Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Fiber to the Home
The Otter Creek Communications Union District (CUD) has been awarded a $9.9 million grant by the Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB). It’s the latest effort by the state to use CUDs to deliver affordable fiber broadband access to the long-neglected rural corners of Vermont.
According to the CUD’s announcement, the funding will help deploy affordable fiber access to roughly 4,100 homes and businesses by 2025. The fiber deployment will be done in partnership with Consolidated Communications, which says it has deployed fiber to 110,000 Vermont homes and businesses since 2021.
The deployment should ultimately bring broadband access to 85 percent of homes and businesses in the Otter Creek CUD area, which covers 17 towns and one city in and near Rutland, Vermont in the southwestern part of the state as 2,300 of the locations targeted by this latest round of funding currently have no access to any broadband service whatsoever.
“We’re excited to work collaboratively with Consolidated to bring future-proof Internet to the 18 communities within our CUD,” Otter Creek CUD Chair Laura Black said in a statement. “This funding will put us well on our way to meeting the goal of universal service in the Rutland region, bringing all the opportunities that come with reliable, high-speed internet. The Otter Creek CUD board is proud to be on the way to bringing the broadband infrastructure this community needs to participate in the global economy.”
A new chapter in state-Tribal relations is being written as the importance of robust and reliable telecommunication becomes all-too-apparent, especially in the face of more frequent extreme weather events. For the first time, a Tribe in California is building high-speed Internet infrastructure in collaboration with the state, thanks to the resilience of the Hoopa Valley people.
Tucked along the Trinity River in the northwestern corner of the state, the Hoopa Valley Reservation is located in a rural and heavily wooded region that spans over 89,000 acres, home to over 2,500 Tribal citizens. Last summer, the area was ravaged by closely-timed wildfires and thunderstorms, followed by massive landslides that collapsed into the region’s riverways, including the Trinity River, a sacred body of water for the Hoopa Tribe.
As the river turned to mud and dead fish began to wash up on its banks, alarmed residents had limited means of connecting with one another, getting timely information about what was going on, or contacting emergency services. That was because of a hidden casualty of the wild weather: the Tribe’s wireless Internet network, which sustained severe damage that not only hindered communication but also extended the time it took to assess the damage.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has introduced an ambitious new plan to incentivize private telecom providers to deliver affordable fiber to 85 percent of the Tennessee city of 633,000. The project, part of the city’s Memphis 3.0 master plan, will spend more than $700 million to expand broadband in a city where less than a quarter of residents–most of them wealthy–have access to next-generation fiber.
On September 23, city leaders introduced a new city ordinance amendment establishing new, streamlined permitting and fee requirements. Their goal: to incentivize companies willing to expand fiber optic broadband to at least 60 percent of Memphis’ residential and business premises and 60 percent of all existing low-income premises.
Not long after, city leaders unveiled more details about their "Smart Memphis Fiber" effort. After issuing an RFP last year, Memphis officials say they’ve struck a partnership with Paris-based Meridiam and Blue Suede Network to build a $700 million fiber optic network with an eye on eventually reaching 85 percent of the total Memphis population.
“City Government will incentivize any interested company by reducing our costs through reductions in permitting fees and right-of-way fees,” Strickland said in a recent presentation before the city council. “Additionally, we will streamline our process to allow a company to get to work faster. We are also putting our own skin in the game.”
The city of Scranton, Pennsylvania has issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) for vendors that may be tasked with constructing an affordable citywide fiber network. City leaders say the RFQ is the opening chapter in a bid to bring affordable broadband access to city residents long neglected by dominant regional monopolies.
According to the full RFQ, officials are looking for partner companies capable of building a citywide network capable of providing 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) download and upload speeds to all premises in the City of Scranton, as well as expanded fiber access for city municipal services and key anchor institutions.
“The City does not require municipal ownership of the fiber or a City operational role,” the RFQ states. “However, the City does request connectivity to certain City sites, a 40-year indefeasible right of use (IRU) for 12 strands of fiber for municipal noncommercial purposes throughout the network, and an access and maintenance agreement governing these strands.”
As with so many U.S. markets, broadband competition in Scranton is hard to come by. The market is largely dominated by either Comcast Xfinity or Verizon, the latter of which has been heavily criticized by unions and consumer groups for failing to uniformly upgrade its aging DSL network to fiber, and failing to repair aging lines on a timely basis.
This lack of meaningful competition results in slow broadband speeds, spotty coverage, substandard customer service, and significantly higher prices. Even then, the city hasn’t been without signs of life in the marketplace.
Cleveland, Ohio is putting the finishing touches on an ambitious plan to build a citywide open access fiber network–and deliver affordable fixed wireless service–at minimal cost to city residents. The double-edged proposal aims to bring both meaningful broadband competition–and lower rates–to the long neglected city of 1.7 million people.
Last month, the city announced it had awarded $20 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to Cleveland-based digital equity non-profit DigitalC. Under the proposal, DigitalC will spend 18 months building a fixed wireless broadband network capable of providing locals with symmetrical 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) service for $18 a month.
DigitalC’s fixed wireless service, EmpowerCLE+, launched in 2018 and accelerated its deployment in 2020 to meet the needs of frustrated parents and workers during peak COVID.
Speaking at ILSR’s and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) Building for Digital Equity (B4DE) event last week, DigitalC CEO Joshua Edmonds noted that the EmpowerCLE+ network currently passes 23,500 households in Cleveland, with 2,300 current subscribers. The city’s new agreement with the city should expand the network’s potential reach to 99.9% of homes in Cleveland.
“We're thankful for the opportunity and we're just really hoping that people use this as motivation to change things within their respective markets,” Edmonds told ILSR in a phone interview.
Vermont’s nascent Communication Union Districts (CUD) are pioneering creative efforts to deploy affordable broadband to the rural parts of the Green Mountain State. That includes the Lamoille FiberNet CUD, which has greenlit a major new plan to expand affordable access to fiber in the most neglected parts of rural Vermont.
At an Aug. 14th meeting, the Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) approved Lamoille FiberNet’s $1.3 million pre-construction grant, followed by a mid-September approval of the CUD’s $13.6 million construction grant.
“This grant means that, by the end of 2024, we can bring high-speed internet to almost all the homes and businesses in our CUD that are unserved or underserved,” Lamoille FiberNet Communications CUD Chair Jeff Tilton said in a statement.
With the Lamoille CUD covering 10 towns in the north central part of the state (Belvidere, Cambridge, Eden, Elmore, Hyde Park, Johnson, Morristown, Stowe, Waterville and Wolcott), Lamoille plans to have Fidium Fiber and Consolidated Communications deploy and manage 630 miles of new fiber connecting more than 4,800 unserved and underserved Lamoille County homes and businesses. The network will be deployed in two phases.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania has revitalized the city’s long percolating plan for a municipal broadband network, this time via a public-private partnership (PPP) with Shenandoah Telecommunications Company (Shentel). The city’s quest for more affordable, reliable broadband is a quest that’s taken the better part of a decade to finally come to fruition.
Lancaster city officials recently announced that they’d selected Shentel with an eye on ensuring uniform broadband availability to the city of 57,000.
“In 2022, the City issued an RFP for a partner to achieve stated goals, which received five responses, and led to the selection of Shentel,” the city said. “The contract will result in Shentel installing fiber at its sole cost to provide service to 100% of the city’s residents. Shentel plans to commence design and construction immediately upon execution of the final agreement.”
According to Lancaster officials, the city hired CTC Technology & Energy Engineering & Business Consulting to evaluate the city’s needs. The determination to proceed with a PPP with Shental was driven, in part, by the historic broadband grant opportunities being created thanks to the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and the American Rescue Plan Act, the latter of which provided $39.5 million to the city.
Murfreesboro, Tennessee suddenly finds itself awash with looming broadband competitors thanks to the city’s booming growth. In less than a month, United Communications – owned by not-for-profit electric cooperative Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) – and Google Fiber have unveiled major plans to expand affordable gigabit fiber within city limits.
MTE-owned United Communications says it has some big plans for the city of 157,000, starting with broadband upgrades for the utilities’ 77,000 existing electricity customers.
According to a recent announcement, the cooperative-owned ISP will spend $85 million in existing cash reserves to deploy 1,400 miles of fiber in the city, bringing affordable gigabit access to existing MTE electricity customers. As with many utility deployments, the upgrades will prove beneficial for electrical grid monitoring and maintenance.
“We’ve already completed phase one in the Boro, which includes our fiber backbone and service to more than 1,000 homes and businesses. As part of phase one, we also built fiber to the square in downtown Murfreesboro,” United President and CEO William Bradford said in a statement. “It was a privilege to put our fiber infrastructure to work by connecting our neighbors in disadvantaged communities and adding resiliency to the local emergency communications network.”
Last year, United received $53.4 million in grants from the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund (made possible by the The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) to help shore up broadband access in numerous Tennessee counties, including Bedford, Franklin, Giles, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Moore and Williamson.
From Colorado to Texas, municipal broadband providers continue to rack up industry accolades, not just for delivering fiber service–the gold standard of Internet connectivity–but for these networks’ ability to provide ubiquitous access across an entire community at affordable rates.
The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) recently announced that its Community Broadband Projects of the Year Awards for 2023 will go to the Connexion network in Fort Collins, Colorado and TeamPharr.net in Pharr, Texas.
Awarding Community-Wide Access and Affordability
The Fort Collins award is in recognition for the city having established “a municipal broadband utility created by and for the community to improve the life of all 80,000 residential and commercial properties of Fort Collins through better, more affordable Internet,” NATOA said in announcing the award.
But it wasn’t just because Fort Collins’ network provides city-wide access to fiber. The award also recognizes that “Connexion offers the fastest Internet speeds available at affordable prices (emphasis added) as well as competitive phone and TV services.”
Local electrical cooperatives say they’re making inroads on efforts to finally bring affordable gigabit fiber connections to long neglected portions of rural South Carolina. Dubbed Carolina Connect, the alliance between Aiken Electric Cooperative, Newberry Electric Cooperative and Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative is doing what cooperatives across the nation have taken the lead on in recent years in the rural areas many serve: filling the gaps left by regional telecom monopolies disinterested in finishing the job.
Aiken’s website indicates that the cooperative coalition has delivered broadband to more than 14 towns and cities, is currently in the process of bringing broadband to eight more, and has five additional communities in the planning stage. According to the Aiken Standard, the coalition has laid about 6,000 miles of fiber within the nine counties served by Aiken Electric alone; predominantly rural markets spread across the Southwest part of the state.
The deployment is not only delivering broadband to many residents for the first time ever, it’s delivering the kind of affordable pricing locals have never seen, thanks to a notable lack of regional competition between regional telecom monopolies like Breezeline (formerly Atlantic Broadband) and AT&T.