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Los Altos Hills Community Fiber: A Story of Community Solutions to Community Empowerment - Episode 475 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
On this week’s episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, host Christopher Mitchell is joined by Scott Vanderlip, chair of Los Altos Hills Community Fiber, to talk about how he and other Los Altos Hills residents banded together to create a subscriber-owned network.
The two discuss the challenges of building a locally-owned network from the ground up. Los Altos Hills Community Fiber began with a handful of residents who pooled together the funds to connect six homes using dark fiber; today, it includes 35 households, with plans to triple its footprint in the near future thanks to a partnership with Next Level Networks. Christopher and Scott discuss the barriers that exist in building a community-owned, but not municipally owned, network, and how with patience and persistence they’ve seen steady growth and increased interest.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
During fire season in Northern California - when the sky often turns dusky with smoke in the middle of the day and the air quality can get so bad that officials declare it unhealthy to be outdoors - access to high-speed Internet connectivity is all-important.
For local governments, fast, reliable, and resilient Internet service is crucial for public safety communications. When flames engulf the region, relaying critical emergency information with speed is paramount. Seconds matter. It’s equally important for citizens to get timely information on the course of wildfires, receive alert notifications or evacuation orders, and be able to connect with friends and family.
Living in that reality is one of the driving reasons the Chico City Council recently voted to earmark $5 million of the city’s $22 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to research and implement a plan to improve citywide Internet access.
City council members have already authorized spending $250,000 of the funds to develop a Broadband Master Plan in conjunction with EntryPoint Networks. The plan is projected to be completed by October, and once it is finished the City Council will decide where to go from there.
City officials are also in the process of surveying the city’s 115,000 residents to gauge community interest in building a municipally-owned open access fiber network. Responses to the survey so far have indicated residents are excited about the potential of a municipal broadband offering, the city’s Administrative Services Director, Scott Dowell, told ILSR in a recent interview. Dowell said he’s noticed three recurring themes in the survey responses to date: “They want it to be reliable, inexpensive, and fast.”
Although no plans have been finalized and the city is open to various approaches to improve Internet access, Dowell said the city’s lofty goal is to enable symmetrical gigabit Internet service to all premises in Chico for a monthly access fee of no more than $100.
Improving Emergency Communications in the Face of Forest Fires
Nestled in Southern California’s Inland Empire is the city of Moreno Valley which goes by the maxim: "People, Pride, Progress!” Now, city officials are looking to live up to the motto by moving forward with a plan to expand Internet access to residents by utilizing 35 miles of fiber assets and 11,000 city utility poles to extend public Wi-Fi access to as many homes as possible.
Home to over 213,000 residents, the city of Moreno Valley is in the beginning stages of developing a Master Plan to extend its existing fiber and wireless networks. The goal of the plan, being completed by Magellan Advisors, is to leverage city-owned assets to expand Internet access and lower the cost of connectivity for public-sector organizations, businesses, and community anchor institutions.
The Master Plan calls for a focus on expanding Moreno Valley’s municipal network in a way that would promote economic development; support education, healthcare, and public safety in the city, and generally improve quality of life for residents living in an increasingly interconnected world.
Moreno Valley and Magellan, a national consulting firm, are currently in the first phase of assessing the feasibility of the project and developing the Master Plan, which is anticipated to be complete by the end of the year.
Phase 1 of the plan consists of conducting an inventory of broadband assets, interviewing city staff and other major stakeholders (such as larger hospitals, school districts and warehousing groups), conducting online surveys to understand current broadband availability, and putting together a cost-benefit analysis.
“Putting that whole picture together is what Magellan Advisors is helping us do. They’re taking a look at everything we have - what’s connected, what’s almost connected but not quite. They’re going to develop a Master Plan and give [the city] suggestions as to what we could do, so we can place assets more intentionally,” Steve Hargis, the city’s Chief Information Officer told ILSR in a recent interview.
Between the U.S. Treasury clarifying that American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds are eligible to be spent on middle-mile infrastructure and the U.S. Senate’s proposed infrastructure bill directing NTIA to establish a $1 billion grant program to support the deployment of middle-mile networks, federal assistance aiming to improve middle-mile access is imminent.
Cities and states across the U.S. have already committed portions of their federal relief funds to boost access to middle-mile infrastructure. City officials of Brownsville, Texas approved a plan in July to use $19.5 million of ARP funds to construct a 95-mile-long middle-mile broadband network. In Suffolk, Virginia, city council members set aside $5 million of relief funds for the first phase of a regional project to construct an open access, middle-mile fiber ring.
The Governor and State Legislature of California recently settled on a $3.25 billion agreement to build statewide public middle-mile infrastructure, “one of the largest state investments in public fiber in the history of the United States,” reports Ernesto Falcon for EFF.
The sudden surge in middle-mile investment may bring about confusion over what middle-mile infrastructure is and give rise to questions over the necessity of such investments. A new fact sheet from the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) clarifies commonly held misbeliefs about investing in public middle-mile infrastructure. Read CSAC’s new fact sheet here [pdf].
Investments in Public Middle-Mile Needed to Confront Monopolies
In this episode of the Connect This! Show, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by Jessica Engle (IT Director for the Yurok Tribe) and Matthew Rantanen (Director of Technology, Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association) to talk about broadband in Indian Country.
The panel discusses the realities of deploying wired and wireless broadband infrastructure on tribal lands, and what the Yurok tribe has learned along the way in overcoming challenges and working with partners and vendors to expand access in efficient but sustainable ways.
During the hour, Matt, Jess, Travis, and Christopher also talk about the $1 billion Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the long history of underinvestment by incumbent providers in Indian County, and how communities can position themselves to succeed in the context of local conditions in pursuing long-term solutions.
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Maine broadband authority redefines statewide broadband as symmetrical 100/100 Mbps connection
California Legislature and Governor reach $5.25 billion agreement on statewide middle-mile network
New Hampshire matching grant initiative aiming to promote partnerships signed by Governor
The State Scene
The Maine Senate recently enrolled a bill (L.D. 1432) amending the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Access Fund to only allow communities, municipalities, and regional utilities access to grants through the program. The bill became law without State Governor Janet Mills’ signature on June 24.
The legislation removes limits placed on the number of grants able to be awarded per project, but limits the amount of funds that may be distributed per project to 50 percent of total costs. The bill, aiming to support the deployment of municipal gigabit fiber optic networks, also requires the ConnectMaine (ConnectME) Authority to establish minimum upload and download speed definitions to foster widespread availability of symmetric high-speed Internet access, beginning in 2025.
ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative Director Christopher Mitchell recently joined Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, for a live discussion centered on the “Investment Implications of a Federal Broadband Infrastructure Bill.”
During the discussion, Christopher breaks down the various pots of money the federal government has dedicated to expanding Internet infrastructure and access to date. He points to the shortcomings of current federal programs, among which are provisions that set aside funds in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the Emergency Broadband Benefit and the Emergency Connectivity Fund going to short-term, incumbent-friendly solutions.
Christopher noted that while the Emergency Broadband Benefit has helped income eligible households by providing $50 to $75 a month subsidies for home Internet subscriptions, it leaves uncertain what the future holds for these communities when the funds run out. Similarly, he points to restrictions placed on the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which limit the ability of schools and libraries to use the funds to build their own networks. Throughout the discussion, Chris maintains that public dollars should be spent on more sustainable, long-term solutions.
PCMag’s Fastest ISPs in America List Once Again Proves the Value of Cities Investing in Internet Infrastructure
After three years in a row with similar results, PCMag’s “Fastest ISPs in America” for 2021 analysis shows a clear trend: community owned and/or operated broadband infrastructure supports networks which, today, handily beat the huge monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - cable and telephone alike – for sheer speed.
The latest list proves it. Of the ten-fastest ISPs in the country, all of them feature operators that either are cities themselves or use city-owned fiber or conduit to deliver service across whole or parts of their footprint.
City-run networks making the list again this year include Longmont, Colorado (third); Chattanooga, Tennessee (sixth); and Cedar Falls, Iowa (seventh). Cedar Falls topped the list last year, but all three networks are regulars over the last three analyses done by the outlet. Broken down regionally, they are also joined by other municipal networks around the country, including FairlawnGig in Ohio and LUS Fiber in Louisiana.
Part of the Michelson 20MM Foundation's digital equity focus area has been its Connecting California learning series, which seeks to "strengthen [our] collective understanding of the history and root causes of the 'digital divides' - the economic and educational gaps created by inequitable access to high-speed internet, computing devices, and digital literacy resources" in the Golden State.
The panel features introductory remarks from Dr. Gary Michelson (Founder, Michelson 20MM Foundation) and Congressman Jerry McNerney (U.S. Representative for California’s 9th Congressional District) before ILSR's Christopher Mitchell takes over as moderator and runs a lively conversation about what the below panelists have done (and learned along the way) in closing the digital divide before and during the ongoing pandemic.
The webinar includes discussion from Seth Hoedl (President & Chief Science Officer, Post Road Foundation), Joanne Hovis (CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice; President, CTC Technology and Energy), Bruce Patterson, (Director of Technology, Entry Point Networks) and Preston Rhea (Director of Engineering, Policy Program, Monkeybrains).
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On Episode 15 of the Connect This! Show, co-hosts Christopher and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by two representatives from the Internet Service Provider Cruzio: James Hackett (Director of Business Operations & Development) and Chris Frost (Director of Technology and Infrastructure).
The topic of the day is Equal Access Santa Cruz, and how Cruzio is expanding its network with philanthropy to serve low-income households. They talk about the organizing and technical efforts that got it started, challenges along the way, and the success they've seen as a result of their collective hard work.
The secret sauce of equal access programs? There is none. Just put together a coalition of groups that can continue to do what they already do best, the result of which is bringing affordable, fast Internet access to more families. School districts can continue to serve kids, community foundations can continue to raise money and build relationships, and the ISP can continue to construct and operate Internet connections and infrastructure.
One particular success of the project: bringing in a point-to-multipoint gigabit connection to 140 homes, two laundry rooms, and an office in one farm worker community, funded by the local agricultural firm, to provide free service for three years.
Read more about the project here.
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