Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "champaign-urbana"
When school shut down past spring, Unit 4 schools in Champaign, Illinois scrambled to get students connected like everyone else. The district handed out Chromebooks and teachers went to work transitioning to online instruction so the school year could continue. But the district noticed that a large percentage of its students weren't logging on and the bulk of them came from Shadowwood mobile home park, where although fiber ran up and down every street in the neighborhood only one family subscribed to wireline Internet access. So Mark Toalson, the city’s IT Director, began making calls, and by the end of the summer a coalition came together to build Shadowwood’s students a free fixed wireless network which went online in August.
Fiber Just a Few Feet Away
The mobile home park sits on the north side of the town of 90,000, and is largely populated by Hispanic residents. Roughly 250 students who attend the Unit 4 school district live there, and according to Toalson not a single one had Internet access beyond personal mobile phones before they began last spring. In late May Mayor Deborah Feinen asked the city manager what could be done, and Toalson was asked to take on the project.
I3 Broadband, the private sector partner working with Champaign-Urbana to deliver high-quality connectivity, continues to expand throughout the region and announced that it will aim to offer services to 3,000 more premises during 2018.
One Step At A Time
The company has mapped out the community into neighborhoods and decides order of deployment on several factors, including proximity to areas already being served and level of interest. Residents can indicate their interest online at the company’s website or request the company send them a form to fill out and mail back. I3 will consider bringing the network to a neighborhood when 30 - 45 percent of households express interest in signing up for the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service.
I3 serves premises in 24 neighborhoods in Champaign-Urbana, which includes neighborhoods that UC2B built out with fiber and areas where iTV-3 deployed fiber.
When the communities of Champaign and Urbana began looking for a partner to offer services via the publicly owned UC2B network, they first chose iTV-3 because the ISP was a local company with a community minded approach. In 2014, they began working with iTV-3, but within two years, iTV-3 decided to sell its assets to Countrywide Broadband.
The UC2B leadership chose iTV-3 in part because the company had expressed a commitment to keep expanding the network to other neighborhoods. The sale raised concerns because Countrywide was a larger entity taking over a local interested provider, but the community hoped that Countrywide would be better able to expand the infrastructure because it held considerable assets. Champaign-Urbana chose not to exercise the right of first refusal to purchase fiber assets that had been deployed by iTV-3, but they retained ownership of original UC2B assets. Countrywide began serving customers under its subsidiary i3.
Private sector i3 Broadband recently announced that it will begin expanding infrastructure in the Champaign and Urbana, Illinois, communities. Construction will begin no later than August 1st.
Nonprofit UC2B obtained $26 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to deploy its urban Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. The project offered residents high-quality Internet access for as little as $19.99 per month.
UC2B found private sector partner iTV-3 to take over operations and invest further in the network in 2014. One of the reasons UC2B chose iTV-3 was the company’s commitment to invest its own resources into expanding so others in the Urbana-Champaign community would have access. iTV-3 expanded, but slowly.
When iTV-3 decided to sell its assets to Countrywide Broadband in 2016, UC2B had the right of first refusal for fiber deployed by iTV-3, but decided not to exercise that right. Countrywide created i3, based in Peoria, to serve current and future subscribers in the region. While those watching the transaction were concerned about losing a local partner, folks the area were also optimistic because i3 has the capital for a more aggressive expansion schedule.
Aggressive Five-Year Plan
Mike Whitaker, VP of sales and business development of i3 told the News-Gazette that the upcoming expansion will serve an additional 2,500 homes. The company plans to add the same amount each year for the next five years with half in Champaign and half in Urbana.
Deciding where to expand is based on several factors, including whether or not a neighboring area already has service and the percentage of interested households. When early partner iTV-3 used pre-registration to determine where to build, they required a 50 percent sign up rate in a neighborhood prior to deployment; i3 will use a lower 35 percent threshold.
About a year ago, Internet service provider Countrywide Broadband (CWB) and equity firm Seaport Capital announced that they would collectively acquire the assets of Illinois based ISP, iTV-3. The partners would form the subsidiary Internet service provider i3 to take over operations that belonged to iTV-3. Not an unusual course of events when one hears about large companies gobbling up smaller ventures on a regular basis. This situation was different because iTV-3 had been working with the communities of Champaign and Urbana to bring high-quality connectivity to residents and businesses via its publicly owned fiber. Just yesterday, CWB announced that the deal has been completed.
Partners 1 and 2
When the UC2B nonprofit organization chose iTV-3, the partnership was lauded as one that held local concerns a top priority. iTV-3 is an Illinois based company and their interest in participating as a community member, rather than just a distant ISP, made them a desirable choice.
An important component of the partnership was iTV-3’s commitment to invest by expanding the existing network and they did build out in some areas. Expansion did not happen quickly, however, and elected officials hope that i3 can accelerate private investment so more neighborhoods can access the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. From the Countrywide press release:
The Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband non-profit (UC2B) owns a community network in the southern Illinois sister cities of Urbana and Champaign. In 2009, these cities partnered with the University of Illinois to create the non-profit UC2B to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network using a federal stimulus grant. In 2014, UC2B partnered with iTV3 to operate the network, but CountryWide Broadband bought iTV3 in early 2016. Now UC2B is looking for a new partner.
On August 22, 2016, UC2B issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to find a partner to operate and expand the existing UC2B fiber network. Submit letters of Intent to Respond to the RFP by Monday, August 29, 2016 to RFP@UC2B.net. The goal is Gigabit-connectivity in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.
Pass/Fail Requirements and Some Additional Key Criteria
Interested partners must honor the Three Core Principles of UC2B’s network:
1. An all fiber network; and
2. An open access network; and
3. Ubiquitous access, with no cherry picking.
Respondents will specifically be judged by 10 Pass/Fail Requirements and 9 Additional Key Criteria. These include:
An Initial $8.5 million Investment (p. 7 - 8 of the RFP)
$8.2 million will go to CountryWide Broadband (to buy out their interest in UC2B infrastructure, electronics, and customers), and the remaining $300,000 will be split equally among the City of Champaign, the City of Urbana, and UC2B to cover administrative costs.
A Community Storefront (p. 10)
The new partner must open a storefront for at least forty hours a week. The store must also have friendly and knowledgeable customer service representatives.
(Note: the schedule is subject to change)
When communities decide to proceed with publicly owned infrastructure, they often aim for open access models. Open access allows more than one service provider to offer services via the same infrastructure. The desire is to increase competition, which will lower prices, improve services, and encourage innovation.
It seems straight forward, but open access can be more complex than one might expect. In addition to varying models, there are special challenges and financing considerations that communities need to consider.
In order to centralize our information on open access, we’ve created the new Open Access Networks resource page. We’ve gathered together some of our best reference material, including links to previous MuniNetworks.org stories, articles from other resources, relevant Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes, case studies, helpful illustrations, and more.
- Open Access Arrangements
- Financing Open Access Networks
- Challenges for Open Access Networks
- U.S. Open Access Networks
- Planned Open Access Networks
Check it out and share the link. Bookmark it!
In late February, private Internet service provider, Countrywide Broadband (CWB), announced that it and Seaport Capital together would acquire assets belonging to iTV-3, Inc. In addition to fiber networks developed in Peoria, Bartonville, and Bloomington, iTV-3 is deeply involved in bringing connectivity to the Urbana-Champaign community. The company leases fiber on the UC2B network, has expanded the network by deploying its own fiber off the UC2B fiber rings, and promised to expand the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network across the community.
In the agreement with iTV-3, the UC2B nonprofit has a right of first refusal to purchase any local iTV-3 assets deployed if iTV-3 is purchased by another company. In short, UC2B has 60 days from the date of the CWB and iTV-3 purchase agreement to decide if they want to purchase the iTV-3 fiber expansions. If the nonprofit decides not to purchase the fiber, it will continue to own the UC2B rings and CWB will own the expansion fiber.
It was only a few weeks ago that we wrote about the upcoming sale of Bristol's BVU Optinet. It is important for communities to recognize that as these networks are built, they are targets for purchase and consolidation. Fiber networks are a hot commodity and local governments may be tempted to plug short term financial problems with a sale that has implications for decades – long after those elected officials have left office.
They Chose iTV-3
The open access (FTTH) network, one of the few last-mile projects awarded funding during the first round of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), cost $26 million to deploy. The network offered affordable access to residents - as low as $19.99 per month. At first, UC2B operated the network, but the organization later sought a private partner to manage and provide services. In 2014, UC2B chose iTV-3, Inc. as a partner to offer triple-play and to expand the network.
The following commentary comes from Mike Smeltzer, one of the key people responsible for the UC2B network in the Illinois twin cities of Urbana and Champaign. Mike had this comment after a question about how we can elevate local bipartisan conversations from the local level to the state and federal level without getting lost in political bickering. He wrote this and gave us permission to republish it.
The Urbana City Council could be confused for Madison's, while Champaign's Council is far more conservative. I spoke to both of them on a regular basis in the early days of UC2B seeking their support. I learned early on that I could not tell Urbana's Council what they wanted to hear on Monday night, and then change the message to better please Champaign's Council on the next night. Those dedicated public servants watch each other's meetings on the PEG channels.
The only message that rang true with both councils was economic development. That should not come as any surprise, but as we look to elevate the discussion, I believe that we need to personalize that message. Joey Durel does it more eloquently than anyone, but I have heard the same theme from other mayors and elected officials from across the country.
The first time I heard Joey was on a NATOA field trip to Lafayette 4 or 5 years ago. After he served us his home-made gumbo, he told us the bottom line on how a conservative businessman became a leading advocate for Lafayette's fiber broadband system.
Joey saw fiber broadband as his community's best opportunity to create a local business environment that would allow his adult children (and their children) to work and live in Lafayette. There is no greater gift to parents than to be able to participate in the lives of their adult children and grandchildren. Without fiber in Lafayette, Joey was concerned that his kids would have to move away to find jobs after college or high school in order to find rewarding work.
Any parent from any political perspective understands that. I am lucky that both of my daughters live in Champaign. I get to see them and my grandchildren often. Wouldn't it be great if my luck was more generally shared?
The southern Illinois cities of Urbana and Champaign joined the University of Illinois in seeking and winning a broadband stimulus award to build an open access urban FTTH network. After connecting some of the most underserved neighborhoods, the Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) network looked for a partner to expand the network to the entire community.
In this week's Community Broadband Bits podcast, we talk with UC2B Board Chair Brandon Bowersox Johnson and the private partner iTV-3's VP and Chief Operating Officer Levi Dinkla. The local firm, iTV-3, already had a strong reputation as an Internet Service Provider as well as operating other lines of business as well.
In our conversation, we talk about iTV-3's commitment to customer service, their expansion plan, and how the network remains open access. Read our continuing coverage of UC2B here. See the neighborhood signups here.
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 bkfm-b-side for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Raise Your Hands."
The expansion in Champaign-Urbana has begun! On May 8th, iTV-3 held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the start of its plan to bring fiber to the homes of neighborhoods that sign up for service. IllinoisHomePage.net reported on the event with the video below.
An April press release announced the celebration that kicked off efforts to meet iTV-3's ultimate goal:
This will enable iTV-3 to expand the network and provide Gigabit service to more than 250,000 homes including 45,000 households and businesses in the Champaign-Urbana area.
The company has promised to expand to neighborhoods where they achieve a 50 percent commitment.
Earlier this year, the ISP increased speeds for free in order to offer service that meets the minimum speeds as revised by the FCC. The lowest tier available from iTV-3 via the UC2B network is now 30 Mbps. All speeds are symmetrical.
The UC2B partnership with iTV-3 has been heralded by public leaders. UC2B's private sector partner, iTV-3 is an Illinois company with a track record of business decisions that support local communities. Their agreement is structured in such a way that will protect the UC2B nonprofit and subscribers in the future. At the event, a representative from iTV-3 briefly described the company's approach to the communities it serves:
"We own and operate the Family Video stores nationwide as well, and for us, we've always enjoyed being part of the community and this in and of itself is a community wide effort," said Trevor Rice, who is the marketing director for iTV-3. "Without the community's involvement, we're not going to be able to expand."