Tag: "feasibility"

Posted August 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A version of this story was originally published by the National League of Cities. Read the original here, with the full version below.

There’s an overwhelming tendency among regular Americans to conflate the basic infrastructure which surrounds us with permanence. Whether it’s the garbage truck predictably rumbling down the street at the same time every week, the water flowing from the tap, or our Internet connection, we assume that the physical ties which bind us together will always be there. And that’s because it mostly has, especially for community owned and operated infrastructure. When utility services are owned and operated by communities, they are by definition maintained by people who live locally for people who live locally. It’s hard to be taken by surprise and left without essential services.

But the odds tilt in the other direction when such services are delivered by outside firms. We’re seeing the consequences of this for electricity users in the wake of the Texas grid disaster last winter (as well as coming rumblings of heat-caused outages this June), but it’s a problem that’s been around longer than that for basic service providers of all types, where bankruptcies can leave whole communities high and dry.

The same consequences hold true when those firms are Internet Service Providers (ISPs), beholden to interests outside of the cities and towns they serve. Tens of thousands of American households learned this very lesson last fall when AT&T announced it was leaving the DSL business and no longer making new connections to its aging infrastructure, even though those wires will continue to sit in the ground for decades to come. Buy a new house in this area, and if AT&T DSL was the only provider in town, and you’ve got few or no options.

But it happens with small providers too. Tuttle, Oklahoma (pop. 7,300) faced this reality a decade ago when the local cable company, providing the only universal wireline Internet service in the area, went bankrupt. “For a...

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Posted August 5, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

If you're a community considering building or partnering to build publicly owned broadband infrastructure in the near future, we want to hear from you.

Connect Humanity - an organization focused on making sure everyone has fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access - may be able to help speed the financing of community networks, including with some capacity to offer non-traditional borrowing or below-market rates. What is their approach?

Over the past 25 years, traditional telecom operators have only managed to connect half the world — and that was the easy half. Universal access will require alternative infrastructure providers, new types of financing and business models, changes in policy, digital skill-building at scale, and an increase in locally relevant content. To meet the needs of this moment and prepare for the years to come, we will need to invest in a diverse set of actors dedicated to ending the digital divide. There are no silver bullets here.

Connect Humanity, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, is rallying philanthropic organizations, investors, industry, governments, civil society leaders, and international experts to build a community of practice around the shared goal of connecting the unconnected, supported by the capital to do so. With awareness about the plight of the unconnected at an all time high, this is the moment to substantially invest in bringing Internet access to all people.

This initiative is open to creative ideas, but the focus will come back to a key question: What are the long-term results in terms of improving Internet access for historically-marginalized groups?

Don't know if your project fits? Email us and ask!

Maybe you've got a coalition of communities in Maine but don't have experience in the capital markets, or your approach just doesn't quite pencil out for a conventional loan. Maybe you've got a particular project mapped out for a rural or urban area that will make a significant difference in people's lives. Consultants too - raise your hand and pitch us an idea. It doesn't have to be fully formed yet.

Email us at broadband@muninetworks.org.

Header image by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Posted June 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

At the beginning of June, the city of Bar Harbor, Maine successfully passed the $750k bond needed to construct its network, with work to proceed shortly. 

Posted June 4, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Last summer we wrote about the slow but steady progress the city of Waterloo, Iowa (pop. 68,000) has been making towards improving local connectivity options for residents and businesses needing it. The city hired Magellan Advisors to perform a feasibility study for a possible Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the fall of 2019, but things have been mostly quiet since, with news outlets reporting on a reluctance to release the results of the study for fear of what incumbent cable provider Mediacom would might do to hinder its efforts.

These fears are not without reason, given the company’s previous efforts in the region to slow the specter of municipal competition with lawsuits, complaints, and propaganda efforts in its service territory.

When last we heard that the feasibility study would be released this spring, and while we still have not seen a copy, Waterloo must be encouraged. The city’s Telecommunications Board of Trustees established a resident-led municipal broadband utility committee on January 27th, giving the group the charge of tackling “risk mitigation, community marketing, digital infrastructure and finance and business strategy” for a future network.

When the announcement was made, Board Chair Andy Van Fleet said the work would serve as "critical pillars to move this project forward successfully when the time is right to turn the plan into actionable items."

Then, in early April...

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Posted April 6, 2021 by Maren Machles

Talladega, AL has long been known as the epicenter of NASCAR, a sport synonymous with speed. In 1987, Bill Elliot set the fastest recorded time of 212.089 mph on that very track. 

Cars aren’t expected to start racing down the Talladega Superspeedway track until late April, but the Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative (CVEC) chose the location to announce the fittingly super fast speeds it expects to begin serving up with its new broadband subsidiary, Coosa Valley Technologies, last Wednesday. 

Unfortunately, many residents in Talladega County and surrounding counties have long gone without fast connectivity, with average speeds as low as 5 Mbps (Megabits per second)

CVEC often holds events at the Superspeedway, but for this event they wanted to make sure that since people were gathering, social distancing was possible. Also they wanted to communicate a message.

“It also served as a good backdrop for what we were trying to communicate, which was, we’re going to be provided the fastest broadband service in our area,” Jon Cullimore, CVEC Manager of Marketing and Member Services, told us in an interview as the cooperative prepares to embark on a fiber build intended to bring fast, affordable Internet access to everyone in its electric footprint over the next four years.

Driven by Membership

It all started in 2019 with feasibility studies conducted by two different firms. Both found a profound lack of broadband service throughout CVEC’s service territory, which is situated east of Birmingham.

When the studies were completed, CVEC quickly put together a comprehensive information packet for members to get educated before their annual meeting last September. The members were asked to vote on whether or not CVEC should form a new broadband subsidiary and embark on a new phase of life.

“We got the word out, and we had a record attendance at our annual meeting. We’ve never had that many members show up before,” Cullimore said. “I think we only had 12 ‘no’ votes out of all the [more than] one thousand people that showed up.”  

CVEC quickly got to work...

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Posted March 25, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Although Tennessee is one of 19 states in the nation with laws that limit municipal broadband networks, it is also home to several of the nation’s premier municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, including EPB Fiber, a division of Chattanooga’s city-owned electric and telecommunications utility.

In the Volunteer State, municipal electric providers are restricted from offering Internet service on fiber networks beyond their service areas. But now, Knoxville, a city of approximately 187,000 residents and the home of the University of Tennessee, is aiming to get on the community fiber track and become the state’s next gig city.

Earlier this month, the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) Board of Commissioners approved a business plan that, if approved, will set the utility on a path to bring high-speed Internet connectivity to its more than 468,000 customers spread out across Knoxville, Knox County, and small parts of seven neighboring counties.

The plan has been sent off to the Tennessee State Comptroller office for review, one of the initial steps in the process to bring triple-play services (Internet, phone and TV) to its broadband-hungry customers.

A Need for Speed

As reported by WBIR 10News, a KUB survey found that about 60% of their users have only one option for Internet service, while 50% said they would switch from their current Internet Service Provider (ISP) to KUB’s fiber network when, and if, it is built and lit up for service.

KUB is in the process of deploying 300 miles of fiber to connect the utility’s electric substations, part of...

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Posted January 7, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Bar Harbor, Maine (pop. 5,500) has been trying to get a municipal fiber network off (and into) the ground for more than half a decade. If local officials throw weight behind the most recent move, we may see momentum continue to build for faster, more reliable, affordable, and universally available Internet access for government use, commercial development, and maybe, down the road, residents as well. 

We last checked in with the town in 2016, when its franchise agreement with Charter had expired and negotiations for a new agreement had stalled. At the time, Bar Harbor was considering a $100,000 engineering study to flesh out the possibility of a municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network or a $50,000 study to do so for a government-only network, but at the last minute the town’s Warrant Committee and Council decided not to move ahead on either at the last minute. Since then, the situation has remained more or less in stasis.

But with recent changes, Charter has signaled that it will begin to charge Bar Harbor $45,000 a year for access via – a ten-fold increase over the $4,500/year the town currently pays. With the company refusing to negotiate, on December 15 the Town Council, at the recommendation of the Communication and Technologies Committee (CTC), voted unanimously to place a $750,000 proposal to build their own institutional network onto the 2022 budget draft review. The general public will have the chance to vote on the measure in June.

Locally Owned Infrastructure at a Fraction of the Price 

A 2019 Casco Bay Advisors engineering plan offers some additional details in the potential network. It would run for 19 miles, both aerially and underground, to connect initially nine but up to as many as 25 government buildings (including town offices, public safety locations, water and waste water stations, public works, etc.), three schools, a library, and other sites like the town’s highway garage. Because of the surrounding topography, wireless doesn't work well on the island (Acadia National Park and Cadillac Mountain both disrupt lines of sight). A wireline connection would be miles ahead of what they currently have. Included in the roughly $750,000 build is slightly less than $270,000 in...

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Posted January 4, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A host of cities and counties in Arkansas are about to get a major broadband boost thanks to local officials taking steps to act on a grant program deployed by the state last year. Borne out of the state’s 2020 1st Extraordinary Session at the end of March 2020 in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the new Rural Broadband I.D. Expenses Trust Fund Grant Program will disburse $2 million in funds divided into 30 one-time grants of $75,000 each to towns, cities, and counties to tackle the digital divide in the Toothpick State. The program is financed via Arkansas’ Restricted Reserve Fund with money given to the state by the CARES Act, and is administered by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. And while an array of projects have been awarded funds, money remains available and applications are being accepted on a rolling basis for those who have yet to take advantage.

A Win for Local Self-Reliance and Increasing Competition

The program is expressly designed to bridge the gap for communities that want to begin to improve local Internet access but are stymied by a necessary first step: paying for those economic, design, and feasibility analyses which require pulling together the wide range of options available in the context of local conditions. That’s where this program comes in, according to Rachel Ott, the UAMS Institute’s for Digital Health and Innovation Grant Director. Communities can use the work produced to apply for federal grants down the road, including the recently concluded Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, funds from the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, and any other forthcoming federal funding programs. 

Cities, towns, counties, and unincorporated communities are all eligible to apply. Non-profits and for-profit entities are also eligible to apply, but only in unincorporated communities. If they want to undertake projects in cities or towns, they are required to...

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Posted October 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Along the banks of the Columbia River, Multnomah County (pop. 813,000), Oregon is considering a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network after being handed a study more than a year in the making. The report estimates that a countywide network reaching every home, business, and farm in a five-city area would cost just shy of $970 million, and bring with it a wealth of savings and other benefits to the community it serves.

Origins

The study has its origins in a 2017 push initiated by an advocacy group called Municipal Broadband PDX which has sought more affordable and equitable Internet access in the region. In 2018, the County Board of Commissioners agreed that it should be explored and approved the funding of a study, with the city of Portland and Multnomah County each contributing $100,000 and the remaining towns of Fairview, Gresham, Troutdale, and Wood Village joining the effort to collectively contribute an additional $50,000 for funding. Over the next year, CTC Technology and Energy conducted a comprehensive survey, analysis, and evaluation, and the results were delivered at the end of September.

The report offers good news: the majority of residents in Multnomah County want a publicly built and operated FTTH network, and it would be economically viable to provide symmetrical gigabit service to as many of the more than 320,000 households as want it for $80/month. At a projected 36% take rate on a 4% bond over a 20-year period, the network would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $966 million, depending on a host of local and market factors, some of which are fixed and others subject to change. It would see net positive income by the end of its fourth year of operation, and see a total of more than $54 million in positive net income by the end of its 20-year depreciation period (a standard model for fiber infrastructure, though they often last longer). These numbers change when adjusting the take rate and interest rate, but in the vast majority of scenarios, building a community owned FTTH network in Multnomah County is feasible. 

Broadband in Multnomah County

...

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Posted February 27, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Early survey results confirm the potential for a community broadband network in the coastal town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, reports The Falmouth Enterprise. Responses suggest wide dissatisfaction with service from the town’s current providers. Out of 378 respondents, 70 percent want better Internet access in the Cape Cod community; 92 percent want more competition.

Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) commissioned the survey as part of a feasibility study examining the potential for municipal broadband in the town of 32,000 people. With the initial results in hand, EDIC decided to continue with the second portion of the feasibility study to be completed later this year, moving Falmouth closer toward its own community network.

Community Support Grows

Municipal buildings and community anchor institutions in Falmouth already have Internet access through a local open access network operated by nonprofit OpenCape, resulting in significant cost savings. However, residents also want better connectivity for the rest of the community. Support for a municipal network grew throughout 2018 and 2019, culminating in EDIC issuing an RFP for a community network feasibility study in July.

Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell travelled to Falmouth in the Fall of 2019 to discuss the community’s efforts on local television. During the program, he spoke with community leaders about the benefits of locally owned connectivity, the examples set by other municipal networks, and the unique opportunities that Falmouth has.

Study and Next Steps

The survey, conducted by CCG Consulting, revealed that more than half of...

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