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Grant Program Helps Arkansas Communities Large and Small Get Started on Broadband
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.
Multnomah County, Oregon Study Shows That a Countywide Network Can Be Done
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.
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.
Survey Supports Network Feasibility in Falmouth
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
Double Diligence: Michigan Cities Move Forward With Feasibility Study
A pair of Michigan cities are taking the next step toward a municipal broadband network by pursuing a feasibility study.
Farmington and Farmington Hills, suburbs of Detroit, approved the joint broadband feasibility study at the end of January. Officials hope the study will help reveal whether one or both cities should invest in a municipal broadband network. "It really will give us a much better understanding of how Farmington Hills and Farmington may or may not benefit by exploring this further," Farmington Mayor Sara Bowman told local news.
Cities Unite for Broadband
Farmington and Farmington Hills are bustling suburbs of Detroit, located approximately 25 miles northwest of the city. With a combined population of over 90,000, the two cities are close geographically as well as economically and politically. Farmington Hills almost entirely surrounds Farmington, and officials have previously considered merging their municipal governments. Though that proposal failed, the cities still share certain services, such as the school district.
In 2018, Farmington and Farmington Hills formed a joint task force to study the creation of a municipal broadband network in the cities. The task force, “began with the premise that broadband Internet is a critically important 4th utility, along with electricity, gas and water,” explains the Farmington Hills website.
The effort was prompted by residents who complained about limited broadband options and high costs, Farmington Councilman Joe LaRussa told a state news site. “Fiber-based Internet infrastructure was being prioritized in business corridors and bypassing neighborhoods and more remote areas of Farmington Hills,” he explained.
Eight Pennsylvania Counties Join Forces to Improve Regional Connectivity
Local officials in eight mostly-rural counties in southwest Pennsylvania are combining efforts to determine first, what connectivity is available and, second, what can be done to improve it.
Seeking Updated Information
Westmoreland, Fayette, Cambria, Somerset, Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, and Fulton counties have been working with consulting firm Design Nine to develop a survey to share with residents in the region. The Regional Broadband Task Force, established by the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission (SAP&DC), gathered limited data in the past. They estimate that six percent of folks in the region live in places without wired broadband Internet access.
An earlier study determined that:
...2.3 percentage of the 354,751 residents fall below that level of service [25 Mbps upload and 3 Mbps download]. About 1.6 percentage of Blair County’s 123,842 population and 2.2 percentage of Cambria County’s 134,550 population are lacking that basic level of connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum, 55.2 percentage of Fulton County’s 14,506 residents are without the service.
Funding for the study comes from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The Task Force received $50,000 from ARC and the member counties contributed a matching $50,000 for the study. They began looking for a firm to help develop the study last fall and chose Design Nine hoping to determine:
- Level of service being provided; the needs of local businesses and the reliability of the current services being provided;
- An inventory of broadband assets already in place;
- An assessment community broadband requirements for bandwidth needs;
- Determine best technologies to meet the coal impacted community needs; and
- Cost estimates for different deployment strategies
Businesses Want More in Westmoreland
Grays Harbor PUD Examines Fiber Expansion in Washington
Grays Harbor Public Utility District (PUD) recently received a $50,000 Washington state grant to conduct a feasibility study in order to determine the best route for expansion of their open access broadband infrastructure into Oakville and the Chehalis Indian Reservation. Both areas are considered underserved and some areas in the region have no Internet service available to residents or businesses.
The Reasons Are There
The Commerce Department’s Public Works Board awarded the $50,000 grant and eight other grants for eight other feasibility studies around the state. The funds will likely pay for the entire study and, according to director of PUD Core Service Rod Hanny, will determine the best route for a fiber line and identify "right-of-way issues, permitting requirements, construction costs, and whether the project would fit the needs of the communities and the utility itself."
Officials at the PUD say that they've received many requests from residents and businesses in the area to establish fiber infrastructure for Internet access. The PUD also wants to put fiber in place in order to improve other utility operations. Currently a substation in the area is monitored via satellite and a fiber connection would be create a more reliable method of communication. If the feasibility study reveals that a project would be a beneficial investment for the region, the project would take roughly a year to complete.
Advice for Communities from Industry Guru Doug Dawson - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 387
Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting and author of the POTs and PANs: Pretty Advanced New Stuff by CCG blog met up with Christopher back in October in Alexandria, Virginia, and the two recorded this week's podcast episode. They were attending most recent Broadband Communities event, a place where experts and community leaders gather to talk about latest developments and opportunities in broadband and economic development. Christopher, who's had Doug on the show several times in the past, asked him to provide some general advice to communities interested in improving broadband. Doug shared both advice and observations.
Doug notes that counties, rather than municipalities, are seeking out his expertise more frequently these days. He also goes on to point out that in the past, local communities asked him to determine if they could take steps to improve Internet access but now they simply ask how they can do it. The shift exemplifies the growing understanding that local leaders see how high-quality Internet access and fast, affordable, reliable connectivity drive economic development and help preserve their communities.
Doug and Christopher talk about the growing desire to address digital inclusion and how Doug is increasingly helping local communities find ways to shrink the digital divide. Christopher and Doug also look at reasons why local communities should think twice about investing in publicly owned networks. These types of projects aren't the best course of action for every community and Doug, as a straight talker, helps his clients determine when they should shelve plans to deploy publicly owned networks and look for other answers.
For more from Doug Dawson, check him out in podcast episode 353 and episode 306. Be sure to check out POTs and PANs by CCG for some insightful and thought provoking articles. We don't know how he does it all!
This show is 37 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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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.
Multnomah County, Municipal Broadband PDX, Reaching Out to Residents for Feedback, Ideas on Network
Earlier this year, community leaders in Portland, Oregon, decided to join other cities in Multnomah County to commission a broadband feasibility study. The goal of the study is to examine the potential for publicly owned broadband network options in the region. Portland's decision to join in the study strengthened the project. As the study moves forward, community leaders and broadband advocates are asking for input from citizens to determine how best to develop a municipal broadband network project.
Spreading the Word and Keeping the Public Engaged
Since their founding, we’ve followed the work of Municipal Broadband PDX, a grassroots collection of residents and businesses working to inform the community about the potential for publicly owned broadband in the region.
The group started off with a bang, by releasing a cool, nerdy video about the need to bring competition to Portland and Multnomah County. They’ve been especially diligent in keeping the public informed about County Board and City Council meetings in which the project is discussed. Their efforts at keeping the public abreast of developments have contributed to the advancement of the project.
Now that the feasibility study is being developed, Municipal Broadband PDX has organized several town hall meetings to share and inform. The goal of the meetings is to allow local elected officials the opportunity to discuss the project progress. In addition, organizers want people attending the meetings to provide “ideas, needs, and wants about Internet access.” They want to make the network a success by keeping lines of communication open and understanding the needs of the public.
The first Broadband Town Hall attracted 75 residents in Northeast Portland on December 4th. The next meeting is scheduled for December 17th in Gresham at the Multnomah County East Building, 600 NE 8th Street, in the Sharron Kelley Room A & B. Elected officials at the event will be:
Shelby, Ohio, Seeks Consultants for Feasibility Study, Proposals Due Dec. 20
Shelby, a community of about 9,300 people located in north central Ohio, has recently released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Broadband Needs Assessment and Feasibility Study. The municipality is exploring new ways to improve local connectivity. Proposals are due December 20th.
Incumbents Spectrum Cable and CenturyLink offer services in the community, but as we've seen in other places, lack of affordability, slow speeds, and poor customer service encourage interest in publicly owned options. According to the RFP, Internet service provider Everstream owns fiber optic assets in Shelby and operates a fiber hub within a facility owned by the city. Everstream provides Internet access to the city and community leaders have approached Everstream about expanding the network to businesses and residents. Shelby wants to explore all possibilities, however, so decided to commission a feasibility study. From the RFP:
The City considers a modern digital infrastructure to be a critical component of a competitive city of the future and wishes to ensure that it is well positioned to meet the current and future needs of its residents, businesses and anchor institutions.
This project will result in the production of a Feasibility Study containing a residential needs assessment, business needs assessment, and deployment cost estimates. The desired outcome of this planning effort is to provide a tool for the City to establish if Shelby residents and businesses want this service, determine a successful deployment strategy and the associated cost to implement fiber to the premises (“FTTP”) within the City, and assess whether such project will be sufficiently supported by customer rates to justify the investment in this infrastructure.
Shelby is looking for a firm that will provide a feasibility study that includes:
Needs assessment: In addition to examining the current needs for residents and businesses, the consultants will develop projections of potential broadband services with Everstream or other service providers. The firm selected should examine regional efforts in addition to local options.
Waterloo, Iowa, Thinks the Time is Right for Publicly Owned Internet Infrastructure
Fourteen years ago, voters in Waterloo, Iowa, overcame a campaign aimed to prevent them from developing publicly owned Internet infrastructure. They voted to allow the city to create a municipal telecommunications utility in the fall of 2005, but the idea languished. Recently, however, leaders in Waterloo have taken up the initiative and are moving ahead.
Time to Advance
At their September 25th meeting, trustees on the Waterloo Telecommunications Utility board unanimously voted to hire a consultant in order to move forward on the plan that voters approved back in 2005. Two local organizations have conducted studies on connectivity in the Waterloo area within the past year.
“I think it’s time,” said board member Rich Kurtenbach, “We’ve got communities all around us that have their own utilities when it comes to broadband.”
Since 2005, the community has never approved funding to develop a publicly owned broadband network. The Telecommunications Utility board has met to discuss the possibility of asking the community for funding on several occasions and at one time requested enough to hire a consultant once, but the measure failed. The issue has been on the shelf since 2014 and, according to Chris Wedland of the city attorney’s office, “This board has had a unique history and it has had large gaps in its operating history.” Now that the board is active again, their first step has been to select a consultant to help them with next steps.
Waterloo doesn’t have a municipal electric utility like many of the other Iowa cities that have already deployed Internet network infrastructure. As Mayor Quentin Hart commented, “At some point we’re going to have to get some experts in here to start helping us move the process forward.”