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Content tagged with "kansas"
Butler Electric Cooperative and its Velocity broadband subsidiary say they’re making meaningful progress in bringing fixed wireless access (FWA) — and ultimately fiber optic broadband — to long-neglected sections of rural south-central Kansas. It’s the latest example of electrical cooperatives playing a leading role in the longstanding quest to bridge the digital divide.
Butler Electric Cooperative, which provides electrical service to 7,000 meters via 1,850 miles of transmission and distribution lines, created Velocity in 2018 as part of the cooperative’s expansion into broadband access.
The service currently provides fixed wireless access to roughly 5,500 rural Kansas residents, long left out of reach of traditional cable, fiber, or DSL due to the logistical challenges and high cost of rural deployment.
The company’s current service tiers range from a 15 megabit per second (Mbps) downstream and 3 Mbps upstream tier for $60 a month, to a 100 Mbps downstream, 10 Mbps upstream tier for $84 a month. Both tiers feature a one-time installation fee of $200. The higher pricing generally reflects the higher prices of deployment to remote, rural areas.
Velocity CEO Kevin Brownless tells Telecompetitor that the company tries to keep consumer-facing pricing as close to cost as possible, and that Velocity and Butler plan to drive fiber into these markets over the coming years thanks to federal subsidies.
As voters went to the polls yesterday, broadband-focused initiatives and candidates could be found up and down the ballot all across the country.
Alabama voters cast their ballots to decide on a state Constitutional amendment known as the Broadband Internet Infrastructure Funding Amendment. The measure sought to amend the state's constitution "to allow local governments to use funding provided for broadband internet infrastructure under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and award such funds to public or private entities."
That measure passed, garnering a “Yes” vote from nearly 80 percent of Alabama voters. With 73 percent of the vote counted late last night, 922,145 “Yes” votes had been tallied with 251,441 “No” votes.
Also in Alabama, Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell won her re-election bid to represent Alabama’s 7th congressional district. Sewell, whose district covers a large swath of the Alabama Black Belt, “spent much of her past two years in office bringing American Rescue Plan Act funds to rural Alabama, dedicated to healthcare, broadband access and infrastructure building,” as noted by The Montgomery Advertiser.
The Centennial State is not listed as one of 17 states in the nation with preemption laws that erect barriers to municipal broadband because nearly every community that had a vote has passed it to nullify it. But more communities had to go through that unnecessary process yesterday due to the law known as SB-152 that bans local governments in the state from establishing municipal broadband service absent a referendum.
In Chanute, the “Hub of Southeast Kansas” named in honor of railroad engineer and aviation pioneer Octave Chanute, the track this small city of approximately 9,100 is on to build its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network is a long one.
It began back in 1984 when the city’s utility department installed four miles of fiber optic cable to monitor and control its electric grid. The project was almost derailed in 2015 when three new Chanute City Commissioners voted to halt a $16.4 million bond issuance moments after they were sworn into office. City officials also had to contend with AT&T, which offered DSL service in the region. Aiming to stave off competition, the telecom giant petitioned the Kansas Corporation Commission to enforce a 1947 state law that requires permission from the state to issue bonds for utility projects.
Today, however, thanks to $1.6 million from the state – part of a $50 million statewide Connectivity Emergency Response Grant established in October 2020 by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly in response to the COVID 19 crisis – Chanute is chugging toward a citywide build-out neighborhood-by-neighborhood.
Construction to further expand the network began at the Google mural at the intersection of Lincoln and Main, which commemorates the city’s distinction of being the center of the earth on Google Maps for Apple computers thanks to the fact that the software developer, Dan Webb, was from Chanute.
The current take-rate for the area from Main Street to 7th and Santa Fe to as far over as Katy Ave is 30%, IT Director Chris Stogsdill told us this week. “We are at about 33% for our take rate in the area from 3rd Street to 14th Street and right at about 53% in the Hillside/Sunset Subdivisions,” he added, noting that residential customers are getting 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) speed with no data caps for $75 a month.
The state of Kansas continues to build momentum with the announcement of a new, ten-year broadband grant program designed to drive network expansion in unserved and economically depressed areas. It will go towards connecting tens of thousands of residents in the state who currently have no or few options for Internet access, while bringing commercial development and connecting farms desperately in need.
Currently, 3.5% of the state’s population, totaling almost 100,000 people, have no Internet access options at all. Students sent home at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic have struggled all summer and fall to get online to do coursework. Both urban and rural areas have continued to face significant challenges over the last decade, and the problem has only increased in recent months. It’s also an issue that has had ramifications for employers like Citizens State Bank in Cottonwood Falls, which has considered cutting local positions and shifting them to places with better Internet access options.
The new Broadband Acceleration Grant Program (BAGP) [pdf] offers lots of provisions for positive progress. It prioritizes low-income, economically distressed areas, as well as those without access to speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps (Megabits per second). This likely means much of the money will end up in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the state (see map). The grant also urges applicants to engage local stakeholders in their communities and build relationships with community anchor institutions, businesses, and nonprofits so as to maximize impact.
Tens of thousands of homes, businesses, farms, schools, and community anchor institutions in the Sunflower State will see better connectivity options over the next few years. A recent executive order [pdf] establishing a Kansas Office of Broadband Development followed by the announcement of more than $49 million in grants to 67 projects around the state means a host of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), fixed wireless, and institutional networks will break ground in the near future. The measure comes in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
A Broadband Office and Grant Program
The new Office of Broadband Development has been placed in the state’s Department of Commerce, and given the task of promoting networks of all kinds — municipal, cooperative, private, and nonprofit — as well as supporting regional initiatives, developing a better broadband map, and removing policy barriers to fast deployment.
The state actually has two grant programs ongoing at the moment as part of the connectivity program approved the state’s Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Taskforce and the State Finance Council. The Broadband Partnership Adoption Grants (BPAG) are designed to help low-income Kansans pay for service with existing plans. The large pot of grant money just announced, on the other hand, is part of the Define Connectivity Emergency Response Grant (CERG), which will use CARES funding to facilitate new builds between now and the end of the year.
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).
Almost six years ago, we told readers about Ottawa, Kansas, where the community of around 13,000 people had invested in publicly owned fiber optic connectivity for local businesses. We recently touched base with IT Director Paul Sommer, who updated us on the progress of their broadband utility and how it has impacted the community.
Steady as it Grows
When we first met Ottawa, they had worked with the local school district and Franklin County to capitalize on existing fiber infrastructure and expand to more locations. Local leaders had learned from Ottawa businesses that the best options available from incumbent AT&T were T1 lines for approximately $600. Higher capacity connections were scarce and financially out of reach for local establishments, and AT&T could not be convinced to upgrade their infrastructure. As Bigham put it, AT&T was "milking the cow."
Once the city, school district, and Franklin County established a partnership, Ottawa began to expand fiber to other municipal facilities and businesses as requested. Sommers, who has taken over as IT Director, says that now all 10 city buildings are on the network. In addition to an industrial park on the original infrastructure on the north end of town, the network now reaches an industrial park to the south.
The electric utility has trained their own staff rather than hiring external fiber deployment personnel. In addition to enriching skills, their employees are able to respond quickly if there are downed cables or other maintenance issues. Sommers recalls an instance when a car, which had caught fire, sent shrapnel flying into the air. By a twist of fate, one piece severed the fiber optic cable hanging some distance away. His team was able to rehang and splice the cable that same day and get the subscriber back online.
By using electric utility staff, Ottawa has reduced the cost of their incremental build over the years. They typically budget around $100,000 each year for expansion of the network, have never gone over, and often don’t spend the entire allotment. Sommers says that, since they own the utility poles in town, have necessary personnel on hand, and equipment at the ready, unnecessary bureaucracy doesn’t slow down maintenance, repairs, or expansion efforts.
Bursting at the Streams
Spring Hill, Kansas, recently released a Request for Proposal (RFP) as they search for a partner to help them develop gigabit connectivity throughout the community. Deadline for responses is September 30, 2019.
Gigabit Fiber the Best Bet
The city received the results of a feasibility study in early 2018 and consultants recommended some policy changes to encourage a broadband friendly environment. CTC Energy and Technology also noted that a fixed wireless system was not a cost-effective way to provide ubiquitous connectivity to the community. The firm suggested that Spring Hill consider dark fiber infrastructure and a public-private partnership.
In 2017, Spring Hill also distributed an informal survey to residents and businesses. The results revealed that, even though the community is considered part of the Kansas City metropolitan area, there are pockets where people have no Internet access. Other issues include problem neighborhoods where speeds are slow and businesses have no access to fiber. In these areas, local establishments are paying high rates for unreliable, marginally faster speeds.
Community leaders in Spring Hill consider broadband an essential utility that should connect every premise. As part of their vision, they “intend to empower our residents and local businesses to be network economy producers— not just consumers of network information and data services.”
What Spring Hill Seeks
The partner the city chooses should be prepared for a long term relationship and should be ready to help Spring Hill achieve three goals of the project:
We are saddened to learn that two quiet champions of broadband have passed away — one recently and one about a year ago, although we only recently learned of his passing. Drew Davis of Larimer County, Colorado, and Larry Gates from Chanute, Kansas, performed the heavy lifting behind the scenes to help move their communities forward with essential investments. Both men and their quiet determination will be missed in their communities and by us.
Drew Davis and Discovering Larimer County
We spoke with Drew last summer when he came on the Community Broadband Bits podcast for episode 311. As Program Manager for Larimer Broadband, he and Director of Economic and Workforce Development Jacob Castillo and CIO Mark Pfaffinger joined discussed results of the county’s feasibility study survey. Drew was instrumental in developing the county plan as they find a way to bring better connectivity to people in Larimer County.
Drew was always helpful whenever we needed information about what was happening in the Colorado broadband world. He was a leader and strived to help others, including in the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department and Search and Rescue.
We know that folks in Colorado are also grieving his potential as well as the loss of his presence. Colin Garfield, who was one of the leaders of the municipal broadband effort in Fort Collins writes:
"Drew was a trusted adviser, a formidable ally to our efforts, and a local visionary who will be dearly missed. His contributions and leadership for rural broadband and policy flashed local brilliance. As northern Colorado becomes a stronghold for local connectivity, Drew's contributions, vision, and compelling arguments will not be forgotten. I'm grateful for the many enlightening, humorous, and blunt conversations we had over the past three years - I'm lucky to have even had the opportunity to cross paths with him."
Larry Laid the Foundation
About four years ago, city commissioners in the community of Chanute, Kansas, stepped back from plans to finance a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. At the time, newly elected city leaders decided not to pursue the project, but Chanute once again has fiber on their list of priorities. Late in June, the current city commission voted 3 - 1 to deploy FTTH in two neighborhoods.
Requested by Residents
Residents from the Hillside/Sunset subdivisions and the neighborhood between 7th and 14th streets approached the city and asked to be connected. The pilot areas will include approximately 344 premises; city staff estimate connecting them will cost approximately $550,000. The vote in June authorized the city to spend idle funds from the electric utility with an expected payback within three year years.
Subscribers will pay $75 per month for gigabit connectivity, authorized by vote at the same meeting. The city will offer month-to-month service and will charge $135 to reconnect if a subscriber cancels but wants to sign up again later.
AT&T offers DSL in most of the city and CableOne has offered cable Internet access in Chanute for years, but residents are increasingly looking for the speed and reliability of fiber connectivity.
Fiber in Chanute
We wrote about Chanute’s investment in fiber connectivity and complementary fixed wireless for local businesses, schools, and municipal facilities back in 2013 in our report, "Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage." The community was able to develop their gigabit network, which began with as a way to improve utility operations, with no bonding or borrowing.