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City leaders in Gary, Indiana hope to have people singing a song first sung by the city’s most famous family. But instead of relying on The Jackson 5 to lead a reprisal of “Goin’ Back to Indiana,” the sheet music this time is a plan to “deploy ubiquitous, accessible and affordable high-speed broadband to every home and business within the City.”
Two weeks ago, the city issued a Request for Qualification as it seeks Internet service provider(s) for the city to partner with “to build, operate (and) maintain a government middle mile fiber ring leveraging the City’s ARPA funds and working together to obtain additional State funding to ensure the partner deploys commercial and residential retail broadband.” Bids are due by August 12.
While the city wants to build a fiber intergovernmental network to support the city’s government, the plan calls for a city-wide network “that raises all tides on the residential side. That is essential to Gary’s economic future,” Gary’s Chief Innovation Officer Lloyd Keith explained last week during an information session for potential partners.
The genesis of the proposed project, Keith explained, “came from us looking at a study during the pandemic and the issues we were having with students. We are basically inadequate as far as broadband access is concerned in comparison to other communities. So we looked at how we can go about resolving that situation.”
Despite the presence of AT&T and Comcast, Keith described his city of 67,000 just 30 miles southeast of Chicago as still being “underserved” as was made apparent when the city found numerous census tracts with a staggering number of residents who do not have home broadband service.
That’s why, Keith said, now is the time for Gary to leverage its Rescue Plan funds and the federal BEAD program to finance construction of a network that will cover the entire city.
Join us today, June 2, at 5pm ET in the chat for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) are joined by regular guests Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting).
The panel will dig into recent news on the BEAD program (including Alan Davidson's remarks at the Mountain Connect conference last week) and what we're likely to see with states that continue to maintain restrictions on municipal solutions. They'll also talk about the New York City Master Broadband Plan, and end with thoughts on Arkansas and Indiana creating middle mile consortia with co-ops.
Email us email@example.com with feedback and ideas for the show.
With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.
The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.
Laboratories of Broadband-ification
As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.
Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.
As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Washington Governor pledges to sign Public Broadband Act
Maine hearing will reveal State Legislature’s willingness to introduce competition to incumbent ISPs
California bill amended to remove bond initiative backing public infrastructure projects of local communities
The State Scene
Two pieces of legislation aimed at expanding public broadband authority, H.B. 1336 and S.B. 5383, have been delivered to Washington Gov. Jay Islee to consider signing into law. Rep. Drew Hansen, the primary sponsor of H.B. 1336 recently told GeekWire that he “expects the governor to sign both.”
H.B. 1336 would give Washington’s cities, towns, counties, district ports and Public Utility Districts (PUDs) unrestricted authority to provide Internet services directly to end-users, while S.B. 5383, as a result of a series of amendments, deals largely with what information PUDs and ports have to provide to the state broadband office before offering service in unserved regions.
There will be a meeting between the governor and the sponsors of the two bills on Thursday, which will likely determine their fate. Although arguments about how the two bills will interplay are continuing throughout the halls of the State Legislature in Olympia, the prevailing legal interpretation is that the finalized versions of the bills do not conflict. If both bills are signed, and discrepancies are later discovered to be an issue, it will prompt the State Legislature to convene in the future to standardize differences between the legislation.
Three northern Indiana county electric cooperatives have announced construction of brand new Fiber-to-the-Home networks which will bring more competition and high-quality Internet access to almost 25,000 homes and businesses in the state once complete.
Jasper County REMC announced its intentions at the beginning of December last year. Incorporated in 1938, its service territory sits in the northwest part of the state and provides electric service to more than 8,500 members over 1,100 miles of line in Jasper County as well as parts of White, Starke, Pulaski, Porter and Newton counties.
Construction will take five or so years to complete, but initial connections can be brought online as early as the first part of next year. Jasper REMC is beginning with a smart grid ring that will be done at the end of 2021, and is working with Wabash Valley Power and National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative during this first stage. They just hired a broadband manager at the end of 2020, who said of the endeavor:
Employees from a variety of businesses have proven that highly-skilled work can be done anywhere — as long as the tools are in place. Our cooperative realizes that advanced Internet infrastructure shouldn’t be a luxury. It is just as important as electricity.
Four times a week, from 1960 to 1968, a plane marked with the insignia of the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI) took off from the Purdue University Airport in West Lafayette, Indiana and flew a figure-eight pattern above Montpelier. At an altitude of 23,000 feet, the DC-6AB aircraft used onboard Stratovision to broadcast pre-recorded courses to schools in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. The 200-mile radius of the broadcast was estimated to cover 5 million students in 13,000 schools, though only about 1,800 schools became paying members.
With seed money from the Ford Foundation, it sparked hope that the MPATI program, which predated widespread cable or satellite TV, would serve as a model for how educators could use the cutting-edge technology of the day to make top-flight education more accessible to students in rural America. The experiment lasted for eight years until the two-plane fleet was permanently grounded due to financial difficulties and, ironically, a National Association of Educational Broadcasters study that argued MPATI used too much of the UHF television spectrum.
Today, the Purdue Research Foundation's Innovation Partners Institute (IPI) has resurrected the spirit that gave wings to MPATI in an effort to reach students in the Kankakee Valley School Corporation with a pilot program of a different sort. Instead of using Stratovision and airplanes, IPI has partnered with Wabash College, SBA Communications, Watch Communications, and the State of Indiana to connect 500 households to a wireless broadband network in support of remote learning.
“I was tasked with leading the ‘Safe Campus’ initiative at Purdue (University) when Covid hit, which accelerated the potential of adapting new technology. What we realized is that when it comes to learning, especially in rural areas of Indiana, one in four students don’t have connectivity,” said David Broecker, Chief Innovation and Collaboration Officer at the Purdue Research Foundation, which manages Purdue’s Discovery Park District.
AT&T Is Abandoning Tens of Thousands of American Households in the Deep South Who Have No Other Internet Access Option
All across the country, municipal networks, cooperatives, and cities have been putting in extra effort to make sure that Americans have the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access they need to conduct their lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
AT&T has decided to take another route. A USA Today report last week revealed that the company has stopped making connections to users subscribing to its ADSL Internet as of October 1st. Anyone calling the company to set up new service is being told that no new accounts are being accepted.
The decision comes right as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has released a report detailing that only 28% of AT&T’s territory can get fiber from the company. AT&T has deliberately focused investment in more urban areas of higher income. From the report:
The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only — $60,969 compared to $45,500.
The Deep South Hit Hardest
As of today, it looks like the most conservative number of those affected by the decision will be about 80,000 households that have no other option. Our analysis using the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 data shows that the Deep South will be hit the hardest (see table at the bottom of the page).
Collectively it means more than 207,000 Americans who, if disconnected, will have no option for Internet aside from their mobile devices or satellite service. The number of Americans affected by the decision but which have additional wireline options is higher: roughly 2.2 million American households nationwide subscribe to the service (see map, below).
Last week, Frontier Communications told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that there are 17,000 census blocks in which it is now offering 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. This means well over 400,000 Americans now live in areas no longer eligible for the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20.4 billion program to expand rural broadband. The first phase will auction off up to $16 billion in subsidies later this year.
In the filing, the company also identified census blocks where it believes other providers will deploy broadband access through state-funded programs, making those locations ineligible for the federal funds as well.
Frontier is Flailing
Auburn Essential Service (AES) is one of those networks that has been serving the community for years with a steady presence and a strong commitment to the community. This week, Christopher talks with AES General Manager Chris Schweitzer about their fiber optic network, how they're innovating, and their recipe for consistent growth.
AES began with fiber infrastructure for their electric utility. They entered the broadband business first for municipal facilities, and later for businesses when the incumbent providers couldn't deliver necessary connectivity to one of the city's prominent employers. The company was ready to relocate until AES stepped in. Rather than face the economic impact of substantial job losses, AES connected the company and never looked back.
That was in the early 2000s and now AES offers Internet access to large segments of residents and businesses. Christopher and his guest talk about the way AES has taken a deliberate approach to expanding the network citywide and how they're implementing new technologies as they refresh the infrastructure. They discuss the network’s financial health (hint: it’s doing great) and how AES seeks grant funding to aid in further expansion.
Chris describes the new partnership that AES and nearby Garrett, Indiana, have developed to bring fiber broadband to the residents in the small community of about 6,300 people. The utility has a philosophy that other munis also embrace — straightforward pricing and customer-centered services — that have helped drive their success in the residential market.
Check out our first interview with Chris back in 2013, when he joined us for episode 77.
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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.
Several rural counties in east central Indiana, where high-quality Internet access isn't readily available, can anticipate changes in the future, thanks to their local electric cooperative. According to WANE.com, Heartland Rural Electric Member Cooperative (REMC) will be embarking on an expansive project to provide high-quality Internet access via 3,000 miles of new fiber optic infrastructure. The network will serve around 20,000 members in four counties.
The [cooperative] borrowed money to fund the project. In addition, Heartland REMC received several multi-million dollar 10-year tax abatements from Huntington, Wabash, and Wells counties for the project.
The total amount for the project is estimated to be $51 million.
“It’s going to be a long payback period,” [CEO Robert] Pearson said, “but the one commitment we had to make and figure out how to do is to make sure it wasn’t put on the backs of our ratepayers. So no rates will ever be raised because of this. We feel like … there are enough people that want this in order to have the support to pay it back.”
Though Heartland REMC will be constructing the lines for the services, they are partnering with TWN Communications to provide and run the new internet service.
But if you’re not a Heartland REMC member, you can still receive the service. Everyone in the county that does not have high-speed internet can get it as long as the lines are in their area.
Pearson told WANE.com:
“It’s a need in the rural areas and no one else will do it....We at Heartland being a cooperative and servicing those members felt like if no one else is going to do it then we need to because high-speed internet in today’s society is crucial.”
Watch the story on the project, which the cooperative expects to finish in three years: