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The Success of Urbana-Champaign's Broadband Revolution - Episode 601 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

In this episode of the podcast, Chris sits down with Paul Dixson and Mike Smeltzer to discuss the transformative UC2B (Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband) project. Paul Dixson, co-chair of UC2B and former CIO of the University of Illinois, and Mike Smeltzer, often referred to as the "father of UC2B," share their insights and experiences from the inception of the initiative to its current status.

The conversation delves into the origins of UC2B, which received initial funding through an NTIA grant as part of the 2009 Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The project aimed to build a robust fiber optic infrastructure to serve the Champaign-Urbana area, including underserved neighborhoods and a wide array of anchor institutions like schools, libraries, senior centers, and even a Zen meditation center.

They discuss the significant impact UC2B has had on local broadband competition, driving other providers to improve their services and infrastructure. Paul and Mike reflect on the challenges and successes over the past decade, highlighting the public-private partnership that has been crucial to the project’s sustainability and growth. As of today, UC2B is nearing the completion of its goal to provide high-speed fiber access to every home and business in Champaign-Urbana, demonstrating a model for community-driven broadband initiatives nationwide.

Join us to learn about the history, challenges, and triumphs of UC2B, and get inspired by the potential of community broadband projects to bridge the digital divide and foster economic growth.

This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Transcript below.

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

Listen to other episodes or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Wired for Good: Exploring Rural Connectivity in West Virginia - Episode 597 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

In this latest episode of the podcast, Chris is joined by Derek Barr, Assistant General Manager at Hardy Telecommunications in West Virginia. Together, they delve into the intricate world of nonprofit cooperatives, focusing on the journey of Hardy Telecommunications since its inception in 1953. 

Originally established to fill the service gap left by larger providers, Hardy Telecommunications has since expanded its offerings to include broadband services, becoming a lifeline for rural communities with about 6,100 access lines and nearly 5,100 broadband customers.

Derek candidly shares the rollercoaster ride of being a small provider, from wearing multiple hats to navigating the maze of regulatory changes. They explore the ripple effects of federal funding programs like the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) on their expansion efforts.

But it's not just about challenges; Chris and Derek paints a picture of hope through partnerships with counties and emphasizes the ongoing need for support and funding to keep the broadband momentum going in rural areas.

This show is 36 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.

Transcript below.

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

Listen to other episodes here or 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.

Rural Cooperative Hardy Telecommunications Does The Heavy Lifting In Unserved West Virginia

The rocky rural hills of West Virginia are a formidable foe when it comes to building high-speed Internet infrastructure that offers affordable high-quality service.

Nobody knows that better than Hardy Telecommunications (OneNet), a small community-owned cooperative that delivers affordable fiber to frustrated locals deemed too costly and cumbersome to be served by the incumbent telecom giants.

The cooperative serves parts of four counties (Hardy, Pendelton, Grant, and Hampshire). It connected its first fiber customer in 2013, after receiving $31.6 million in federal BTOP funding. Since then, the cooperative tells ILSR they’ve spent $20 million of their own funds to bring fiber to rural corners of the aptly-named Mountain State.

Derek Barr, Assistant General Manager at Hardy Telecommunications, says the cooperative currently delivers broadband service to 5,050 rural subscribers – 4,736 of which are on fiber lines that simply wouldn’t exist without federal funding programs. Hardy Telecommunications also provides 68 customers with fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband service.

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HardyNet service area map

“Our focus is fiber, and we're trying to build out fiber as much as we can,” Barr tells ILSR. “But it's very tough in our serving region. It's all mountains and a lot of trees, and a big chunk of our area is either state park or national forest land. It's also very hard to do fixed wireless because even if it might work in the winter, it's not going to work in the summer” when tree leaves block line of sight, he noted.

So the cooperative slowly and consistently expands fiber as it can, often in partnership with Pendleton County. As a result, locals have the option of a variety of double and triple play phone, cable, and fiber options, starting with a symmetrical 100 Mbps (megabit per second) downstream, 50 Mbps upstream fiber and phone bundle for $79 a month.

Doubling the Number of Municipal Networks in the Next Five Years - Episode 563 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

May 2022 witnessed something remarkable: the birth of a new nonprofit advocacy organization whose sole purpose was to speak up for the hundreds of communities that have built municipal broadband networks, and the thousands more that want to but don't know where to start. Now, the American Association for Public Broadband has named as its Executive Director as Gigi Sohn, former Biden nominee to the Federal Communications Commission. And she's ready to get to work.

Gigi joins Christopher on the podcast this week to talk about standing up support systems to promote and defend community-driven models to double the number of municipal systems in the next five years - including providing resources and countering dark-money astroturf campaigns -  while also making sure the Internet stays as open and equitable as possible, and not squandering the promise of BEAD.

This show is 46 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below.

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.

 

Bill Callahan on Digital Equity History and NE Ohio Challenges - Building for Digital Equity Podcast Episode 8

Building for Digital Equity logo

Bill Callahan, Executive Director of Connect Your Community, joins Christopher Mitchell to talk about some of the history of digital equity and the before-times that led to the formation of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. We also discuss Cleveland and later NE Ohio more specifically after exploring how Internet access has changed in the area since their landmark report, "AT&T’s digital redlining of Cleveland."

This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.

Transcript below. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Joseph McDade for the music. The song is On the Verge and is used per his Free-Use terms.

Nelson County, VA, Releases RFP For Operator: Proposals Due Feb. 3

Nelson County, Virginia, recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a vendor to operate its open access fiber network. Proposals are due February 3, 2017.

BTOP And Be More

The Nelson County Broadband Authority (NCBA) obtained grant funds under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP - one of two federal broadband stimulus programs), which allowed it to deploy 31 miles of backbone and laterals. In 2015, the county used a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and a Local Innovation Grant (LIG) to expand the network further to a total of 39 miles. The NCBA also uses several towers to complement wireline service.

The network now has approximately 350 customers. In keeping with the terms of the BTOP criteria, the network is open access and the NCBA describes itself as a wholesale Ethernet transport provider. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer Internet access and other types of services via the infrastructure.

According to the RFP, the NCBA requires:

The primary roles are to operate, monitor, and manage the network meaning to configure to order using the management systems of Calix, capture and report network outages and anomalies including traffic throughput issues, and manage projects for the continued enhancement of the network as required by the NCBA. Other roles include monthly billing of SPs and generating monthly billing and other financial reports to be provided to NCBA. 

Quiet And Connected

Nelson County is an extremely rural area in the north central part of the state; only about 15,000 people live in the entire county. The county seat of Lovingston has a population of 520. Tourism and a variety of home-based businesses are important to the Nelson County economy. Thanks to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the George Washington National Forest, the county is filled with hilly terrain, hiking trails, fishing, and vineyards. 

Access the full RFP online; the due date for proposals is February 3, 2017.

Open Cape Works With Communities for Last Mile - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 215

Cape Cod's OpenCape is the latest of the stimulus-funded middle mile broadband projects to focus on expanding to connect businesses and residents. We talk to OpenCape Executive Director Steve Johnston about the new focus and challenge of expansion in episode 215 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Steve has spent much of his first year as executive director in meetings with people all across the Cape. We talk about how important those meetings are and why Steve made them a priority in the effort to expand OpenCape. We also talk about the how OpenCape is using Crowd Fiber to allow residents to show their interest in an OpenCape connection. They hope that expanding the network will encourage people to spend more time on the Cape, whether living or vacationing. The Cape is not just a vacation spot, it has a large number of full time residents that are looking for more economic opportunities and the higher quality of life that comes with full access to modern technology.

This show is 26 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

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 Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

Middle Mile vs Last Mile - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 214

As the next President considers how to improve rural Internet access, the administration will have to decide where to focus policy. Some at NTIA - the National Telecommunications Information Administration, a part of the federal Department of Commerce - have argued for more middle mile investment. NTIA oversaw major investments in middle mile networks after the stimulus package passed in 2009. To discuss the relevance of middle mile investment against last mile investment, we brought Fletcher Kittredge back, the CEO of GWI in Maine. Fletcher has extensive experience with both middle mile and last mile investments. We talk about whether more middle mile will actual incent last mile investment and, more importantly, how to build middle mile correctly to get the best bang for the buck. Along those lines, we talk about avoiding cherry-picking problems and one of my favorites, how to ensure that rural investment does not inadvertently promote sprawl.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

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 Roller Genoa for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Safe and Warm in Hunter's Arms."

Minnesota's Arrowhead Region Points to High-Speed Internet

Welcome to high-speed Internet on the Iron Range! This past fall, the Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) completed a multi-year project, a fiber optic network spanning nearly 1,000 miles, on Minnesota’s north shore.

The project, the Northeast Fiber Network, connects public buildings, such as health care facilities, community libraries, colleges and universities, tribal facilities, and government offices. The fiber provides the opportunity for next-generation connectivity in many unserved and underserved areas of eight counties: St. Louis, Cook, Lake, Pine, Itasca, Koochiching, Carlton, and Aitkin. It’s exciting to see this rural project finally come to fruition.

Institutional Network: Now to Go the Last Mile

It’s an institutional network, which means it brings high-speed Internet to community anchor institutions throughout the region. So far, about 320 public entities, including 31 school districts, have connected to the network. The network is designed to provide middle mile connectivity for community anchor institutions, not to bring connectivity to residents and businesses of the region. As with most federally funded projects, the plan is to provide middle mile infrastructure with the hope that the private sector will be more able or willing to invest in last mile connectivity.

That last mile, to homes and businesses, presents a challenge. NESC is leasing fiber to public and private providers and working to ensure that the network can serve as a backbone to greater connectivity. Actively working with private providers, NESC offers a bright future for unserved and underserved communities on the Iron Range.

Collaboration & Funding

Fifteen Fun Facts about NoaNet - Fifteen Years of Accomplishments

Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) was just a dream back in 2000, but, fifteen years later, it’s one of the largest networks in the state of Washington. NoaNet is celebrating fifteen years of accomplishments, so we compiled fifteen fun facts everyone should know about this community network.

1. One of the first Open Access networks in the U.S.
Back in 2000, people in rural Washington watched as the dot-com and telecom boom passed them by. Frustrated that large ISPs refused to build infrastructure near them, the people created NoaNet and allowed anyone to use it through Open Access. This type of design encourages multiple service providers to share the infrastructure and local communities own the network.

2. Almost 2,000 miles of fiber
You know that amazing, next-generation technology that Google is rolling out in select cities across the U.S.? Yeah, people in Washington started using fiber optic cables fifteen years ago to bring high-speed Internet to their communities. Now, NoaNet extends almost 2,000 miles through both rural and metro areas.

3. It’s a giant Institutional Network
With all that fiber, NoaNet connects 170 communities and around 2,000 schools, libraries, hospitals, and government buildings. It serves as a middle mile network, connecting the public institutions of small towns to the greater Internet. 

4. 40% of Washington government traffic, by 2007
And that’s just within the first seven years!

5. 61 last mile providers
From NoaNet’s infrastructure, private providers bring connectivity the last mile to homes and businesses. Having publicly-owned middle mile reduces the capital costs of building last mile infrastructure - that means more providers can compete with one another and better prices for everyone. Currently, there are over 260,000 customers!