Tag: "open access"

Posted September 20, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Plans for an open access fiber backbone in Erie County, New York (pop. 951,000) are being readjusted after having been stymied by the pandemic. The county will use Rescue Plan funding to cover the cost of building the backbone, which will be owned by the county and operated by ErieNet, a nonprofit local development corporation. The backbone will make connectivity directly available to anchor institutions and enterprise businesses, but the county hopes the project will draw private providers to build out last-mile infrastructure to residents. With the new fiber ring, Erie County seeks to increase both broadband availability and competition in the area. 

The project began in spring 2019, when the county announced its plan for a $20 million open access network, which at that time it was looking to have up and running before 2022. ErieNet’s original plan was a response to an acute need for connectivity among the county’s southern and eastern rural towns, as well as much of Buffalo – despite these areas’ proximity to relatively well-connected wealthier suburban communities nearby. The county is for the most part monopoly domain, served by Charter Spectrum, Lumen (formerly CenturyLink), and in some small patches, Verizon. Verizon has cherry picked wealthier areas like Kenmore, Williamsville, and Amherst, as well as a few blocks in Buffalo by the company’s hub there, but has not found the rural or high-density and low-income areas profitable enough to build to. Relatively smaller providers like Crown Castle and FirstLight have also made infrastructure investments in parts of the county, but do not appear to have expansion plans.

The pandemic stalled Erie County’s buildout plans – supply chain challenges and bureaucracy-related complications have pushed the expected project completion date to 2025, though some customers may be able to connect to the network in 2024. According to the plan, Erie County is poised to become “...

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Posted September 19, 2022 by Karl Bode

Last March, Caribou, Maine city council members expressed unanimous support for a charter amendment allowing the Caribou Utilities District to establish a broadband infrastructure division. It was just the latest move in a multi-year quest by the city to finally deliver affordable fiber broadband access to every last city resident.

Groundwork for the effort was laid one year ago, when city council members approved using $159,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to craft a broadband engineering study with the help of Caribou’s Business Investment Group and executives from local ISP Pioneer Broadband.

Late last March, the Maine Senate unanimously approved LD 1949: “An Act to Amend the Caribou Utilities District Charter to Include Broadband Services,” which formally, as the name makes clear, provided approval for the CUD to expand its services into broadband access.

Now the hard work begins. 

The plan as it currently stands is to build an open-access dark fiber network to every unserved Caribou residential and business location. The city would own the network, but private ISPs would provide last mile service to customers. 

“We would like two or more ISPs to provide citizens with a choice of providers,” Hugh Kirkpatrick, Caribou Utilities District general manager, recently told the Bangor Daily News. “Competition should keep monthly prices lower and customer service higher.”

Pioneer has already expressed interest in being one of the providers, though the city is also still fielding proposals from regional cable giants like Charter Communications. 

Funding for the project remains up in the air, though the project will proceed with or without funding from...

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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 August 5, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Spurred to action by inadequate high-speed Internet service as the pandemic besieged their communities, local officials and citizen volunteers in five rural Maine towns formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition (SWCBC) in an effort to bring ubiquitous and affordable broadband to its portion of Waldo County.

Two years later, the SWCBC is close to securing a major victory for local Internet choice in the face of a well-funded opposition campaign sweeping the Pine Tree State as the Big Telecom lobby and its allies try to undermine the very idea of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks in Maine and elsewhere.

The five SWCBC towns clustered about 30 miles east of Augusta – home to approximately 5,600 Mainers – are looking to create what is known as a Broadband Utility District (BUD). Four of those towns (Freedom, Liberty, Palermo, and Searsmont) recently voted in favor of establishing a BUD. Montville will be the last of the five towns to vote on whether to BUDdy up with the neighboring municipalities via an Interlocal Agreement (ILA). That vote is slated for August 23.

Similar to Communication Union Districts (CUDs) that the neighboring state of Vermont is relying on to deliver reliable and affordable broadband to its residents and businesses, Maine state law “allows towns to band together to form a community-owned organization, controlled by the municipality members but a legally separate organization - a regional non-profit utility. The BUD is allowed to incur debt that is separate from and not guaranteed by the municipalities.”

...

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Posted July 29, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

A new report out from the Copia Institute highlights the failures of the current national broadband marketplace and the value of locally-driven connectivity solutions, while underscoring once again the potential for open access models to break entrenched monopoly power. Along the way, the report offers some useful ways of reframing our understanding of how we got to a place where Internet access is dominated by just a handful of companies across the United States.

Cities as Laboratories, and the Possibilities of Open Access

“Competition is Just a Click Away” covers a lot of ground. Its author - Karl Bode - is a veteran of the broadband policy space (including writing for ILSR recently), and has long helped shed light on the consequences in increasing monopoly power in the technology landscape.

In the report, he begins by laying out the problems borne from a lack of competition, including: the consequences of regulatory capture of the FCC by huge, for-profit companies, past and continued problems with mapping, and the resulting slower speeds, lack of investment, astonishing extraction of wealth, and worrying lobbying power enjoyed by monopoly providers, all fueled by increasingly high prices and the efficient extraction of wealth from communities to further concentrate market reach and lobbying power. 

An important early point made in the report is that, in the face of these realities, over the last fifteen years local cities have become “telecom laboratories where financial and technical innovation flourish, providing blueprints federal policy makers struggling to boost affordable broadband availability would be foolish to ignore.” Chattanooga and a handful of other city-owned and operated networks illustrate the power of communities to retake control of essential infrastructure.

The community broadband movement is an organic market response to market failure and the extractive power of unchecked monopolization.

Among the many results, the report points out, is that subscribers in the United States pay higher prices for slower service than many other places. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Bode reminds us.

Open access networks offer a concrete path to separating Internet infrastructure from service provisioning, and allow even conservatively minded cities to use...

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Posted June 7, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

It’s been nine months since we launched our Big List of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Community Broadband Projects, tracking what communities are doing with the various pots of federal money intended to go towards solving local broadband challenges. Since then, we’ve recorded 250 community projects and 27 states which have announced significant broadband grant programs or disbursement for new infrastructure projects. Here we highlight some of the community projects we’re really excited about, including those that have decided to build their own networks and those building on existing projects, as well as those using ARPA dollars for open access networks, affordable connectivity, or Internet access for students. We also discuss some examples of solutions we believe are less permanent, forward-thinking, or likely to result in long-term success, including the distribution of hotspots and the allocation of funds to monopoly providers. 

What We’re Excited About: Community-Owned Networks and Open Access  

Fortunately, we’re seeing a number of communities approve plans to spend their Rescue Plan dollars on building their own municipal networks. In Lexington, Tennessee (population 8,000), the city is collaborating with Lexington Electric to bring broadband to the community. An ARPA grant is expected to cover about $20 million of the total $50 million price tag, and the city will issue bonds for the rest. If this grant is received, Henderson County (28,000) – where Lexington is located – has agreed to a 10 percent match (from $300,000 to $500,000). 

Maine has also allocated just over $15 million to eight broadband projects through the ConnectMaine Authority, $8.5 million of which comes from the American Rescue Plan. The funding will go to five municipal projects and three provider-led initiatives, and will serve approximately 6,000 residents “in some of the least-served areas of the state.”

Other communities are deploying fixed wireless solutions....

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Posted May 10, 2022 by

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Benoit Felton (Independent Consultant, Diffraction Analysis). 

During the conversation, the two discuss the transformational potential of broadband,  international developments in fiber deployment and lessons on wholesale broadband networks. 

They talk about the state of European broadband service, what keeps customers from changing providers within open access models, and compare “open access” with “wholesale” terminology.

Benoit and Chris discuss the reality of Internet connectivity and access in China and Southeast Asian countries finding recent success in fiber deployments. Finally, they end the show with thoughts on regulatory capture and why regulation is key to the success of wholesale networks.

This show is 49 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.

Transcript coming soon. 

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.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm...

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Posted April 18, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

As states and local governments look to leverage the flood of federal funds for the creation of ubiquitous high speed Internet access, an upcoming conference promises to be packed with practical insights from leading broadband experts on how to maximize the moment.

The Broadband Communities Summit 2022, which will once again be held in Houston, Texas at the downtown Marriott Marquis from May 2nd through May 5th, is an annual four-day event. Expected to draw over 1,200 participants, this year’s theme will be “Fiber: The Lifeblood of the New Economy.” It will be organized around a multitrack agenda, numerous workshops, and showcase an exhibit hall with dozens of vendors – all of which provides attendees with valuable networking opportunities with broadband systems operators.

The agenda will offer a variety of key features, including:

  • Expanded program addressing the booming multifamily housing segment 
  • Exclusive closed-door sharing session in owners' forums 
  • Insight into evolving business models 
  • Special hot topic clusters grouped around central themes, including financing opportunities and partnership models 
  • Expert advice and strategies for using broadband to create jobs and attract and keep businesses 
  • Legal strategies symposium

The opening day of the summit kicks off with several workshops, including a Broadband Breakfast mini-conference that focuses on both private and public financing; a workshop on the “flavors of open access (networks)” moderated by our own Christopher Mitchell and UTOPIA Fiber’s Chief Marketing Officer Kim McKinley; and a workshop on how the public and private sectors can work together to develop successful broadband partnerships, presented by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) President Jim Baller, CTC Energy and Technology President Joanne Hovis, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance Angela Siefer, and Fiber Broadband Association President and CEO Gary Bolton.

Day 2 of the summit will feature a keynote address from Texas Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher as well as presentations from top representatives of the federal agencies in charge of allocating funds...

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Posted April 4, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This year's Mountain Connect conference begins Monday, May 23rd and runs through Wednesday, May 25 in Keystone, Colorado. The conference's self-stated goal is to "move our western US communities forward by providing relevant and targeted content to help them make the most effective decisions as they build new or expand existing telecommunications infrastructure that enable the long-term vision of a community."

It will feature panels on navigating state and federal funding, telehealth, disaster resilience, digital inclusion, tribal connectivity, construction challenges, and communications and technology standards. 

We'll also get to hear an array of conversations with local leaders, talking about everything from revitalizing downtowns with new municipal broadband infrastructure, to partnerships, to open access, to marketing, to managing subscriber expectations. See the full agenda here.

Anchoring the panels will be communities like Boulder, Colorado, Loveland, Colorado, and Detroit, Michigan, with familiar faces and industry veterans helping to break things down in clear ways, including Peggy Schaffer (ConnectME), Joshua Edmonds (Director of Digital Inclusion, Detroit), Brian Snider (Lit Communities), Bruce Patterson (EntryPoint Networks), and Gary Bolton (Fiber Broadband Association).

ILSR's DeAnne Cuellar will be participating on a digital inclusion panel moderated by NDIA's Paolo Balboa with Colorado Department of Labor's Katherine Keegan. Likewise, Christopher Mitchell will moderate a panel with Peggy Schaffer, Eric Forsch (Idaho Commerce) and Veneeth Iyengar (ConnectLA) to talk about how states will use the BEAD money. See the full slate of speakers here.

Register for Mountain Connect 2022 here.

Posted March 18, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Located in southeastern Iowa, Dubuque (pop. 60,000) has considered the advantages of building a municipal network a number of times over the past fifteen years. Back in 2005, the city – as well as several other Iowa communities – voted to “grant the right to create municipal systems” (Telegraph Herald, 2009). The new legislation, however, did not result in many new telecommunications utilities. 

The road to better connectivity has been a long one, marked by repeated battles between locals served by poor or no service and the city’s incumbent providers. In 2009, Mediacom used the state’s right of first refusal law to keep competition out of its territory, causing the city to “cry foul” and Dubuque to reconsider a public network. In 2015, the city of Dubuque and the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation joined forces to expand local connectivity in response to community demand. The partnership included convening private and public sectors to identify last mile infrastructure and foster collaboration, and supporting opportunities for expanded connectivity. By 2017, private providers including Wisconsin Independent Network, CS Technologies, Unite Private Networks, CenturyLink, and Mediacom had made efforts to serve some of the unserved areas, but pockets of the community were still left out. 

Only more recently has a formal proposal been set forth, with the potential to create a robust middle-mile network designed to dramatically improve competition and incent private ISPs to invest in the un- and underserved pockets of the community. 

A Formal Proposal for Public Broadband Infrastructure 

It’s been a long conversation with no definitive moves, but that may be changing soon. In February, 2022, Dubuque County’s Information Technology Department proposed a middle-mile underground conduit buildout to connect residents and anchor institutions across the county. The...

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