dig into practical questions about its potential to fiberize rural America.
We look forward to having you join us for the conversation, and welcome your questions during the stream!
What: Discussing A New Financing Model for Fiber Expansion on YouTube Live
When: Thursday, November 19th, 3pm CST
Where: YouTube Live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J37pWLLHEnM
Who: Christopher Mitchell (ILSR), Deborah Simpier (Althea Networks), and Isfandiyar Shaheen (NetEquity Networks)
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This week Christopher brings together Doug Dawson (Owner and President, CCG Consulting), Monica Webb (Head of Marketing Development and Strategic Partnerships, Ting) and returning guest Travis Carter (CEO, US Internet).
The group first discusses Low-Earth Orbit satellite Internet access in the context of SpaceX’s Starlink public beta launch, and what it means for connecting unserved Americans in both urban and rural areas. Then, they dig into the future of cable as a wireline broadband technology, with frank talk about its longevity in the face of fiber as the industry begins talking about the penetration of DOCSIS 3.1 and future moves to DOCSIS 4.0. Finally, Christopher, Doug, Monica, and Travis spend time tackling the question of why we don’t see more small, private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) doing fiber projects in urban areas. They debate, for instance, Right-of-Way issues and the problem of access to capital.
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At the end of August, Alabama rolled out what has been a unique state-level response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and a decision by every school district to offer remote learning as an option for the current school year. Using $103 million in CARES Act funding, the governor’s office enacted the Broadband Connectivity for Students initiative to help low-income families pay for existing or connect new service via a voucher program that runs through December 31st of this year and is worth, on average, about $400 per family.
To date almost 60,000 vouchers have been redeemed representing more than 100,000 students, and while we would wish to see such a large pot of funds go instead towards permanent connectivity solutions, for thousands of families it’s meant immediate and necessary relief. It also highlights the ongoing importance of fast, reliable, affordable Internet-access for distance learning.
The process began in late July, with the state issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) [pdf] soliciting responses as many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as wanted to participate in the program. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is heading it up, with the state's Department of Education providing the identifying information for households with students on free or reduced lunch. CTC Technology and Energy is serving as contractor (and receiving approximately $3.4 million for its design work and services).
37 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across fiber, fixed wireless, mobile, cable, and satellite service ultimately made the cut to participate in the program. See the full list of ISPs, but it includes a handful of municipal networks and cooperatives we’ve covered in the past, including:
As schools and businesses ask people to stay home to reduce the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus, I wanted to share some thoughts about how I expect broadband Internet access networks will handle the change and increase in broadband traffic in residential areas.
Our first reaction is that, as with so many areas with network effects, the rich will get richer. This is to say that historic inequities will be exacerbated — people that have been able to afford the high-quality networks will probably see very little disruption and those who have older networks may be effectively disconnected.
Better Network Scenarios
Those on fiber optic networks probably won't notice major changes in demand. This is the easy one — it is why we have long believed that fiber optics should be the goal for the vast majority of Americans.
Most modern cable networks should be also able to handle the demand — especially on the download end. This is good because 2 out of 3 Americans with broadband gets it from a cable network. Upgrades in recent years from the aggressive cable companies (Comcast Xfinity, Cox, and some of the many smaller cable networks — Charter Spectrum less so) should allow more than sufficient download capacity even if home video streaming increases significantly. But in smaller towns, where the local cable companies haven't been able to afford those upgrades and the bigger cable providers have just ignored them, I would expect to see intermittent and in some cases, persistent congestion problems from bottlenecks.
In the upstream direction, the cable networks will have some challenges. I wouldn't expect most Comcast or Cox markets to have too many problems, though neighborhoods with lots of professionals using video conferencing tools could congest. I would expect Charter Spectrum, Mediacom, and many of the others to have frequent congestion for upstream connections, lowering throughput extremely at times.
As we greet each holiday season, we try to re-live the classic creations from years gone by and treasure hoilday memories the creative writers at MuniNetworks.org have developed to enjoy the season. Four years ago, Tom Ernste and Hannah Trostle wrote “Twas the Night Before Muni Fiber” which has always been one of our favorites.
Both authors have journeyed on to other careers but we get to keep their contributions to ILSR’s work, including this poem in the style of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore. We've made it a tradition each year to publish the piece for new readers.
Enjoy, share, and thank you for your support!
As authors at MuniNetworks.org have the opportunity to add to our growing cache of holiday-themed, broadband-centric writings, we try to remember to share classics like this one from 2015. “Twas the Night Before Muni Fiber” was crafted by Tom Ernste and Hannah Trostle. Both have moved on to the next phases of their careers but their contributions to ILSR’s work, including this poem in the style of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore will be appreciated for many years to come.
Enjoy, share, and thank you for your support!
In May, Connecticut’s Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA) struck a blow at local authority when the ruled that communities could not use their protected utility pole space for municipal fiber deployment. Big cable and telephone companies cheered, broadband advocates and communities that need better connectivity decided to take action. Now, PURA faces lawsuits that challenge the decision from the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC), the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), and at least three local communities that just want high-quality Internet access.
The focus of the controversy is Connecticut’s Municipal Gain Space Law, which was first established in the early 1900s to guarantee municipalities the ability to hang telegraph wires. The municipal gain space is a location on all utility poles — publicly or privately owned — situated in the public right-of-way. After multiple law suits over the years in which cities and the state typically won, Connecticut’s legislature finally amended the language of the law to allow government entities to use the municipal gain space for “any use” in 2013.
Almost two years ago, we reported on the petition filed by the OCC and the State Broadband Office (SBO) with PURA asking for clarification on the law, which included establishing clear-cut rules on using the municipal gain space for fiber optic deployment. They felt the rules needed cleaning up because some incumbents in Connecticut were still finding ways to thwart competition and stop or delay plans for municipal fiber deployment.
In addition to using restrictive pole attachment agreements, incumbents were exploiting the lack of definition in the statute to slow make-ready work, question who pays for make-ready work, and generally delay municipal projects. Time is money and losing momentum can drive up the cost of of a project, which in turn erodes a community's will to see it realized.
The Decision in Question